Saturday, February 26, 2011

Can Serge Ibaka stay out of foul trouble?

After Serge Ibaka accumulated six fouls in eighteen minutes during last night's loss against Orlando, he increased his lead over the competition in the dubious category of fouling out of the most games. Ibaka currently lands at 27th in the league in personal fouls per 48 minutes. While that may not sound so bad, a closer look at the leader board reveals that nearly every player that commits fouls at a more frequent rate than does Ibaka plays less minutes than he does. The only exception to this rule is Amir Johnson, who has played 0.3 more minutes per game than Serge.

Ibaka's tendency to hack away at the competition may become an increasing problem for the Thunder if, as expected, he soon begins registering more minutes with the departure of Jeff Green. Over the upcoming weeks and months, we will see whether he can shift his defensive game to better suit his new, expanded role. Come playoff-time, the Thunder's potential opponents sport a group of talented big men, including Bynum/Gasol, D. West, Duncan, Nowitzki, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Ibaka is much better suited to cover some of these players than Kendrick Perkins or Kevin Durant. The question is, can he stay on the floor while doing so? Because if not, the Thunder will be forced to either play Nick Collison big minutes or shift Durant to the 4. If they are often forced to either of those options, the Thunder will likely be shown a quick exit from the championship hunt.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"For The Game!"

Some people love being the hero, always want to put the nail in the coffin or bring their team back into the game in one poccesion.  This almost always ends up hurting the team when you try to do it the easy way.  Playing good smart basketball one possession at a time is almost always better.  One of my biggest problems with Lebron James on the court is that he always falls in love with the 3pt shot at the end of close games.  This essentially bails out the defense and doesn't force them to stop him from getting to the rack, one of the hardest things to do in all of Basketball.  After watching last nights loss to the Bulls and seeing Lebron throw up two horrible 3's late in the close game I decided to look up the numbers. is a great website that shows you 'Clutch stats'.  Clutch is defined as '4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points '. They then avg out however you perform to 48 minutes.

According to 82games this year Lebron has made exactly 0 shots from deep in clutch moments.  During that same time he has attempted 3.5 3's per 48 minutes.  This number is sure to go up after last night's misses.  He is also avg 24.4 FTs per 48 minutes in clutch and hitting them at 90%.  This is only about 2/3 of a year on a brand new team, it might be an anomaly from looking at too small sample size or just adjusting to new setting, so lets look at last year.  He shot .34% from deep, while better then 0%, it's not a shot you want him taking.  He also attempted a league leading 14.9 3's per 48 minutes of crunch time.  The biggest head scratcher of all though is while shooting a great amount of 3's at a horrible percentage Lebron had a great overall fg percentage of .488%  and attempted league leading 26.1 FTs per 48 minutes while making 80%.  You have to wonder, why does he keep settling for the 3's when everything else he does is so efficient?

So while it is good his attempts have gone down, when he will learn and stop trying to be a instant hero.

Trade Deadline Grades

This year's trade deadline saw quite a flurry of deals. I can't remember anything like it in recent years. I guess the closest was '08 with P. Gasol and Bibby being shipped off. Here's a rundown of a number of the trades, as well as our grade for each team involved.

Celtics get Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, First-round pick
Thunder get Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: D

