Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's Okay to Praise the King

LeBron James has started the 2007-08 campaign like a man possessed and I'm waiting for someone to take notice. Last year he took a beating in the media for not going 100% during the regular season and for adopting what appeared to be the Shaq Blueprint for playoff success (read: pace yourself and then unleash legendary performances like Game Five in Detroit). I thought he was unfairly criticized, whether it was on ESPN or TNT or just in run of the mill fantasy leagues. I mean, the guy had been basically playing year round because of International play, he was waiting to see if the roster would change (read: whether he would get a real point guard), and he was ailing at times. Sure, he seemed to step back just a bit and I know that was disappointing, but he was still just 22 years old. It seemed like he deserved a break.

But I'm getting off point here, because the thrust of this post is to suggest that while people were quick to bash LeBron for what they believed to be lackluster play, they aren't exactly firing up up their laptops to heap praise on him. Which is exactly what they should be doing. While everyone talks about KG for MVP and Dwight Howard's emergence and how sick Chris Paul is (all valid, by the way), nobody is paying any attention to the man who is currently destroying the NBA. Maybe we're bored of LeBron? Maybe we're overlooking him because the Cavs kind of blow (although their four-game winning streak and win over Boston hint that maybe they will still be solid)? I'm not sure what the answer is. But here are the facts:

- LeBron is playing 41 minutes a night and shooting 49% from the floor despite taking a tremendous amount of difficult shots - most notably the fadeways that he has to heave when his Cavalier teammates freak out and hand him the ball with the shot clock winding down.

- He already has five triple-doubles in 15 games and was an assist shy in two other contests. And some of these trip-dubs haven't even been close. 32-15-13 in a narrow loss at Utah. 39-13-14 in a one-point loss to Orlando. 37-12-12 in a win over Toronto. Are you kidding me? These aren't your 14-11-11 triple doubles that Jason Kidd tosses up (no disrespect to Kidd, the Bionic Man, who is sweet).

- LeBron easily leads the league in scoring at 31.3 points per game.

- Oh and despite all that scoring, he's still seventh in assists at 8.1 per, ahead of point guards such as Chauncey Billups and T.J. Ford.

- Oh, and he's pulling down 8.8 boards per night, which is more than Amare Stoudemire (I'm not sure if that says more about Bron or Amare, but there you have it).

- In other words, while he's still a ways off and unlikely to keep up the pace, he's within reasonable striking distance of actually being the second guy to ever average a triple double. He would join Oscar Robertson in doing so, but it would actually be far more impressive in this day and age, as the Big O would have only averaged somewhere around 7.5 rebounds in today's NBA (it's a long story, but basically there were far more possessions back then and therefore more missed shots to grab - I've got some complicated "elite player averages" research that I could break out to back this up, but that would just bore us all to tears so it stays in the Excel file where it belongs). I know LeBron isn't going to average a triple double, but it is fun to watch him flirt with it.

- Last thing. A while back I did this fairly rudimentary calculation which measured "points created" by combining scoring and assists to figure out just how effective players were at creating points through traditional statistical measures. You can read all about it here, but the point is that LeBron is currently creating 47.5 points per game for the Cavs, which puts him on pace for one of the top six seasons of the past 25 years based on this (admittedly rudimentary) statistical measure.

- (Oh, actually, this is the last thing. If Drew Gooden could make a layup, Donyell Marshall didn't suck, and Larry Hughes knew how to shoot a jump shot, LeBron would be averaging about 11.5 dimes per night. Trust me.)

Anyway, it's time to give LeBron the spotlight again. Everyone got their shots in last year when he was down, then they lionized him again in the playoffs, and now it just seems that no one can summon the energy to even talk about the guy. But what he's doing is amazing. He's carrying an atrocious Cavs team, he's improving all aspects of his game (especially his defense where he's averaging 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks and becoming a much better defender both on-the-ball and in the passing lanes), and he's putting up numbers that approach "ridiculous" territory.

The man is sick. So go ahead and talk about it, even if it isn't novel.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hats Off to (Double Barrel) Action Jackson

Here are the things we know about Stephen Jackson:

- He was an integral and completely overlooked part of the Spurs team that won the 2003 NBA title, constantly hitting huge shots and giving them toughness and defense.

- He likes to go into the stands and get his punch on when the opportunity presents itself.

- He's not afraid to "lick a shot" into the air outside of a night club.

- He will treat every referee like Stern treated Tim Donaghy should he feel wronged by a call.

- His agent had to be the dumbest guy in the world when he parlayed Jackson's success in San Antonio into a crappy deal with the terrible Atlanta Hawks.

- He epitomizes the phrase "streak shooter."

He's probably also crazy and quite possibly the most loyal teammate in the NBA. And you know what else he is? The heart and soul of the Golden State Warriors.

