Friday, June 24, 2011

The draft bust; a study of arrogance.

I ran through a gamut of emotions today as I watched the NBA draft, from disppointment at the Kyrie Irving pick, to dismay at the Tristan Thompson pick, to disbelief that Brandon Knight was available to the Bobcats, followed by abject horror when Bismack Biyombo was called with the 7th pick, proving that MJ clearly hasn't learned his lesson.

Now, I'm not saying Biyombo will definitely be a bust, but all the likely signs point to it. When was the last time a raw, outstanding physical specimen from outside the US tapped into that talent and dominated. Oh that's right, it's never really happened. The great Centers in the past have always had a great degree of skill coming into the NBA, not simply athletic capabilities. It made me wonder why - WHY - GMs and draft teams don't learn from their mistakes and look at whether the guy can actually play basketball. A week or so after Biyombo went "one-against-none and lost" he was the seventh pick in the draft. You'd think with the Thabeet fiasco in Memphis that people would be going off the idea of offensively limited big men, but no.

So there I was, thinking about it, and it hit me. It all comes down to arrogance. When GMs see a guy with great physical tools from the Congo or some other country who can't play basketball to save their life, they assume it's because they weren't coached the right way, that it was a matter of situation not talent which left them with very little skill outside of being tall with a great wingspan. NBA GMs and coaches need to rethink this approach; if a player is raw, it's because he doesn't love the game and didn't work on his skills. Look at Serge Ibaka, he played with cardboard in his shoes to save his feet from being burned; that's a player who's shown dedication to the game and was worthy of a first-round pick.

However, I see a guy like Biyombo, or Thabeet getting drafted so high and I think we forget sometimes that these guys are basketball players first, and athletes second. I think we should almost do away with the term potential, and simply replace it with athleticism, because if a player doesn't have basketball skills by age 19 or 20, he probably never will. Now, that isn't to say he can't learn, but I'm a 20 year old myself, and I've played basketball all my life, yet I'm nowhere near good enough to play in the NBA, I can't see why it should matter if I were taller or more athletic, given that those things don't change the core fact that I'm not skilled enough to be a professional basketballer. In this age of highlight-reel funks and the like, fundamentals simply aren't valued. Good post defense isn't as respected as weak-side shot-blocking.

The converse of this is that there are a number of great basketball players who have grown up in the US who while athletic and long and similar to a player like Biyombo in every way athletically, aren't given the same arrogant appraisal that "I could fix this player". Take for example Hassan Whiteside, he played college for Marshall, and had great measurables and shot-blocking ability but slipped out of the first round. He would likely outplay Biyombo straight up on both ends of the floor, and has better size, but the mystique of an "untapped talent" outweighs the proven capabilties of actual basketball players.

So players like Lighty, Hansborough, Greg Smith are left in the cold in favour of foreign prospects who have more "upside", except that all they really have is more work to do to lay the foundations of good fundamental basketball skills. I think Michael Jordan and the Bobcats made a big mistake taking Biyombo instead of Brandon Knight, and it's just because of the arrogant patriotic attidude of NBA coaches that they could do what any foreign coach can't in bringing out some never-before-seen stardom in a prospect that quite frankly, is terrible at basketball.

For the sake of these college players who suffer the label of being "maxed out" as a result of playing in actual systems and learning the game of basketball properly instead of taking short-cuts, I hope Biyombo is a bust, and GMs around the NBA learn to look at fundamental basketball skills before "upside".

Monday, June 20, 2011

Live NBA Draft Coverage 2011

Hey guys, once again I'll be doing live NBA draft coverage using Coveritlive. It's been a year since I used the system so we might be having a few bugs, but if you don't have ESPN or access to a TV follow along here as I keep you posted live on selections and offer quick analyses as we go along.

The draft starts on Friday here in Australia at 7.30, so I'll see you all then (I almost thought it was Thursday again, but double checked to be sure haha).