This trade sucks. It makes me wonder whether Danny Ainge lucked into a championship by finding and taking advantage of a GM (Kevin McHale) that was even dumber than he is. The Celtics decided to address a weakness (backup wing) by creating a larger weakness (post defense and rebounding). The Celtics are now relying on people at the 5 that either can't rebound or defend in the post (Glenn Davis, Nenad Krstic) or can't stay healthy and/or can't play for more than 20 minutes a game (the O'Neals). And for what? So that they could get a guy in Jeff Green who won't play crunch-time minutes and has largely been a disappointment since being drafted fifth. Green is a bad defender and a bad rebounder. He's an okay, but not particularly efficient, scorer. The one thing I am curious to see is whether Green can redesign his game playing at the 3. Since being drafted, he has been forced to play out of position at PF. I was at Georgetown at the same time as Green and have very fond memories of watching him play. During that time, I never saw him as an NBA 4 (or as a top 5 draft pick to be honest). Now that I think about it, I saw him more as a poor man's Paul Pierce. He can pass, shoot, and has a high basketball IQ. But the Celtics already have the real Paul Pierce, they don't need the bootleg version. Also, I keep reading people talk about how the Celtics will now be able to chase D. Howard because of their new cap room in 11-12. That's incorrect; the cap room isn't new. Perkins contract is up after this year, so if the Celtics didn't want to resign him they were already free to do so. This trade does nothing with regard to the Celtics cap situation in a few offseasons. So yeah, to sum it up, Danny Ainge is an idiot.

Gamblers Anonymous: F

This trade makes absolutely no sense. Right when Celtic fans almost forget about Blounts outrageous six years/$42 million contract or Scals five year/$15 million contract Ainge does it again.  The one ring the Celtics did get with this team was built off of toughness and defense, the two biggest qualities Perkins brings to this team. He is regarded as the best 1-1 defending big man in the game. Last year when the Celtics missed out on getting this team their second ring they lost in game 7 to the Lakers due to a lack of rebounding and toughness down low. Gasol and Bynum won that game and really that whole series for the Lakers. Now Ainge has decided to trade the Celtics best, and really only legit center who personifies toughness down low for a back up wing player. It is always good to fill a hole on your bench by making an even bigger one in your starting line up. I have read this trade was done because Perkins was a free agent and was leaving at the end of the year anyway. I hope people realize Green is a restricted free agent who the Thunder were not going to keep anyway and will require big bucks for the Celtics to keep. I have also read this is because C's look at Heat as the real competition and wanted another wing player. This also does not help vs. Heat, their weakness is opposing big men and PGs. The one time Perkins played vs. the Heat this year he had 15 points and controlled the paint the whole time he was in the game. This trade was not done with the future in mind, it was done by a twisted mind that thinks this helps the Celtics now. Dwight Howard is throwing a party right now. I do like Green, but he is not the answer. He is also not a 4. I hope Doc realizes that and does not force him to play out of position like OKC did.

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: A-

The Thunder finally get the post defender and paint presence that Sam Presti has been searching for since he took the job. He attempted to trade for Tyson Chandler a few years ago, but it fell through when Chandler failed his physical. The Thunder have immensely upgraded themselves on the defensive end. However, this trade does not yet make them legitimate title contenders. Name me a contender that doesn't have a 4 or a 5 that can consistently knock down a mid-range jumper. There are none. Perkins and Serge Ibaka will give teams all kind of trouble on defense, but Perkins has no jumper and while Ibaka's has improved, I still don't think it's good enough. Nick Collison is a good 15 minute guy off the bench, but that's it. There's a reason why Green has been playing out of position for nearly 40 minutes a game over the past few years. So yes, the Thunder have improved, but lets not get carried away.

Gamblers Anonymous: A+

Presti reminds us how he has and will continue to keep a small market team relevant and good while every other one is falling like flies. Green was leaving OKC this off season regardless and he really did not fit in with OKC. He is supposed to be playing the 3 but the hole at 4 is so huge that they had to put someone there to plug it up. The biggest problem the Thunder has had the last two years has been not having any real big man. While I like Ibaka a lot and Collison plays his position, both have flaws and were never cut out to be a starting centers in NBA. Perkins is exactly what they needed. While Perkins will be a free agent too this off-season, now Presti has the inside track to resign him and will be able to offer him the most money. Ibaka and Perkins in the front court look a whole lot more ready to do battle with the Gasols, Bynums, and Duncans, then Kristic and Green. As said above, it is hard to play without one of your 4 or 5s being able to hit a jump shot, but Ibaka's jumper has been steadily improving and I think can provide just enough space in the paint for OKC to win. In a separate trade, the Thunder also got Nazr Mohammed, an expiring contract and a big body, for two players they never use. They are now my pick to win the Western Conference.