Last year, people couldn't figure out how the Warriors went from a moribund franchise to the most exciting team outside of Phoenix in the middle of the season. Some (like me) attributed it mainly to the health of Baron Davis and Jason Richardson and others credited the emergence of young guys (Ellis and Biedrins) and role players (Barnes and Pietrus). The real difference? They made a trade in the middle of the season that sent the Charmin Twins Dunleavy and Murphy to Indy in exchange for Al Harrington and S-Jax. And then they became kind of awesome.

In the playoffs, Jackson was everywhere. He got thrown out of games for being a lunatic. He drove the lane on isos like he was MJ in his prime (and expected the same calls and results, rarely getting either). He hit huge threes in bunches. He physically manhandled the "MVP" of the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki. Anyone who watched that Dallas-GSW series knew that as good as Baron was (and he was incredible), Jackson was the litmus test for the Warriors. As he went, so went Golden State.

So how could we have possibly been surprised when G-State came out and went 0-6 to start the year while Jackson served an NBA suspension (for the aforementioned gunplay)? After all, if you listen to Warriors players, they will tell you that Jackson is the leader of the pack. If you watched him in San Antonio, you know he is That Guy that will bring the grit and swagger to a team. Yet somehow, many of us forgot all that and just thought the Warriors were done after the bad start. "They shouldn't have traded J-Rich." "They should have traded for Garnett." "Nellie has one eye on the beaches of Hawaii." (Actually, you'd need more than one eye to track multiple beaches, but whatever). For some reason nobody thought to wait and see what happened when Jackson came back.

Well, he's back and the Warriors have won six of seven, with five of those W's coming on the road. The Crazy One himself isn't exactly dominating statistically. He's had an eight turnover game. He went 2-for-10 from deep in another. He's shooting under 40% for the season. But he's making this team go. He's hitting the big shots and he's locking up the top opponent and he's snarling and throwing headbands and berating refs and chest bumping teammates and doing all the things that this Warriors team apparently can't live without.

Stephen Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink in Oakland. It's official.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's Wrong with the Bulls?

Where to begin? After being on hand to watch the Bulls get annihilated by Toronto a week and a half ago (the final score was 101-71, but I assure you, it wasn't that close), I was convinced I had never seen a poorer "showing" of professional basketball. Since then, the Bulls have lost in a competitive game at Phoenix, beaten the Clippers, and gotten blown out in the second half by the Lakers. At least they are looking better, but far from the team we saw make strides last season, and they are hardly performing like a team many pundits chose as the "hot pick" to make the Finals this season. Here are some of my observations on why the team is performing so poorly:

1. Kirk Hinrich. I'm a big fan of Captain Kirk, but he has been downright terrible on both ends of the court. On offense, he simply cannot hit a shot, shooting a hideous 32.7% from the field and averaging only 10.1 points per game, down from 16.6 last season. His decision-making has also been poor, and he is averaging over 3 turnovers for the first time in his career. On defense, he seems tired and sometimes disinterested. His need to play out of position and guard larger shooting guards is hurting him, and the team, more than it ever has in the past. Perhaps he was wishing the Bulls would make a move for Kobe so he could return to defending point guards.

2. Ben Wallace. He might be hurt, though as usual, he's not saying. But I think the bigger problems are 1) at age 33, his game and athleticism are declining, and 2) he's not trying that hard. For a guy who lacks any discernible "skills" and whose game has been built around effort and athleticism, this does not bode well. He simply has to get healthy and play with the heart that made him a perennial All-Star and won him a $60 million contract. He is currently averaging a paltry 4.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, well below his career numbers.

3. Ben Gordon. He has been chucking shots without a conscience this season. Part of this is because the Bulls' offense is often so stagnant that they have few other options, but Gordon also doesn't seem to be discerning between "good shots" and "bad shots" anymore. Perhaps he's angry about his inclusion in Kobe trade rumors or the Bulls' unwillingness to meet his contract demands, or perhaps he's trying to score more to justify a bigger contract in the offseason, but he needs to tone it down and play within the team's game. I would also like to see him take it to the hoop more, as he is the Bulls' only established penetrator. On D, his size forces Hinrich to play out of position and hurts the Bulls at both guard spots.

4. Luol Deng. If this is reading like a laundry list of the Bulls' supposed top players, it's because it has been a team effort to perform this poorly. Deng is currently out of action, but when he was playing, it seemed like he disappeared for long stretches, especially in crunch time. For a player who, last season and during the preseason, showed signs of becoming a superstar, and whom the Bulls refused to trade for the game's best player, Deng needs to assert himself in the offense and assume the role of "star" that his talent permits. With his work ethic, I expect him to pick it up as soon as he gets healthy.

