Thursday, April 26, 2012

26/4 - Wizards at Cavs

I had to watch this game in segments, so it was hard to get a real feel for the flow of the game, but I was very disappointed that Kyrie Irving barely played and didn't step up to the challenge of facing Wall head-to-head. As a result, I can't say much about Kyrie, I barely noticed he was on the floor because he was deferring a whole lot.

Vesely showed some nice moves, he really hustles around the basket, runs the break extremely well and is the perfect PF to run with Wall. He's like a smaller Javale McGee in terms of his lanky athleticism, but without the boneheadedness that got McGee shipped to Denver. Jan threw down one brilliant dunk for an and-one in transition, living up to his name as the European Blake Griffin. Defensively, he was aggressive showing on the pick and roll, and was quick to recover and contest the jumper of the roll man.

Nene is a real leader out there, he came off the bench as he's still not 100%, but he's very vocal when he's on the floor and makes great decisions passing out of the post in the half-court. He showed off his nice shooting touch, with a couple of spot up shots and even a step back J with the shot clock winding down. I think he's best served starting at the 5, although he has the versatility to play PF or C, with Vesely a nice complement, with his scrappiness and hustle. This means that Seraphin will come off the bench, but I think a scoring option off the bench suits him at this point in his career, he's not quite ready to start, as he disappears for long stretches at times, which was the case today. Coming off the bench behind a vet like Nene will work to the advantage of the Wizards and Seraphin in the long term.

On to the big name, Mr John Wall. I first read about Wall in SLAM magazine and they described him as moving at "warp speed", and it's a fair metaphor for just how quick Wall is with the ball in his hands. It's not just that he has a quick top speed, but you often see him gracefully loping up the court with the ball whilst the players around him are in a dead run, and then at the drop of a hat he can be through the gap in the transition D and at the rim. He missed a few chippy shots at the rim tonight, but the ease with which he got there was jaw-dropping. He's so catlike in his movements that you can never tell what he's going to do next, it's even more amazing when you consider his tremendous size and length for his position. Alonzo Gee is considered an athletic freak, but Wall casually blocked his dunk attempt against the backboard in transition, and was punished only for a little body contact. Defensively, he seemed much more energized than the last time I saw him play, probably the side effect of a 4 game winning streak heading into tonight's game. However, scoring and D aside, Wall's passing was on full display tonight, with at least 13 assists at my last count. Some of the more brilliant dishes came in transition, and I can't emphasise enough just how dangerous Wall is on the break, even if you have 3 people back on D, Wall probably has a 50/50 chance of scoring or creating an opportunity to score before it becomes a halfcourt set. That said, Wall still struggled with his turnovers and played a bit wild at times, but you hope that whoever the Wizards bring in to coach this team next season allows John to continue to play fast and loose, because overly restricting Wall's wiggle room would be a crime against basketball. If Wall ever develops a midrange jumper off the dribble, then it's game over, I just don't see how anyone would be able to stop him, short of doubling him every time he gets the ball, except that Wall's passing is so great that he'd find the open man and punish you that way.

I'm going to end this report with a bold statement; if all the young PGs in the NBA (anyone Westbrook's age or younger) were taken in isolation, Wall would be the best equipped to win multiple championships. Wall has such an instinctive feel for distributing, is such a menace in transition, and has such great length for his position that he reminds me of Magic Johnson. He's the sort of guy who could consistently elevate the play of his teammates over the course of a 10 year span, so long as he had the right running mates. I know, Wall hasn't won a whole lot in the NBA thus far, but his situation is completely different from Magic's, and while Rose is a more talented player, and Westbrook is more athletic, Wall's game lends itself to post-season success, because it's rare for PGs who do the majority of the team's scoring to be particularly successful.

This season was a bit of letdown, sure, but Wall is the real deal, and I'm glad I saw this game to renew my faith in one of my favourite prospects in a long time.

Last day of the regular season tomorrow, and I'll be watching the Kings and Lakers, should be fun watching Kobe gun for that scoring title.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

22/4 - Warriors at Rockets

I've had a dislike for the Warriors since I saw how poorly they defended under Don Nelson, and not much changed under Keith Smart. I didn't like Monta Ellis and Curry in the same backcourt, and I thought Udoh was a rubbish pick. With that said, I like the approach new head coach Mark Jackson has taken, and there are a number of players on their team which have me coming around.

First of all, this was the first time I'd seen the much-heralded Klay Thompson, and I see what all the fuss is about, he shoots lights out, moves off the ball well, has great size for the position and didn't really force it. He finished with 24 points tonight as the first option on a team with Gladness, Jenkins, Richard Jefferson and Jeremy Tyler as his support. While he shot 9-19, he shot 4-4 from the FT line, and had 12 in the 4th to bring the Warriors back from the brink. There's just one problem; basketball players have to attack and defend, and the saying "God doesn't give with both hands" is especially true of Thompson. He does the things which make it seem like he's trying defensively, staying low, having a wide stance and adjusting to players around him, but he was caught flat-footed just about every time someone tried to go by him, and he simply doesn't seem to have the mentality that he wants to stop his opponent, he'd rather pay him back at the other end. I'll cut him some slack for being a rookie, but his movements defensively were all big movements, he'd make a big jump to adjust to the screen instead of a few small steps to stay on his toes. Offensively though, he plays a prototypical shooting-guard game, and moving Ellis was a wise move, because it's allowed Thompson to blossom, whilst also giving the Warriors a shot at retaining their lottery pick (which is top-7 protected).

Another player from the Warriors I'm high on is Jeremy Tyler. I was thrilled when the Bobcats took him early in the second round last year, as he has great physical attributes, and was slept on due to his ill-conceived stint in the pros overseas after leaving high school early. That was until MJ sold him to the Rockets for a bit of cash. As a result, I haven't been able to watch him much this year, so I was glad the game I watched saw Tyler get a lot of minutes. He is unfortunately very raw, but he moves well off the ball to set screens, is active going after boards and his length was able to bother Scola and Patterson underneath a few times. That said, he struggles to prevent players backing him down, and needs to work at holding his ground a bit better. Offensively, he tried a few too many turnaround jumpers in the post, but he showed nice touch inside when he actually got inside. Tyler finished with 8 points on 4-7 shooting, and of those three he missed, two were jumpers. He has quick feet, but they can be a little too quick, as he was called for a travel at one point for lifting that pivot foot before taking a bounce. However, for a second round pick he's showing that he can be a decent backup C at the very least, and with his rookie year under his belt, a full off-season to work with his coaches and little pressure to do the spectacular at this stage of his career, he's well placed to develop even further. Tyler is similar to DeAndre Jordan in that he was an athletic freak, was the top prospect at one point in his high school career and fell into the second round. Hopefully, having emulated Jordan's fall from grace, he can mirror his rise into a starting role - especially if Andrew Bogut continues to miss large chunks of seasons.

Not much to say about the Rockets that I didn't say two days ago. However, Dragic threw down a nasty dunk, which surprised me, Courtney Lee continued to make timely buckets, and there was even a Marcus Morris sighting! The much maligned lottery pick was beaten out by second-rounder Chandler Parsons, but hit a nice step back jumper with a hand in his face and hasn't lost the shooting touch he possessed in college. That said, he has relatively slow feet, and his handle slows him down even further. He looked smaller than I thought he'd be out there and definitely lacks the size to play the PF full-time, so must improve his conditioning to allow himself to play the small forward at the NBA level. I don't see him being particularly successful in Houston with Budinger and Parsons there, as both of them are similar players but are simply better.

That's all for this one folks, I'll see you on Wednesday (Tuesday for your North American folk) for a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals with Miami against Boston. Just kidding (or am I?).


