Saturday, November 26, 2011

A new dawn is breaking

A new dawn is breaking, and with it, a new CBA. We don't know the details of the NBA deal yet, but rest assured, if it weren't ratified the NBA would explode.

Events like this are a mixed blessing for bloggers, after months of anticipation, the pressure has built up to the point where there are too many things to say in just one post. You only get one though. My first thought was to do a hasty set of preseason predictions, but those can wait. I could do a top-something of things I'm glad to have back, but those things will all have been overshadowed by the NBA being back at all and will be self-apparent to boot.

Instead, I think I'll take a different stance and roll with a list of things most people forgot about because of the lockout, which are worth remembering. So without further ado here they are in no particular order, I'll keep going until I run out.

  • Ricky Rubio finally graces an NBA court; after years of anticipation and increasingly lowered expectations, Rubio is going to step onto the NBA hardwood under new coach Rick Adelman. With talented shooters at three of the four other positions, the pass-first PG will have the opportunity to rack up the assists in what I predict will be a Rondo-like manner. He says his shooting is the best it has been in years with the extra time off the lockout gave him, and he's my dark horse to take home ROY.
  • Beasley vs Williams; while we're on the topic of the Timberwolves, let's shift focus to Michael Beasley, who was "up to no good" during the lockout, being caught with drugs, mushing the face of a fan among other things. With Derrick Williams incoming, these two second overall picks with extremely similar games will face off; one is going to be a future face of the franchise, the other is going to be in Adelman's doghouse and likely to be traded. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out, but Williams is my bet given his youth and work ethic.

  • Will Jeff stay Green? Danny Ainge trading starting C Kendrick Perkins for SF Jeff Green was a wildly unpopular move in the eyes of some Celtics fans, and even moreso because he is soon to be a free agent. Rumours have circulated that the talented combo-forward wants to show the Boston faithful he was worth it, but they might get outpriced by teams with more caproom who are willing to spend. His decision could make or break the Celtics season.

  • Kemba or DJ? The Bobcats find themselves in a tricky situation with incoming rookie Kemba Walker playing the same position as another member of their young core in DJ Augustin. MJ will have to make a call soon, because Kemba is experienced enough to not need a whole lot of seasoning, and should be ready to be a leader in the NBA right now. Word on the street is MJ has had it with DJ.

  • Bismack Biyombo; his miraculous rise up the draft boards after one good game against a bunch of high school players stunned the basketball world, before they promptly forgot about him. I've been scouring the news for the past 148 or so days for anything NBA related and not once has Biyombo crossed my path. He was drafted as an extremely raw prospect with amazing physical abilities, but taking him at 7 remains a gamble and I made my feelings on the matter clear.

  • While usual suspect for trouble Michael Beasley was up to his old tricks, another troubled player with megawatt talent kept his nose clean. That player was Lance Stephenson. The rugged guard from Lincoln HS and Cincinatti has been laying low in Indiana, working out, and I have it from a reliable source who's met him a few times that he is noticeably more mature. He once graced the cover of SLAM magazine with former 1st overall pick and franchise face John Wall, but was relegated to the second round after an unimpressive stint in college and off-the-court dramas. Things didn't get any better once he made it to the NBA, as off-court issues kept him in the doghouse, with the Pacers unwilling to jeopardise their clean image until the legal proceedings were resolved. With a fresh season, Stephenson is given a fresh start to help the Pacers and work his way into the rotation. Larry Legend calls him the most talented player on the roster, so let's see if he can get some burn.

  • Nick Young or Jordan Crawford? The Wizards' two-guards both had impressive seasons, but were most effective playing without the other. Washington is forced into a tough decision, to pick their home-grown shooter in Young, or the more versatile Crawford to pair with John Wall in the backcourt.

  • Will Kyrie Irving start? It's usually a given that the first overall pick will start on his new team, but like second pick Williams, he's facing competition from an older player. For Irving it's Baron Davis, who will likely spend the season mentoring Irving with reduced minutes. That said, the division of those minutes and who gets the symbolic nod from Byron Scott is worth keeping an eye on.