5. Effort. This team just does not seem to be playing that hard (with the exceptions of Andres Nocioni, who is always a sparkplug and managed to anger yet another adversary, Ruben Patterson, the other night, and Tyrus Thomas, who looks like he just might develop to reach his potential).

6. The offense. This is the biggest problem. Without an effective low-post scorer and lacking a great penetrator, the Bulls' offense is built around jump shooting. Unfortunately, when a team has a very one-dimensional offense, defenses can focus on taking away this dimension, and it seems this is exactly what is happening. Defenders are pressuring the Bulls on the outside, preventing shooters such as Hinrich, Gordon, Deng and Nocioni from getting open looks (when was the last time you saw Deng get an open 15-footer this year? Last year, he got and hit those with regularity), and the Bulls, unable to toss the ball in down low or attack the basket, are unable to make defenders pay. This causes a stagnant offense, forcing turnovers and bad shots. Also, teams that live and die by the jumper are in serious trouble when shots are not falling, as is the case now. Indeed, all of the Bulls are shooting poorly, though this is largely caused by the tighter perimeter defense the shooters are seeing.

7. The players. Despite being a Bulls fan and the Bulls being the hot pick to make the Finals, I just couldn't see it, and I certainly don't now. Even in the East, they are still a player short. They lack a star or go-to player. Gordon and Deng are not those guys, though Deng could develop into him. At this point, the team just does not seem quite good enough. And in the playoffs, you cannot advance too far on jump shooting, because shots will go cold at some point. You need another way to score.

So what is the solution? Well, for one, the players the Bulls currently have need to play harder, and smarter. This is the same team that won 49 games last year, and with the improved play of Tyrus Thomas, should be capable of winning 50 this year. But if the Bulls really want to compete, they need to make a trade for a player that adds another dimension to the offense. Kobe, of course, would be great, but things seem to be alright in LA right now, and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere, especially with his no-trade clause preventing him from being moved to a bad team. However, Pau Gasol is struggling, and unhappy, in the new up-tempo Memphis offense. He is a consistent low-post scorer and a very good passer out of the block; he would command double-teams and free up shooters. Perhaps now would be a good chance for the Bulls to put together an offer and get him on the cheap, or wait until December 15, at which point the Bulls could include Nocioni (whom the Grizzlies coveted in free agency this offseason) in an offer. Either way, until the Bulls make a move, this team seems limited by its one-dimensional offense.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Inverse Offense

During the very exciting Pistons-Bulls game from last Thursday, Kevin Harlen made constant mention of the fact that the Pistons often run their offense inside-out, in that the big men shoot from the perimeter while the guards and swingmen take it to the post. I found it odd that Harlen - and not analyst Doug Collins - was making this observation, and I also found it odd that the observation was a very good one, despite being rather simple. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized how rare the Pistons are in that sense. How many other teams have big guys like Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess - guys that are not just capable of playing on the perimeter, but actually seem more comfortable doing it - and a post-up point guard like Chauncey Billups? Throw in small forward Tayshaun Prince's versatility and the different things that rookie Rodney Stuckey is going to be able to do and you get a really unique team.

And I think that this ability to inverse the offense at least partly explains why the Pistons are staying so successful despite the fact that everyone keeps waiting for them to fall off. It makes sense why inversing the offense would be a subtly effective way of doing things. After all, players are so big these days that running traditional post offense is getting increasingly difficult - the lane is just too clogged. Throw in the fact that teams can zone and help with more ease and it gets extremely hard to isolate a post player. However, if you take the big guys (and therefore, the big guys guarding them) and put them on the perimeter, you suddenly have much smaller players battling it out with more real estate. Add in the fact that big men are less comfortable playing perimeter defense and guards less comfortable defending in the post and it makes a ton of sense to flip the offense.

The problem for most teams is that they don't have the pieces to do it well, or often. Utah has Deron Williams, who can definitely post other point guards, and they have Memhet Okur, who is the epitome of a perimeter big man, but they also have Carlos Boozer. Now, Boozer can certainly hit 15-footers, but it is a shame of move him off the block. Therefore, they don't invert their offense as often as they might otherwise. Dallas is a team with the proper big man for the job in Dirk Nowitzki, but I don't imagine we'll be seeing Devin Harris or Jason Terry taking people to the block. In fact, most teams, even if they have one or two pieces that would allow this to happen, don't have the cohesive lineup to implement a true inverse offense.

That said, I do think there are three teams that can do it nearly as well as Detroit. They are:

Atlanta. The Hawks actually have the perfect roster to implement what the Pistons do on offense. I watch the Hawks-Bobcats game yesterday and was really impressed by both Josh Smith (before he hurt himself and had to leave the game with 5 blocks in the second quarter) and Joe Johnson in the post. Smith has added a series of outstanding post moves and is showing the ability to finish with finesse around the rim, while Johnson has always been an underrated lowpost player. And on the flip side they have guys like Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams to step out and hit 18-footers all day long. Even prized rookie big man Al Horford has the range to knock down the 15-footer. Of all the teams in the NBA, Atlanta is the one most able to replicate what Detroit does so well. And the best news is that they seem to realize it, as they constantly spread the floor last night, taking their big men out wide and putting Smith and Johnson in the post against overmatched guards.