Monday, June 13, 2011


I sit here today, having just finished watching the game on tape delay, emotions surging through me, never so happy to be completely wrong in my prediction. Time and time again this Dallas team showed the relentless focus of a true winner; they weren't flashy, they didn't play with Heat. Instead, it was a cold fury, to match their inviolable resolve. How this Dallas team came together was a perfect storm; every player on that team had demons to overcome, and as a whole, they did this.

But this was more than just a victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat; this is a victory of philosophy. I hinted at this what seems like an age ago, that a team united in purpose and desire, even without as much talent, could succeed where all the stardom in the world couldn't. Then, I was talking about the Hornets, who defeated Miami to stay undefeated, and now, the Dallas Mavericks. However, the message to the NBA is the same; basketball games are not won on talent alone, and a balanced team with chemistry will prevail. So before any more players or GMs hit the panic button and trade away their superstar or demand a trade to join their buddies, they need to consider this:

Less is more; the last thing you want to do is introduce doubt into the minds of your players, but having two players who should be in attack mode, relentlessly dominating on both ends and giving them an excuse to take a back seat. As soon as their is doubt that they are the baddest man on the court, every action is less assured, every play comes with a question mark on whether you should really be the one taking that shot. The beauty of the Mavericks is that every player on that team was limited; even Dirk. But because of those limitations, every player had no choice but to give 100% and knew exactly what their role was. Two players without limits to their abilities cause a mental break in close situations, and place unnecessary pressure on an already daunting situation.

Look at Michael and Pippen; Van Gundy questioned whether Pippen was a superstar, and I agree that he wasn't. He knew his limitations and he gave everything he had within a defined role, which allowed Michael to take the big shots, to be in attack mode for every minute he was on the floor, because there was no question of whether he was being a bad teammate, he was the alpha dog, and the system worked.

Now, I know most of you won't agree with everything I've said here, but for those who don't know I was the biggest doubter of Dallas possible; I couldn't think of a worse matchup in the Finals because I hated the Mavericks only slightly less than I did the Heat. They were weak mentally, talked too much trash and failed to deliver. After tonight, after this season, that same team inspired me and reminded me, but I hope the whole NBA the value of playing with heart and believing.

Had to let this out before this feeling slipped away and I started getting depressed about CBAs and potential lock-outs, but I hope everyone appreciates the good work done by Dallas in possibly getting the mindset of NBA players of this generation back on course after it was derailed by Miami's off-season theatrics. No matter what happens in the next few years, when Miami will likely get a championship sooner or later, this season should demonstrate how a championship should be won.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Almost forgot...

Can't believe I let game 1 go by without predictions for the Finals! Just a real short one as I don't see the need to write too much here; Heat in 5 games. Dallas gets one at home but Miami win the rest by at least 5 points. Lebron, Wade and Bosh are all getting hot at the same time and Miami can't be stopped at this stage. Miami aggressively double-teaming Dirk and Barea isn't going to have an impact. For the record I called it 4-1 before the series started, but forgot to post it, so I'm not basing this solely on game 1, though it does add weight to my prediction. Poor Mavs don't stand a chance...

What use is a one-horned Bull?

This is the problem facing the Chicago Bulls; they only have one player who can really create his own shot, and they desperately need that second option (or horn I suppose). Don't get me wrong, they have scorers, but when you're facing exceptional defenders in Paul Pierce and Lebron James in the East, Luol Deng isn't going to be more than a spot-up shooter and occasional slasher offensively, which won't cut it in crunch time. As for Boozer... well, as any Jazz fan worth his salt will tell you, he tends to disappear in the playoffs on both ends (I know, it's hard to imagine his D getting any worse, but it does).

So that leaves a team with the MVP, the best record in the NBA and the Coach of the Year completely unable to overcome the Heat. Admittedly, most seasons a team like the Bulls could get away with their current makeup, except now they have to contend with a defensive juggernaut like the Heat, who match them on that end and also have more potent scoring. Something has to give. The Heat aren't going to get any worse, so the Bulls need to get better.