Saturday, April 21, 2012

21/4 - Thunder at Kings

I'll confess, I couldn't make it through this whole game, I watched three quarters and then skipped to the end because it was apparent what the outcome would be. Having just written a pretty extensive review of these teams the last time they played, I'll keep this one brief and talk about the things that were the same, and the things that were different this time around.

The Same;
  • Ibaka still blocked a bunch of shots, and the Thunder as a whole made life difficult for the Kings inside.
  • Cousins struggled to find a rhythm and had what can only be described as a hissyfit after one particular no-call, going to far as to flail his arms uselessly by his sides and make a high pitched whining sound.
  • Cousins, along with most of the Kings squad, still expect to be bailed out by the referees instead of just playing the damn game.
  • Durant was still Durant.
  • Westbrook demonstrated more of his disdain for smaller PGs, which meant he was trying to score, but also slacking off defensively, which caught him out a number of times.
  • Tyreke's jumper is still ugly as ever, he doesn't elevate at all, just fades away. It's possible this is a bad habit he picked up while he was carrying that foot injury last season, but you just hope the Kings coaching staff can fix his jumper.
  • Jimmer still sucks, but people still love him. He hit a three in the corner and the crowd went wild, and with his confidence back, he decided taking a jumper from about 5 feet beyond the 3 point line with Durant guarding him was a good idea. Shockingly, it missed. I've never understood the appeal of this guy.
  • No Marcus Thornton meant Tyreke started at the 2-guard, and it seemed to work out relatively well. Whilst the Kings didn't really threaten to win, they stayed competitive throughout, and Tyreke was able to have more of an impact defensively without having to worry about guarding Durant. The Kings starter Outlaw at the SF to help with Durant's length, and it worked reasonably well. If they can get Barnes in the upcoming draft then these Kings have a bright future.
As you can see, the major change was that Thornton was out, and the difference in their demeanour was immediately apparent. Not much more to say about this one, the Kings got out to a hot start but inevitably crumbled. Tyreke Evans is still the best player on this team, and if he can just learn to be more vocal as a leader, he'll be a lot better. Cousins isn't fit to carry the burden of a whole franchise, at least not yet, so Kings fans who want Tyreke out need to take another look at what life would be like without him, because he still does amazing things on the basketball court, and after an off-season marred by injury, followed by a lockout without access to his coaches, Tyreke could make a big leap in terms of addressing his game now that he's healthy and there are no labour issues.

It'll be interesting to see how the Kings approach draft night, let's hope they do better than they did in 2011, I'm still frustrated they passed on Brandon Knight to get Jimmer Fredette... Knight would have made the perfect backcourt partner for Tyreke as a combo guard who can defend the point, shoot the ball and create for others.

I've decided to scrap a couple of games and come back refreshed for the end of the season. To that end, I'll be doing Rockets vs Warriors tomorrow, as I haven't seen them play yet, but then skipping Raptors vs Pistons and Sixers vs Nets as I've reviewed both these teams already and have seen all I need to see. Which means the next time I post after tomorrow's game is going to be for Heat vs Celtics, then Wizards vs Cavs (on the off chance Kyrie Irving is playing), and finally the Lakers vs Kings on the last day of the regular season.

Game report will be late tomorrow, as I've got a pickup basketball game on at the same time as the game. See you all then.

Also, if you haven't watched this Kobe mix yet, you should check it out, great video.

Kobe Bryant HD

Friday, April 20, 2012

20/4 - Rockets at Hornets

After a number of snoozers, I had a surprised treat with the Hornets-Rockets game going into OT, which extended the Hornets' home season just a little longer.

Both teams were hungry from the start, with the Hornets wanting to end their home campaign with a win, and the Rockets fighting for their playoff lives. The first half was up and down, the Rockets got into a groove from deep, hitting a number of long bombs, whilst Camby was inexplicably hitting seemingly every midrange shot he took. For the Hornets, Aminu had a number of nice moves in the first, hitting a step back J with that beautiful rainbow arc, attacking the rim and being generally aggressive looking for his shot. Eric Gordon went to work early, going right at Courtney Lee from the get-go with a couple of impressive drives to the rim. Sylvester Stallone's body double got hot in the second quarter, but remains a streaky shooter who is lacklustre defensively. Much loved rookie Chandler Parsons was quiet for the most part, but had one noteworthy play, stealing a pass to Xavier Henry and throwing it off his head as he was falling out of bounds with such force that it had to be collected on the other side of the court. Jason Smith displayed some great hops with a ridiculous block on an attempted jumper by Courtney Lee (if memory serves). The Rockets were up about 10 for the majority of the first half, but the Hornets never stopped battling.

In the second half, Carl Landry played well, as did Luis Scola, the former teammates were a steadying presence for their young teammates. Eric Gordon stayed aggressive, but I did notice he was very passive off the ball, I'll put it down to his poor conditioning after missing so much time, but he was energetic in spurts for the most part. The latter part of the fourth quarter was huge, Gordon made a great bucket to regain the lead, Landry had a nice putback after a miss by Gravy, Dragic had a nice drive and score, hit some FTs, and Courtney Lee had a nice 3 late in regulation. It came down to the scores being tied with 14 seconds left, and Gordon executed a filthy crossover to get separation from Courtney Lee, but just missed the jumper at the buzzer to seal the win. The OT period started off slow, until Gustavo Ayon happened. Playing with 5 fouls, Ayon made three brilliant passes in overtime to give the Hornets a comfortable lead before fouling out. When I say they were brilliant passes, I really mean it, he showed the sort of vision you'd expect from your PG, not a rookie C. Aminu was the recipient of one of those passes, hitting another of his rainbow jumpers after a quick dribble to the side, whereas Carl Landry was the finisher on the other two inside. Gordon came up with a great steal as part of the run in OT, reading the passing lane and finishing with a dunk on the other end. After that it was pretty much game over, and the Rockets have to be seriously concerned that their season will end with a trip to the lottery.

In general, the Hornets are a lot closer to bouncing back than people realise, they still need a real PG for the future, as Gravy is more of a combo and you'd want a better playmaker in crunch time. Lillard, Marshall or even Teague make sense if they want to use Minnesota's pick. Aminu is looking like a keeper with his great length and increased confidence offensively. They have great role players in Ayon, Belinelli, Gravy, Henry and Jason Smith. A veteran PF/C in Okafor, a great low-post scorer in Kaman if they want to keep him around, and a top 5 draft pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. If the Hornets miss out on Anthony Davis, they should take either Thomas Robinson or Andre Drummond to pair with Okafor/Kaman in the future. That said, if they miss out on Drummond, Davis and Robinson, taking Sullinger or Perry Jones III with their second lottery pick makes sense. Sullinger would provide low post scoring and is team-first, PJ3 wouldn't have huge expectations out of the gate, wouldn't be required to score a whole lot with Gordon around, and Monty Williams is the sort of coach who could get Jones to play hard with his no-nonsense approach and youth. With these moves made and a healthy roster, the Hornets can emulate the Jazz, Denver and a number of other successful teams lacking a legitimate superstar and get by on hustle, teamwork and great coaching.

The Rockets have done a lot better than many fans expected this season, which is a credit to Kevin McHale, who has done a masterful job of matching the success of Adelman in Houston by keeping the Rockets above .500. Even if they do make the playoffs, the Rockets need to make some decisions with personnel. Dragic is going to be hotly pursued after a strong finish to the season and with Lowry also playing great before contracting a nasty virus, they can't afford to overpay for a backup PG, so one of them will have to go. Lee has shown he can start for a playoff team (Orlando), but Kevin Martin will be back next season, so he's likely to be relegated to the bench. If he isn't given the opportunity to start before his deal expires, you can't help but feel Lee is going to sign somewhere that will. Luis Scola has been solid as a rock, and Patterson is a great player to have off the bench, but Camby isn't going to be around for long, Dalembert isn't a long-term solution and they have Motiejunas coming over soon. Of all the players Houston has in the fold, Motie (as I like to call him) has the highest ceiling as a difference maker, he's a legitimate 7-footer, has a great skill-set, is solidly put together, and was a steal in the late first round. The biggest area that needs to be addressed is SF though. Parsons is nice, but they can certainly do with a guy who is better at creating his own shot, and Marcus Morris is looking like a bust. Budinger is athletic, but far too inconsistent to be relied upon.  In the off-season, I think Houston should target Michael Beasley from Minnesota, he's got a sky-high ceiling, is still young, and would be affordable after his inconsistent play this season. While Houston's future is blurry, I trust Morey to make the right moves this off-season, and hopefully build a winner.