Golden State. I remember watching a late-season game between the Warriors and the Suns last year and being amazed at how easily Baron Davis was able to exploit Steve Nash on the block. Everyone talks about beating Phoenix this way, but seldom are actually able to do it. The Warriors play almost all guard-types anyway, so it isn't a problem to post Baron on whatever overmatched point is guarding him and let guys like Harrington, Barnes, and Jackson (once he returns from suspension) spread the floor and take the big men with them. The problem for the Warriors is that as good as Azabuke has been, he and Monta Ellis are both more slashers than the traded Jason Richardson or the suspended Jackson, so the lane is getting clogged. Plus, as Biedrins continues to improve and provide good defense, he's getting more time on the court and has a hard time straying too far from the basket (unless they want to turn him into a stand-around non factor on offense, ala Marcus Camby in the 2007 Playoffs). The result is that Baron isn't taking people into the post hardly at all this year and G-State is trying to run and gun their way to wins. I know they played at a fast pace last year, but what made them unstoppable at times wasn't really the speed at which they played, it was the fact that they could inverse their offense and create matchup nightmares all over the court. They need to get Jackson back, get Ellis on a leash, and go back to Baron turning defenses inside-out.

Portland. The irony here is that if Greg Oden was healthy, they wouldn't be on this list. But as it stands, Portland can really play Deeeeetroit Basketball on the offensive end. Jack can post people from his point guard spot, but it is Brandon Roy that can really take his game into the paint. And with LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye, and Travis Outlaw all capable of playing outside-in from the 4 and 5 spots (in regards to Outlaw, this is just when Portland goes small), they have the perfect floor balance. And that doesn't even account for Martell Webster unleashing bombs from deep, further spreading the floor. The problem for Portland is that Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla both get big minutes and can't be flipped at all. Blake has no post ability and the Zilla can't take his game outside of about 12 feet. So when the Blazers have to go with that lineup, they must run their post game through Aldridge where things are all clogged and stacked up.

It will be interesting to see if more teams try to play this way or how long it will sustain the Pistons' success. I know that it is making the Hawks better, will turn things around for Golden State if they get back to it, and helps explain why Portland is better than anticipated, but I'm not sure whether it is going to be some kind of trend or if it is even something that is schemed by coaching staffs.

But, like everything else in the NBA, I'll be watching to find out.

Moon Watch

I'm obsessed with Jamario Moon of the Raptors. Maybe it's because of his last name and it harkens back to the resentment I feel that I wasn't a wide-eyed child during Project Apollo. Maybe it's the fact that he's one of those "never give up" guys. Maybe it's because a week ago I'd never heard of him and yesterday he was picked up off the waiver wire in my most competitive fantasy basketball league.

Whatever the reason, I'm watching Moon's every move. I'm noting the 12 and 6 with 3 steals in a blowout win over the Bulls and the 15 points and 2 steals in a narrow loss to the Jazz. I'm charting his minutes and have even added him to my Google News email updates.

For now though, I wanted to post this solid piece by Ryan McNeill that was posted on HoopsWorld a couple of weeks ago and that does a nice job of telling Moon's story, filling in the details on how a guy suddenly appears in the starting lineup of a playoff contender as a 27-year old rookie.

Anyway, give it a read and start watching this guy play, because he's fun to watch and he's just a great story. Maybe he will turn out to be another Linton Johnson or Ronald Dupree - a guy that breaks out of the D-League world for a brief moment with heart and hustle, only to fade away just as quickly - or maybe he will having some staying power. I for one, am tuning in to find out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First Look: Boston Celtics

It is ironic that the Boston Celtics, one of the most hyped teams of this young season (and virtually the only squad I spent any time blogging about this summer), is the last team I finally saw play on TV. I've been working late, going to weddings in Mexico, and putting the finishing touches on an economic plan for the Federal Reserve that will keep us all out of a recession. (Okay, I made that last part up.) But for whatever reason, I think I had been able to at least get a glimpse of every other NBA team over the first two weeks (thank you, NBA League Pass) ... except for the C's.