Now, before I go on, I wanted to make a little aside about the respective values of scoring and defensive ability in today's League. For some reason, the "defense wins championships" philosophy, which I agree with in part, has seeped into the collective minds of people in the NBA to the point where they have forgotten the importance of scoring too. The aforementioned mantra became popular in response to teams like the Phoenix Suns, the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors, whose offensive abilities were wonderful, but couldn't get stops. So yes, defensive play wins championships, but only when combined with good offense as well. Case in point the Chicago Bulls; when it came down to it, the Bulls couldn't get a score with possession and the clock winding down, and it cost them the series. As vital as defense is, it won't do squat if you're playing from behind, which is a prospect every team is going to face at some point or another. Now this doesn't apply just to teams, it applies to players as well. I spend a lot of time on, and I'm always amused by how many times the ability to get buckets is taken for granted. Most NBA athletes have the physical tools to play at least good team D, and if the Bulls can have Boozer and Rose and still be a top defensive team it's certainly possible for good coaching to protect bad defensive players. However, I find legitimate scoring prowess much rarer, and in the current NBA, more valuable. Too often I hear it said "he's nothing more than a scorer, sixth man at best." I ask you this, why did the Thunder lose? Not enough scoring. Why did the Bulls lose? Not enough scoring.

I'll make an example using current draft candidates; Kawhi Leonard as opposed to Marshon Brooks. Brooks is a terrific scorer, and Kawhi a versatile all-around guy who is somewhat raw offensively. Yet Brooks is the late first round pick, and Leonard a potential top 5. I think people are missing the forest for the trees; while the intangibles are nice, an elite tangible is better. It comes down to whether you want a jack of all trades or a master of one. Me? I'd pick the master of one anyday. It comes down to Lebron against Jordan... and despite the opinion of Scottie Pippen (and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar I suppose) I'll take the GOAT anyday. Heck, I'd even take Kobe Bryant first.

Which is the same approach the Bulls should take (see, I brought it back). In the current climate in the East where the Heat have assembled such a devastating attack combined with stifling defense, the Bulls need to go for a home run hit and go all in when looking for that shooting guard to fill the second option, rather than being cautious in their approach and finding another offensively-limited defensive SG, because that approach hasn't quite worked out for them (see: Bogans, Keith and Brewer, Ronnie). So after all that mostly necessary preamble to explain my ideas about why the Bulls should do what I suggest, let's look at where they can actually go to fill this need:

  • The Draft. The Bulls are in the happy position of drafting twice late in the first round in a climate where scorers seem to fall to late in the first round. But who to select? Let's take a look at the possible candidates...
    • Marshon Brooks: Brooks measured well at the draft combine and averaged a cheeky 24.5 ppg in college, good for second in the NCAA behind the Jimmer. Oh and shooting 48% from the field. As a player who showed marked improvement between his junior and senior season (going from 14 to 24ppg) it's clear that he hasn't maxed out his potential, yet as a four-year player is mature and NBA ready enough to contribute to a Bulls team looking to win-now. The only possible problem with Brooks and the Bulls is that his stock is fast rising and he might not be available when they select at #27.
    • Scotty Hopson: Now, Scotty had a rather provocative interview where he talked about being a superstar in the League, which raised some issues about his attitude. However, that ambitiousness would serve the 17ppg scorer well alongside Derrick Rose. He also shot a respectable FG% and at 6'7" has ideal size for the 2-guard position. Oh, and he shot 37% from downtown too. As a junior, he is also a relatively game-ready prospect and with strong coaching (see: Thibs) he could max out his potential and be a legitimate scorer in the NBA. He's the most likely to be available with the Bulls' first pick, and if so he should be taken if Brooks is off the board. If Chicago can get Brooks at 27 and Hopson at 29, even better.

