Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Suns-Red Sox

If you like awesome articles, head on over to Hoops Addict to check out my latest column that compares the Suns to the 2004 Red Sox.

Even after finishing the piece, I realized that there are even more comparisons to be made:

Mike D'Antoni to Terry Francona. Both have unmitigated belief in their teams, neither is much of a strategic force.

Steve Nash to Pedro Martinez. Each was dominant as a small man, each had an apex of pure brilliance, and each give you the sad impression that they are being bullied and picked on by their tormenters (Spurs or Yankees), even as they are playing beautifully.

Amare Stoudemire to Manny Ramirez. Offensive savants ... no defense at all.

Raja Bell to Orlando Cabrera. Both play with a chip on their shoulder and don't back down from anyone and both have the ability to make huge plays under pressure.

We could probably do this all day.

How to Fix the Mavs (Plus, How to Fix the Nuggets!)

Right about now, when teams start advancing in the playoffs, we have to start talking about ways to fix those squads that lost. We're wondering how Toronto will finally sort out their point guard mess. Whether the Rockets have some Miracle Grow for Yao's bones. And, this year, what on earth the Mavs and Nuggets are supposed to do with their train wreck rosters.

Look, I know that the goal in the NBA is to win a title. But sometimes the goal is to get younger. Or to achieve cap flexibility. Or to remain competitive and entertaining while riding out an era.

That last situation is where both Dallas and Denver find themselves.

In the case of Dallas, I think we can admit that Mark Cuban's gamble did not work out. His decision to stay with Dirk through thick and thin is admirable, but it won't net a title unless they get insanely lucky sometime in the next few years. They had their best shot in 2006 and just missed. That's life. But the Kidd trade has made things worse and they now have this half-breed team that features a defensive-minded coach and an offensive-minded star. Dallas can't fix things with minor tweaks, they have to do something major. And that means trading Dirk or changing the makeup of the team. I vote for the latter, since dealing a top five player is never a good idea.

As for Denver, these guys are actually really close to being good. The problem lies squarely with Carmelo Anthony. He's a putrid defensive player that provides no value at that end (Allen Iverson, the other defensively-challenged star of the Nuggets, still plays the passing lanes well and can turn defense into offense with steals) and on offense, he tends to stray from the basket and wait too long to make decisions. The Nuggets have a few pieces in place - Iverson, Martin, Camby, Kleiza - to be an outstanding running team. But Melo doesn't do the proper things on offense or defense that lead to a good running game. The Nuggets play fast, but they don't actually run well. So Anthony has to go.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I believe these two teams can just trade with each other and get the whole thing over with. Here's the deal, provided it works under the cap:

Dallas sends Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to Dallas for Josh Howard and Jason Terry.

The Mavericks would be able to roll out one of the most potent offensive teams in the league - a squad that could run like crazy, run two stud forwards in the post, and create mismatches all over the floor. The Mavs would need to jettison all their creaky veterans and replace them with young, active role players, but I really like the idea of the following starting lineup:

PG Jason Kidd
SG J.R. Smith
SF Carmelo Anthony
PF Dirk Nowitzki
C Brandon Bass
6th Jerry Stackhouse
B Erick Dampier

This lineup would allow them to play small and fast (Bass would give up size to opposing centers, but could outrun them at the other end), get Dirk and Smith bombing threes in transition, and put Melo in good positions to score. There would be no illusions of defense at all, but so long as they handed the reigns to an offensive-minded guy (maybe just move Paul Westphal over a seat?, those could be glorious. Dallas could score 115 points a game, remain in the playoff hunt, and ride out the rest of Kidd's contract in entertaining fashion. I see nothing wrong with that.

As for Denver, the Nuggets could solve oh so many issues here. They can sell high on Smith and get value back for a guy that will never quite fit with their roster (he needs to play shooting guard, but so does Iverson). They can replace some of Melo's scoring in a way that is more conducive to the pace they want to play. And they can dramatically improve both their perimeter defense and their point guard play. Their lineup would look like this:

PG Jason Terry
SG Allen Iverson
SF Josh Howard
PF Kenyon Martin
C Marcus Camby
6th Linas Kleiza
B Nene
B Eduardo Najera
B Chucky Atkins

The only problem with Denver's starting lineup is that they lack a guy who can operate on the low block, but they have Nene coming off the bench, so that problem is mitigated. Plus, it is worth it to lose Melo's post presence in order to move forward with a fast, sleek roster that can trap and press aggressively and move the ball on offense. Think: Philadelphia 76ers, but better.

Anyway, I doubt this will ever happen because making these trades will feel too much like waving the white flag, but it is high time both these franchises realized that they need to lower expectations in order to meet them. By making this deal they can start fresh, employ a new approach, remain competitive, and put on a good show while hoping to catch that miraculous break that allows them to challenge for a title.

It's better than what they've got now.

Blame the Spurs

Last post of the night and it should be a fun one, since San Antonio fans hate me already.

I've been having a lot of interesting conversations with hesitant and recalcitrant NBA fans lately and as exciting as this season has been, as good as the playoffs could be, and as amazing as the newest stars are, there is still something holding people back from fully embracing the sport once again. Maybe it is the lingering resentment over the early part of this decade, with all the bad offense, bloated contracts, and shady shoe company dealings, but that seems like a stretch. After all, we are an "out of sight, out of mind" culture. Perhaps, instead, it is David Stern. There is no denying that he defines the word "pedantic," that he is (at best) a worm in regard to this whole Seattle fiasco, and that he seems grossly out of touch with his league's fan base (assuming that he even considers Americans to be part of the NBA's fan base anymore). He certainly seems to popping up on this blog a lot tonight, but I doubt that the average non-Sonics, non-Suns NBA fan really cares that much about Stern.

So what's the problem? Why can't people go nuts like those fans in Atlanta tonight or the people at Oracle last spring and fully celebrate the ascension of Chris Paul and the continued dominance of LeBron James and the sheer power of Dwight Howard and the coronation of Kobe Bryant?

I think it boils down to a couple of simple things and they are both happening on the court.

1. The first issue is the flopping. It's no secret that flopping is completely out of control right now. Jeff Van Gundy went on a rant about it on Sunday when Raja Bell went horizontal trying to flop his way into taking a charge. Guys are flopping in the lane, flopping at halfcourt, flopping on defense, flopping on offense. It's completely out of control.

2. The second issue is the complaining. Supposedly, this was issue #1 last year until Stern got distracted by the 80 million fans tuning in to games in China and lost interest in quality control and the league abandoned its T Brigade halfway through the season, never to mention it again. (Honestly, does anyone else find it weird that they were dishing out technical fouls left and right for every hint of emotion and then just stopped? That's not odd to anyone?) Now guys are complaining more than ever, spending half the game playing and the other half yapping and gesturing and pleading like a third strike defendant before the sentencing judge.