Bobcats get Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Two first-round picks
Blazers get Gerald Wallace

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: B

They got out of a contract they no longer wanted and, if they can draft well, may get some building blocks.

Gamblers Anonymous: C

If it was any other team I would probably give it a C+, but when looking back at Jordan's draft history I doubt they will use the picks for good use. I also doubt they will be high picks. G Wallace is a beast when healthy and one of the most versatile players in the league, I think they should of gotten better or just hung on to him.

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: B

The Blazers are capped out anyway, so they may as well try to get some good players. When healthy, Wallace is a borderline All Star. It will be exciting to see him pair with LaMarcus Aldridge. And if Brandon Roy ever gets somewhat-healthy, and if Aldridge can keep playing at his current level with Roy on the floor (two very big ifs), this team could actually be pretty scary.

Gamblers Anonymous: B+

I think I am a little higher on Wallace then my brother. With Camby always out the Blazers need some help on the boards and some versatility. Wallace is just the guy. He legitimately can play the 3 or the 4 and do well at both positions. He will also move Batum into the second unit and will give them more life so they won't have to rely on the streaky and unpredictable Rudy Fernandez. Wallace, Aldridge, Camby is a scary thought when they are all healthy and playing their best.

Nets get Deron Williams
Jazz get Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Two first-round picks, cash

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: A-

See my posting below.

Gamblers Anonymous: A-

Agreed. I just wonder if Nets knew the whole they weren't getting Melo and just wanted Nuggets to up the price so the Knicks could gut their whole team.

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: B

I can't blame the Jazz for sending out Williams if they were confident that he wouldn't resign after next season. They weren't going anywhere this year no matter anyway, so why not maximize Williams' value by trading him now, all while avoiding the drama that Carmelo brought to Denver this year? I think Favors could eventually be a star.

Gamblers Anonymous: B

They got the best they could for him.  Makes you wonder why Sloan left if Deron Williams was getting traded anyway. On a random note, isn't Utah the last place in the world you think of when you hear the word Jazz? [Note from Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: The team was originally the New Orleans Jazz, which makes a lot more sense, and didn't change their name when they moved to Utah.]

Celtics get Second-round pick
Cavaliers get Semih Erden, Luke Harangody

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: NA

Celtics get an incomplete. We can't assess this deal until we see who Boston brings in to fill the now available roster spots.

Gamblers Anonymous: F

Celtics get a F, again. Why? You could of traded Harongody by himself for a worse pick and kept Erden. Erden is a legit 7 footer who when healthy was great off the bench. Now you go chasing big men who will be bought out right after you just let one go for free. Trade Harongody and Daniels and you still have space for a Sheed and a Troy Murphy. Erden was well deserving of that roster space. He is also young, cheap, and has a future, maybe not as a superstar, but as a good big man off the bench for years to come. Something that is not easy to find.

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: B+

You probably won't do any better in the second round than Erden and Harangody.

Gamblers Anonymous: A

It wasn't a huge get, but for what they gave up you can't ask for more.

Celtics get Second-round pick
Kings get Marquis Daniels

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: NA

Celtics get an incomplete. See above.

Gamblers Anonymous: A

Why not do it? He wasn't coming back and it opens up a roster space.

Kings get a....whatever. They only did this deal because they were under the mandated salary basement. This team needs new ownership.

Knicks get Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Corey Brewer
Nuggets get Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, First-round pick, Two second-round picks
Timberwolves get Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: B-

Honestly, this trade leaves the Knicks in pretty much the same situation they were already in . Either way, they were set to be a playoff team for a few years, but not a contender. The only real positive is that--if the salary cap allows for it--Carmelo's presence may help lure a star in a few years. Other than that, despite all the noise, they really didn't get much better.

