Thursday, October 4, 2012

Someone has to finish last

Lin and Rockets should be most giving.
As optimistic euphoria reaches into the stratosphere on the fourth day of October, NBA teams will soon face the cruel reality of losing. We've heard lots of chatter about who may be the best in the West but rarely do you read about or hear about who might stink. Truth be told, predicting who might be poop is tougher than you might think.

There are 15 teams in the Western Conference. We feel certain that three teams could sustain significant injuries and still make the playoffs. The Lakers, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City are safe. On the next tier below that trio - we would put the Clippers, and Denver. The ten that follow gets tricky. Two recent mainstays, Memphis and Dallas seem primed to take a step backward at the same time that Golden State, Utah, Sacramento, and Minnesota are getting better.

Two teams have pieces that should allow them to go down fighting. The Phoenix Suns have a roster that could produce a win on any given night in the NBA yet nobody really stands out as a superstar or even potential superstar. I like their solid international trio of Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic, and Luis Scola. Maybe Dragic becomes a special point guard in the NBA. But "maybe" teamed with "solid" equals more losses than wins.

It is hard to look at Portland, with LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum and say with certainty that their team will stink. The smell emanates from the lack of depth and the fact that the Blazers have five NBA rookies.

Which leaves us with two teams that, even though they don't believe it, must be in-line to battle for last. New Orleans has Anthony Davis so surely they are better. But can the number one pick make the Hornets one of the top 20 teams in the NBA? It seems doubtful, even with the addition of Ryan Anderson and the possibility of Eric Gordon actually playing games (as of this writing, Gordon had missed his third consecutive day of practice with a lingering knee injury).

Houston has an abundance of young talent but the key word is "young". Too young, in my opinion, to win with any consistency in the NBA. The best possible scenario for the Rockets would be if Jeremy Lin is as good as he showed he could be in the "Linsanity" stage of last season. That seems doubtful. As much we like Terrence Jones, he is just a rookie. While each player has their individual merits, a front line of Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, and Omer Asik hardly strikes fear into an NBA opponent.

So there it is. Someone has to be last. And I think it will be the Houston Rockets.

Rocky Mountain high reward?

Rocky should be happy this season!
An examination of the Denver Nuggets 2012-13 roster shows a team that has a ceiling that is nearly unlimited. How so, you ask? Well, if you believe in efficiency - and I do, you might already know that the Nuggets boast a potential starting lineup where each player ranks in the top-eleven in the NBA at their position. 

Ty Lawson ranks eleventh at point guard. It is a educated guess that Andre Iguodala will ultimately play the majority of his minutes at the TWO, and Danilo Gallinari at the THREE, with Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee up front. The newly acquired Iguodala ranked sixth in efficiency at small forward last season, while Gallinari was tenth at the same position. Many teams consider their TWO's and THREE's interchangeable - labeling them simply "wing players". Iguodala can certainly guard opposing shooting guards and his play-making ability is ideally suited for a guard. 

What may shock some folks is that Faried was second in power forward, per-minute efficiency. Only Kevin Love boasted a higher rating. While some who have not seen Faried play enough may see his ranking for his rookie season as an anomaly, we don't think it is. If you watch Faried play - you easily see how his energy is a benefit.  

McGee guards the rim
McGee meanwhile holds his own as the tenth most efficient center in the NBA. The issue with McGee is not efficiency. The issue with McGee is that he must be viewed as a bit of a risk. He simply has not shown the hoops i.q. that is needed to play consistently winning basketball. The 24 year-old center has perhaps unfairly been labeled to the point of caricature for his "brain-fades" which are the laughing stock of Shaquille O'Neal and the TNT crew. It's true. McGee does some silly things. But he also blocks shots and has a high points per minute rate. 

The key with McGee in my eyes is that he HAS improved. And now George Karl will have him for a full training camp and full season. I'm not expecting McGee to challenge the likes of Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, and DeMarcus Cousins for a spot on the All-NBA team at center, but I do think McGee is potentially capable of having a consistent positive impact on a team. There is no reason other than the mental part of the game why McGee shouldn't go from being tenth in center efficiency to battling to be a part of the top-five. 

Will Randolph stick in Denver?
Denver's bench has a "risky" player on it as well. Golden State, New York and now Minnesota have passed on the obviously offensively talented Anthony Randolph. Randolph's per-minute efficiency was good enough last regular season to rank as a "starter" (23rd). It could have been higher if Randolph would simply pass up some outside shots for shots in the paint. I'm betting George Karl improves this 23 year-old kid. 

If Karl can't make Randolph better - maybe backup point guard Andre Miller can. Miller is still getting it done at a high level and if he didn't have Ty Lawson as a teammate - Miller would probably be a starter somewhere. Miller is excellent at feeding players around the hoop, and Randolph is excellent finishing at the rim. They might make a good combination. 