No matter how good the players are, the aesthetic of basketball is interrupted and diminished when guys are flopping and whining for 48 minutes. These are disturbing, disturbing trends.

And I blame the San Antonio Spurs entirely for both of them.

You see, everyone wants to imitate a winner. That's why you see different player types, offenses, and strategies become vogue in all sports. Big point guards, fast linebackers, patient leadoff hitters, whatever. And in the NBA, the Spurs have been the team that everyone wants to copy in all the wrong ways.

If teams really wanted to emulate the Spurs they would do what the Blazers are doing. Clean house, bring in guys who will accept coaching and play as a team, anchor the roster with defense, move the ball, plan ahead, and so on. But that takes too much effort and too much patience and so instead, teams latch on to the negative aspects of the Spurs "dynasty" (are we calling them a dynasty?). And that would be flopping and complaining.

The former is the forte of one Manu Ginobili. He actually flops far less now than he used to, but during the 2005 season (when the Spurs beat the Pistons for the title), he was like Dick Fosbury out there. It was downright comical ... except that it worked unbelievably well. I can't tell you how many bogus calls he got during the '05 Playoffs. The number is off the charts. And guess what? I wasn't the only one who noticed. Opposing players, coaches, and scouts noticed. And so when the 2006 season kicked off, so did the Year of the Swan Dive. And once people got the hang of it, it really picked up steam. By 2007, big men decided to get in the act and even started taking dives out past the three-point line. It became so common and so rewarded that announcers soon began to praise players for it. Madness! What started as Ginobili's own, weasely homage to soccer quickly became a league-wide epidemic simply because people thought it might work as well for them as it did for the Spurs.

The latter trait is the purview of Tim Duncan. And Bruce Bowen. And Coach Pop. And, well, all the Spurs. I've long held that for all their acumen, skill, teamwork, and mental toughness, the Spurs are the whiniest bunch of champions I've ever seen. If you pour through the game film from the last eight years, you will find something startling: this team has never committed a foul, nor have they ever missed a shot without being fouled. It's true - just ask them! I understand that I could be describing every team in the league at this point, but it wasn't always this way. No, this was a San Antonio (and, if we’re being honest, Gary Payton) specialty. As with flopping, it seemed to work. Tim Duncan started to get so many calls (check out his free throw numbers for a few key series from 2002-2005) while still maintaining his choir boy/poker face reputation (how people could say his expression never changes is one of life's great mysteries) in the media, that it seemed like a no-brainer to follow in his footsteps. Not getting enough calls? Just complain about everything and you can eventually wear down the officials.

Now, of course, flopping and complaining are hit-or-miss propositions. Sometimes you can get a cheap call by throwing yourself on the ground and occasionally you can be the squeaky wheel that gets the whistle, but just as often, you merely ruin the game by tromping around like a petulant child and selling out like a punk by launching yourself into the third row.

This goes for everyone from Manu Ginobili to Tim Duncan to my favorite player Allen Iverson to my hometown Blazers.

We're sick of the flopping.

We're sick of the complaining.

The two forces are conspiring to ruin a wonderful postseason.

And, yes, I blame the Spurs.

Particularly Bad Officiating

It really isn't worth pointing out crummy officiating in the NBA, because it sucks almost every night. And yes, I know that it is better in the NBA than at any other level of basketball (see: Tournament, NCAA, and Olympics, Athens), but that rationalization is becoming tired. If this is the best we can do than we need to figure something else out. Maybe assign specific refs to call specific penalties like in a soccer. Maybe use two 3-man teams, one at each end of the court. Maybe incorporate technology the way they do in tennis. Instant replay? An appeals system? Abolition of the foul limit? Your guess is as good as mine. But something has to happen, because other than David Stern’s arrogance, the officiating is the only thing standing in the way of a complete resurgence for NBA basketball.

Anyway, all of that said, I just had to point out that the officiating in tonight’s Lakers-Nuggets game was particularly bad, even by NBA, sorry, basketball standards. Dick Bavetta looked like he got his assignment from the league mixed up and accidentally made all his horrible calls against the hometown Nuggets rather than for them. Joe Forte looked like he just won a fan contest and was officiating a game for the first time in his life. I mean, this was a joke. On one sequence, Forte called a phantom offensive foul, then watched Kobe take four steps without dribbling, and then - maybe it was his way of evening things out - let Marcus Camby club Bryant on the head with both forearms. I saw guys getting knocked over with no calls, then, seconds later, hit with whistles for slight bumps. I think this team went about 0-for-15 on the tricky block/charge call, never once guessing right (because lets be honest, they were guessing). It was just garbage and it was no wonder that everyone was complaining.

And even though it ultimately didn't amount to much (I couldn't even tell who it favored, although at gunpoint I'd say the Lakers - not that it mattered since this series was o-v-e-r), it just ruined the game.

More generally, poor officiating is threatening to ruin a lot of games and maybe even the entire postseason.

We've got to figure something out.

JJ Comes Up Big in Winning Time

Given the media's obsession with fourth quarter scoring (see: McGrady, Tracy), I expect people to go positively crazy about Joe Johnson's 20-spot in the final frame of tonight's game against the Celtics. And in this case, the attention will be deserved, because he was incredible. The C's were throwing obvious double-teams at him on every trip and still he kept finding a way to slip into the lane for floaters and step back for tough jumpers. I have to say, it was a very Kobe Bryant-esque performance from Johnson.

Two follow-up thoughts:

1. How crazy is it that Joe Johnson is about to outlast the Suns and that the Sixers have outlasted Allen Iverson? The NBA is a strange land these days.

2. The Hawks will probably still lose this series in 6, but they now have something great to build on going forward. They have a legit nucleus in Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, a good stopgap veteran in Mike Bibby, and a solid rotation player in Josh Childress. If they can find a taker for Marvin Williams and bring in a rebounding big man and a playmaking point guard, they will really have something working. (And I'm sorry, no matter how many times it has been said I can't resist ... why, oh why, couldn't the Hawks have just drafted Chris Paul?)

Gotta Love That Age Limit

Unfortunately, the Warriors missed the playoffs, which A) led to the Nuggets being embarrassed by the Lakers, and B) left Monta Ellis out of the postseason spotlight. This last part is a shame because Ellis is one of the primary examples of why the age limit is the dumbest thing about today's NBA (well, except for the flopping, the playoff seeding, the "leave the bench" rule, and Clay Bennett). I was looking forward to several games of David Stern pretending to grin while Ellis swooped all over the court.

Luckily, many others have picked up the slack. Sure, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, and Dwight Howard (and, to a lesser extent, the star-crossed Tracy McGrady and the foul-prone Tyson Chandler) are making a killing, but proponents of the age limit are always able to sidestep such evidence by saying, "Oh, but they were the sure things. What about the high risk picks!" Fair enough, Sternites.