Gamblers Anonymous: B

I wrote about it below. Hard to grade this one until we see what happens and who else this brings.

Gamblers Anonymous' Brother: B+

The Nuggets really did pretty well for themselves considering that everyone knew they had to get rid of Carmelo. Yes, they would have preferred the Nets offer, but they still got some bona fide NBA talent. That's better than a lot of other teams have done in the past when shipping out a star (See: Philadelphia trading Iverson, Minnesota trading Garnett, Memphis trading P. Gasol, etc.).

Gamblers Anonymous: A-

Looks like all the waiting they did paid off. George Karl has never looked happier and they got back real talent, something that is rare when trading a disgruntle superstar.

Timberwolves get a C. By law, any move that David Kahn makes cannot receive a higher grade than a C. The Timberwolves continue their habit of helping others make deals by serving as an unimportant third team. The chatter about Randolph just needing to get away from Don Nelson has gone silent.

Rockets get Suns future 1st round pick, Goran Dragic, Hasheem Thabeet, and Memphis future 1st round pick. They give up Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier, and Ish Smith.

Gamblers Anonymous: A

I am not going to go over the other sides of these trades or these trades individually, but Rockets get an A. They traded away Brooks, who was not working out in Houston and looked like he was never getting his starting role back from Lowry. Battier is 32 years old and was leaving this off season anyway. Ish Smith.. Who? In return they got Thabeet, a 7'3 2nd pick in 2009 draft. He has been a disappointment so far, but is well worth the gamble, and with what they traded away its not much of a gamble at all. Dragic took a step back this year but has showed promise last year and is a bigger body then Aaron Brooks. They also received two future 1st rounds picks from teams that I don't think will be winning any time soon. How can they lose with this one?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nets get D. Williams, win big by losing out on Carmelo

The Nets offer for Carmelo Anthony was an unmitigated disaster. They would have given up every valuable asset their team had to offer (save Brook Lopez, and who knows right now how valuable he is) in exchange for a very good, but overrated player (see below).

Now they are about to get Deron Williams for less than they were going to give up for Carmelo. More importantly, Williams is clearly a better player than Carmelo. Use any measurement you want other than an overly-simplistic discussion of "who scores more points per game" and Williams comes out ahead. Yes, Willams contract is up after next season, but for the Nets that's a risk worth taking.

In stark contrast to the public nature of the Carmelo affair, there was nary a whisper of this deal in the media before the announcements started pouring out a little while ago that the deal was done. Wow.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Knicks Future

So the trade has finally gone down.  The Knicks send Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round draft pick to the Nuggets, who will get additional picks and cash, sources said.  Along with Anthony, New York gets Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman from Denver.  Multiple media reports say that the additional picks the Nuggets will get are two second-round selections that the Knicks acquired from Golden State.  The Minnesota Timberwolves got involved to help New York clear salary space to accomodate its new players. The Knicks ship Anthony Randolph, the expiring contract of Eddy Curry and $3 million to the Wolves in exchange for Corey Brewer, according to multiple media reports.  This leaves the Knicks with:

PG: Billups, Tony Douglas, Anthony Carter
SG: Landry Feilds, Corey Brewer, Azubuike
SF:  Melo, Bill Walker, Shawne Williams
PF: Stoudamire, Sheldon Williams, Renaldo Balkman
C: Ronny Turiaf

This means besides two purely offensive superstars and two serviceable players (Billups and Fields), one on his way up and one on his way down, the rest of the Knicks are absolutely TERRIBLE.  Stoudamire will have to fill in at Center, as he has much of this season, and Melo will have to play PF as they have zero front court depth.  They also now have the same problem that Heat have this year, their big 2 players playing style just do not match up.  They both need the ball in their hands, don't pass much, and are not off ball type players, and neither play much D at all.  For this to really work, if possible at all, what they need is a new coach.