That changed last night when I watched Boston easily beat an improved Pacers team on the road in a contest that they controlled from start to finish. There isn't much I can tell you about the Celtics that isn't being plastered all over and other prominent websites, but I can tell you that I am feeling pretty dang good about my prediction that Kevin Garnett would completely and totally change Boston's defense. KG is a marvel. He obviously controls the glass and has the length to block shots and the quick hands to cause steals - these things show up in box scores and helped make him the consensus number one pick in fantasy drafts this year. But what people don't realize about KG, unless they are watching closely, is that he completely controls the defensive end of the floor. He helps on the weak side, he communicates, and he can handle a switch and effortlessly defend a perimeter player. He is just amazing to watch play defense. And what he did to Jermaine O'Neal last night was almost criminal. JO shot a number of dreadful quick-release airballs simply because he wanted to cast off an FGA before Garnett could get too close to him. It was embarrassing.

That's why it doesn't surprise me that Boston is holding opponents to such a low FG%. They have KG manning the middle. Not only that, but as I wrote about in the post linked to above, he's teaching others how to be better defenders. He's inspiring Paul Pierce, he's whispering sage advice into Rajon Rondo's ear, and he's showing Kendrick Perkins how to be a good post defender just by example. Plus, he's so active and tireless and intense and so freakishly long that he allows Boston to play poor defenders like Ray Allen (big minutes) and Eddie House (little minutes) with virtually no repercussions.

It will be interesting to see how Boston handles an extremely fast team like Phoenix or Golden State (although they've already done a number on Denver) or a team that executes beautifully like Utah or San Antonio, but for any opponent that plans on coming in and just beating Boston in the halfcourt with pick and rolls and isolations, they can forget.

And I know it has only been six games and with some of the age, depth, and, therefore, injury concerns that will crop up, this is far from a completed success story. But for now, I am feeling pretty vindicated for all of my summer optimism. Marc Stein and I can celebrate, even if it is just November.

Who In the World Is Jamario Moon?

I swear I thought I had heard of every NBA player, and then I flipped over to the Raptors game the other night and saw some dude named Jamario Moon putting in time as an undersized power forward in Toronto's small ball lineup. Who is this guy? His Yahoo profile says he's 27 and played community college ball, but there has to be more to this story. I'm on the case and will be back with more on this later.

In the meantime, now that I have that out of my system, I can report on the Celtics, which was the original plan.

[Edit: This provides some answers, link courtesty of good old True Hoop.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hunting for Fun

For some reason, I've always watched NBA games with too much emphasis on analysis, big picture, strategy, and so on. Rarely do I just have fun watching these talented guys play my favorite game. That's why so many of my posts this year are going to focus on the fun elements of this NBA season. Fun games, matchups, players, and the like. In fact, I am considering spending a couple of months watching every player in the league and then ranking them from #1 to whatever based on how fun they are to watch. It will have no analytical value whatsoever and probably won't actually happen because of the sheer magnitude of the undertaking, but I'm giving it some thought.

In the meantime, here are a few guys that were just fun to watch play basketball tonight:

1. Carmelo Anthony. He's quietly becoming one of the best players in the NBA and a legit MVP candidate. He is improving on defense and has one of the most devastating inside/outside games in the league. Not only that, but he seems to play alongside Iverson without any effort whatsoever. So much for AI being impossible to pair with a superstar. I also love that Melo keeps things lively with all his dust ups. Everything from the Stop Snitchin' DVD to the brawl at MSG to the convenience store altercation to (of course) the amazing Blood Brothers painting in his episode of Cribs. It's just compelling. But what made Melo so fun to watch tonight was that pure 18-foot jumper where he catches in the mid post, reverse pivots, squares up his defender, ball fakes, and then takes a flawless jump shot. Does anyone do that better in the NBA? I highly doubt it.

2. Gerald Wallace. His dunks and high-flying swats are breathtaking to be sure, but they are also what cost him 20 games every year when he lands on his head or hip or other body part that starts with an "h." What made him fun to watch tonight was the way he led the Bobcats to an inspired W over the Pacers by hitting outside jumpers and finding ways to attack the rim that didn't put him at risk of a trip to the ER. Seeing his game evolve and become more controlled is very exciting.

3. Martell Webster. I've already written quite a bit about him, but there isn't much about the NBA that is more satisfying than watching a guy that doesn't "get it" suddenly pull it together. I'm telling you, there are many who insist that he's just a shooter (I'm hearing poor man's Glen Rice), but this guy can play and he's going to be around a while.

4. Louis Williams. It won't be long before the Sixers find a way to get this guy 25+ minutes a night off the bench. He's got blinding speed, great handles, and is totally fearless. His hoop while drawing the foul (even though he missed the free throw) late against Toronto was breathtaking. He put TJ Ford on skates with a lightening quick crossover that was probably the best move I saw all night. The only thing better was the little Sixers ball boy who was going crazy celebrating in the background.

