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Tag:Brandon Bass
Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Hornets Sign Gustavo Ayon and What It Means

Opinion on Dell Demps as Hornets' GM, almost out of necessity, has no middle ground.

On the one hand, it's easy to point in hindsight to a number of his moves with a disapproving shake of the head.  The Thornton trade.  The Collison deal.  Even the move for Jarrett Jack.  The failed Lakers deal.  Each compromised the future of the franchise to varying degrees, and each transaction has been attacked many times in both national and local media.  Demps' detractors?  They all have a point.  In an alternative timeline, the Hornets have quite a few more intriguing pieces right now for their current rebuilding project.

On the other hand, the logic behind each move was definitely apparent when the deals went through.  This isn't Otis Smith trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis territory in the slightest.  Monty Williams should take on a lot of the blame for the Marcus Thornton Affair, and Carl Landry was always going to help the 2011 Hornets more than Marcus Thornton.  Similarly, the old Trevor Ariza was always going to be more impactful on a Chris Paul-led Hornets side than Darren Collison coming off the bench.  Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have made for a competitive, exciting team in the short term, something that had to have been on Demps' mind given the state of basketball in New Orleans.  Dell Demps supporters?  They all have a point too - the specter of Chris Paul's departure loomed menacingly over Demps, impacting each of his decisions, and Demps made logical, informed, and highly defensible moves in spite of it.

My aim isn't to settle this debate here, nor do I think there's a meaningful resolution to this at all.  Instead, I call attention to the dichotomy of opinion on Demps to point out one thing we should all agree on - Dell Demps' most promising trait is his relentless, unceasing activity in the front office.  He's on top of every unheralded unsigned player, he's exploring trade possibilities with every member of his roster, and he isn't afraid in the slightest to move immediately when he thinks he has a move.  For a front office that has routinely been lampooned by A. Wojnarowski and Co. for its lack of employees, cubicles, staplers, or whatever else "normal" front offices are equipped with, it comes as a welcome step forward.

The signing of Gustavo Ayon is the latest example of this.

Ayon's a 26 year old power forward/center, hailing from Tepic, Mexico.  He signed on with Division 1 San Jose State in 2006, but instead opted to play professionally in his native Mexico.  After developing as a player and winning multiple league titles from 2006-2009, Ayon opted to head to Europe the next year, joining Spanish side Baloncesto Fuenlabrada.  The Spanish ACB is the best professional league in Europe; edging out Italy and Greece for top honors.

Ayon played a full season of Spanish basketball in 2010-2011, and had played 10 games in the 2011-2012 season before signing with New Orleans. Obviously, I haven't seen him play, but his line this year was about 16 points and 8 rebounds (over 3 offensive) on 66% from the floor and over 80% from the foul line.  Those numbers came in under 29 minutes a game.  It's clear, just from a statistical perspective, that this is a player that can play basketball.  And those that have followed his game extensively?  They're even more effusive in their praise.

Here are some tweets from Draft Express - perhaps the most respected international scouting service in professional basketball right now - last week:

@DraftExpress: In Spain. Arguably most productive player in league. RT @BKoremenos: Where did Gustavo Ayon play before NO nabbed him?
@DraftExpress: 6-10. Plays his ass off. Smart. Rebounds. Tough. Finds ways to score. Teammate. Perfect rotation big.
@DraftExpress: Most of the NBA was quietly tracking Gustavo Ayon. Everyone wanted to keep him a secret, hence the lack of hype/buzz. Clearly a NBA player.
@DraftExpress: Now its official I can finally say: Gustavo Ayon is a STEAL. Smart, tough, active, athletic 4/5. A young Jeff Foster. Well done New Orleans.

That's... a lot of praise.  From the description, is there any question at all that this is the quintessential Monty Williams player?

Dig around a bit more, and you'll find that the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns and Pacers all made overtures for his services.  This, according to many analysts, is a guy that could help a good team immediately.  That a projected lottery team was able to pull this deal off?  That tells me a lot.