Mike D'Antoni teams are always fun to watch and can beat any team on any given night, but they are not made to win series in the playoffs.  To win championships you have to play D and stop other teams from scoring when you get cold, no 100% offensive minded team has ever won a championship.  The Knicks need a defensive minded coach like Thibodeau who can get non-defensive players to buy into his system.  The biggest problem  for the Knicks is D'Antoni will get enough W's, excite enough fans, and win enough playoff games that firing him will never look like a good option.  He is competent enough to not get fired but not great enough to win anything.

Along with coaching, the team is gambling its future on the new CBA agreement.  Since they have no depth, no draft picks, and no real young talent, what they need is another star.  Knicks will have to hope the CBA salary cap will allow them to get one of the huge PGs (D Williams or CP3) via free agency in '12 offseason or through a trade this offseason.  They also need some defensive role players (Chuck Hayes?) and an official big defensive 5 (Perkins? Dalembert?) through free agency this upcoming offseason.  For everything to work out would probably also entail Melo not taking the maximum extensions.  This move has guaranteed the Knicks will make the playoffs for the foreseeable future, but for them to be real contenders they need a whole lot of others things to fall in their favor.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Will Carmelo just go to NYC already? [EDIT: Thank you!]

The Carmelo affair has been painful. Every week there's a "new" deal being offered, which in reality is only a slight twist on a deal that's been on the table for weeks. Every week one of Denver's two potential trade partners--the Knicks and Nets--announce that they are dropping out of the race, though all parties know such statements are patently false. And every week there's talk of some "mystery" team that may enter the sweepstakes, despite everyone knowing that the talk is dubious at best and is probably being leaked by Denver to make Dolan storm into Walsh's office and order him to offer the Nuggets their choice of the Knicks roster.

This all for a player who is very good, but not in the class of the true NBA superstars. Carmelo is not a top 5 player. He's probably not a top 10 player. He's great at one thing--scoring--and even that he doesn't do with wonderful efficiency (career TS% of 54.4 and TS% of 54.7 this year, while Kevin Durant, another pure scorer, has had a TS% hovering around 60% both of the past two seasons). He's a decent rebounder and passer and a below-average defender.

I'm counting down the days until the trade deadline so that everyone can stop fixating on the latest Carmelo development. Look, if he's not going to agree to an extension in New Jersey, which is too bad for the Nuggets since the Nets are offering WAY too much, then Denver should accept the Knicks deal and let us move on. Zach Lowe, whose blog is great by the way, gives his opinion of the Knicks offer and says it is "actually fair". Lowe's argument does have a hole or two--he too readily ignores Wilson Chandler's importance by assuming that someone will offer him more than the Knicks can match in the off-season--but overall, his analysis as usual is very good. The Nuggets could do far, far worse. And as LeBron pointed out this past weekend, if the Nuggets don't have any chance of re-signing Carmelo, shouldn't they try to get something positive for him? It's not as though they're going to make noise in the playoffs this year anyway.

IMO the Carmelo affair has been more painful than The Decision a.k.a The LeBacle. The latter involved a once in a generation talent, the former a once or twice a draft talent. And we knew LeBron's decision within a few weeks whereas we've been wondering where Carmelo is going for months. I don't blame Carmelo as much as the media for the continuing spotlight on his future. He's under no obligation to sign an extension with a team he doesn't want to play for in the long-term. But once it's all settled and attention can move away from a good, but not great player and the middling teams that are pursuing him, and back to the Celtics, Heat, Magic, Lakers, Spurs and Bulls, it will be a long-awaited and very welcome shift.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Poor JJ

When will CPIII REALLY be healthy?