  • Where in the world will Greg Oden end up? It's probably an indication of the weakness of this free agent class, but Oden is probably the best chance you'll get to land a franchise changing player, if you can keep him on the court that is. His health problems make the supremely talented and still young Oden a gamble for the Blazers or whoever else wishes to bid for his services. If Phoenix hadn't landed Gortat I'd have bet on him ending up there in the hopes that their legendary medical staff would get him right, but for now it's a mystery.

  • What position will Sacramento star Tyreke Evans play? They drafted another combo guard in Jimmer to pair with Reke in the backcourt, so the question remains whether Tyreke will shift to a more scoring mentality or continue to distribute while Jimmer goes off the ball.

  • Mark Jackson is finally in the coaches box; after years of lobbying from fans of the earthbound former PG, he's finally at the helm of a team and has the unenviable task of reforming the Warriors into a respectable team. The Warriors have just drafted rookie Jeremy Tyler who I'm a fan of, so I hope things go well for Jackson.

  • What happens in Denver? They ended the season with incredible depth after the Carmelo trade, until most of it walked away to China. Karl is left to replace the minutes of Chandler, Smith and Martin with incoming rookies Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried. Look for Hamilton to play a lot of SF for the Nuggets to replace the players who went east and be a surprise candidate for ROY.

  • Who backs up Luis Scola? Houston have brought in Kevin McHale to replace Rick Adelman, and now must decide which of the three young post prospects they want him to mould into their PF for the future. Finesse rookie Motiejunas, reliable Patterson or the athletic Hill. There's no question that Scola will start barring injury, this much we know at least.

  • While we are in Houston, who do they tab to replace the recently retired Yao Ming? It's a tossup between moulding Hill into a C, or McHale attempting to teach Hasheem Thabeet how to play basketball. I'm guessing they'll stick with Thabeet given his potential as a defender, but don't expect any miracles.

  • What is to become of Flynn? He was traded to the Rockets, but will fight for playing time against other young players Lowry and Dragic. I see him being relegated to a role off the bench as second string PG to provide a scoring punch.

  • Where to now for former stars Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady? Both of them are getting a bit long in the tooth and are on their last legs. A move to the Suns didn't help Carter find his groove again, but McGrady proved he could still contribute at the NBA level. The SG spot in Chicago appears to be there for the taking, I'm betting the two of them will both attempt to sell themselves in a chance to get that sweet ring before retiring.
  • With new ownership, can the Pistons finally begin their rebuild? Incoming rookie Brandon Knight looks set to take the starting spot from the disappointing Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe was a revelation last season, Jonas Jerebko is healthy again and Austin Daye is promising as a younger version of Tayshaun Prince. However, the two-guard remains a worry, and the bad stink that is Charlie Villanueva is still hanging around to steal minutes. Hopefully, Lawrence Frank can forge this team into a more competitive product.

  • Evan Turner; it seems to be a trend in recent years that second overall picks will disappoint (Durant being a marvellous exception). It all started with Darko, then Beasley, Thabeet and finally, Evan Turner. The former NPOY in the college ranks wasn't comfortable in the NBA from the first whistle of Summer League until the end of the season. There were flashes, but with the deepest draft in years looming, Turner will need to show a marked improvement from a disappointing rookie year to remain a part of this franchise's future.

  • Is Bayless finally getting a shot? The forgotten man of the 2008 draft class, Bayless has bounced around from team to team without the chance to run the point full-time, and Toronto was no exception last season. With a possible amnesty clause giving Toronto a chance to divest themselves of Jose Calderon and give Bayless his shot, the former Summer League MVP is on his last chance to assert himself as a player to build around for the young Raptors.