The problem there is that even the high risk picks do better going straight to the NBA. In fact, I examined every draft from this decade and found that the age limit can't possibly be a good thing. And logically, this makes sense. Of course a player is going to develop faster by practicing with and against NBA players every day and learning from NBA coaches. It's not rocket science. Of course, this learning comes on the NBA's dime, which is where David Stern comes in. He'd rather shuffle those costs down to the NCAA, where "student athletes" go to college for free to get a sham education and get rid of their turnover-prone ways before the corporate sponsors and front row fat cats have to be subjected to them. Let's call a spade a spade.

But I digress. This post is meant to point out yet another great night for those folks who oppose the age limit. Because on this night, prep-to-pros players were straight up killing it.

In Orlando, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis (who is earning a mere $126 million despite being an "at-risk" second round pick in 1998 - bad move coming out early on his part) combined for 39 points and 34 rebound while lifting the Magic to a 4-1 series victory over the Raptors.

In Atlanta, the Hawks won a thrilling game and evened their series against the Celtics. And while Joe Johnson was the scoring star late, it was Josh Smith who carried Atlanta to the victory, scoring 28 points (including 12 in the fourth quarter) and blocking an insane seven shots.

In Denver, J.R. Smith proved to be unstoppable at times as he and Allen Iverson nearly carried the apathetic and disappointing Nuggets to a Game Four victory. Smith scored 26 points on a dizzying array of deep threes (like, 30 feet deep) and slashing drives, showing the full range of his development.

And, of course, Kobe was unguardable and KG was a beast.

Six guys, drafted everywhere from #1 overall to the second round, all looming large over the proceedings. In fact, among former high schoolers, only Kendrick Perkins had anything short of a monster game and even he played pretty well, going for 6 and 9 in 24 minutes for the Celtics.

But hey, go on telling everyone the age limit is great for the game, David Stern. Condescending your fan base is what you do best.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Oh, Mike Fratello

How about this gem during the Hawks-Celtics game tonight: "Sometimes there are plays that don't show up on the stat sheet, that just help your team wins games."

This, as the highlight shows Josh Childress grabbing an offensive rebound and then throwing an assist to Mike Bibby.

What stat sheet does Fratello typically consult anyway? I mean, Childress picked up not one, but two of the "big three" stats on the same play!

Speaking of Woofing

I just wanted to point out that I saw three teams win Game Three at home this weekend and act like they just cured the common cold. The Mavericks, Wizards, and Raptors all managed to avoid getting swept and then stomped around the court, waving their arms, and pounding their chests. In each instance, I marvelled at how much they thought of themselves for doing so little. The expression "act like you've been there before" came to mind.

Perhaps not surpisingly, each of these three teams got smacked down on their own home courts in the following Game Fours. The Raptors got pulvarized down the stretch, the Wizards lost to the "overrated" LeBron James and the Cavs, and the Mavs just rolled over and died.

But at least they all won a game, which is apparently all one must do these days in order to have a massive victory celebration.

Get em out!

All Bark, No Bite

I wonder ... do the Washington Wizards realize what a joke they are becoming?

They have tried to reinvent themselves on the fly as some sort of perverse cross between the Detroit Bad Boys and Riley's Knicks, but they just come off as a bunch of wannabe school yard bullies.

Today, in response to, well nothing (LeBron James stating the Washington's attempts to injure him weren't working), Brendan Haywood decided to mock the most dominant player in the NBA and instruct James to "Play basketball and leave it alone."

This was helpful for me, because I thought LeBron was playing basketball. You know, the 34 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists (including the game-winner) kind. But I guess real basketball is screaming every time you make one of your five field goals.

The Wizards actually have some likable guys and I was looking forward to watching them compete with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison. Unfortunately, all this team does is talk. They talk between games about how tough they are going to be. They complain to officials about everything from moving picks to the temperature of the team bus. They woof about every three-pointer like they just redefined basketball. It's pathetic.

Nothing bothers me more than guys who try to bring great players down to their own squalor. "Lowest common denominator" players are bad for the game and entirely worthless, as far as I'm concerned.

As Michael Wilbon would say, "Get 'em out!"

Luckily, I don't have to worry too much about it. Thanks to yapping instead of playing, the Wizards are taking care of it for me.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Better To Be Lucky Than Good

Fortune, thy name is Utah.

[Update: That was weird. The entire post somehow got deleted after I wrote it. I don't have the heart to sketch it all out again, so here are the main ideas:

- Utah won Game Two in Houston when Luis Scola committed an entirely needless foul and negated a Bobby Jackson three, and when Houston missed an inordinate number of layups, and when Kyle Korver shot a jumper off the side of the backboard and managed to get the ball back for an open jumper.

- Utah won Game Four when the wrong official made an assumption call on an inbounds play when Deron Williams got tied up for a jump ball by Tracy McGrady. Then, when Williams missed two free throws, Chuck Hayes and McGrady accidentally fought for the rebound and the ball wound up in the hands of Okur for two free throws.

- I think the Jazz are a really good team and have probably deserved each of their three victories in the series, but that they probably are up 3-1 more because of fortune than skill. In other words, they ARE good, but they've BEEN lucky.

- In conclusion, it is better to be lucky than good.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rondo Would Look Pretty Good in Orange Right About Now

It has been well documented that the miserly Suns have been unloading draft picks for some time now. They've traded picks for players, for cash, and for future picks. They've even given them away just so they don't have to pay guaranteed contracts. If you trace the history of their dealings, you start to realize that they could have had some pretty amazing players. But hindsight is 20/20 and normally, the "What if?" game is a big, fat waste of time. Besides, there is no way to know for sure who Phoenix would have drafted in certain instances.

Except in one case, where the Suns actually drafted Rajon Rondo and then traded him away.

The scenario, if I have this figured out correctly, went like this:

1. Boston held the rights to Cleveland's first-round pick in 2007 because they traded the immortal Jiri Welsh to the Cavs in 2005. (Footnote: Welsch is no longer in the league, so this was obviously a pretty dumb trade by Cleveland.)

2. Phoenix drafted Rondo with the 21st pick in the 2006 Draft, but immediately shipped him and Brian Grant's exoskeleton to Boston for a future first round pick (top-10 protected).

3. Phoenix then spent an insane amount of money - probably the very money they saved in the aforementioned trade - on Marcus Banks, who went from "new addition" to "scourge of Arizona" in about 24 hours. (Then again, he did have that huge summer league performance a couple of years ago, so that's a feather in his cap.)

4. Because Boston's own pick was the fifth overall in the 2007 Draft, that pick was protected. But because they held Cleveland's pick at #24, that selection went to Phoenix.

5. With the #24 pick in the 2007 Draft, the Suns selected Rudy Fernandez ... and then promptly sent him to Portland for a garbage bag of cash. (Okay, maybe it didn't come in a garbage bag, but it was for cash considerations.)

So the net result is that the Suns traded away Rondo - whom they drafted, remember - just so they could unload Brian Grant, sign Marcus Banks, and collect three million bucks. That has to hurt more than a little bit, under any circumstances.