Tomorrow it's another matchup between the Thunder and Kings, hopefully it's a bit more competitive.

Also, I just had to link you guys to this, cracks me up:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

19/4 - Knicks at Nets

It was scheduled as a Nets home game, the last time the two would clash before they shared New York. However, there were so many Knicks fans in the building that Melo started getting MVP chants down the stretch. It's not going to get any better when the Nets are in BK, because it'll be even easier for Knicks fans to flood the arena without having to travel interstate.

But on to the game... this one was a snoozer, in that I came dangerously close to falling asleep while I was watching it. I have a tendency to root for either the underdog or a superstar player to do something special, and whilst the first quarter was thrilling, with Melo absolutely dominating with 18 effortless points, the Nets spent the rest of the game doubling him for the most part, and the Knicks' outside shooters tore them apart with 35 3-pt attempts at last count.

So yes, it wasn't really a close game, even though after both teams cleared their bench with two minutes remaining the Nets couldn't miss a shot and brought it within 8 with under a minute to play.

Gerald Wallace was the only Nets player who really wanted this one, it was his return from injury and he was hungry, negating the mismatch Melo usually has starting at the 4 with his own length/strength. Unfortunately, Melo can pick on people his own size just as easily, and Wallace was in foul trouble for most of the second half. I've always been a big fan of Wallace, and so long as he's prepared to accept a three-year deal for a little less money to play in Brooklyn I can see him being a key part of a playoff push should the Nets keep Williams around.

The Nets have absolutely no Cs right now. Lopez is obviously hurt, but Jordan Williams is carrying a LOT of extra weight, is a poor helpside defender and was absolutely abused by Tyson Chandler on both ends, whether it was Chandler rolling to the basket for easy dunks, or getting countless tapouts to open shooters, pulling down offensive boards and going up or just generally protecting the rim defensively - the Nets simply had no answers.

I want to say straight out that the Nets are the worst defensive team I've seen in a long time, they have a few decent individual defenders, but their rotations and help on D is laughable. Humphries is a joke of a PF, he "hustles" because he's chasing a contract, but on the defensive side of the floor he has no concept of defending the pick and roll, and on one play Chandler set a really soft screen on the ball then rolled right to the basket and Humphries just doubled the ball, leaving Chandler literally wide open for a pass and dunk. I cannot overstate how terrible the Nets are at stopping dribble penetration and defending the pick and roll.

There were a few things worth commenting on in this game, namely the clash between Gerald Green and J.R. Smith, they both took different routes to end up where they are out of high school - prime examples of wasted talent, but seemingly maturing with age. They are both ridiculous athletes, and in the early fourth quarter they were trading buckets, Green isolating against Novak the first two times and getting off clean jumpers, and Smith going right at Green on the other end. The battle more or less ended with Smith switching onto Green defensively and not giving him room to get off a shot comfortably. It was a win for Smith, but I did wonder who I'd rather have on my team; Green seems a lot more humble after his stint in the D-League, and has embraced life as a role player off the bench, whereas Smith's ego has only grown after a season in China where he was allowed to jack up whatever shot he wanted. That said, Smith is a lot more polished with his handle, defense and ability to create his own shot. Given they are both the same age (26) and shouldn't have theoretically entered their primes, it'll be interesting to see if either of them can build on what they've accomplished this season to return to relevance in the NBA.

MarShon Brooks seems to be in Avery Johnson's doghouse as he spent a lot of time on the bench and couldn't really find a rhythm. He made a few nice moves early to attack the bucket, but fell in love with his midrange jumper and was fading away on the majority of them. Brooks is a player who needs to be humbled just a little, you can tell he was a scoring machine in college, but he needs to accept that he has a long way to go and needs to continue to improve to be successful in the NBA. Defensively, Brooks is a terrible individual defender, and gets pushed around by more solidly built guards. If he can put on some muscle, improve his shot selection and buy-in defensively, then he has a bright future, but I'm still a bit so-so on whether that will (or should) be with the Nets.

Iman Shumpert was solid defensively, making Brooks work for his points, but he's another guy who needs to be taken WAY down to earth. He was quoted as saying he could deny Michael Jordan the ball as well as anyone, and would accept the challenge to make him uncomfortable. While sure what he's saying is true if taken at face value in that he could probably deny Jordan as well as anyone (that is to say, not at all) and would certainly accept the challenge (unsuccessfully), the implication was that he feels he would have been a "Jordan stopper". Of course, Mike made a point of annihilating anybody who claimed they could stop him, so it's a shame he isn't still lacing them up so he could bring Shumpert down to earth a bit. You like his confidence, but the accolades he's received as a defender have gone to his head somewhat, and while he shows great potential as a lockdown defender, he still makes plenty of rookie mistakes and gambles too often. I know this isn't really relevant to the game, but the game was so bad, and I only heard this yesterday, so I figured I'd throw it in.

The cross-town rivalry didn't go out with a bang, but a fizzle, after 35 years of battling each other, the final game was a joke, the majority of the Nets are counting the days until the season is over, and their franchise player was wearing a suit.

The Nets are dead, long live the Nets.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

18/4 - Pacers at Sixers

Before I get into the players too much, I just thought I'd take a second to comment on how the coaching styles of Doug Collins and Frank Vogel are drastically different. If you'll recall, I said yesterday that the Sixers and Pacers are similar in that they play without a real star or first option, have a mix of youth and veterans, and are both very talented squads. This is where Collins/Vogel come in. From the opening tip it became apparent that Collins is extremely controlling of his players, and will punish even the slightest indiscretion with an immediate benching. It has resulted in the Sixers playing hard defensively and not turning the ball over, but it has also left them afraid to think for themselves, and they suffer as a result. It seemed at times that Sixers players were afraid of having the ball for fear of turning it over or missing a bad shot and being subsequently benched. Now, Collins is a basketball genius by all accounts, but he seems to have relatively poor people skills, and I've heard it said that he's very high strung and expects perfection on every play. While it's great to have a coach who provides structure, which is what this young squad needed last season, Collins needs to give them a bit more slack to work with, so they can believe in themselves and feel confident taking chances.

Vogel on the other hand, seems to have found a way to connect with his team on a personal level, and they really play like a unit. He's generally positive in his comments, and he gets his players to play hard. It could be put down to the naivete of a young coach versus the weary cynicism of the old vet in Collins, but either way, Doug needs to take a less analytical approach if he's going to help these young players grow into confident decision-makers, rather than mindless drones blindly executing a system.

But on to the game, and before I get into it, I'd like to point out that the guys logging regular minutes on all the teams I've watched recently have looked straight up exhausted from start to finish. There's a definite lack of energy amongst the starters, and the helter-skelter pace has taken its toll on the teams which work hard on both ends. I feel as though players will start to play a lot better come the playoffs simply because of the increased rest time afforded by the post-season, and the deeper they go the fresher they'll be.

Instead of analysing individual players, because these teams are so similar I'm going to work in pairs, looking at the individual matchups and how they panned out.