Whether Ayon will transition smoothly to the NBA remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is a smart, cheap, resourceful signing regardless of how it all turns out.  You play the odds when you construct a team, and acquiring Ayon is a solid move regardless of the outcome.  The Hornets have reportedly been all over him throughout the lockout and will pay his Spanish side $0.75M to extract him from his contract there.

The Chris Paul section of Demps' tenure finishes to mixed reviews.  There was obviously an argument for going all out and trying to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans long term.  It didn't happen, and because of it, the alternative - keeping some pieces for the future on the roster - looks attractive in hindsight.  Whichever side of the Demps coin you fall on (I've supported every move he's made thus far, aside from Thornton), it's all in the past now.

The future began last week, and Dell Demps is, swift as ever, off to the races.


Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am
 

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

There is no tried and true formula to winning in the NBA.  Most people, my foolish self included, believe in the sanctity of building through the draft and through cost effective moves in free agency to build around those great players you drafted.  However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the most successful formula, is to stack your team to the best of your abilities and then follow by adding in a bunch of older players willing to take a veterans salary to contribute to a championship team (or coattail their way to a championship, if you will).  There’s been no more glaring example of stacking your team than what happened in Miami this offseason.  The Heat stayed away from improving their team through free agency for most of the last two years, traded away players this offseason with the sole hope of free agency and then watched it all pay off as both LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami to form one of the most controversial rosters in NBA history.  Whether or not this pays off is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, teams like Orlando and Atlanta, the division’s two best teams the past two seasons, went the traditional route of building on their success by focusing on player development and keeping the core intact.  Orlando, already possessing one of the best players in the league in all world center Dwight Howard, were exposed in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, and whispers of the team being soft were as loud as ever.  Meanwhile, those whispers against Orlando were shouts against Atlanta, as a second straight season ended in them being swept out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  They’ve now dedicated a ton of money to a roster that many feel have already peaked, and this may be Atlanta’s last year to be seen as contenders in the East. 

Meanwhile, Washington drafted their hopeful superstar this past June in John Wall.  Lucking into the number one overall selection, Washington chose Wall and decided to ask questions later.  It’s still a mystery as to how Wall and Gilbert Arenas will play on the court together and Arenas’ insistence on not being seen as a distraction has already directly caused a distraction for the team.  And Charlotte, after buying big time to make the playoffs last year, got swept in their first postseason appearance in franchise history and kept the team together in hopes that they improve. 

So which method of management is best conducive to an NBA Championship?  We’ve seen both methods in the last few years, but the better bet is on Miami this year.  Ultimately, though, we’ll see come June which blueprint is truly the most successful.


1) Miami Heat
Incoming Players:
Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler, Patrick Beverly, Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James, Mike Miller
Outgoing Players:
Quentin Richardson, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley, Dorell Wright, Yakhouba Diawara, Daequan Cook
Team Analysis:
Easily the most hyped team in recent NBA memory (including the 2008 Boston Celtics), the Heat enter this season as a captivating story, polarizing figures and, most of all, a pretty solid basketball team.  Although not your traditional eight deep, in sync roster that you’d come to expect from many of the league’s greatest, the Heat feature three of the best players in the league in their starting lineup and did so after a humongous free agent coup by Pat Riley this offseason.  When the team did everything from passing up on free agents, trading away draft picks and letting players walk in order to clear the cap space for this summer, it was pretty evident that team president Pat Riley had gone all in and was gambling the franchise’s future on this offseason alone.  But his gambles paid off when Dwyane Wade resigned, Chris Bosh came over in free agency and then two time defending NBA MVP LeBron James, in a not so subtle manner, announced he was taking his talents to South Beach as well.

What sets these guys apart from previous players who teamed up to take over the league is that all of these guys are in their prime.  From a historical standpoint, most fans were upset to see three players in their prime basically take the “easy route” and join up to win championships.  But from a basketball standpoint, it’s a bold move that should pay off for the Heat.  After trading away Michael Beasley in order to resign Udonis Haslem and add Mike Miller in free agency, the Heat had every who’s who of past-their-prime role players knocking on the door to try and get that elusive championship before retirement.  Former all stars Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard were among the first to join the team and will probably be among the team’s most important reserves in the frontcourt.  Take that for what it’s worth.