Against the Spurs, after the first two games of the opening round, it has to hurt a ton. That's because Rondo is exactly what Phoenix needs right now.

In fact, if you could scour the roster of every single NBA team, I'm not sure you could find a guy that would be a better fit for the Suns than Rajon Rondo. Well, sure, you could say LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or even a player like Tayshaun Prince. But none of those options are realistic. Rondo is beyond realistic ... they actually had the rights to him!

And man would he be perfect right now. For the last four years, all we've heard is how the Suns need a backup for Nash. Banks never worked out (understatement of the year). Barbosa is neither a pure point nor is he any good against the Spurs. D.J. Strawberry (who I think they should give some time to) is too green. Rondo is none of those things. He's really, really good. (And, ahem, somebody saw this coming.)

Not only that, but he would give them a realistic chance of slowing down San Antonio's relentless attack from the perimeter. Pop and Company have turned Parker and Ginobili loose and the Suns seem helpless. Parker is putting Nash on skates (for all the talk of Nash's defensive liabilities, this is one of the few times we've seen it fully exploited - Devin Harris of Dallas also had his way during certain games of the 2006 Playoffs) and Ginobili is making Raja Bell look like his feet have been dipped in concrete.

Now, nothing much can be done about Manu. But then again, he's a great player. He's going to get his 25 in virtually every playoff game. And Duncan's going to do his damage. The key for Phoenix is to turn this battle into a game of 2-on-2, Amare and Nash versus Duncan and Ginobili. The Suns simply don't have a third big gun in this series and so the best way to compensate for that fact is to eliminate the Spurs' third gun, Tony Parker.

Except they can't. In fact, they have no prayer of doing so unless they can get those witchdoctors on the Phoenix bench to perform some black magic on Grant Hill's groin.

But with Rondo, all that would change. The Boston point guard with the insanely long fingers is becoming a defensive wizard. Few people have noticed, because KG gets all of Boston's credit on D (and deservedly so), but the man is a holy terror on opposing point guards. He has the quickest hands this side of Chris Paul, great lateral movement, good size and surprising strength, and amazing instincts (as detailed by JoJo White during last night's TNT broadcast). He's currently making Mike Bibby look like a joke in the series with Atlanta and he was recently named the best defensive point guard in the league by John Hollinger of ESPN. (Okay, so somebody noticed.)

Rondo seems like he would be the perfect foil to Parker. He could get under Mr. Longoria's skin with feisty play, he could match his speed, and, most of all, he could slow the Frenchman's endless, unimpeded forays to the basket.

Obviously, even if the Suns had Rondo, they would have to get creative with their lineup, because he wouldn't replace Nash at the point. But there's no reason they couldn't give Rondo Barbosa's minutes and have him on the court 30-35 minutes a night. And in crunch time, they could go Shaq-on-Duncan, Amare-on-Thomas, Bell-on-Ginobili (with more help focused here, instead of helping Nash), Nash-on-Finley, and Rondo-on-Parker. Now that's a lineup that can get the job done.

Sadly, it never came to pass, because the NBA has a little thing called the Luxury Tax and Phoenix didn't want to pay it. What a shame. I guess we'll just have to admire Rondo in kelly green as he continues to quitely perform brilliantly for the ridiculously good Boston Celtics.

I just hope Danny Ainge will be writing the Suns a thank you note when the season's over.

Ah, 1994

Before you decide that Jason Kidd and the Mavs are done, I suggest you listen to "People Wanna Know What the Kidd Did". This is rap at its most hilarious.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

T-Mac Column

If you are interested in reading my weepy, sympathetic ode to Tracy McGrady, be sure to check out my latest offering over at HoopsAddict.

Fire up the Ben Harper and cut T-Mac some slack!

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Playoffs Are Here

Every year, for as long as I've been banging out columns and blogs on the Interwebs, I've posted my NBA playoff picks. Prognostication, it turns out, has not been my strong suit. Let's run down the messy list:

2002 - Kings over Pacers (Actual: Lakers over Nets)
2003 - Mavericks over 76ers (Actual: Spurs over Nets)
2004 - Kings over Pacers (Actual: Pistons over Lakers)
2005 - Heat over Suns (Actual: Spurs over Pistons)
2006 - Pistons over Mavs (Actual: Heat over Mavs)
2007 - Rockets over Cavs (Actual: Spurs over Cavs)

If you are keeping track, that makes me 0-6 since I started writing these things down. Even worse, I've only correctly picked two of the 12 teams that have even reached the Finals, let alone won it. At least the Mavs and Cavs were in the last two years - maybe I'm warming up.

Normally, this kind of track record would make me think twice before posting any future picks. However, this is not a normal situation. You see, I am in possession of a complex secret formula that helped me win my NCAA office pools and identify Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, Davidson, and UCLA as the best teams in the tournament (in that order). Try arguing with those results.

So this year I am going with my formula and the list it spits out. Of course, because I like to indulge the worst elements of my nature, I am still going to add some "gut feeling" to the write-up part of things. In effect, I am going to argue for and against my own system.

Here is my Power 16, in reverse order:

16. Cleveland. The Cavs project as the worst team in the field, although Washington and Atlanta certainly give them a run for their money. I expect this fact to result in a "thrilling" series with the Wizards.

I Concur - Cleveland is a putrid team. The midseason trade to bring Ben Wallace's exoskeleton to town is the new Mistake by the Lake. A few key guys haven't been able to stay healthy. No one other than LeBron is all that good at basketball. The bottom line is that this is not the same team that went to the Finals a year ago, nor is this the same horrible Eastern Conference. Lost in the excitement of the Wild West is that the Leastern Conference has turned into the Big Three with a trio of very formidable squads sitting atop total squalor.

I Disagree - Any team with LeBron has to be better than this, right?

15. Washington. The Wizards are probably better than the matrix projects because they are now healthier than they've been all year. It's okay though, because the matrix still has them getting past Cleveland and then losing to Boston, so I wouldn't change anything.

I Concur - They are still trying to work in Gilbert off the bench, so there could be some alpha male issues down the stretch. Not to intentionally agree with Charles Barkley, but they've also been running their mouths a bit too much. So despite their talent, the availability of three elite scorers, and an improved defense, the sum might not be as good as the individual parts.

I Disagree - This is probably more like the fourth best team in the East, not the seventh. But who's counting?

14. Atlanta. The Hawks better prepare for another round of "they should reseed the whole league for the playoffs!" stories.

I Concur - I think a coaching change is in order in The A, because they have too many pieces to settle for below-.500 results.

I Disagree - If anything, I don't agree that they are better than anyone in the playoffs.

13. Philadelphia. A few weeks ago the Sixers were soaring and looked like they might get the fifth seed and a date with Cleveland. Unfortunately, they did not.