5. Jeff Green. I know he's not getting a ton of run or racking up huge stats in Seattle (it makes perfect sense that they want to get Wally Z his minutes, because he's a franchise builder), but Green is just a fun guy to watch. He knows how to use his body, he moves without the ball, and - most importantly - he's just a fantastic passer with great instincts for drawing contact and anticipating the lane that he just created. It's a rare skill and the only guy I can really think of that does it well is Baron Davis and he's a point guard.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thank Goodness For Tyrus Thomas

I was planning on writing about the Mavs-Warriors game tonight, what with the recent history between those two teams and all, but I knew that anything going down in Oakland was going to be upstaged sometime late in the third quarter of Bulls-Pistons.

The plan is to do quite a bit of blogging on Thursday nights during the NBA season. Even though I have the League Pass this year and therefore can see most any game, there is still something about watching the TNT crew do its thing. Plus, it is near the end of the work week, so I can afford to stay up a bit later to bang away on the old laptop.

Anyway, tonight's entry is about Tyrus Thomas and about how much fun he made tonight's game to watch. He clearly isn't the answer to the Bulls' lowpost scoring needs (they will FOREVER regret not dealing Deng for Gasol and I will swear by that until the end of time), as he is still skittish and erratic in the paint and has very few - if any - polished scoring moves in the paint. (By the way, don't try to tell me that Joe Smith is the answer to this problem either, because The Man Who Was Worth Seven Draft Picks isn't much more than a lesser version of Kurt Thomas - a smart veteran who can play position defense and hit the 15-foot jumper on a pick and pop). But aside from the fact that TT is the Bulls' power forward, yet can't give them power forward offense in the half court, this guy is the best thing smokin' (as rapper Young Dro would say) in Chicago. He is fast, athletic, and never stops moving. It is refreshing to see a player move constantly without the ball - on both ends of the court - even if he has no assurances that he's going to touch it at any point. He has very active hands, good timing, and (obviously) amazing leaping ability, so he's good for three or four highlight plays a night. Throw together his ability to create turnovers, the offense he manufactures on garbage plays, and his tendency to move the crowd and I would argue that Thomas is the most exciting player in a Bulls uniform this season.

And Thursday night's game was great, because it was an opportunity for Thomas to break out on a national stage. It didn't hurt that he was the key guy in getting the Bulls their first W of the season.

That said, the best thing about Ty Thomas' coming out party didn't even have anything to do with Thomas himself. Because the very best thing about the way Thomas played tonight was the effect it had on Rasheed Wallace.

I know Sheed missed a couple of times down the stretch when the game was in reach, but aside from that, the man with the crazy white spot on his head played like a man possessed, going for 36 and 9. Seriously, when was the last time Wallace went for more than 30 in a game? (Answer below). When was the last time you saw him defending the paint AND gobbling up boards in the same contest (he usually does only one or other other). Or how about draining deep threes as the trailer on the secondary break AND taking Thomas down in the post for some lessons (he also typically chooses only one of these as well). For one night - and maybe just one night - Sheed really did look like one of the best big men in the game, not just a guy with "the ability" to be one of the best big men in the game (as we hear on every telecast).

And that's what made Thursday night's Bulls-Pistons game so exciting.

(A few throwaway thoughts while we are here: Noah made a bunch of really nice passes tonight that proved why his ceiling his higher than Side Show Bob's, the Bulls are much better when they let Hinrich create as a true point than when they try to use that stupid weave/handoff system, Ben Wallace took four of the worst shots I've ever seen in an NBA game, the Pistons are going to be really tough if and when Maxiell gets more run and Stuckey gets back from that injury, and, finally, Chris Duhon is bad at basketball.)

(Oh, and the answer to the Sheed question from above ... he last had 30 in a game way back in November of 2005 when he had 33. The last time he went for 35 or more was January 15, 2003 when he went for 38 against Memphis. Thing about that - this is the most he's scored in almost five years! And all because Tyrus Thomas made some flashy plays and got his blood pumping. Great stuff.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Just finished watching the end of the really fun Cleveland-Utah game. It had a playoff atmosphere and was one of those contests in which guys were jousting back and forth with winning plays rather than exchanges of futility. Love when that happens. And for it to end with LeBron hitting an impossible three with 7 seconds remaining, only for Deron Williams to go coast to coast and finish with a wrist roll in the lane (you read that right - it was just like a finger roll, except that he shot it off his wrist), well, it doesn't get much better for regular season hoops in November.

I was struck by three things in particular:

1. Boobie can still spin. If you were reading this blog during the playoffs last year, you know that I love Daniel Gibson. You also know that I REALLY love that his nickname is Boobie and that it opens the door for a million "if you wanna win, let Boobie spin" jokes (born out of the Friday Night Lights film. For some reason, despite Boobie's big time play in the postseason last year, people had him tabbed for a big letdown season. So far, he's proving people wrong again. He uses his quickness really well and has one of the purest and most confident deep strokes in the league. He's like a better, faster, younger Damon Jones. Which makes it all the more hilarious that the completely inept Mike Brown continues to play the actual Damon Jones. I know Pavlovic is getting his sea legs back, that Hughes is hurt, and that the Cavs front office didn't do themselves any favors in shoring up the backcourt. But do you really need Damon Jones playing big minutes?