First up, Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert; two guys who were vying for that All-Star reserve spot at the centre position until Hawes went down with an injury. However, they both slumped a bit after the early season, and it was great to see them battling each other. Both players have great length, being a legit 7 feet tall, both players use finesse more than strength, are relatively slow-footed and can pass well out of the post. Hawes shot well from outside the paint to impact the game, but is still struggling to rediscover his touch inside, which led to a number of missed opportunities at the rim. Defensively Hawes racked up a few fouls, but the majority came late in the game and were usually in help situations, rather than against his man straight up. Hibbert was the opposite, didn't really look for his mid-range shot, instead was happy to post up and go over his left shoulder for a righty hook shot. He went over his right only once or twice, but the Sixers couldn't stop his right hook, and you know the old saying, it ain't broke, so don't fix it. Defensively Roy did a good job contesting shots, but his slow-feet made him a little late on his rotations which led to a couple of fouls and a goaltending call. Both of these guys struggled to make in impact with their passing, as they were each looking to score a bit more. Overall, Roy got the better of Hawes, but it was only a slight edge.

Paul George and Evan Turner; the first two SGs selected in the 2010 draft, and it has since become apparent that George is a SF, and Turner a PG. That said, they did match up with each other for stretches, and they are completely different players. George was locking down defensively, hitting open shots and looking to score, whereas Turner returned to his point forward roots and ran the offense. George hit a couple of nice jumpers, including a 3 in the fourth to extend the lead, and made Turner really work to get shots off, and his length really bothered Evan. It was a quite game for George though, but he played his role defensively, and hustled throughout which is all that can be asked. Oh, and he casually threw down a spinning windmill dunk after the halftime buzzer. Turner was brought off the bench and ran the point for the second unit, he showed a nice handle, and great instincts for where players would be, finding the open man on a number of occasions for easy buckets, and pushing the ball in transition, which leads to good things in Philly. That said, he's just awful defensively, he has very little awareness of where to help, fouled a jump shooter a number of times, got lost on screens and was slow to recover. He measured in with a disappointing wingspan at the draft combine, and it was really noticeable defensively, as he simply wasn't a threat to block the shot of his opponent, or get steals. He was drafted as a SG, but he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and while that works with Lou Williams playing the point, he doesn't fit into a conventional starting lineup because he's too slow to guard starting PGs. Turner reminds me of Tyreke Evans in that he lacks a defined position, has seemingly no jump shot and needs a very specific team around him to thrive. What he lacks that Tyreke has is a scorer's mentality, great hands defensively and the athleticism to guard 1-3 in spurts. In other words, Turner was a huge reach at number 2, and like Wes Johnson, seems destined to be another great college player taken in the top 5 of the 2010 draft who simply can't succeed in the NBA. George easily won this matchup, despite what the numbers might say.

David West and Elton Brand; two vertically challenged (in hops and height) PFs who make up for it with hustle, finesse and experience. The two veterans were a steady presence out there, Brand's major contribution was getting key defensive boards, getting to the FT line and guarding Hibbert for stretches. West was aggressive trying to score the ball, and while he didn't dominate the game offensively, he was there to score a bucket every so often if the Pacers were on a dry spell. Not much to say about these two, if they meet in the post-season it will bean interesting battle over the course of the series, but neither stood out to me in this game. West won the battle, and his team won the game.

Danny Granger and Andre Iguodala; between these two guys you have the exact same attributes as Paul George and Evan Turner, great shooting, outstanding D, point forward ability, great athleticism and defensive lapses - it's the distribution which is different. Andre is a lockdown defender, great passer, poor shooter and reluctant scorer, whereas Granger is an aggressive scorer, great shooter and inconsistent defender. Granger was in attack mode tonight, taking it to the rim a number of times and also hitting a few treys when given the space. Iggy decided to attack a bit more in the second half, going strong to the rim and getting fouled a number of times down the stretch, and making Granger work for his buckets for the most part. He's an unconventional SF with his inability to shoot from outside and hesitance to regularly attack the rim, but he lead by example tonight to keep the Sixers close when the game was on the line. This matchup was essentially a wash, with both players being important for their team's success.

Leandro Barbosa and Lou Williams; two undersized combo guards off the bench, Lou hit a couple of big 3s and Barbosa carved apart the Sixers D with his penetration and transition play. Williams missed the shot to tie the game with the shot clock turned off, but was a big part of the reason they were so close. Williams won this battle, but it was close, and Barbosa did a great job for the Pacers tonight.

George Hill and Jrue Holiday; both guys excel defensively, have great size for the position and are relatively young. That's more or less where the comparison ends, with Hill being a steady vet already with the experience he gained from Coach Pop in San Antonio, and Holiday seeming unsure of himself or his role at times. Hill had a couple of nifty moves, including one play where he seemed to drive in and out of the paint but reversed at the elbow for an easy bucket, shaking about three Pacers defenders in the process. As well as Hill has been playing, he could see himself replacing Collison as the starter for this Pacers team, as he does the little things necessary to make a team work; knowing when to shoot and when to pass, making sure guys are getting their touches and controlling the tempo. Holiday was the youngest player taken when he was drafted, and he still seems young a few years on. Collins has restricted his freedom to operate somewhat, and he doesn't seem confident attacking the basket or shooting at all, passing up a wide open layup off a Turner feed at one point. Defensively he player well, but overall, Hill outplayed him.

Pacers bench and Sixers bench; the remaining backups are some of the best bench players in the NBA on both sides, as both squads battled ferociously while their starters got some rest. Hansborough was huge in the second half, getting a number of offensive boards and scoring in the paint to bring the Pacers back when they were trailing. Thad Young showed some nice moves in the post, hitting a couple of running hooks reminiscent of Magic Johnson, but he seems too small to start at PF, and is seemingly destined to come off the bench for his career. He's a mismatch nightmare in transition though, racing down the floor quicker than most guards. Dahntay Jones made some nice defensive plays, and a couple of outright flops, even hitting a jumper whilst being fouled by Evan Turner in the early going. The two benches played each other to a wash more or less.

Though the game was tight in the end, the Pacers looked tired throughout, and are definitely a notch above the Sixers, as their record indicates. You never know who will burn you with the Pacers, but someone is ready to step up, as this is a team which legitimately goes 10 deep. They are going to be a tough out in the playoffs, but will struggle against the elite defensive teams like Chicago. Their bench is going to be the difference if they want to beat a team like Miami or Boston, but the Pacers still have plenty of room to grow and look to be legitimate contenders next season. The Sixers are going to exit in the first round again, and after Iggy managed an All-Star berth he has slumped with the rest of his team in the second half of the season. The Sixers and Collins need to take a long look at their players next season and evaluate who is a keeper and who needs to go, and hopefully find some regularity in their rotations so players can get more comfortable and embrace defined roles.

Tomorrow we have the last time the Knicks will play the Nets before they share the state of New York, and it's worth seeing for posterity's sake at the very least.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

17/4 - Hornets @ Bobcats, Thunder @ Clippers

For those of you scratching your heads at the appearance of two games, I was all set to watch Cats and NOH clash until I saw Eric Gordon was being rested. After reviewing the Hornets and the Bobcats already, without the addition of Gordon I didn't feel up to sitting through a whole game. Instead a watched the 4th quarter of this game and then the whole of Thunder vs Clippers.

From what little I saw of the first game, I came away very impressed with Gerald Henderson. He's struggled to consistently stay on the floor due to a number of nagging injuries, but it seems like he's finally hit a bit of a groove, and instead of doing most of his work off the ball in catch and shoot situations, he was handling the rock in the 4th and aggressively driving to the rim. It was paying off, because they simply couldn't stop him scoring in the paint once he got there, he has great touch inside and while I doubted his future with Charlotte in the past, I think he is a starter to keep around; his toughness, versatility and prototypical game at the 2-guard spot mean he can fit in with any roster and still be effective.