I Concur - They are better than these other weak sisters, but still light years behind Detroit, their first round opponent. They can be dangerous in bursts because of their attacking defense, but even Flip Saunders can adjust for that in a seven-game series.

I Disagree - I think Philly is better than Toronto but no one else that is ahead of them. (Note: not only am I quite happy with the results so far, but the matrix spit out the bottom five teams in the East as the bottom five teams in the entire playoffs. No surprise there - all the power is concentrated at the top.)

12. Toronto. The Raptors are a mess. They are starting the wrong point guard, they don't have a small forward, their coach is kind of brainless, and Rasho Nesterovic is suddenly their second best scoring option.

I Concur - They have some playoff experience from a year ago, Chris Bosh is terrific, and Jose Calderon can take over in "winning time," but Toronto is an otherwise rudderless ship. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think this is going to be a brief T.J. Ford Showcase and little else.

I Disagree - They should probably be behind the Sixers. And the Wizards.

11. San Antonio. Pretty low, huh?

I Concur - The Spurs are older, they have dealt with more injuries, and the West is loaded with far more challengers than a year ago. They seem to be at least one player away from a title and they got a tough draw in the first round by landing Phoenix, who is both a superior team and currently constructed just for this occasion.

I Disagree - San Antonio is both the ultimate Vampire Team and the squad most likely to get the benefit of the whistles (due to my "systematic desensitization" theory that I will likely be posting in the coming days, either here or over at HoopsAddict). They feature great ball movement. They are getting Brent Barry back in the nick of time. Plus, did I mention they are like vampires?

10. Houston. Houston is likely going to get the pity vote this year because they lost Yao. They should get the pity vote because they drew Utah in the first round.

I Concur - Houston probably isn't actually better than San Antonio, but otherwise, this seems like the right spot for them. They can play some ridiculous defense and spread the floor, but don't have the lowpost scoring or deep shooting to beat the elite teams in the West. And the Rafer Alston injury just kills them.

I Disagree - This one looks about right as well. Nothing about Houston screams "No, no, they are totally going to beat Utah!"

9. Denver. The Nuggets barely got in, but project as a dangerous playoff team. Had they avoided one of two bad losses late (to Seattle and to Sacramento), they could have snagged the seventh seed and had a very realistic shot of knocking off both New Orleans and the Phoenix/San Antonio winner.

I Concur - Denver creates enough havoc on the defensive end and plays fast enough that they are actually effective at forcing turnovers and misses. Their poor defense is a bit of a myth. Plus, Allen Iverson is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career, Marcus Camby is actually playing better defense this year than last season (when he won the defensive player of the year award), Kenyon Martin and Eduardo Najera are providing solid minutes at the 4, and J.R. Smith is becoming a force of nature from deep off the bench. This team is better than the squad that played the Spurs oh-so-close last year in the first round.

I Disagree - Carmelo Anthony lacks focus now more than ever (and not just the DUI, but also his increasing dependence on bad jumpers), George Karl is half checked out, and Anthony Carter still plays big minutes at point guard. Read that last part again.

8. New Orleans. A month ago I was ready to take the Hornets to the Finals. The matrix advises a different course of action.

I Concur - The lack of playoff experience is overrated. The "weak bench" is overstated (especially now that they have Bonzi Wells and can get quality minutes from Julian Wright). The home crowd disadvantage is patently untrue. Plus, they have the rightful MVP and most unstoppable point guard in the game in Chris Paul and one of the more reliable post scorers in David West.

I Disagree - The Hornets have some issues. Tyson Chandler has really blossomed but if he gets in foul trouble, I don't see how New Orleans can win that particular game. This is because Hilton Armstrong might be the worst rotation player in the postseason. He's truly terrible. Plus, they are over reliant on the pick-and-roll, making them much easier to gameplan for in a long series. I could see New Orleans jumping out 2-0 on Dallas and looking fantastic in the process and then losing four of five.

7. Dallas. They will be in a dogfight with New Orleans and they have a ton of baggage hanging around their necks. Avery might be coaching for his job. Jason Kidd is trying to fend off the Ghost of Devin Harris Future and figure out what in the hell happened to that glowing rep he was strutting around with for Team USA last summer. Dirk is hell bent on redemption (not a bad thing).

I Concur - Dallas is a real snake in the grass. Could they be the best seventh seed of all time? They are adequate defensively and have a great weapon to throw at David West in Brandon Bass. They are hungry. They have Dirk. And, most of all, their actual strength is far greater than their perceived strength thanks to a flurry of close and/or fluke losses suffered against good teams right after the Kidd trade.

I Disagree - They are going to miss Diop in the paint. They have no one to guard Paul and will have to resort to defense-stretching gimmicks to slow him down. Avery gets to cute for his own good when left to gameplan for a seven-game series. They have more pressure to win than any team other than Phoenix.

6. Phoenix. The Suns went from a mirage-like best in the west to talk of the town to dead in the water to suddenly potent, all in the span of like two months. Wild year in the Valley of the Sun.

I Concur - Phoenix certainly seems good enough to compete for a title and to warrant this spot. They have one of the three best scoring weapons in the game in Amare Stoudemire, leadership from Shaq and Nash, weapons off the bench, and underrated defensive flexibility thanks to Bell's toughness and Grant Hill's smarts.

I Disagree - The Suns just can't get a call or a fair shake when they need it most. See: Spurs, San Antonio and Stern, David. Why should things change now?

5. Detroit. The Pistons are once again rolling into the playoffs with a healthy starting unit and a solid bench that Flip Saunders may or may not choose to acknowledge.

I Concur - Detroit is tested, rested, and ready. No one wants to see this team right now.

I Disagree - I actually thought they would land higher and my gut is telling me that Orlando has no chance of beating them. That said, there are reasons to doubt the Pistons. They still haven't shown they can elevate in the postseason under Flip. The bench is untested (and, as mentioned above, may very well wind up largely unused). Rip doesn't look like Rip. McDyess is going to get eaten alive by Dwight Howard. So maybe they aren't a mortal lock to reach their sixth straight Eastern Conference Finals.

4. Los Angeles. The Lakers are loaded now, loaded for the future, in possession of one of the top five players in the game (and a guy made even better by the fact that 95% of the league's players are scared of him), and coached by possibly the greatest coaching mind in NBA history. Safe to say they are going to be a "tough out" for a few years. That said, they suffered a huge blow when the Jazz tanked at San Antonio Wednesday night, because now they have to play the second-best team in the entire NBA in the Western Conference semis.

I Concur - L.A. has a deep bench, a skilled low post scorer in Gasol, the world's greatest fouler (Derek Fisher) to put on Allen Iverson and other top guards, and, of course, Kobe Bryant.

I Disagree - Their interior defense is soft and their shot selection is putrid. If you ask me, these are fatal flaws unless suddenly and dramatically rectified.