2. Ronnie Brewer is legit. In my previous post I talked about how much better Francisco Garcia is than his stats and the entry might as well have been about Brewer. The former Razorback had a nice line tonight, but his performance went so far beyond the box score. His speed and athleticism at the 2 makes Utah a completely different team. They can throw different packages at people, use Brewer to guard an assortment of players, and they have the ability to challenge threes better than anyone in the league with Brewer and Kirilenko closing out on people. In fact, Brewer is so capable and so drastically changes the look of this Jazz team that I can't help but wonder what might have been in that Western Conference Finals last year if Sloan hadn't been too stubborn to play a rookie. I'm sure Brewer has grown from last year to this one, but a lot of what we are seeing was probably there all along. It has to kill Utah fans to know that they basically had Gerald Wallace sitting on the bench last May, while Manu Ginobili was torching them night in and night out. I know Houston is looking good, that the Nuggets have fire power, and that the Spurs, Suns, and Mavs aren't going anywhere, but I assure you that nobody is going to want to see Utah in the postseason. And if they manage to move AK47 for a shooter and a shot blocker? Look out.

3. LeBron's passing continues to be underrated. I've been saying this for the past year, but nobody gives James enough credit for his passing and it has everything to do with the fact that we use assists as the measure of passing ability. Tonight was one of those nights were he absolutely should have had 20 or more dimes, but his teammates (most notably Drew Gooden) continually blew easy plays at the rim. If you put LeBron on a team with some finishers (take Golden State, for instance), I promise he'd average 10 assists per game. It just blows my mind how crappy this Cavs offense is and how much he elevates them on that end of the floor. I'll concede that they still win in large part to cohesive play and defense, but the fact that they manage to score even 85 points a game is all LeBron James.

There are other things that could be said, including the fact that Big Z looks better with a shaved head, that it is kind of eerie watching Paul Milsap killing it next to fellow former second round draft pick Carlos Boozer, and that Mehmet Okur is playing every game these days like his wife is in labor (just check out his string of performances when that happened last year), but I need to get some sleep, so I'm out.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Seeing is Believing

I tend to put a lot of stock in numbers when it comes to evaluating NBA players. This is due in part to the fact that box scores are easier to come by than archived game tapes (not to mention more expedient), but also because things like PER and Win Shares have produced such compelling results. In fact, I'm such a "stat guy" that I often disregard what I actually see happening and instead believe what the numbers tell me after the fact.

But last night I got the chance to whip around through eight different NBA games and see some guys making plays that I didn't realize they could make. I watched players bring things to the table that don't really show up on the stat sheet. Guys impacted games even though when I checked the box score later, the line didn't look all that impressive.

Two guys in particular stood out last night as being really good players, even if their stats would indicate otherwise.

The first is Francisco Garcia. I liked him coming out of Louisville, but was already willing to admit that I was way off after his career got off to a slow start. However, this guy can really play. He's a rangy defender than can guard multiple positions and uses his quick hands to deflect a lot of passes and block a high number of shots for a guard. On offense his jumper still needs polish, but he was very impressive handling the ball and making decisions. He also runs the floor well and is athletic enough to rebound outside his area and create plays in chaotic situations. All around, the guy really impressed me.

The second player that really showed something was Al Jefferson. This one might seem a bit obvious, as he was putting up big numbers last year down the stretch for Boston and expected to approach 20/10 territory this year. But what impressed me was the ease with which he gets to his spots on offense and the confidence he has in taking over games down the stretch. He shook off a quiet first three quarters to lead the young Timberwolves on an impressive late charge against Orlando last night and even though Minny couldn't get the W, Big Al was by far the most dominant player on the floor in the fourth quarter (despite Rashard Lewis' 7 threes or Dwight Howard's monster box score). He has a nice jump hook that he kind of just rolls over the defender's shoulder, a variation on the hook where he jump stops in the lane and gets separation before putting up a one-handed shot put of sorts, and then he also has both a turnaround and a standstill jumper that he can make off the post or off the catch and out as far as 15 feet. A lot of really, really good stuff.

Anyway, the lesson here is to try to watch the games from time to time and see some things beyond the stats. In this era of fantasy hoops and John Hollinger (both things I love), sometimes we forget to just watch these guys play and marvel at all their abilities, both obvious and subtle. Last night was a good reminder.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NBA: Good/Bad (Week 1)

Continuing in the theme of a Good/Bad Report on all things NBA, here is a quick rundown of some of the good and bad performances from Week One. Some of this might be indicative of things to come, some may be aberrations. Some are obvious, some are more subtle. But these are the guys that stood out to me during the opening set of regular season games.