It's time for me to admit something that I've been fighting all of now, Chris Paul is not what he used to be. He can't explode around a screen and get to the basket like he previously could. And when he breaks down a defender off the dribble, the defender is often able to recover before Paul scores or a big will have time to rotate and at least impede Paul's progress to the rim. Paul has also got into a streak of playing very well in the first quarter and then tailing off as a game goes on. See, e.g., the Hornets game against Golden State the other night (a legal citation there to keep ya'll on your toes). It's not clear to me whether this apparent endurance issue has to do with his leg getting worse as the game goes on or if it is a product of his still not being in peak playing shape after missing much of last year.

What's crazy is that Paul is still the best pure point in the league. His efficiency numbers are, as always, unreal. He has an assist to turnover ratio of nearly 4:1 and a TS% of over 60%. He has a PER of 24.6, good for fourth in the league. He's a good, though not great, defender, with real strengths (ball skills, smarts) and weaknesses (small size means that guys like Billups, particularly if Paul has been helping in the post, can simply shoot over him as though they're putting up open jumpers). Is Chris Paul better than Derrick Rose? I'm not entirely sure--while they are both point guards, they play the position in completely different manners (hence my earlier statement that Paul is the best pure point)--but lets just say that Paul is still damn good and leave the Rose v. Paul comparison alone for now.

But again, he's not what he used to be. Yes, he has the fourth best PER in the league, but it doesn't approach his absurd PERs of 30.0 and 28.3 posted in 08-09 and 07-08 respectively. Much of the disparity can be explained by his declining usage numbers, down from 27.5% (08-09) and 25.7% (07-08) to 21.1% (this year). In fact, his current usage percentage is the lowest of his career. At the start of the season, I tried to explain this away by citing to Monty Williams' efforts to rely less on Paul, and therefore keep him fresh for the stretch run. But that was easier to say when the team was winning. Now, with the team struggling and desperately needing Paul to take over, he appears unable to do so.

Will Paul ever regain his pre-injury athletic abilities? I've seen disparate opinions and don't pretend to have the medical knowledge to give an educated answer. But here's hoping that at some point, whether it's later this year or perhaps next season, Paul is back to what he once was. It would be a shame to miss out on what could and perhaps should have been the best point guard of all time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Best Constructed Starting 5 in NBA

When you think of a Basketball team, what each position is expected to bring to the table, and how they should play, the starting 5 for the C's seem to have every piece of the puzzle. 

1:  If your 1 is trying to shoot first then things will not end good for your team.  AI had to move to the 2 to be successful and they are attempting to do the same with Evans in Sacramento.  you want a distributor first and scorer second.  He should be able to know each player's hot spot is and get it to them how and where they want.  He should also be able to hit an open shot.  On the defensive side you want a pest who can bother someone the whole way up the court, slow down other teams offense, create TOs, and keep a body in front of his man. 

2: The 2 and 3 are somewhat interchangeable.  They both need to be able to make a open shot and spread the floor.  You want one of them to be a pure shooter and the other a play maker who can create offense by himself.  For the same reason they both need to be good defenders because one of them will most likely be guarding the best player on the other team.  This is the reason Heat is having trouble, both Wade (2) and Lebron (3) are play makers who like to slash, neither has ever been an off ball type player on offense.

3: See above.

4:  From your 4 on the offensive side you want him to be able to score from the post, have some range, and not crowd the paint.  You want your 4 and 5 to be ugly, scrappy, not well liked players.  On defense they should make other teams not want to bring the ball in the paint and send smaller gaurds flying when they bring it to the rack.  This is also the Heats problem, Bosh is one of softest big men in the league and they have no big man to control the paint or opposing big men.  The 4 and 5 should also bring great length and height.

5:  Your 5 doesn't need to be scorer unless your 4 doesn't play offense in the post.  You NEED a low post presence on offense to win unless you have Jordan on your team.  On defense you want your 5 to be a 100% brute, someone who intimidates other players from coming into paint and also can not be bullied by opposing 5s.  Bargnani is not who you want as your starting center.