The rest of the roster isn’t shaping up as anything beautiful but, honestly, they don’t need to be incredibly deep.  The talent gap between the third best player on the team and the fourth best player on the team is humongous, and therein lies the question of how this team is really going to perform this season if an injury is to happen, if one of the players struggles in adapting to a limited role or if dare the other starters like Mario Chalmers or Joel Anthony to beat them.  At the end of the day, the Heat will rely heavily on Miller and Haslem to bolster the big three and, if they stay healthy and perform to their capabilities, it could be more than enough for the Heat to reign as champions.  But with players like Wade, Miller and Bosh all having a history with injuries, the room for error is really thin.  There’s no doubt that just as Pat Riley was this offseason, this Heat roster better be all in to win a championship this season, or else the critics will be as loud as ever.

2) Orlando Magic
Incoming Players:
Daniel Orton, Stanley Robinson, Malik Allen, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson
Outgoing Players:
Matt Barnes, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson
Team Analysis:
Lost in some of the hoopla surrounding this offseason was the 2009 Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  After making the NBA Finals in 2009, the team was bounced from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 in convincing fashion by the Boston Celtics.  Although the team had strong performances from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the rest of the team faltered as the Celtics closed out the Magic in six games.  Despite his strong performance, however, all of the criticism remained on Dwight Howard and his inability to will his team to victory.  Due to his frustration with the criticism, with teams playing him very physical and with consistently being in foul trouble during last year’s postseason, Howard is said to be a man on a mission this offseason, working with 2008 Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his still developing offensive repertoire and promising to cut down on the fan friendly, childish actions that most fans have associated him with.  If Howard is able to continue to progress offensively to already meet his fantastic defensive presence and capabilities, then the Magic could soon posses the most dominant player in the league.  But his development is key to how far Orlando goes this season.

Players like Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis struggled with consistency last season after huge years in 2009.  There’s no doubt that the team as a whole performed much better when Nelson played at a high level and struggled when he did, and his attempts to regain his early form of the 2009 season will be huge for Orlando if he’s to reach that level.  However, numerous offseason attempts to move Nelson to improve the roster probably don’t bode well for the team’s hope of him doing so.  Lewis on the other hand is finally being criticized for his ludicrous salary as his production, while never fully meeting his paycheck before, became a detriment to the team last season when his offensive numbers fell across the board.  A move back to his more natural Small Forward position would probably suit Lewis well, but the offense that Orlando runs gels better when Lewis is at the Power Forward spot shooting a high percentage from outside.  The team’s lineup, ultimate success and even fiscal future could depend a lot on how Lewis plays this year.

As far as the role players that surround the team’s most central figures, Quentin Richardson enters after Matt Barnes left to join the Lakers.  He can probably replace Barnes’ offensive production, but he will struggle to match Barnes’ importance on the defensive end.  Therefore, more will be asked of Mickael Pietrus this season in Orlando, and you have to wonder if he’ll be up to the task for a full season and postseason.  The team matched Chicago’s offer sheet for J.J. Redick, giving them three of the highest paid reserves in the league in Redick, Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass.  Bass, who barely played at all last year, is more of a traditional PF and his strong postseason play may result in a more traditional lineup at times for Orlando.  But whether Stan Van Gundy commits to him or Ryan Anderson as the back-up PF depends on whether or not he wants to abandon the system the team has ran the past two seasons.  Whether or not the system they’ve ran has run its course is still to be seen, and will play a large factor into whether or not the team returns to the NBA Finals this season.