Tyrus Thomas looked straight up awful, every time he touched it in the 4th he was taking one dribble pull-up Js from the elbow and bricking them. With that sort of length he should look to roll to the basket more or at the very least position himself for rebounds better. It seems he still fancies himself a SF/PF, when it's patently obvious to all who watch him that he's strictly a PF.

Nothing to say about the Hornets really, they pulled out the win through teamwork and hustle, exactly what I've come to expect from a Monty Williams team.

So on to the heavyweight bout, Clippers vs Thunder. The Clippers actually match up really well with OKC, as Ibaka's ability to anchor the D is compromised by the attention Blake needs. I think they'd be better off playing Perkins on Blake full time and freeing up Ibaka to help.

This was really a game of two halves, the Thunder were hot to start off with, and after the Clippers went into a zone they were doing a good job of dismantling it until Westbrook got involved... then it all went to pieces. Now, don't get me wrong, Westbrook is an amazing player in his unique way, but he's also one of the most ego-driven players in the NBA, and not in a good way. Whenever he's matched up against a premier PG, he forgets that he's a distributor and starts hoisting jumpers from all over the court. It seems to manifest even more when the opposition point is undersized, for whatever reason, Russ treats small PGs with contempt and is often burned by them as a result. It happened with Barea in the playoffs last season, and it happened today with CP3.

I know it seems like I'm being harsh, but mentally, Westbrook is the weak link on this team. Durant had a great first half, with 19 points and seemed to be on pace for another 30 point effort, until Russ got blocked by Bledsoe on a jumper in the paint, and completetly took OKC out of rhythm. It's not just that he missed the shots, it's that he airballed the vast majority of them and continued to take them, and beyond that, the moments he picked to take them. Whenever OKC seemed on the upswing, clawing back in the second half, Russ would be there to brick another jumper.

As I said, Durant was looking great until the Clippers started playing a zone and he couldn't isolate. Kenyon Martin must also be given credit for doing a great job defending him and taking him out of his comfort zone, but his frustration with some questionable officiating, Westbrook's selfishness and missing wide open 3s just combined to make the second half a nightmare. That said, he never stopped working hard, and you could tell just how badly he wanted to win, so I'll live with his lacklustre second half.

Ibaka got into foul trouble early with a silly offensive foul (helped by another Griffin flop), but when he was finally allowed back into the game in the 3rd he single-handedly kept the Thunder within reach with great offensive rebounding and subsequent scores. Perkins was a non-factor, neither stopping Griffin, nor scoring in the paint a whole lot, though he did have one key offensive board in the 3rd to keep the Thunder within reach. Harden's slump continued, he wasn't able to effect the game in a significant way, and after making a tough contested shot to bring the Thunder within 1, he undid it by drawing a technical.

Coach Brooks made a mistake in going to a zone D to try and slow the Clippers, because with Mo Williams and Nick Young hitting their shots, it was far too easy to score from the perimeter. On back to back plays in the 4th Durant was burned by Nick Young hitting a corner J because he was helped on the penetration and had no chance of recovery. With Chris Paul's ability to get into the gaps of a man defence, playing zone is foolish.

The Clippers were heavily reliant on Paul in the first half, who stepped up to the challenge of playing Russ and had a number of ridiculous floaters in the paint ove the course of the game. The commentators made a point that Paul seems to have gotten his legs back from before his injury, and I'm inclined to agree, he seemed a lot more comfortable blowing by his man to the rim and attacking off the pick and roll. He hit a number of outside shots too, including a three with a hand in his face in the 4th to keep the momentum going in LAs direction.

Martin was great on Durant, did a great job making him work to get the ball and contesting shots without fouling. Blake had some great moments, including what seemed like endless offensive rebounds after missed 3s, often with OKC players draped all over him. Defensively he showed an improved understanding of how to help effectively, and was often in position to deny the lane when Westbrook tried to go by his man, but a lot of that comes down to the zone Del Negro employed.

Mo Williams provided some key minutes off the bench, hitting jumpers and creating for others. Bledsoe got a bit of run while the game was tight and matches up well with Westbrook athletically, he had a nice putback on an offensive rebound and was just a little ball of energy off the bench. Nick Young had a great game for the Clippers, he didn't seem to miss any of his jump shots and hit some crucial shots in crunch time.

Ultimately, it didn't come down to the final plays because the Thunder just couldn't get a bucket down the stretch and starting isolating every time down. OKC should be worried about facing the Clippers in the second round, because of all the teams in the Western conference, the Clippers (along with Memphis) matches up with them the best, and I can see Russ struggling against Paul in a seven game series.

The thing that frustrated me the most about this game was Del Negro's insistence on using zone for the majority of the second half. Yes, it worked, but it resulted in some ugly basketball which came down to whether OKC could break it open with 3 pointers. I will say however, that Chris Paul is an amazing zone defender, he was matched up with Kevin Durant a couple of times and simply didn't allow him to get his balance to shoot over the top.

Tomorrow it's the streaking Pacers against the slumping Sixers, two teams who were vying for the 3rd seed in the early stages of the season are now heading in the opposite direction. Let's hope they get matched up in the playoffs, because they are very similar in their approach and build.

I've made a couple of other changes to the schedule, I'll be watching Nets vs Knicks on the 19th, Rockets vs Hornets on the 20th instead of Bulls vs Heat, and the Rockets against the Warriors on the 22nd to see Klay Thompson and Jeremy Tyler in action.

Monday, April 16, 2012

16/4 - Raptors at Hawks

I said yesterday that the Raptors would have momentum coming off their win in Boston and boy was that in evidence today. The Hawks kept it close for the first half, but the Raptors got into a groove and never looked back, winning by a huge margin.

DeRozan is a guy I've never been quite sure about, sometimes he looks like a franchise player, sometimes he's just an athlete. Today it was the former, as he was stroking it from the mid-range, driving aggressively, and working hard to get free. Dwayne Casey has done a great job improving DD's defensive attitude, he didn't get dominated by Johnson, Williams or whoever else he was matched up with, and he had a couple of great double teams which lead to turnovers. The obvious progression is to improve his outside shooting and continue to hone his handles, but he's getting a lot better as a catch and shoot guy and can score running of screens in the mid-range. I think his problem is a tendency to defer when Bargnani is in the lineup, as he always tends to play better when Bargs is out.

Ed Davis showed flashes, using a couple of nifty hook shots in the post to get buckets and hitting a mid-range jumper, but he desperately needs to bulk up as he was getting abused in the post whenever Josh Smith decided to go there. Toronto has a knack for finding great D-League players, as Ben Uzoh and Alan Anderson are both keepers. Uzoh is steady, doesn't force it and is a great backup point to have. Anderson is a veteran player at the 2/3 who knows when to shoot, how to move off the ball and can stroke it from outside, which is exactly what the Raptors needs. Hopefully they'll sign him for next season, because he's a great mentor to have for whichever rookie they bring in to address their outside shooting problems next season.

Hawks were awful, Josh Smith was living and dying with his jump shot, which rarely goes in because he doesn't shoot with his legs and always fades away slightly. Johnson made his case for most overpaid player in the NBA with an appalling night, he didn't even look like a starter, let alone a max contract player. They are looking at a first round exit this season without Horford, and it looks like they know it.

Raptors are still searching for their identity as a team because they have so many players missing huge chunks of the season, hopefully with a more relaxed schedule and an extended training camp Dwayne Casey can keep guys healthy and forge a real identity for this team. In the draft they should target Jeremy Lamb, his ability to play off the ball is exactly what they need, DeRozan has shown the ability to create off the dribble, and both guys can play the 2 or 3. Defensively Casey has worked wonders, they are like night and day from last season, and adding Valanciunas is going to be the icing on the cake. They have a great future up in Toronto, but it'll be at least two seasons before they take the leap into the playoffs.