When looking at the C's starting 5 the biggest weakness is Rondo absence of a reliable jumper and FT shooting, both of which he refuses to improve, and the lack of length and height at the 4 and 5.  KG being KG makes up for this on the defensive end, but the C's are still vulnerable and can lose games due to inability to get rebounds vs. certain teams.  This is easily seen when going up against the Lakers bigs Gasol, Bynum, and Odom.  Even with these two problems you would be hard pressed to find a current team with a starting 5 that plays their roles and fits together so perfectly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The NBA's Least Appreciated Player

I'm making up a new award category--Least Appreciated Player in the NBA. My initial nomination has made a journey similar to my own, going from the Northeast (Cambridge, MA for me; Storrs, Connecticut for him) to a spot further south (Washington, DC for me; Charlotte, North Carolina for him) and eventually both landing down here in New Orleans. In case you haven't yet figured out who I am talking about it, the player is Emeka Okafor.

Okafor's name usually comes up in one of two ways. First, in reference to his supposedly over-sized contract. Second, whenever the top of the draft is dominated by one player who has all-world potential and another player that is NBA ready but has a lower ceiling, those supporting the former choice cite to the Magic's decision to pick Dwight Howard over Okafor in the 2004 Draft.

I want to instead focus on what Emeka Okafor means to the Hornets. The team was recently rolling. They had won 10 out of 11 games, including victories over the Magic, Spurs, and Thunder. Seven of those eleven opponents were held to under 90 points. Then Okafor got hurt. The Hornets immediately went into a tailspin--7 losses in 9 games with every opponent save one scoring over 90. The one squad the Hornets held under that 90 point bar was a Wizards team playing on the road; the same Wizards who were until a few days ago winless away from the District of Columbia.

What explains the Hornets seemingly playing so much better with Okafor in the lineup? First, and what people often seem to forget in all of the chatter regarding his contract and comparisons with Howard, is the fact that Okafor is a very good player. He averages a double double. He is shooting nearly 60% from the field. He has markedly improved this year on defense under Monty Williams, playing solid man-to-man defense and averaging almost 2 blocks a game. His adjusted plus minus rating is a very solid 8.83. Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, is that the Hornets depth behind Okafor is abysmal. Aaron Gray has been starting at center over the past few games. Gray probably should not be playing in the NBA, let alone starting. When Gray goes to the bench, the Hornets rely on either D.J. Mbenga or David Anderson. Or they simply forego the 5 all together and pretend that David West or Jason Smith can man the position. The Hornets are missing Okafor's presence dearly.

Is any of this to say that Emeka Okafor is a star in the NBA? Absolutely not. But it's about time that he begins being referred to for his positive attributes and contributions more than for his perceived failings and limitations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Derrick Rose is the most improved player in the NBA. But he's not the league MVP.

Can't argue with most of the choices below, but I can't get on board with Rose as MVP. Don't get me wrong, Derrick Rose has improved this year by leaps and bounds and he should get credit for that. But he's still not in LeBron's stratosphere by pretty much any measure.

LeBron leads the league in PER (26.74) whereas Rose lands in thirteenth (22.99). LeBron scores more than Rose (26.1 per game v. 24.7 per game) and is a more efficient shooter (57.9 TS% v. 54.1 TS%). LeBron, as you would expect, has a large lead in rebounds per game (7.3 v. 4.4). Rose does have the advantage in assists per game and AST:TO ration, but his advantages in both categories are quite small.

Moreover, there's a huge chasm between the two on the defensive end of the floor. Miami's defense is predicated on LeBron's ability to help out in the post and still get a hand in his man's face if the ball goes back out to the perimeter. Meanwhile, while Rose has improved on defense this year, he still has a long way to go. The numbers bear me out--LeBron has the best unadjusted defensive +/- rating on the Heat, registering at -5.35 (you want your defensive rating to be negative), while Rose is the Bulls' worst defender by the numbers with a pretty abysmal rating of 8.30.