Danny Granger. I've got a buddy named Dubach (who just got married down in Cabo - a great time had by all), who believes he has perfected a head-to-head system for fantasy basketball, by which he drafts all players who do "guard" things. This allows him to win 5-4 each week (since there are five categories that tend to favor perimeter players - FT%, 3's, points, assists, and steals). The system seems to work pretty well, but the point here is that we all know he's going to draft accordingly each year. So when he drafted Danny Granger in the sixth round, it came as no surprise. The only question - which I posed - was whether Granger was going to be the next Shawn Marion or the next Donyell Marshall (circa 2003). Either way, Dubach wins in his fantasy system. However, the Pacers obviously need more Marion and less Marshall. Through the first week of the season, they are getting what they need. Granger is averaging 22.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, is getting more than a block and a steal each game, and is taking to Jim O'Brien's "bombs away" offense like a fly to honey, knocking down 10 triples through three games. Oh, and in those three games? The Pacers are 3-0.

Kevin Garnett. I know, I know. Duh. But KG isn't just infusing Boston with energy and leadership, he's racking up monster numbers. His point totals (45 bones through two games) aren't off the charts, but he's averaging 16.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists to go with a whopping 3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Plus, Boston has already blown out the Wizards at home and won a tough overtime contest in Toronto. Through one week at least, the KG trade is looking like the acquisition of the decade.

Chris Kaman. When it was announced that Elton Brand was down for several months with a ruptured Achilles, the assumption by most fans and pundits (including this one) was that the Clippers were doomed. After all, who would man the middle for the Clips? Certainly not Chris Caveman, with his egregious hair and horrific post-getting-paid 06-07 performance. Well, for two games at least, Kaman is proving us all wrong. He's averaging 18 points, 16.5 boards, and 2 blocks a game while leading the Clippers to a surprise 2-0 start. I'd write more, but I'm still in shock.

Allen Iverson. Iverson's selection on this list is less about numbers (the 10 dimes and 3.7 steals to with 24 points per are nice, but the low field goal percentage is not) and more about presence. He looks faster than he has in years - blindingly fast. Over the past couple of seasons, people would still include AI in the "fastest guy in the league" conversation with the likes of Tony Parker, Leandro Barbosa, and TJ Ford, but I think that was just out of respect. But now? He looks like the fastest guy again. I know he came under fire during the offseason for his approach to training (which consisted of eating bad foods, hanging out, and just relying on being a freak of nature), so maybe he took that to heart and got himself into Mile High condition. Whatever the cause of his rejuvenation, he looks incredible. When you factor in his renewed commitment to getting in the passing lanes (the only real value he's going to bring on defense), he's giving the Nuggets all they could hope for and more.


Gilbert Arenas. I don't know if he's still dinged up or if his fingers are sore from blogging or what, but Arenas is off to a dreadful start. He's shooting .333 from the field and committing 5 turnovers a game (against just 4 dimes) while his Wizards are off to an 0-3 start and looking woeful in the process. Granted, fellow stalwarts Antawn Jamison (.295 field goal percentage) and Caron Butler (5.7 turnovers a game) aren't helping, but this is Gilbert's team and it is going nowhere fast.

Vince Carter. Wait, why am I even mentioning this? VC is paid and on cruise control, so it shouldn't surprise us that he's averaging just 16.3 a game while shooting .308 from the field. The shame is that he's wasting a fantastic start by teammate Richard Jefferson. Maybe the two just can't both play well at the same time?

Luol Deng. He must really, really, really hate Los Angeles. What else but the Kobe trade rumors could be causing such turmoil and anxiety that Paxson's golden boy is averaging just 13.3 points per game and laying bricks at the line to the tune of a 62.5 percentage? Deng is the prized possession that the Bulls won't trade for Pau Gasol, for Kobe, and, presumably, for the Wolf from Teen Wolf. So the dreadful play that has lead (in conjunction with equally dreadful play from Hinrich and Ben Wallace) to Chicago's 0-3 start needs to cease immediately or people are going to start blaming Deng. Now that will cause some anxiety.

Mo Williams. When the Bucks re-upped Williams for big cash in the offseason, they were no doubt hoping that he wasn't going to pull a Mike James on them (read: shoot-first point guard throws up gaudy stats, gets a big contract, and then absolutely blows). So far, he's doing just that. If the Bucks want to challenge for a playoff spot in the East, they are going to need more than 12 points a game from Williams and they sure as hell need more than three assists a night. Three assists! For a $60 million point guard! That, my friends, is bad.

We'll be back with more Good/Bad this week and maybe even some other posts, so stay tuned and get your friends to put Section F sports back in their "killing time at work" rotation.