  • Speaking of forgotten men, will Gerald Henderson finally be able to put it all together? The athletic but injury-riddled SG is going to be leaned upon heavily this season with the departure of Stephen Jackson. Outside of Corey Maggette and Kemba Walker, the Bobcats will be in desperate need of players who can create their own shots. Like many young players Henderson must face the prospect of being replaced by a younger model, with a number of young prospects at the SG position in Barnes, Lamb and Beal likely to declare for the draft this season and the Bobcats rebuilding. He has shown the ability to be clutch, is ultra-athletic and a respectable shooter, but his upside is questionable after a few seasons in the system. I was ready to replace him with Alec Burks in the 2011 draft, but still want him to find his way.

  • Can Enes Kanter still ball? It's been years since Kanter played a competitive game of basketball given the lockout and his eligibility issues at Kentucky, but after being taken third overall in the draft, the Turkish big man must fight his way into a crowded Utah rotation featuring former 3rd overall pick Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. That much rust might be difficult for a young player to shake off in limited minutes.

  • Is Josh Smith's move to SF permanent? Moving Josh Smith to the SF position reaped rewards for the Atlanta Hawks, as they beat out Orlando in the first round and tested the Bulls in the second, but he's played much of his career at the 4 (to my dismay) and the Hawks might shift him back there if they can't find a better C in free agency to allow Horford to play his natural 4.

  • Will Westbrook continue to take ill-advised jumpers down the stretch of close games, or will he finally trust Durant under enormous public pressure to do just that. I love Westbrook, but he's also one of the most frustrating players to watch, and bad decision making by Russ was directly linked with losing close games against the Mavs in the playoffs.

So those are the more obscure storylines to pursue this season off the top of my head, I hope they gave you something to look forward to outside of the big questions for the next season. This is a great day, it took all I had not to post this in entirely capital letters, but I thought I'd spare you all that on this joyous occasion.

Today I don't care about Heat, Celtics, Lakers or even the Mavericks, I'd hug a fan of any of them in recognition of the relief felt by us all, regardless of affiliation.

Enjoy this moment my friends, we stepped back from the abyss.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prospect Watch; First impressions.

As promised, a bit of a recap of a few prospects I've got my eye on and who were shown on ESPN over here in the last week or so.

Harrison Barnes:
The only game I saw was UNC vs the Spartans, but from what I saw I was disappointed. Barnes had few, if any, drives to the basket, successful or otherwise, so for all this talk that he'd worked on his handle over the summer he still lacks the confidence to go by his man to the rim. However, his jumper was sweet as ever, and he nailed a nice turnaround in the first few minutes. As it was, Roy Williams tabbed the big men as the go-to guys and Barnes wasn't getting a whole lot of shots. Given that Michigan State was packing the paint this could have had an effect, but as big a fan as I am, I'm somewhat disappointed. We'll see if he gains confidence in his handle as the season wears on.

John Henson:
When I look at Henson I'm reminded of Kevin Garnett circa 10-11 season. He has that skinny frame which will prevent him being a low-post beast, but he has some nice finesse moves around the bucket like KG and showed an improved jumper. Of course, the main comparison comes from his capacity to anchor a defence and make every slasher and big guy think twice about shooting in the paint while John is in the same area code (which is all the time with that huge wingspan). Best of all? He does it without fouling. That said, he's not going to be a superstar like the KG of old, but he could have a solid career playing a role like the old KG.

Tyler Zeller:
Won't say much here except I think he'll struggle to score at the next level. He got pushed around a LOT, had no impact defensively and was outhustled for rebounds on numerous occasions. I expect him to be a late first-rounder, and could be a decent back-up C in the NBA.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist:
Saw him play a couple of exhibition games but most importantly I got to see MKG face off against the Kansas Jayhawks. While he didn't blow you away with his stats, he was certainly a leader out there, and there was a tangible difference in the attitude of the Wildcats when he was on the floor. He showed a capacity to finish in the paint through contact and you get the feeling he could put up more numbers if required. His decision-making is what impressed me the most though, as he always made sound decisions and set up team-mates indirectly for scoring opportunities. He was trying too hard to shoot the jumper and prove he could make it, but despite his ugly form the percentage isn't terrible. There are definitely flashes of Andre Iguodala in his game, and he certainly has the potential to be a point forward at the next level. His intangibles are amazing, and I get the feeling the Wildcats might actually win it all this season. If they do, MKG will be a BIG part of it.

