Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Good and Bad From Opening Night

I'm determined to keep this blog relevant, interesting, and - to a certain degree - specialized. That's why I've gone all NBA, all the time. I really don't have time to be blogging anymore (variety of reasons), and, frankly, my will to blog is sapped on some level my the proliferation of the form. When I decided to move away from writing columns for and do my sports writing here, I never realized how quickly that would move my work from "legitimate" to "whatever" in the eyes of most readers. In many ways, blogging about sports in the year 2007 feels both fruitless and akin to spitting into the wind.

That said, I can't shake the NBA. I love it.

So the blog lives on. Perhaps barely, hanging by a thread not unlike Lord Voldemort when he became a half human/half spirit thing in one of the Harry Potter movies. Maybe it will live on hearty and strong, like the way Dwight Howard looks grabbing a rebound. I have no idea. But I'm going to try.

And in the interest of trying, I am going to be constantly searching for little gimmicks. Not because gimmicks in and of themselves are great or some how "eye catching," but because it will provide a more cohesive nature to what is going on here.

For the time being, the gimmick is going to be something quite simple: Good and Bad.

My goal is to watch a lot of basketball late at night, on the TiVo and try to come away with some observations that don't show up in boxscores. Maybe some things that are being overlooked by the national media and even in the blogosphere. We'll see how it goes.

Here is the Good and Bad from opening night.

Good - Martell Webster.

There were plenty of good things going on last night (Duncan looking just as good as he did in last spring's playoffs, Aldridge fulfilling all of my hopes and dreams in Year 2, Deron Williams abusing people, Ronnie Brewer looking like the realness, and so on), but I thought the key "good" thing to come out of opening night was the emergence of Martell Webster at small forward for the Blazers. I know he had a big preseason, so perhaps this shouldn't have been a complete surprise, but I was just not ready to see him look so quick, confident, and versatile on the floor. I wrote about this an email earlier to my buddy Josh Stump (biggest Blazers fan I know), but I think Webster showed the skills last night that translate to him filling a vital role on this Portland team for years to come. He can stretch the floor, he has good hands, and he can attack the rim when needed. If he can add a more solid understanding of defensive principals, his ceiling becomes a slightly lesser version of Michael Finley (which would work out rather nice next to Aldridge and Oden down the road). If he can learn to be more physical, he looks like he has the makings of a non-crazy Stephen Jackson, which is also a good thing. I don't even known how many points he had or what his stats were, but I can tell you that Webster looked like the real deal. The type of guy that could be the starting small forward in Portland for the next ten years. Now that is a good thing.

Bad - The Rockets Offense

I know Houston won the game and the TNT guys were lavishing praise on their new schemes and pace, but I wasn't impressed with the Rockets offense. They won the game last night for three reasons: 1) McGrady shot 50% from the floor, which is rare, 2) Kobe was in total ballhog, wild shot mode and also did an Antoine Walker impersonation from the foul line, and 3) the Lakers suck. I wasn't impressed with Houston at all. They supposedly have this new and improved offense, yet I still saw Luther Head taking bad shots, McGrady taking tough looks, and too many trips that resulted in turnovers. And I think the problem is at point guard. They have a bunch of really fast, really talented guys in Rafer Alston, Mike James, and even rookie Aaron Brooks, but I'm not sure they have the type of guy who can orchestrate Adelman's offense. Perhaps if they had a great passing big man like Chris Webber or Vlade Divac, they could use Mike James in the old Bibby role, where he just passes, runs off a screen, and then catches a sweet dime before drilling a jumper. But Yao Ming, while an able passer, isn't Vlade. And they sure as heck don't have Chris Webber. So what is the answer?

I'm not entirely sure. One option is to evolve McGrady's role to the point where he becomes more of a point-forward ala Scottie Pippen. He actually had to do a lot of this last year as well, but that was in addition to scoring all the points. With a gunner like James and a bruiser like Bonzi Wells around, T-Mac doesn't have to worry as much about scoring. If the Rockets were to use him almost like the Kings used Webber, I could see him going something like 23-8-6 and really making this thing work. Whether he can reprogram himself to play that way and whether Houston will recognize the need are two big questions.

Another possible solution is to go get a real point guard. I keep hearing that Jose Calderon is off limits, but if Houston could present Toronto with a package of youth, size, and bench scoring punch, maybe they could swing a deal. Calderon would be the ideal floor general for this team. But alas, that is probably just wishful thinking.

Perhaps the Rockets will eventually get it revved up, but for one night, their offense gets the "Bad" award. And maybe Martell Webster will come crashing back down to earth, but he's Mr. Good for the opener.

Hopefully we'll be back tomorrow with more Good/Bad from the NBA.