3. Orlando. Never saw this one coming.

I Concur - It is hard to concur with them being the third best team in the entire league and/or ranking ahead of Detroit. That said, they have a built-in advantage on the boards because of Dwight Howard. They suddenly have a closer in Hedo Turkoglu. They can spread the floor and drain threes, which is almost an NCAA tourney-like equalizer. And they have a very competent coach. Oh, and one other thing. They've don't get tripped up by the Barbosa Factor. The Barbosa Factor refers to last year's playoffs, when the Phoenix Suns suffered mightily from the fact that Leandro Barbosa (and Boris Diaw) had never played substantial minutes against the Spurs in a playoff series. The Suns missed San Antonio in 2006 and Barbosa barely played in 2005, so last year's clash was his first. It showed. The NBA, perhaps more than any other professional sport, has a "trial by fire" quality to its playoff system. And while the general concept of "playoff experience" is overrated, there is nothing overrated about going up against the biggest, baddest bully on the block and learning from the experience. The Magic faced Detroit (the bully on their side of the bracket and, really, the biggest bully in the East) last year and actually played them pretty competitively in the first round of the playoffs. Plus, the immortal Keyon Dooling had a chance to get Chauncey Billups and the rest of the Pistons out of his system back in 2005, when he pretty much single-handedly lost the Eastern Conference Finals for the Miami Heat. Now, Dooling is (shockingly) Orlando's best backcourt defender and he should be up to the challenge of defending Billups. Crazy world.

I Disagree - Their point guard play is terrible, Howard doesn't always assert himself, and they are way too reliant on the long ball.

2. Utah. The secret is sort of out already, but Utah looms large in the West.

I Concur - They have an awesome inside-outside combo with Boozer and Williams. Okur is rounding into shape at the right time. Brewer is sneaky good. Korver spreads the floor and hits killer free throws. They have some great role players. And their home court advantage (both the crowd and the officiating) is enormous. In fact, while much has been made of Utah's home/road splits in a negative light, I don't think enough has been made of the positive implications that has for their chances. Think about it. They were 37-4 at home, which is a winning percentage of over 90%. On the road they were 17-24, for a winning percentage of just over 41%. Not to state the obvious, but 90 is a lot closer to 100 than 41 is to zero. In other words, isn't it far more likely that Utah will win all of its home games in a given series than it is that they will lose all of their road games? Which scenario would you rather bank on?

- A team with a 41% chance of winning road games going 0-4 on the road
- A team with a 90% chance of winning home games going 2-1 at home
- A team with a 90% chance of winning home games going 3-0 at home and with a 41% chance of winning road games going at least 1-3 on the road

Me, I'm taking the third option because it hews closest to the established percentages. Going 100% at home (+10%) and 25% or 50% on the road (-16%/+9%) seems more in keeping than going 67% at home (-23%) or 0% on th road (-41%). Sorry to throw all those numbers at you, but sometimes you have to swap in math for common sense.

I Disagree - Utah isn't all that good defensively and they have a walking landmine in Kirilenko and his fragile ego. But those are the only real chinks in the armor.

1. Boston. They have been the best team all season, so this comes as no surprise.

I Concur - They have the best leader in the game, the best defense, the best assistant coach, veteran players, and a really solid bench. They have home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

I Disagree - They could have problems with the Barbosa Factor if they play Detroit and they have stars with some mental hurdles to clear. Those psychological elements, coupled with Rondo's youth (and Cassell's age), give me pause. But not enough pause to disagree with my baby.

So there you have it. The interesting thing about this list is that the playoff pairings produce some really close matchups according to this ranking system. Cleveland and Washington square off in a battle of the bottom. New Orleans and Dallas are almost too close to call. Detroit-Orlando and Utah-Los Angeles loom as massive second round collisions. Using the disparity in the rankings (and in the secret, underlying data) to aid in predicting how close each series will be, here are my projected results:

Western Conference
First Round
(1)[4] Los Angeles over (8)[9] Denver in 6
(4)[2] Utah over (5)[10] Houston in 5
(7)[7] Dallas over (2)[8] New Orleans in 7
(6)[6] Phoenix over (3)[11] San Antonio in 5
(4)[2] Utah over (1)[4] Los Angeles in 6
(6)[6] Phoenix over (7)[7] Dallas in 7
Conference Finals
(4)[2] Utah over (6)[6] Phoenix in 6

Eastern Conference
First Round
(1)[1] Boston over (8)[14] Atlanta in 4
(5)[15] Washington over (4)[16] Cleveland in 7
(2)[5] Detroit over (7)[13] Philadelphia in 5
(3)[3] Orlando over (6)[12] Toronto in 5
(1)[1] Boston over (5)[15] Washington in 4
(3)[3] Orlando over (2)[5] Detroit in 7
Conference Finals
(1)[1] Boston over (3)[3] Orlando in 7

NBA Finals
(1)[1] Boston over (4)[2] Utah in 7

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh Yeah

I'm preparing a complex matrix by which I will make my NBA playoff picks (better than just watching clips of T-Mac's 13 points in 38 seconds against San Antonio and then picking the Rockets, which I did last year), but in the meantime, I wanted to point everyone to my recent Hoops Addict column on Chris Paul's MVP candidacy.

Enjoy the statistical excess.

(And speaking of stats, check out this really interesting and well-done column by Kevin Broom over at RealGM.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Hornets Must Really Want to Play Denver

As with so many of the playoff seeds in the Western Conference, the 7th spot is going down to the wire. If the Mavs win or the Nuggets lose tonight, Dallas is 7th and Denver is 8th. However, if Dallas loses and the Nuggets win, then they flip-flop.

Dallas is hosting New Orleans tonight, who has a chance to rest its starters with the #2 seed locked up. Except that it seems like the Hornets really want to play Denver, because they are playing the big guns big minutes. It is currently the end of the third quarter and Paul has played 27 minutes (with 20 and 9) and West and Peja over 30 each. Granted, the Mavs are still winning by five, but it sure seems like New Orleans has a vested interest in pulling this one out.

Is this a "careful what you wish for" situation?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Toronto Showroom

I'll be completely honest - I haven't been able to figure out why the Raptors are starting T.J. Ford over Jose Calderon at point guard. Calderon is the more efficient and effective player and the Raps have been better with him at the controls. In fact, their winning percentage seems to be directly influenced by how many minutes he plays.

So why is Ford logging such heavy minutes?

A) I'm failing to comprehend something that Ford does for this team that Calderon does not.

B) Sam Mitchell has rocks for brains.

C) Toronto is trying to shop him.

Now, A and B are entirely plausible. I've failed to comprehend many things and Sam Mitchell has proven that he has rocks for brains (see: the 2007 playoffs). However, I think C is the likely answer.

Toronto has over $24 million committed to Ford for the next three years, yet promises to match any offer made to Calderon, who is a restricted free agent this summer. It is hard to see how a point guard platoon that will likely be worth close to $16 million per year is good for this franchise, so that means one of them has to go.