Anthony Davis:
Very raw offensively, scored mainly on the break. His handle held up surprisingly well in the open court, but he's definitely a PF at the next level, certainly wouldn't be able to blow by NBA SFs with his level of quickness. Was good defensively, but didn't wow me like Henson. He'll have great numbers against inferior competition, but I get the feeling he'll have huge dips in production against quality bigs.

Marquis Teague:
I won't say much about him except that if he's the best PG prospect in the country then the run of amazing PGs has finally ended. He seems far too hot and cold out there, forces things too often and gets visibly upset when he's subbed out of the game. Needs to calm down and learn to use his speed more effectively. Did have a nice dunk though.

Terrence Jones:
Struggled to finish around the rim on occasion and while he was more active he didn't seem to have added that fluidity to his handle to be able to consistently beat his defender off the dribble. His position at the next level remains up in the air, but his attitude gives some hope.

Thomas Robinson:
Got himself into foul trouble, but was a man amongst boys when he was out there. Had a double-double I believe and was simply a beast on the boards. His offensive game is raw, but he would be a high-level role player at the next level for his rebounding and ability to score without needing plays run for him.

Jared Sullinger:
Saw him play against Florida and he ran a clinic on how to create for your team-mates without even touching the ball. The Gators were so focused on stopping him that he was able to move off the ball and draw multiple players, and thereby create scoring opportunities. When he did get the ball in the post he was able to get to the line almost every time and shot a good percentage. I don't see him as a franchise talent necessarily, but could be the best player on a well put together team and contend for a championship. Very fundamentally sound, but needs to continue to improve his athleticism.

Bradley Beal:
Against OSU I first thought he was overrated, but as the game wore on he improved. Got his shot blocked in the paint a number of times though, and his shooting wasn't quite on, but flashes of a great player are there so I'll wait before making a more definite judgement.

Will Barton:
Big fan of Will Barton so was very excited to see him play against a Belmont team which came just short against Duke prior to this matchup. Unfortunately, it looks like he's gained only negligible weight over the break and remains something of a beanpole, but this is something that can be fixed in the pros. In the early going he wasn't being very aggressive and despite making a ridiculous midrange floater he was being overshadowed by team-mate Wesley Witherspoon. However, when Wes got into foul trouble and the game wore on Barton came to life. He started being more aggressive and attacking the rim. He was very efficient inside the three-point line, and ended up having over 20 points. He also pulled down some key boards down the stretch and was a nuisance defensively with that long wingspan. He has definitely made strides in both attitude and ability since his freshman year and could sneak into lottery contention in this coming draft should he choose to declare. The makings of a superstar are there, he just needs to gain some muscle and refine his jumpshot.

Adonis Thomas:
Struggled somewhat early on, as is to be expected, but made key plays down the stretch. He and Barton are listed at the same height, but Thomas' physique makes him seem a few inches taller. He's simply incredibly well put together. Showed nice form on his jump shot and will be a key contributor for the Tigers off the bench. Might be a one and done prospect on potential, but could probably do with a second year in college.

Joe Jackson:
Showed nice scoring touch, especially in the open court and had one outstanding dunk. Hard to see him starting at the point in the NBA, but would be the perfect back-up to provide a scoring punch off the bench at the next level.

Wesley Witherspoon:
Looked like absolutely taking over the game before getting into foul trouble, and definitely shows flashes of being a quality stretch-PF in the NBA. Could spend some time at the 3, but seems wholly different to the Wesley Witherspoon I saw last season and may just have figured it all out in time to declare for the draft. Should be a late first-round pick in most drafts, but given the possible depth in the 2012 draft he might slip into the second round.

Josiah Turner:
Absolutely failed to meet expectations. For a so-called "pure" point guard he didn't create for others very well and struggled to finish at the rim. However, he did show the ability to get to the basket at least, which is a good sign. But from all accounts since the game against Valpo things have gone downhill for him.