Finally, we have noticed improvement in Kosta Koufos' game. He is only 23 years old and if he continues to improve at the rate he is going, he will be a regular starter in the NBA one day. Koufos' regular season per minute efficiency in 2011-12 was better than the rating of Roy Hibbert, Nene, Tyson Chandler, and Marc Gasol. 

The summary for Denver is that they have some cats that today's kids might call "sketchy". But if the old master George Karl imparts his wisdom and McGee, and Randolph soak it up and mature even a little, they will propel Lawson, Iguodala, Faried, Miller and Gallinari into a Western power not to be slept on. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Time for me to overreact

JT and T-Rob are not small forwards
Yesterday I blogged about the tendency for media to overreact at this time of the NBA calendar. There are no scores to report, or real games to cover - so every nuance is accentuated and exaggerated. That written, it is time for me to overreact to a small bit of Twitter information I read today from Jason Jones who covers the Sacramento Kings for the Sacramento Bee. Jones tweeted, "At  practice. Lineups are interesting. One had JT, Robinson and Cuz up front. Smart plans to experiment with matchups in preseason". 

This sounds like an experiment that will not work. There is no way that Jason Thompson can effectively play small forward in the NBA. So why experiment with it? Robinson, the Kings draft pick from Kansas, can guard opposing "threes" but offensively - Robinson is not a good enough deep shooter, ball-handler, or play-maker. Robinson did make 7 of his 14 three point attempts last season at Kansas - so I do not want to write him off as a potential perimeter threat. But Robinson historically has more turnovers than assists, and his 68% free throw shooting - to me is a better indication of his true shooting touch. In short, I don't think Robinson is small forward.  

Jason Thompson has no small forward in his game at all. Zero. His feet are too heavy to guard opposing SF's and offensively - Thompson lacks all skills needed in a SF. 

If you were really reaching you could say - Cousins, given his three-point shooting ability, could act as a perimeter player in certain offensive sets - moving J.T. to center, and keeping Robinson at power forward. But if you did that - you are taking your best rebounder and moving him 20-plus feet from the hoop. 

So I do not get it. Why waste valuable repetitions in practice with a lineup that will always prevent you from presenting your best spacing? Why waste time with a lineup that will allow teams to simply "pack the paint" against you - given Thompson and Robinson's lack of perimeter shooting? Is it because you are just not familiar enough with Robinson's game? Is it a "someone said I couldn't play this lineup" - pride kind of thing? 

Monday, October 1, 2012

October means NBA

Bynum: Does he care? 
Let's do this! The NBA season begins in 29 days and this excites us to no end. At this time of the year, optimism and overreaction reign supreme. In our 28th year of intently observing and analyzing the NBA we have learned that (at this time of the year) teams are too optimistic, and the media, and public are prone to overreaction. 

The Bynum addition to Philly is potentially HUGE. Bynum's efficiency rating was actually a fraction of a point better than Dwight Howard's in last season's shortened schedule. Despite losing mainstays Andre Iguodala, and Elton Brand, the Sixers starters became better "by the numbers" by adding Bynum and advancing Evan Turner into a more prominent role. 

On the common sense side of the Bynum equation, it is more than fair to wonder why he didn't take care of his knee situation sooner. Reports say Bynum had his knee treated as late as September. 

For what it is worth, a plugged-in source in Los Angeles says this of Bynum, " (A) dude I know works at a car shop where Bynum would buy his BMW's. They would ask him Lakers questions and he would say, 'That's not my life'. " ...The Source adds, "Literally, that's how Andrew Bynum feels about basketball. It's 'not his life' -  just a check."

It's a tip-off not a kick-off
I say this every season seemingly. We "tip-off" an NBA season; as opposed to the way The Sports Network puts it: "The Sixers, ... kick off their 2012-13 regular season by hosting Denver on Oct. 31." ...The preseason national television schedule for NBA hoops will tip-off domestically on Sunday. Orlando will face New Orleans on NBA-TV at 2:30 pm eastern. 

Nuggets channel Marquette
The Nuggets have new alternate uniforms that remind us of Marquette.  Denver joins San Antonio, New York, Portland, Brooklyn, and Charlotte as teams that have tweaked their look for 2012-13. 

The Bobcats have the dubious distinction of being ranked as our 30th best team in the NBA headed into this new campaign. They are a team without one player that ranks in the top-20 at their respective position. Their highest ranked player by last regular season's efficiency is Ramon Sessions - who rated 21st in the league at point guard. Hyper-active draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may prove to be a top-tier shooting guard in time but Charlotte's likely front court rotation of Byron Mullins, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood, and Tyrus Thomas is simply over-matched too often to think Charlotte can make any noise. 

Quote of the day comes from the Twitter feed of Jeff McDonald... "Tim Duncan on Tony Parker's link to summertime bar fight: "That's what we were going for this summer. To up our street cred."

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