3) Washington Wizards
Incoming Players:
John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Hamady N’diaye, Hilton Armstrong, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian

Outgoing Players:
Shaun Livingston, Mike Miller, Fabricio Oberto, Cartier Martin, James Singleton, Cedric Jackson, Quinton Ross, Randy Foye, Earl Boykins
Team Analysis:
Two years ago, Washington did very much the same thing that Atlanta did this offseason.  Even though the team had made the postseason four consecutive years, they had only one playoff victory in those four years to show for it and many felt the team had reached its peak.  Instead, the Wizards committed a combined 161 million dollars over 6 and 4 years, respectively, to franchise players Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.  Arenas has played only 34 games in the two seasons since signing that contract while Jamison was traded to Cleveland at last season’s trade deadline in a moment where the Wizards decided to rebuild the roster.  Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were all traded at last season’s deadline, but Arenas’ contract looks immovable, and the team will put him on the court again; at least for this season.  But after committed a huge chunk of cash to what many felt was an above average cast, the Wizards saw injuries and suspensions ruin the team’s reputation and overall winning percentage, as the Wizards have combined for 55 victories in the two seasons that followed that spending spree to keep the team intact.  And although 2009’s 19 win season was ugly, it hit rock bottom last year after Arenas was suspended for supposedly drawing a gun out towards a teammate in an argument over a card game in the team’s locker room.  What followed was a largely upsetting season where the team only won 26 games. 

But the team’s luck may eventually be turning around.  After the death of owner Abe Polin last year, the team was successfully sold to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, they scored the number one overall pick in the draft and used it on Kentucky point guard John Wall, and had impressive second half performances from big men Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee after the trade deadline, giving the team a semblance of hope this upcoming season.  In John Wall, the Wizards immediately have a new face of the franchise and cornerstone player around whom the team plans to build.  Wall won almost every collegiate award in his freshman season at Kentucky and hopes to follow in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans’ shoes as point guards under former college coach John Calipari who went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.  Rose and Evans have won the last two respectively.  That would be a welcome change of pace for Washington, who are trying to reunite with their fan base and shake the problems that hurt the team on and off the court the last two seasons. 

Gilbert Arenas has already caused problems.  Most media outlets are talking about his stern expressions, reluctance to give interviews and unwillingness to show any emotion as an act more so than a turning of the leaf, and he’s already been fined by the league for faking an injury to allow guard Nick Young more playing time this preseason.  How he reacts to this year plays a large role in how the team ultimately does.  Blatche performed very well as the go to guy in the second half of last season and McGee had an impressive showing at this year’s summer league and followed it up by being one of the final players cut from the final roster for the USA’s World Championship team.  If those two players team up with Wall to show a consistent production this year, then the Wizards, at the very least, will have something to build around for the future.  They could be one of the surprise teams in the league this year.  But a lot of that depends on whether or not Gilbert Arenas buys into the system, and also whether or not he can regain some of the magic he showed on the court prior to his first knee injury late in the 2008 season.


4) Atlanta Hawks
Incoming Players:
Jordan Crawford, Pape Sy, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas
Outgoing Players:
Randolph Morris, Mario West, Joe Smith,
Team Analysis:
For eight straight seasons, the Atlanta Hawks were a dependable team in terms of NBA Futility.  They routinely finished among the worst teams in the league, underwent numerous head coaching and regime changes and couldn’t convince any star player to capitalize on their infinite cap space.  Joe Johnson changed all that when he left for Atlanta in the middle of that run in 2005, and by his third season with the team, Atlanta had returned to the NBA playoffs and pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round in 2008.  Two Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances followed, but both were convincing sweeps at the hands of Cleveland and Orlando.  Instead of figuring that the roster had reached its peak with those two consecutive embarrassing exits, the Hawks instead figured it to be head coach Mike Woodson, who oversaw a gradual improvement with the Hawks from 13 wins in his first season in 2004 to the 53 wins the team achieved last season.  Stepping into his place will be longtime assistant coach Larry Drew, who wants to run a more motion based offense instead of the isolation game that Woodson preferred.  Fully believing that it was Woodson, and not the roster, that had held the Hawks back, Atlanta committed six years and 129 million dollars to Joe Johnson this offseason in hopes that he can continue to lead the Hawks as they try and improve upon their past success.  Whether or not that contract eventually spells an early fall from grace or an eventual rise to glory is largely debatable. 