So, that turned out to be more than a "few" but I figured even a few fringe players deserved some love. Overall, I'm warming to college ball, even if there is too much zone being played and too many teams to really keep track of.

A few things for the uninitiated to look out for;

1) Perry Jones III returns from suspension; Quincy Miller has assumed top dog status in his absence, but if Jones is serious about being a superstar at the next level he should have no problems taking back the reins. Should be interesting either way.

2) C.J. Leslie's return from suspension; the NC State player already made his debut and was very effective in a tight loss to Villanova, if I recall correctly. He was hyped as a lottery pick coming out of high school, so we'll see if he can breakout this season. Early signs indicate he might just do that.

3) UConn marches on; didn't get a chance to watch them yet, but they remain undefeated and Lamb has looked like a contender for the NPoY thus far. Drummond had a slow start, but logged 11 offensive rebounds in one game! Once he gets that mask off the beast will be let out of its cage.

4) Washington on the upswing; with Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross sporting nicknames like Stealth, GPS and NASA, respectively, it's not hard to see why they are flying under the radar. However, the three of them have formed a potent back-court rotation, with sharp-shooting Wilcox rounding them out. The Huskies are a team to watch come tournament time, and are a sleeper to make the Elite Eight in my opinion. You heard it here first.

Well that'll be all, I'd better get some sleep before my exam tomorrow morning.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hiatus over baby, let's get back into it.

I know, I know, we all hoped we could have a little closure by this point; either we'd have a deal, or the season would be cancelled. Despite this, we are another six hours away from the resumption of meetings. But I said the hiatus would be over, and so it is. Given that the college season is the only thing we can count on these days, let's have a bit of a draft flavour for this one, and take a look at my top 5 prospects for next season, and those that are over- and underrated.

Top Prospects:

5. Quincy Miller: I know, I know, he missed his entire senior season with a torn ACL, but from all accounts, he's well and truly healthy now, and his combination of size, length, skill and swagger make him a potential franchise player. They don't call him Baby KD for nothing, and people are sleeping on him majorly if they don't think he's a top 5 prospect.

4. Jared Sullinger: Yes, he lacks elite athleticism, but that hardly stopped Kevin Love from becoming an All-Star (although I still take issue with this), and Sullinger's wide frame and strength make his post-up repertoire a deadly weapon. He isn't the sort to carry a franchise, but he's one of the most reliable prospects out there; you really know what you're getting with Sullinger. At the very least he's a scoring option on the block with leadership qualities and no misconceptions of being a perimeter player.

3. Perry Jones III: This ranking has probably surprised a lot of people, because it means either Davis, Barnes or Drummond isn't making my top 5. However, when I look at Jones, I see a more physically developed, equally skilled version of Anthony Davis. He possesses the same knack for the perimeter game, but with a year of college experience under his belt and ridiculous physical tools thrown into the mix. Yes, he had a bit of an up and down season as a freshman, but so did Barnes, and people are willing to give him another chance too. He made the right decision to come back to college after being ruled ineligible, showing signs of increased maturity. Literally the only thing holding him back is his own desire to dominate, and perhaps his inability to compete in the tail end of last season will light that fire. Bottom line, he remains the prospect with the second highest ceiling in this draft, and that alone makes him worthy of a top-three pick.

2. Harrison Barnes: I really wanted to put Barnes number one. For my regular readers, you know I've been high on him all throughout last season, and with an increased focus on ball-handling and creating his own shot, the favourite for the Wooden award cannot be overlooked as a potential first overall pick. While he had his freshman struggles, after he was fed the rock more consistently I defy you to find a player who delivered quite so well in the final moments of big games as Barnes. While the early signs aren't great (his numbers weren't eye-popping in UNC exhibition games), Barnes is first and foremost a shooter, and it's likely to take him a little time to find his rhythm, to shake off the rust. Then you have to factor in his mature demeanour, incredible work ethic and defensive acumen. While he isn't an athlete on the level of a Lebron James, he has just the right amount to get the job done when combined with his prototypical small-forward frame and skill-set. I'd be hard-pressed to find a player who is deadlier once he's found a rhythm, and nothing keeps a player in rhythm like the grind of an 82-game season. Mark my words, this kid will be a star.