As recently as a month ago, Calderon was the only Toronto point guard with any trade value whatsoever and he had a ton of it. But now, with Ford back out there showing off his lightening speed, we've seen the return of some of his trade value. This is a great thing for Toronto.

If the Raptors can turn Ford into a rebounding big man or superior wing player and open up the financial room to sign Calderon, they will make themselves better at two positions in one move.

And since the East looks to be a two (maybe three, if you believe in Orlando) horse race, perhaps the Raptors see more valuable in turning their playoff appearance into a T.J. Ford Showcase than in actually trying to win. I can't say that I blame them.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dodging a Bullet

The Hornets went into Staples tonight and played terrible basketball. They got in foul trouble early, fell behind by 30 points, and suffered some tough whistles (multiple "on the line" calls that went against them) in the fourth quarter ... and almost won the game.

The Lakers are probably happy to get the 107-104 win and stay in the mix for the top overall seed, but man, they can't feel at all good about the second half of that game. How do you let a 30 point lead get whittled all the way to four?

The answer is: poor defense (they reach more than any team I've seen this year) and horrific shot selection. The defense thing was a slight aberration as L.A. typically plays decent defense (so long as Fisher and Farmar are allowed to push and hack on the perimeter), but their shot selection is shaping up to be a fatal flaw in the playoffs. They simply have to be more patient and demand better looks. When you can get Kobe on the block or the mid-post and Gasol on the block, why would you ever settle for Fisher or Vujacic taking a contested three? It's insanity.

So to be honest, I came away more convinced about the Hornets' postseason chances than the Lakers. L.A. is relying on the return of Andrew Bynum to shore up their interior D, but that shot selection issue isn't going away. Meanwhile, the Hornets showed that they could come out sleepwalking on the road and still play it down to the wire. New Orleans also has a fatal flaw and his name is Hilton Armstrong. If Tyson Chandler gets in foul trouble, they have problems, because Armstrong is shaping up to be the worst rotation player in the entire postseason. He's the 2008 Keyon Dooling. (He's even surpassed the real Dooling).

As for the big MVP showdown, this game didn't move the dial for me at all. It would be a tremendous shame if voters reduced things down to this contest, but I'm not all that worried about it, because, as I mentioned in my previous post, I suspect that most voters decided a month ago anyway. But the truth is that both MVP frontrunners played well as Bryant nearly posted a triple double (29-10-8) while Paul struggled from the field but posted massive numbers (15-17-6 with 4 steals). Both guys delivered, so there's nothing much to glean from this one. (Translation: Paul is still my choice and it will likely remain that way unless he punches a teammate in the face next week.)

The Warrior Tops The Warriors

Tonight's game is why I love Allen Iverson.

In a must-win game, on the road, against an equally desperate team, Iverson rose to the ocassion and displayed his usual fearlessness and tenacity in leading Denver to a huge victory over Golden State.

It didn't matter that Marcus Camby looked like he was playing with boths hands tied behind his back or that Anthony Carter was still the starting point guard (I remain confused why Denver's inconsistency is a mystery to people - their starting point guard is Anthony Carter!) or that the Warriors raced out to an early 17-point lead. It didn't even matter that partner in crime Carmelo Anthony battled foul trouble for most of the contest.

Tonight was just one of those AI nights where he makes twisting drives, finds teammates with impossible passes, causes havoc on defense, wills himself to the free throw line, and generally just carries his team to victory.

For the evening he scored 33 points while dishing out 9 assists. He shot over 50% from the floor. He committed just two turnovers despite the frenetic pace. He had three huge steals - each time on improbable plays in the passing lanes. Oh, and he logged all 48 minutes, never once resting or relaxing or doing anything short of providing maximum effort.

The NBA isn't built for a guy like Iverson to win titles the way it is for post players like Shaq and Duncan or big guards like Jordan or LeBron or Wade or even Brandon Roy. And Iverson has no doubt been surpassed by Chris Paul in the "6'0" and Under Derby." But try finding someone who could have done what he did tonight.

This one's going in my big book of Iverson memories, right there with the 55 he threw up against the Hornets in the 2003 playoffs, Game One of the 2001 Finals, and so many other classic AI performances. What a beast.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who Will Lead the Parade ...

... the day that Bruce Bowen retires? How about: everyone.

It is hard to imagine that any NBA player is more universally hated than the Spurs' hatchet man.

Tonight he was doing all his normal Bruce Bowen things - raising his hands in disbelief with every foul, throwing cheap shots, and so on. As things went badly for San Antonio, Bowen behaved badly. Sound familiar?

Here is my question: why hasn't anyone ever punched him in the face?

Now, I'm not one to encourage violence in sports, but I just find it hard to believe that no one's ever given this guy the Tyler Durden treatment. All the knees to the groin, the punches to the ribs, the elbows, the attempts to trip players while dunking ... no one has just decided "enough is enough"? I've seen dudes get laid out for less in pickup games.

In the meantime, we can all look forward to the day he retires.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

MVP: When Do Voters Stop Paying Attention?

To read most columns these days, you would think that the MVP race is coming down to the wire - that every game counts and that the jockeying for positioning in the standings could ultimately determine who wins.

I believe this is untrue.

I don't know for sure whether Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul will win the MVP, but I have my opinion (surprise) on who should. I feel that Paul has busted open a close race and should win going away. He's this season's best player, has his team poised to win the most competitive conference in basketball history, has saved professional hoops in New Orleans, and has set a plethora of new statistical standards. I'm struggling to think of any other criteria one could use in determining the award.

That said, I won't be surprised if Bryant wins. Actually, I should clarify. There are many people who wouldn't be surprised, including those who actually feel he deserves it this season (a dwindling number, it seems) and those that think he is going to get some kind of Academy Awards-style makeup vote for 2006.

Even if I didn't subscribe to the makeup vote theory, and even if I didn't feel that he deserved it this year (he doesn't, but nor would it be some sort of grave injustice), I still wouldn't be surprised/


Because a month ago, he was out in front of this race. And a month ago is when people started making up their minds on this thing.

Believe it. I know it sucks to think that voters would make such decisions with such a huge portion of the season remaining, but that seems to be the way these folks roll.

Consider the last several MVP winners:

2005 - Steve Nash. Nash had a great year leading the Suns to the best record in the league, but people made up their minds WAY too early. He averaged just 11.8 points per game on .439 shooting in his final 10 games and had his highest turnover month of the season in April. No one seemed to notice. At all.

2006 - Nash. The same thing happened in 2006. This was the season that Kobe averaged a billion points a game (and made a case for MVP despite playing for a .500 team) and LeBron came into his own, but I was convinced that Nash really was the MVP until he suffered an April swoon once again. He averaged just 13.4 points per game and, to me, lost ground to the other candidates. Needless to say, it barely registered with the voters.