Sorry this one is so short, but I'm late for an appointment with my physiotherapist and didn't want to do it after for the sake of my US readers.

Tomorrow I've got Heat vs Nets, will be great to see how Gerald Green goes against Lebron.


Just a heads up, I decided to swap Heat vs Nets for Hornets vs Bobcats tomorrow so I can catch a glimpse of Eric Gordon before the season ends. The day after tomorrow will be Nets vs Knicks instead of Cavs vs Pistons to compensate.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

15/4 - Cavaliers at Wizards

Both teams were seriously undermanned, due to either rest or injury and it led to some strange player sightings; I had to do a bit of a double take the first time I saw Luke Walton with the ball in his hands. However, the sheer number of D-League call-ups meant the game was played hard as guys tried to show enough to earn a more permanent spot in the NBA.

The Cavaliers didn't win this game as much as the Wizards lost it, because if you ignored the scoreboard it seemed like the Wizards were getting easier buckets, getting out on the break and getting blocks. However, lost it the Wizards did, and it was due to a number of factors. First of all, they have no outside shooting in their starting lineup (or their entire roster, really), they were putting the Cavs on the line a whole lot, and John Wall picked tonight to be aggressive with his jumper.

Despite Wall's poor jumper, he showed confidence taking it, and while he's similar to Tyreke in his tendency to constantly fade away, his form isn't quite as bad. In a game like this where the result isn't particularly important, I didn't mind him taking those shots, and for the most part they weren't forced and he had good instincts of when to take the jumper. His playmaking was on show again, he had a number of great passes, and more importantly, some fundamentally sound ones too. John's warp speed was on display again tonight, but he's gotten better at picking his spots to go full throttle and showed a nice capacity to change speed too. One thing that stood out was how much bigger he seemed out there, he looks to be at least 6'5 and probably closer to 6'6 these days, which was something of a hindrance whilst he was chasing around shorter PGs. Wall looked a good two inches taller than his backcourt partner Jordan Crawford, and it begs the question why he hasn't been asked to guard the 2 more often and allowed Crawford to attack the PG. It would really work out better for both of them, as Crawford doesn't have the length to challenge shooters without biting on fakes, which makes him somewhat foul prone. People have been sleeping on Wall a bit, but he's a jumper away from really elevating his game.

I flip-flopped on how I felt about Crawford as the game went on, at first I thought he did a good job sharing the ball-handling responsibilities and providing scoring in isolation situations, but he's quite slight in his build which hindered his ability to defend the 2, his outside shooting was nonexistent and his body language was awful. Literally every time he was called for a foul, didn't get a foul call, or wasn't given FTs on a foul call he slumped his shoulders and started quite obviously pouting. I think the Wizards would be better served moving him to the bench as a 6th man except that I don't think his ego would allow him to embrace it. For the time being they are going to have to hope he improves his demeanour and outside shooting, because they have a more pressing need at SF.

Vesely was drafted as a SF/PF, but after watching this game it's safe to say he's strictly a 4. He had a couple of nice hook shots around the basket, a great putback dunk, and he contested shots inside without fouling for the most part. I never saw him take more than two dribbles in the open court, as he was quick to feed his guards, but I don't see him having the lateral speed to play the 3. While he hasn't had an immediate impact in the win column, the Wizards have to be happy with Jan's energy and potential at the PF position. It will be interesting to see how he comes back after a full training camp with the coaching staff.

I'd heard Seraphin talked up as having great touch recently, and I wholeheartedly agree, if he's in the paint he simply doesn't miss, whether it's a short turnaround jumper or a hook shot with either hand. That said, he's not a very vertical player, which limits his impact defensively, but like Zach Randolph he has no problems getting his shot off without being blocked, despite never leaving the ground. One problem he did have was being pushed out of the post too easily, he was fed the ball in the post a couple of times but was too far out for his hook shot to drop. Seraphin did a good job passing out of the double team down the stretch, but he'd be much more effective if he had a reliable outside shooter to pass to. Hopefully the Wizards can fill that need in the draft.

Singleton came into the league with a reputation as a sterling all around defender, but he really struggled to stop his man, and gave away a number of silly fouls.

Overall, the Wizards look a lot better under their new head coach, offensively their starters were playing well and working as a team, but as the game wore on their bench players undid their good work. If the Wizards can add more outside shooting, learn to defend without fouling and John Wall adds a jumper, they can be competitive a lot sooner than people give them credit for.

Not much to say about the Cavs, they played hard, took the right shots and were consistent in their effort throughout the game. Thompson had a couple of plays which wowed me, including a nice drive to the basket, but still struck me as a reach at 4th overall. Alonzo Gee has developed nicely, he remains highly athletic, defends relatively well and can hit the spot up 3 on occasion. At only 24 years of age (25 in May) he still has plenty of room to grow, and Cavaliers can afford to look at their SG spot as a priority in the draft, and give Gee another season to prove himself at the SF.

Have to cut this one a bit short, but we have houseguests and I need to go do some hosting. If anyone wants to know about a specific player in the game I haven't mentioned in the writeup just let me know and I'll tell you what I thought.

Tomorrow we have the Raptors and Hawks, should be interesting with Toronto coming off that win against the Celtics.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

14/3 - Kings at Thunder

Between watching this game and sitting down to write this post I was asked to take down a wall by my father. Which, now that I think about it, was a great way to reinforce what this game was - a demolition. Plain and simple, the Oklahoma City Thunder tore down the Kings roster to their very roots, and exposed each player for what they were - the good and the bad.

Tyreke Evans had a tough time of it today, but the blame can fall squarely on the shoulders of Coach Smart, who resolutely stuck with his three guard starting lineup, which had Tyreke matched up with Durant. Whilst Tyreke has great size for a SG, and can play some SF, Smart needed to recognise that he simply didn't have the length to guard Durant. Instead, Evans picked up two quick fouls and by the time he returned to the game, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Offensively, Durant's length really bothered Evans, and the Kings needs to decide on a firm position for the poor kid so he can settle into a defined role next season.

I think it might be time to let all the Isaiah Thomas hype die down, as he's continued to log heavy minutes he's started to lose his vigour, and for a player of his stature that's a critical element of his game. He had a nice stretch mid-season, but it was more a result of having fresh legs than some hidden talent which made him worthy of starting in the NBA. Hopefully the Kings figure out he's more effective playing no more than 20 minutes a game and using that energy to change the pace. Thornton has no impact defensively, and while he can hit tough, contested shots, he seems unwilling or unable to get easy looks, and he needs to learn to crawl before he balls.

Cousins was taken completely out of his comfort zone by the Perkins/Ibaka combination, and even Collison's savvy D gave him fits. His body language was awful out there, and his energy waxes and wanes at a frenetic pace, he has brief spurts of energy, but for the most part is slow to move his feet unless the ball is in his hands. One thing Cousins deserves credit for is his ability to play the passing lanes and disrupt or deflect incoming passes; there were several instances where Cousins either stole or denied to the entry pass over the course of the game, and a nice interception as the split-line defender. However, conditioning needs to be addressed this summer, as it's the biggest thing holding Cousins back from challenging Bynum and Howard for top spot at the C position.

Thompson was simply overmatched by Ibaka, which is to be expected. Donte Greene looked lost when he did play, and had no impact defensively. Chuck Hayes was steady, but it meant little in this game. Tyler Honeycutt got some burn with the injuries to Garcia and Salmons, and looked very uncomfortable out there. He hit a jumper or two, and ran hard, but he needs a bit of direction before he's ready to contribute in the NBA, another victim of the short training camp. Jimmer was even worse than he was against the Hornets, his jumpers were coming out flat, and he is playing with no confidence, which is somewhat unsettling for a guy who earned his place by taking on all comers with reckless abandon. He looks really slow out there, his handle is below average for an NBA PG, and he can't defend to save his life. It's become immediately apparent that he's a situational player who needs to be in the right situation, but until he improves his conditioning and regains his confidence in his jumper he won't even be that. Terrence Williams' performance was one of the positives to take from this game, and he's doing a great job running the point for the second unit. He wasn't forcing too many shots up, and the jumpers he took were usually necessary.