1. Andre Drummond: Reading the glowing review I'd just given Barnes, you'd have to double-check if I was crazy to only have him second in any other draft. But this draft will more than likely have Andre Drummond. Remember when I said Perry Jones III had the second-highest ceiling in this draft? Well this guy's ceiling is the sky. He combines prototypical NBA center size with amazing athleticism. Oh, and that's before you've seen the guy dribble the ball. If you look back on his high school career you'll see images of Andre picking the pocket of guards to start his own break, or going to coast to coast and throwing it down, splitting defenders along the way. That's not all, he can pass too. While he might be a little flashy, you have to love a big man who makes the right passes, even if there are a few wrong ones thrown in. Offensively, he can face up, and will learn how to dominate inside from Jim Calhoun at UCONN. Drummond had the option to forgo a year of college and jump straight to pros, but made the decision to join the defending champions and test himself against stronger competition. His only problem has been a question of motor, but it's hard to be motivated when you're literally head and shoulders above the competition. Being challenged in the NCAA should raise his ire, and people will forget about his "motor problems". For too long Dwight Howard has been the undisputed top dog at the C position... well he'd better watch his back, because there's a husky nipping at his heels. Sic 'im Dre.


1. Anthony Davis: I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid on this kid. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think people are making too big a deal about his sudden growth spurt. Yes, he's very athletic, but not enough to play the small forward at the next level in my opinion, and his post-up game is too raw for a player who will be a power forward at the next level. His high motor will serve him well, but at best I see him as an elite defender who won't be able to carry a team to any great success as the 1st option, which his unimpressive high school record demonstrates.

2. James McAdoo: McAdoo is certainly a physical specimen, but while he has a great post-up game he simply doesn't have the height to use it effectively against NBA power forwards, and doesn't have the perimeter skills to make it at the 3. This is all just personal opinion, but undersized PFs don't do it for me. If you put McAdoo's offensive game in Anthony Davis' body, you'd have a great prospect, but you can't have it all.

Dishonourable mentions; Josiah Turner, Austin Rivers


1. Terrence Jones: Somehow, in all the commotion of Barnes, Sullinger and the other Jones returning to the NCAA, people forgot about Terrence Jones. He burst out of the gate as a freshman on a Kentucky team trying to live up to the John Wall-led Wildcats of a year before, and almost succeeded. Until things started to go downhill, and the freshman struggles set in. However, he had the chance to be a lottery pick and turned it down to return to Coach Cal and be one of the best players in college. From all accounts he has whipped his body into shape so that he can shed the "tweener" tag and be a legitimate combo-forward, with the quickness to play both ends on the perimeter, and the size and length to operate on the low block. Given his 52 points in the Blue-White scrimmage, early signs indicate he succeeded. A lot of people are sleeping on Jones, but something tells me he'll eclipse every player in the new group of vaunted Kentucky recruits and might just crack the top 5 in the 2012 draft.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Lock-down defender, non-stop motor and a freak athlete. These are the ways you could describe Kidd-Gilchrist. But look beyond his funky shooting style, or his elite handle (or lack thereof) and see the player who simply energizes his team when he's on the court. The only word which can truly capture Michael is winner. Simply put, whatever you need, he'll get it done. He might not have eye-popping statistics as a freshman at Kentucky, with the amount scoring already present, but he'll make it count with the Ws. The kid has been in the spotlight since his freshman year, and survived to remain one of the top prospects coming out of high school. He never stopped working, and never stopped winning. I believe in Kidd-Gilchrist, and whichever team he falls to will be pleasantly surprised at the immediate impact he'll have on their culture.

Honourable mentions; Tony Wroten, Myck Kabongo

Feels good to be posting about basketball again without a cloud of gloom over my head, so I hope you'll forgive me if things are a little sloppy. Like Barnes, I just need a little time to shake off the rust.