2007 - Dirk Nowitzki. This was amazing to watch. Because the voters had tabbed Nash over Kobe/LeBron in 2006, they didn't want to give it to Nash yet again in 2007, when he actually deserved it more. So they settled on Dirk under the old "best player on the best team" rule and called it a day. Except that they didn't actually watch any hoops for the last month of the season. For the year, Dirk went for 24.6 and 8.9 per game and shot .416 from three. In April, he went for 20.6 and 5.7 while shooting .273 from downtown.

Now, I realize that everyone is entitled to a down month from time to time and that in some of these cases, teams were cruising home with the top seed sewn up. But this is the award for the most valuable player in the entire league for that season. How can you discount an entire month? How can you do anything but pay attention and analyze and debate until the last possible moment?

That's why I've got Chris Paul on my imaginary ballot but also why I won't be "submitting" it until the end of the season. And also why I won't be the least bit surprised if Kobe pulls out a "surprise" win.

Because if you ask me, everybody stopped paying attention sometime back in early March.

The World's Biggest Chalmers Fan

There has been something bothering me about Kansas' Mario Chalmers all year long ... the way people perceive his ability at the next level.

Everything I've read suggests that while he's a clutch player with a great jumper, amazingly quick hands, and a terrific personality, he's a "tweener" who doesn't project as an NBA lead guard.

Boy, people must have short memories.

From 1999 to 2001, Gilbert Arenas was the shooting guard for a loaded Arizona team (featuring the likes of Jason Gardiner, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, and Loren Woods). He often got lost in the shuffle for the Wildcats, content to jack up threes and finish off fast breaks while deferring to teammates on offense and hounding opposing guards on defense. Arenas averaged 15.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and a mere 2.2 assists per game over that stretch, while also shooting more threes than free throws and racking up an impressive 136 steals in 70 career games.

The consensus among NBA "experts"? Arenas couldn't play the lead guard, he didn't project, he was a tweener, blah, blah, blah.

Nevermind that the guy had a sweet stroke, a charming and likeable personality, tremendous athletic gifts, and the quickest hands in the country, the robotic NBA just couldn't imagine how he might possible succeed.

Of course, thousands of points and millions of dollars later, Agent Zero (in honor of the number of teams that had the guts to take him in the first round of the 2001 draft) has made everyone look stupid.

A few years ago all the same concerns surrounded Monta Ellis. Whoops again. At least in that case, pundits and GM's had the excuse of dealing with an unkown commodity coming straight out of high school.

What excuse will people come up with Chalmers winds up thriving in the NBA? The league is becoming increasingly dependant on players who combine pure speed with controlled skills and regardless of size or natural position, Chalmers has that package. And, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, he also seems like a great kid with leadership abilities, he has ice water running through his veins (clearly), and he could wind up being a First Team All Defense type of starting guard.

Yet everyone has him slotted in the second round of the draft.

Chalmers doesn't score quite as much as Arenas did in college (about 12 ppg), but he rebounds just as well, garners more assists, commits fewer turnovers, shoots a higher percentage (.516 from the field and .468 from deep this year, which is fantastic), and snags even more steals (a whopping 283 in 110 career games). And he did all this while playing a simlar "fourth wheel" kind of role for the Jayhawks.

If I'm running an NBA team with title aspirations and my team needs speed at the guard position, I'm taking Chalmers and never thinking twice about it.

There are plently of quality teams meeting this description (projected draft position in parathesis):

Portland (13) - My personal favorite team really needs an infusion of speed and ball pressure in the backcourt. Blake tries hard but can't handle quick guards and Jack doesn't do one single thing that I like. I desperately wanted them to get Devin Harris earlier in the year, but it was not to be. This time around, I'm praying for another lottery miracle that nets them Derrick Rose or Jerryd Bayless, but am really hoping Russell Westbrook manages to drop to their projected #13 spot. If they can't get one of those three guys, give me Chalmers. Seriously. He would be perfect next to Roy, who has the size to guard two's but prefers to handle the ball like a one. Start the refrain, Blazers fans: Chalmers! Chalmers! Chalmers!

Washington (18) - What better place for Chalmers than under Arenas' wing (provided, of course, that Gil returns)? The Wizards could use some speed off the bench and a guy to bring some defense to pair with Nick Young's emerging offense. Now that Antonio Daniels is officially running on fumes and Roger Mason Jr. has proven that he has no interest in any basketball skills other than hoisting threes, Washington seems to have a clear need for another guard who can play 20-25 quality minutes each night.

Denver (20) - You might think that Denver is a bad place for an undersized guard, since Iverson already logs 42 minutes a night doing the same thing, but I would argue that Chalmers skills make it worth it. He can shoot the three and lock people down on the perimeter, which is Problem 1 and Problem 1A with this Nuggets team. Start JR Smith and give Super Mario the minutes that have been going to Carter and you are in good shape.

Orlando (22) - This might be the perfect home for Chalmers. The Magic are a good team is only going to get better, they like to spread the floor around Howard and rain threes, and they desperately need a Better Dooling. Keyon is supposed to be their fast guy/defensive stopper off the bench, but unfortunately, he's terrible. Chalmers, as I clearly believe, is not. Problem solved. (Of course, if the Magic can get a legit shooting guard - like say, Kansas teammate Brandon Rush - to replace Maurice Evans, they should probably do that.)

Utah (24) - This is another match made in heaven. The Jazz may be inclined to lock up a small forward in light of AK47's constant injuries and sulking (and there might be good ones like Tyler Smith or Earl Clark available), but if they want to shore up their biggest problem, they will introduce (here we go again) speed, shooting, and perimeter defense to their backcourt mix. Williams is a beast and Brewer is a terrific big guard, but they need an answer to tbe Monta Ellises and Leandro Barbosas (the good one, not the guy masquerading in a Suns uniform for most of this season) of the world.

San Antonio (27) - Yes, they have Tony Parker. But lets be honest, this group of dinos needs a young buck with some speed in the backcourt. As someone who is, ahem, tired of the Spurs, I really don't want to see Chalmers returning to the site of his Final Four heroics and dropping playoff daggers for the next five years. Forget I mentioned this one.

By the way, while we're here - why isn't anyone talking about the influx of talent that will be going to the NBA from that title game. We had a blue chipper in Derrick Rose, a probable lottery pick in Darrell Arthur, two more first round locks in Brandon Rush and Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chalmers, likely second round picks in Sasha Kaun (born to be a backup center in the NBA) and Joey Dorsey, and even a fringe second rounder in Darnell Jackson. That's 7-8 guys from that game that will likely be in an NBA uniform next year. And that's before you factor in the players that will likely get drafted in future years, such as Sherron Collins, Robert Dozier, and even Cole Aldrich. That is a ton of talent on one college floor.

(Final note - Kansas was good enough to win it all with the roster they had even after losing transfers David Padgett to Louisville and J.R. Giddens to New Mexico. I guess Bill Self can recruit some athletes.)