The Kings have been amassing young prospects for the past few years, but it's time to clean house and fill the team with more veterans if they ever want to improve. Thornton needs to go while he still has value or be restricted to a 6th man role, Greene needs to be shipped off, and they need to find a starting calibre PF to enable Thompson to come off the bench. Evans needs to show some serious growth over the summer, or he could be on the way out too. You can play the SG spot without being an amazing shooter, but he needs to model his game after Wade and work on getting easy buckets in the post, hitting his mid-range more consistently, and finishing through contact. If they can find a way to nab either Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the upcoming draft they'll be a lot better positioned for the future, because SF is a gaping hole in their roster right now.

I hadn't intended to say that much about the Kings, so I'll try to be concise about the Thunder. Durant was beasting, he had a few nice assists (including one which nearly broke Perkins' finger), threw down some dunks and did a great job rebounding his own misses, which helped him spend most of the game at the FT line. Westbrook showed off his newfound ability to change speeds (and not just from slow to fast), which allowed him to finish at the rim a bit easier and avoid being called for charges. That said, he still doesn't have natural PG instincts, and Durant is already a better playmaker. Harden was out with a knee injury, but Derek Fisher turned back the clock to find his groove and put up some numbers off the bench, he has a bounce in his step I haven't seen in a while, and the change of scenery is doing him wonders. He's going to be a key part of their post-season run, with his leadership in the locker room and ability to hit clutch shots. OKC seems to be feeding Perkins in the post a bit more to see if he can recapture the scoring instincts he had in high school, but it's still very much a work in progress.

I haven't paid much attention to the DPOY race since Howard won his first because it seemed he'd have it locked up for the near future, but Serge Ibaka should be the winner this season, hands down. He was an absolute menace defensively, after blocking two of Cousins' shots early (including a dunk attempt), Demarcus was afraid to come into the paint, and it took the whole Kings offense out of synch. Kings player who made it into the paint were always looking over their shoulder for Ibaka to deny them a shot, and that fear was justified. Ibaka's biggest flaw defensively was his tendency to foul, but his timing has improved immensely on his weakside help, and any team without a scoring threat at the 4 to keep Ibaka attached is going to suffer. If Ibaka doesn't win DPOY this season I'll be stunned.

Nothing else to say about this game, except that the Thunder are going to be real tough to beat in a seven game series this season. Who knows what the rest of the NBA is going to do in a couple of years if the Thunder can keep their core together by the time these guys hit their prime.

Tomorrow's game should hopefully be a bit closer after two straight blowouts, with Washington taking on Cleveland. Irving being out is unfortunate, but there are still plenty of young prospects to look out for on both sides.

Friday, April 13, 2012

13/4 - Pistons @ Bobcats

I was hoping for two things coming into this game, that it would be close, and that I'd get to see how Brandon Knight had progressed from the start of the season. Well, I got one thing I wanted at least.

Knight was matched up against the man Bobcats owner Michael Jordan decided was a better prospect in Kemba Walker, and thoroughly outplayed him. He had 18+ points, coming on a number of transition dunks and catch and shoot jumpers, he was playing within his limits for the most part, transitioning pretty smoothly between guard positions with Rodney Stuckey in the combo guard backcourt Detroit fields. They took turns handling and creating, and it worked well against Charlotte. While Stuckey looked to be on the way out last season, he was re-signed for a reasonable price and has found a new lease with Knight in the backcourt. Back to Knight though, in addition to his efficient scoring he also had a few nice passes out of the pick and roll, including a slick wrap-around to Greg Monroe in the paint. While Knight has helped Stuckey, I'm not so sure if the reverse is true, as Knight shows sound decision making and in my opinion can definitely grow into a legitimate point guard.

Jerebko showed nice energy around the basket, and Maxiell had a hot shooting start. Gordon was quiet, but the game didn't really call for a guy who could create his own shot because Charlotte were so bad defensively. Monroe was the other reason to watch Detroit and he didn't disappoint, he made a number of nice hook shots, but more surprising were the dunks he threw down; like most basketball fans I was under the impression that Monroe was somewhat vertically challenged, but he can definitely get up when he needs to. Defensively, he wasn't spectacular and needs a prolific shot-blocker next to him at the PF position for Detroit to make a championship run in the future, but even if they miss out on Anthony Davis, John Henson would be a good fit as a stretch 4 who can fill the role of helpside shot-blocker.

Charlotte were tough to watch, they ran a lot of pick and roll with Biyombo and Augustin but D.J. seemed unwilling to feed Biz the ball, so it was largely ineffective. Biyombo showed decent footwork in the post, but he needs to spend a few hundred hours over the summer running the Mikan drill to improve his touch around the rim. Defensively he was getting schooled by Monroe, who was rewarding his physicality with spin-moves which left Biyombo frustrated. That said, he definitely has a future as a player in the NBA, and he is very young. He works hard, and it's hard not to like him, so I hope things work out for him. Watching Kemba and Knight was fascinating, the two rookies picked one after the other butting heads on several occasions, but Kemba had to work a lot harder for his buckets than Knight. Walker is being used as a spark plug off the bench, but I think he's more suited playing with the starting unit, as despite his scoring numbers in college, he isn't a prolific scorer who can thrive with the D focused on him. You can tell he's frustrated playing in Charlotte, but with the addition of a top-5 pick and a resolution to the Augustin situation coming this summer, Charlotte can definitely make steps. Henderson has cemented himself as a starting calibre shooting guard at the very least, he defends well, plays aggressively and moves well off the ball. He's never going to be a 1st (or 2nd) option on a playoff team, but he's a high character guy who can plug in with any team and be productive.

Not much else to say about this one, was over by the 3rd quarter, but I thought it was interesting that they showed a graphic before the game saying "You can make the days count, or count the days" which was attributed to Lawrence Frank, and it looks like Detroit took the message to heart.

I'll get another look at the Kings tomorrow against the Thunder, two very young, talented teams, the difference being that the Thunder are a contender and the Kings well, suck. Still, interesting matchups to look forward to, and the Kings have a tendency to play up to their competition, so it should be a close game.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

12/4 - Kings at Hornets

After a day spent watching the Heat and Celtics face off, I was looking forward to seeing two teams with legitimate young talent to evaluate, and while Eric Gordon didn't suit up for the Hornets, I wasn't disappointed.

I'll start off by saying that all signs indicate Monty Williams is an excellent coach. He has a team which is full of young players all fighting for minutes, but the majority of them play within the system and share the ball, they have a very team-first mentality, and you can't help but wonder how good they can be next season with a top-5 draft pick and a (hopefully) healthy Eric Gordon. But on to the actual game.

The Kings and the Hornets could not have played any differently, for the majority of the game the Kings were getting out in transition, and failing that, going 1v5 in the halfcourt. Cousins really struggled in this one, foul trouble kept him from getting a rhythm and Ty Corbin decided to just ride Chuck Hayes down the stretch rather than putting Cousins back in. I want to point out that a pick and roll player, Cousins is not. He's too slow with his feet at this point to run the p'n'r effectively, and the Kings need to find a PF who can sooner rather than later. When Cousins picked up his third foul early Hassan Whiteside checked in, but almost immediately went down with an ankle injury, let's hope it's not too serious. Evans was feeling his jumper today, and was shooting without hesitation, but he was still fading away on literally every jumper he took and using way too much elbow movement. These form problems are holding him back from developing the consistent J which would make him a star, because he had absolutely no problem getting separation for a jumper whenever he wanted. That said, he attacked the basket well, hitting four of his trademark "back-turned" finishes on the left side with the right hand.