Lastly, I want to address the argument that LeBron can't win the MVP over Rose because LeBron has better teammates. Such an argument focuses only on stars instead of on each team as a whole. Yes, LeBron has Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh...but the rest of his team is terrible. They have no bench. Their point guards are Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo. The center position is manned by Zydrunas Ilgaukas, Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier. Only one player on the Heat (James Jones) has a positive adjusted plus minus rating for the year outside of their Big Three. The Bulls, on the other hand, have a bevy of actual NBA talent at their disposal. Guys like Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, and C.J. Watson would get run on pretty much any NBA squad. And while Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have been hurt at times, they have combined for 58 games. Because of these other pieces (and Tibs), and despite Derrick Rose, the Bulls have a very good defense.

Midseason Awards

Derrick Rose has easily been this years MVP so far.  He has put the team on his back and brought the Bulls to a 36-16 record while Boozer, second best offensive option, has missed 15 games and Noah, second best player, has missed 28 games and counting.

Most Improved
 Derrick Rose is also receiving my vote for Most Improved in a highly contested race.  Most of the winners of this award usually are not much improved at all, but just received more playing time or opportunity.  One look at Rose game and you can easily see he is a whole new player.  His shot is much improved, he has added a solid three (3pt % from .267 to .367) and long jumper to his offensive arsenal as well as shooting much better at the line (.766 to .834).. Please take note Rondo.  His assists have jumped up up from 6 to 8 and he has been been playing much better defense as well.  He should be thanking Thibs for that one.  He has more TOs then I like, but also has 4th highest usage rating in NBA so I can excuse that.  Honorable mentions for this award are Aldridge who has also put his team on his back and Eric Gordon.

Coach of the year
Gregg Popovich is the Coach of the Year.  Everyone thought Spurs were on their way out after last season and Tim Duncan huge decline in the playoffs.  He has changed the whole philosophy of team that has been winning since '99 over one offseason, had all the players buy into it (Including best PF of all time taking a back seat), and has the best record in the NBA.  SA is 5th in the league in PPG.  Not what you have come to expect.  Thibodeau gets honorable mention.

6th Man
Big Baby takes the 6th man award.  He provides much needed spark off the bench when the 2nd unit on the Cs is flat.  He can score down low, has steadily improving jumper, and has finally found out how to use his body and the basket to not get blocked every shot down low.  His defense is very underrated as well.  He cannot jump at all, but has very quick feet, high basketball IQ, gets to right place at right time, and has no problem sacrificing his body for the team (leads league in charges).  The award is his.  If Odom had played more games as 6th man he would take this, he started 32 of 56 games.

Rookie of the Year
Blake Griffin. Do I need to explain?

Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard.  Do I need to explain?

The Ultimate Team Player

"I know I can score 20 or 30 points anytime I want," Vujacic said. "But I'm not that kind of a guy. I want to win. I want to play the right way. Some games I'm going to get 10 shots, some games 15 shots; sometimes, especially coming off the bench, you're going to feel cold, and you need time to get in the rhythm. But right now, what I care the most is for us to become a better team. And we are really capable of doing that."

Vujacic career high: 25
Vujacic years in NBA: 7
Vujacic games with 20+: 7

Thugs Need Hugs Too

With Valentine's Day upon us, ESPN's Louise K. Cornetta asked Boston athletes which of their teammates most needed a hug. 

Nate Robinson, Celtics guard: "I say D-West [Delonte West] because the history of all the bad things people try and say about him. Well, he's a good guy. So my pick is him."
Delonte West, Celtics guard: "There's all grown men in here. Me? I don't need no hugs, you know what I'm saying? The going gets tough, the tough get going. I don't need no hugs. I do push-ups. I hope no man in here needs no hugs. I got enough hugs as a baby. I don't need no hugs now. Once I left the house, there weren't no more hugs for me. When I get sad, I punch brick walls. So no one needs a hug on this team. It's all grown men here. It's all soldiers in here. Ain't nobody hugging in here."