But Johnson’s not the only important player on the team.  The Hawks still have hope that Josh Smith, coming off a very impressive season last year, will continue his ascension among the most exciting players in the league.  Graced with natural athleticism and starting to finally develop a better feel for the game, Smith had his best year last year with new head coach Drew working directly with him.  His development could mean wonders for Atlanta.  The team does have two more contract situations to work out.  Reigning sixth man of the year Jamaal Crawford is asking for an extension as is All Star center Al Horford.  As of yet, neither have reached deals and Crawford has asked to be traded if he doesn’t reach an extension with the team.  With rookie Jordan Crawford capable of playing a similar role, there’s a good chance that Jamaal doesn’t finish the year with the team.  But we’ll see with how those contracts are worked whether or not the Hawks are truly committed to keeping this team intact.  And we’ll see in due time if that was the correct decision to make. 

5) Charlotte Bobcats
Incoming Players:
Sherron Collins, Kwame Brown, Matt Carroll, Shaun Livingston, Dominic McGuire, Eduardo Najera
Outgoing Players:
Raymond Felton, Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, Larry Hughes, Stephen Graham, Alexis Ajinca
Team Analysis:
Ever since head coach Larry Brown came to Charlotte in 2008, the team has seen a plethora of bold moves made by team president and eventual team owner Michael Jordan in an attempt to remove Charlotte from the sea of mediocrity it had been in for the majority of its existence.  Those bold moves finally resulted in a playoff appearance last season, although the Bobcats were quickly swept by Orlando in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  But because of the major moves Charlotte made to become winners: namely taking on the contracts of big men DeSagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed, and also taking on the contracts of productive wing players Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats reverted back to seller mode this offseason.  Since Brown came to the team in 2008, only Gerald Wallace remains from the team that Brown inherited, and the team has made so many moves that it reacquired Matt Carroll, a player the team traded in 2009, in an offseason trade that rid themselves of Tyson Chandler’s big salary.  Therefore, it could be said that the Bobcats won’t be afraid to wheel and deal again this season, although early indications would be that the team will be more in seller mode this season.

True to that, the team let Raymond Felton walk in free agency and the biggest question surrounding the Bobcats is who will play the point guard position.  2008 first round draft pick D.J. Augustin looks to be the early favorite, although he’s been pushed by former lottery pick Shaun Livingston for the job.  Neither are Earth shattering candidates to run the point, so we may see a lot of the offense being run through Stephen Jackson.  It’s fair to call Wallace the best player on the Bobcats team, but it’s no coincidence that Jackson’s midseason acquisition coincided with a run that got the team to its first ever playoff appearance.  More may be asked of Jackson this year, who saw his numbers dip a little bit last year after leaving Golden State’s offense.  He and Wallace are easily the team’s best players, and Wallace is still the face of the franchise, having remained with the team since its inception in 2004. 

The Bobcats downgraded the team in terms of talent when they traded disappointing center Tyson Chandler to Dallas for Erick Dampier’s non guaranteed contract and mainly hustle players in Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera.  Najera has been a fan favorite wherever he’s gone, but his skill set is better suited for a more talented team.  Carroll had his best years in Charlotte, and may assume a bigger role with the team this season than he had while in Dallas.  Dampier was quickly cut, leaving the center position about as uninspiring as the team’s outlook at point guard, with Diop and Mohammed being the early options at that position.  The Bobcats are a tough team to get a grip on, as they should be looked at as a team on the rise given their first postseason appearance in franchise history occurred last season, but the team is largely made up of veterans, and not all of those veterans are in the peak of their careers anymore.  In fact, it’s arguable that Wallace is the only one still in his peak.  So while the Bobcats built something last year, it’s hard to envision them building on that this season.