  • Free agency. Unlike another hometown hero who managed the best record in the NBA but was unable to get over the line, Rose lives in a place free agents aren't going to avoid like the plague and as such, might be able to find help somewhere other than the draft. Thankfully, there are a number of SGs available who can score and in most cases defend also. Let's take a look...
    • J.R. Smith: Why start with Smith? Because in terms of talent, he's right up there, and would relish the chance to be the second option on a contender after being relegated to the bench for much of his Denver years, even after the Melo trade. Remember what I was saying about homerun hits? Nobody embodies it more than Mr Smith. He and Rose would form arguably the most offensively gifted back-court in the NBA behind Curry and Ellis, and with Thibs at the helm would be much better defensively. J.R. never clicked with Coach Karl and needs a change of scenery. I know I've been high on J.R. on this blog before, but more than anyone, I think J.R. has the potential to get the Bulls over the line against the Heat. He was spurned by Chicago in the past, but maybe that bridge hasn't been burned and his flame can be fanned by the Windy City.
    • Arron Afflalo: Another Denver guy, and part of the reason Smith spent so much time on the bench. This heady young guard showed the ability to create in isolation, deliver in the clutch, and hit the open jumper. Oh, and did I mention he's a defensive ace too? Now, he doesn't have the raw offensive ability of J.R., but he also has an upright character and is used to playing alongside stars, having played with Carmelo Anthony until just recently. The biggest obstacle for seeing Arron in a Bulls uniform is his status as a restricted free agent, meaning the Bulls would likely have to overpay for him, and Denver seems very fond of him indeed. Then again, what was I saying about home-run hits?
    • Wilson Chandler: This is becoming a bit of an epidemic, Denver 2-guards are popping up all over the place, and the best part is that the Nuggets will have to let at least one go to clean up the log-jam at the wings. Chandler is tough, intangibles guy who has also shown steady improvement since he's been in the League. His great size means he could spell Deng at the SF, or play PF if Chicago wanted to go small. Coming from New York, he can make the open shot, and has shown the ability to heat up and have big games. However, rumours of his desire to return to New York abound, and really, can you blame him?
    • Jamal Crawford: When the Hawks signed Joe Johnson to that monstrously ill-advised contract they essentially told Crawford to pack his bags, as his play lately has likely priced him out of their budget. Chicago would be a perfect landing place for Crawford, who has spent time there before, and as a closer has shown great instincts and would be a perfect fit next to Rose down the stretch. What's more, he has no qualms coming off the bench if the head coach decides to start a more defensively minded SG, as the 09-10 Sixth Man of the Year. That said, Crawford is likely to be expensive too, and it also depends on how the new CBA works out.
    • Tracy McGrady: I know, we went down this road last season, and an ill-advised comment from T-Mac pushed the Bulls in another direction. They felt a player returning from major injury was being disrespectful towards their current roster, and had doubts about his durability. Well, he made it through the season healthy, and it's unlikely he'll stick around in Detroit if Chicago wants him. McGrady was an explosive scorer in his hey-day, but is also a gifted playmaker who could not only ease the burden on Rose, but mentor a Scotty Hopson or Marshon Brooks until he retired. McGrady probably only has a few years left in him, but with health no longer an issue and his production in limited minutes, there's no reason McGrady can't suit up for the Bulls and be a major contributor still.
  • And now for something completely different... a trade.
    • I know, this was supposed to be about shooting guards, but an upgrade at SF is also an option. It would mean giving up Luol Deng and probably Taj Gibson, but with whispers that Granger might not be a part of the Pacers future in the air, bringing the former All-Star to Chicago might just work out best for all involved. The Pacers would get a more committed defender and leader in Deng, and a PF in Gibson, and the Bulls get a proven scorer who is really best suited to a secondary scoring role. I know it's a bit of a stretch, as Deng has been a stalwart this season and deserved an All-Star nod, but Deng isn't scoring when Lebron puts on the clamps, whereas Granger probably still could. The Heat would no longer be able to bother Rose with Lebron's size down the stretch as Granger could simply shoot over Wade. Brewer would fill that stopper role for the Bulls at the SG, or they could use Korver as a shooting guard in the truest sense of the word. This strikes me as an incredibly unlikely scenario, but I can't help but wonder how good the Bulls could be with Granger instead of Deng.
Well, that was a rather more long-winded post than I had anticipated, but I suppose there needed to be a lot of explanation when you're talking about changing the team with the best regular season record in the NBA. Whatever happens in this off-season with the CBA and a possibly lock-out, I just hope the Chicago Bulls finally find that second horn.