Jimmer is a bust as a 10th overall pick. He's a very limited player, had a number of costly turnovers, can't defend to save his life and doesn't know how to catch and shoot yet. His handle is weak, he doesn't have passing instincts and he is struggling to score, so he isn't even useful as a Jason-Terry type. A comparison was made to Steve Kerr during the game, and I think that's just about on the money, but you wouldn't take Steve Kerr 10th overall unless you had the right team around him, and unfortunately for Sacramento, Jimmer was a huge reach. Isaiah Thomas was unimpressive, he really struggled guarding "Gravy" and while I love him as a player, I wouldn't want him to be my starter for the future because there are a lot of tall PGs around these days and they are going to take advantage of him. Terrence Williams was a positive for the Kings, he was hitting a few jumpers, has great passing instincts and really excels as a point forward off the bench. He's definitely an unorthodox player, but he defends well and has the potential to mesh well with Jimmer in the second unit. Jason Thompson had a good game, he's very long and athletic and managed to get a few baby hooks to drop in the lane, but he still has a long way to go before he's a legitimate post scorer, and with Cousins posting up more often, he needs to work on hitting the mid-range jumper to be more effective for this team.

Now on to the Hornets, who like I said, really impressed me in this win. Some of Blake Griffin's hops must have rubbed off on Jason Smith because he was straight up exploding off the ground for a number of dunks today. More than that he was hitting his mid-range jumper consistently and while he isn't a great defender, he gets boards and hustles every minute he's on the court. The Hornets should look at holding onto him because he's a valuable role-player for any team. Aminu was given the start today and while he's still very raw and unconfident offensively, he is an absolute menace defensively. His freakishly long arms and quick hands allowed him to really bother Tyreke, T-Will and anybody else he was matched up with. I haven't checked the box score for final numbers, but he had a number of key blocks, and played the passing lanes very well, with a number of deflections which won't show up on the stat sheet but were very helpful. Aminu might never be a great scorer, but with Gordon on the team he might not have to be.

One of my favourite young players in Xavier Henry had a great game today, I've been following him since his senior year of high school and it's nice to see him get more minutes. He's a very committed defender, and should stick around in the league for his stopping abilities alone. However, he showed some good signs offensively today, he was being more aggressive driving the lane and was perfect from the field, scoring a number of transition buckets and a brilliant layup in traffic. The best part was that despite his hot hand, he wasn't forcing the issue or taking stupid shots, and seems committed to being a team-first player who doesn't need to score to impact the game and be engaged. He is still learning how to move off the ball properly to get his shots, and looked lost at times, but he never stopped hustling defensively and while the opportunity to start might not be there with New Orleans if they they re-sign Aminu and Gordon, I think there are definitely places where he could thrive in the NBA as a starter.

The Kings are still a selfish team, and I don't think Smart is the coach to get them to buy in, but he's still an upgrade over Westphal. The Hornets have a really bright future with Williams at the helm and are pretty much set at the 2/3 for the time being, but need to find a young stud in the frontcourt and better PG. They really lacked any sort of shot-blocking from their big men, so if I were the Hornets, taking Andre Drummond would be my first priority, they could bring him off the bench behind Kaman and bring him along slowly, but he'd add a different element to their team, and would form a nice partnership with Okafor as a shot-blocking tandem.

This game was surprisingly fun, let's see how the Pistons and Bobcats go tomorrow... God help me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

11/4 - Celtics @ Heat

First game of the stretch run almost made me forget we were still in the regular season. Bad jokes aside, this one definitely had a playoff atmosphere. Boston jumped out to an early lead because Miami was playing straight up lazy on D. Things started to unravel when the Cs went deeper into their bench, as Pavlovic started fouling like there was no tomorrow, and Miami slowly crept back.

Lebron scored a whole bunch of points, but it was very quiet, they were spread throughout the majority of the game, he never really went on a scoring run, just chipped in a bucket every so often and it all added up. Lebron's midrange game was deadly though, he hit at least five fallaway buckets off the dribble, and they were all swishes. Wade came up big in the 4th even though Miami lost, he had some absolutely spectacular drives to the basket. I'd forgotten just how shifty he is with the ball in his hands, and Tyreke Evans should watch game film of Wade's performance today to learn how to use that amazing handle of his to full effect.

Pierce turned back the clock and was hitting some ridiculous turnarounds, and several transition 3s as well. Allen looked strong early but got lost in the shuffle in the second half, not contributing a whole lot, but spacing the floor and running the point for stretches with Rondo on the bench. Garnett was great, he was knocking down open jumpers, scoring in the post and being a nuisance defensively, although he's definitely lost a step laterally. Rondo had a brilliant first half, shooting (and making) jumpers without hesitation, finding the open man and leading the break. However, he started to really doubt himself down the stretch and was extremely hesitant to take jumpers with the shot clock running down, which resulted in a few costly turnovers. That said, when his scoring dropped off he went right back to dropping dimes, and had a number of brilliant no look passes to trailers behind him. Bradley hit a few jumpers, bothered Wade for the most part and had one great transition dunk, but wasn't much of a factor.

I haven't watched too many Celtics games since the break, but Bass has struck me as the weak link in this team. When the Celtics were needing buckets in the second half Bass was hesistant to take the open looks Rondo was providing him, and took the offence out of rhythm as a result. Defensively, his lack of length caused him to bite on every fake and he turns side on to attempt to block a shot, which more often than not allowed his opponent to go right by him for a layup. He's just an awful defender, and they need to find a real starting 4/5 next season, because Bass is a bench guy on a contender, especially one like Boston which hangs its hat on D.

Overall a fun game to watch, Miami really turned it on defensively in the second half, and Boston was forced to get buckets on isolations, they were being hounded constantly. If the Celtics can get Pietrus healthy and back in the rotation to take Pavlovic's minutes then I like their chances of upsetting either Indiana or Chicago to make it to the ECF against Miami, if they can just stay healthy. Boston play the Heat once more in the regular season, and it could be huge in determining seeding for Miami, definitely looking forward to it.

Coming up tomorrow, Pistons vs Bobcats, will have a few more young prospects to write about this time around.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lottery teams, we hardly knew ye.

Every season since I've had League Pass, I've said I'll spend more time watching the up and coming teams, regardless of whether I like them or not, and every season I'll only start watching them towards the end, and miss out on a lot of terrific rookie seasons.

So with this crazy lockout induced rollercoaster ride almost over, I've marked on my calendar one game to watch every day which has at least one lottery team or a team I haven't seen play enough for the remaining days of the regular season.

After watching each game I'll post a review of the game and my thoughts in general here. I hope you enjoy reading it. I should note that my dates will be +1 for those of you in the US, as we are 12 hours ahead here.

11/4 - Celtics vs Heat - not a lottery team, but Celtics are my guys, and I've gotta watch them against Miami.

12/4 - Kings vs Hornets

13/4 - Pistons vs Bobcats

14/4 - Kings vs Thunder

15/4 - Cavaliers vs Wizards

16/4 - Raptors vs Hawks

17/4 - Heat vs Nets

18/4 - Cavaliers vs Pistons

19/4 - Jazz vs Blazers

20/4 - Bulls vs Heat - always fun to watch, figured I'd reward myself with this game, plus I'll be interested to see how they Bulls go with Rose back.

21/4 - Thunder vs Kings

22/4 - Sixers vs Pacers - two playoff teams I haven't watched much, need a refresher before the post-season.

23/4 - Raptors vs Pistons

24/4 - Sixers vs Nets

25/4 - Heat vs Celtics - see above

26/4 - Wizards vs Cavs

27/4 - Lakers vs Kings - these two always have entertaining matchups, and the individual battles will be great to see.

Watch this space.