Posted on: May 27, 2010 3:55 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 2

Thanks to an error message, this is the second time I'll be typing this up.  I officially hate CBSsportsline.  Make my resubmission worth it, people.

 figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  The current draft on our countdown is actually the last draft in NBA history that allowed for high school seniors to be eligible to be drafted.  After this draft, eligible draftees (unless you are a foreign player, go figure) had to be one year removed from high school before they were eligible to be drafted.  For this reason, the 2005 NBA Draft is kind of historical, although it can be looked at historically for other reasons.  Two franchise players were drafted in the top five and one of the teams that passed on them is still regretting it to this day.  You may be a tad confused, but let's clear up any confusion on what I mean by diving into the draft coming in at the number two spot in our countdown.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22091609

#2: 2005 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Bogut, C, Utah
2) Atlanta Hawks - Marvin Williams, SF, North Carolina
3) Utah Jazz - Deron Williams, PG, Illinois
4) New Orleans Hornets - Chris Paul, PG, Wake Forest
5) Charlotte Bobcats - Raymond Felton, PG, North Carolina
6) Portland Trail Blazers - Martell Webster, SG, Seattle Prep School
7) Toronto Raptors - Charlie Villanueva, PF, Uconn
8) New York Knicks - Channing Frye, PF, Arizona
9) Golden State Warriors - Ike Diogu, PF, Arizona State
10) Los Angeles Lakers - Andrew Bynum, C, St. Joseph High School

One thing you'll notice in this top five and one thing to remember going forward, the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels actually have quite a few players drafted here in the first round (in fact, four were lottery picks).  Just something to observe moving forward.  But the first player taken was not a Tar Heel, but an Australian Center who made a name for himself in the 2004 Olympics and followed it up with a terrific sophomore season for the Utah Utes.  Andrew Bogut has finally shown some consistency that lets the Bucks know they've found their pure center for the future, but he's also been very injury prone for his five seasons in the league.  Marvin Williams was thought by some to be the best prospect available in the draft.  Only 19 at the time of the draft, the Hawks, even though Williams did not play a position of need, took a chance on Williams.  He's shown some potential in his five seasons with Atlanta, but has not been consistent or anywhere near as good as the point guards taken after him; point guards who the Hawks could desperately use at this point.  Deron Williams took a year to get familiar with the Jazz system and the NBA, but the team has been rewarded handsomely with their patience.  Williams is the face of the franchise and one of the best players in the game.  The same can be said about the player taken right after him: Chris Paul.  Fun little fact, the Hornets and Bobcats actually had a coin flip to see who would pick first between the two if the draft worked out to where neither had a top 3 pick.  It didn't look like anything major at the time, but the Hornets won the toss and took Chris Paul, a perennial all star, Olympic Gold Medalist and the runner up to the 2008 MVP award, while the Bobcats took Felton who, although having a solid career, has not blazed the path that either Paul or Williams have.  Webster actually came into the league possesing a ridiculously pure jump shot, but has turned into a defensive specialist as his career has gone on.  He's also shown a vulnerability to injuries, though.  Toronto was soundly criticized for their selection of Villanueva, which many people felt was a reach and not a true position of need since Toronto had a good, young power forward in Chris Bosh.  Villanueva turned out to have a good rookie season in Toronto, though, and has managed to stay a solid rotation player for all three teams he's played on, although he's been largely inconsistent in his production.  Frye actually had a terrific start to his rookie season, winning the Rookie of the Month award with Chris Paul in November, but tailed off as the season went on and fell out of favor in Portland.  However, he's experienced a career resurgence with his hometown Phoenix Suns this season.  Diogu was seen as a potentially lethal low post scorer and showed flashes his rookie season in Golden State.  However, he's been injured a lot since then and has not been a consistent rotation player since his rookie season.  The Lakers, picking in the lottery for the first time since 1994, took a chance on a very talented high school center in Andrew Bynum to be the new center for the team after Shaquille O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004.  Bynum has eventually become a staple at the center position, but has been injured for a majority of his career and has shown any dependability as far as his availability is concerned.