Monday, October 29, 2007

2007-08 Predictions

Normally I like to lavish about 10,000 words on my NBA previews, whether I'm doing them in column or blog form (and really, at this point, what's the difference?). But unfortunately, the old j-o-b continues to exact a rather steep toll, and fellow author Michael Kun and I are in a race to complete the manuscript of our upcoming book. So this is going to be a very abbreviated version.

Eastern Conference
1. Boston - I know that people have their doubts, but I think Rondo will get it done and that the New Big 3 will lead this team to the top seed in the East.
2. Detroit - The Pistons seemed headed for a downfall, but with guys like Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, and Rodney Stuckey coming of age, they might actually be better than they were the last two season.
3. Orlando - Howard is a beast and Lewis will provide scoring punch, but this team only improves if Jameer Nelson improves.
4. Cleveland - The Cavs are down, but with LeBron you are never out.
5. Washington - Most like Toronto in this spot, but the Wizards were cruising along until they were beset by injuries a year ago.
6. Chicago - The Bulls still need a lowpost scorer and won't make the Finals until they get one.
7. Atlanta - This is more fun than picking the Heat or the Nets.
8. Toronto - They played over their heads a year ago, Bosh is dinged up to start the year, and Jose Calderon should be starting ... all told, I think they barely make the playoffs.
9. Miami - It's time to blow this thing up. If a guy doesn't have the name "Wade" on the back of his jersey, he should be sent packing.
10. New Jersey - This is the year the wheels fall off.
11. New York - The wheels fell off a long time ago.
12. Milwaukee - Part of me sees them as a playoff sleeper, but a larger part of me sees the Yi Fiasco blowing up in their faces.
13. Indiana - Except lots of three point launches ... and lots of bricks.
14. Philadelphia - They played hard and pretty well after the AI trade last year, but they will find the going tougher this time around.
15. Charlotte - Everyone keeps waiting for them to get better, but I don't see it happening this year.

First round:
(1) Boston over (8) Toronto
(5) Washington over (4) Cleveland
(3) Orlando over (6) Chicago
(2) Detroit over (7) Atlanta
Second round:
(1) Boston over (5) Washington
(3) Orlando over (2) Detroit
Eastern Conference Championship
(1) Boston over (3) Orlando

Western Conference
1. Phoenix - Going with my gut and heart instead of my head.
2. San Antonio - The Spurs will slowplay the regular season and try to keep everyone healthy for the playoffs ... again.
3. Dallas - One postseason collapse doesn't change the fact that this team has the makings of a 65-game winner.
4. Denver - I know I'm completely crazy, but I think K-Mart is going to make it through the season and make a huge difference.
5. Utah - Deron Williams is the realness, but turmoil in the preseason is never a good thing.
6. Houston - I'm with everyone else who is excited about Houston, but after picking them to win it all last year, I can't bring myself to go too far.
7. New Orleans - Chris Paul is about to blow up in a major way.
8. Golden State - I'm not sure I buy sustained excellence for the Warriors, but I like them better than anyone else in the West for the 8th spot.
9. L.A. Lakers - They should make the playoffs with Phil, Kobe, Odom, and the improving Bynum ... but will they even have Kobe by the time the playoffs start?
10. Portland - The Blazers are going to play hard and be in every game, but without Oden, they are probably still a year away from reaching the postseason.
11. Memphis - They will be better, but it probably won't show up in the W/L column.
12. Sacramento - They should be more fun to watch, even when they are losing.
13. L.A. Clippers - Is any NBA team more cursed than the Clippers? Yikes.
14. Minnesota - It is cliche to pick the Wolves last, so I'm breaking the mold ... and taking them second-to-last.
15. Seattle - For my money, this is the worst team in the NBA.

First round:
(1) Phoenix over (8) Golden State
(4) Denver over (5) Utah
(3) Dallas over (6) Houston
(2) San Antonio over (7) New Orleans
Second round:
(4) Denver over (1) Phoenix
(3) Dallas over (2) San Antonio
Western Conference Championship
(3) Dallas over (4) Denver

NBA Finals
Boston over Dallas

MVP - Kevin Garnett
ROY - Al Horford (upset!)
COY - George Karl
DPOY - Shane Battier
6th Man - Manu Ginobili

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dead Eye Dwight?

Preseason NBA games are pretty meaningless, but there is one stat from the box score that translates regardless of when the game is played ... free throw shooting. My man Dwight Howard couldn't make his free throws last year whether he was in a crucial playoff game or in someone's back yard. It made him a liability for fantasy teams and prevented him from being the go-to guy for the Magic in their series with the Pistons last year. But tonight, against the Cavs, Howard went 13-for-16 from the line.

Impressive. And it just might be one of those rare preseason stats that means something.