11) Orlando Magic - Fran Vazquez, PF, Spain
12) Los Angeles Clippers - Yaroslav Korolev, PF, Russia
13) Charlotte Bobcats - Sean May, PF, North Carolina
14) Minnesota Timberwolves - Rashad McCants, SG, North Carolina
15) New Jersey Nets - Antoine Wright, SG, Texas A&M
16) Toronto Raptors - Joey Graham, SF, Oklahoma State
17) Indiana Pacers - Danny Granger, SF, New Mexico
18) Boston Celtics - Gerald Green, SF, Gulf Shores Academy
19) Memphis Grizzlies - Hakim Warrick, PF, Syracuse
20) Denver Nuggets - Julius Hodge, SG, North Carolina State

A lot of untapped potential and underperforming players in this bunch.  Vazquez was taken by Orlando and they hoped to pair him up with Dwight Howard, but Vazquez stated, after being drafted, that he had no desire to play in the NBA, enraging Orlando fans and making the Magic look foolish.  The Clippers looked foolish for taking Korolev at 12 as well, but because Korolev got on the court for the team.  He made absolutely no splash his two seasons with the Clippers and quietly exited the league by 2007.  The Bobcats traded up to take May, the reigning NCAA Tournament MVP and another North Carolina product, but he hasn't been able to stay on the court due to injuries and weight issues.  His future in the league is seriously in jeopardy.  The Timberwolves, picking in the first round for the first time in five years due to a league punishment for a contract given to Joe Smith in 1999, took a chance on McCants, who was coming off an underwhelming season in North Carolina.  McCants showed flashes of potentially being a solid scorer in the league, although he had no lasting power and is now out of the league.  Antoine Wright has managed to become a solid defensive player in the league and has managed to become a starter for New Jersey, Dallas and then Toronto in his career.  Graham has been a rotation player for both Toronto and Denver during his stay in the league, but hasn't made a significant splash.  He may get a long look in Denver next season though.  Granger burst onto the scene as a scorer in 2008 and then won the 2009 Most Improved Player award.  Currently the face of the Indiana franchise, Granger is still as explosive scorer as there is in the league.  Green was a fantastic athlete coming out of high school and participated in a few slam dunk contests, but looked lost out on the court and struggled in game situations.  Minnesota and eventually Dallas took additional chances on Green but, at only 24, he's now out of the league.  Hakim Warrick has stayed as a solid big man off the bench for the duration of his career but has not taken that next step that's been expected by some.  Hodge, meanwhile, showed absolutely no flashes of consistency or productivity for two seasons with the Nuggets and was out of the league by 2007.

21) Phoenix Suns - Nate Robinson, PG, Washington (traded to the Knicks)
22) Denver Nuggets - Jarrett Jack, PG, Georgia Tech (traded to the Trail Blazers)
23) Sacramento Kings - Francisco Garcia, SF, Louisville
24) Houston Rockets - Luther Head, SG, Illinois
25) Seattle Supersonics - Johan Petro, C, France
26) Detroit Pistons - Jason Maxiell, PF, Cincinnati
27) Portland Trail Blazers - Linas Kleiza, SF, Missouri (traded to the Nuggets)
28) San Antonio Spurs - Ian Mahinmi, C, France
29) Miami Heat - Wayne Simien, PF, Kansas
30) New York Knicks - David Lee, PF, Florida

A solid list of role players were taken with the final ten selections in the first round.  The Suns continued their trend of using their draft pick for other teams and Robinson became a slam dunk sensation in New York (pun definitely intended).  He's also shown attitude issues and has been benched on two different squads so far in his career.  Time will tell where his talent takes him.  Jack, conversely, has been the type of player to maximize his talents and has been a steady, gutsy player for his career in the league.  Garcia has been a solid rotation player for Sacramento his entire career but has had problems with injuries the last two seasons.  Luther Head, meanwhile, was seen as a shooting specialist and has been in and out of rotations with different teams for his career, but may have found a home in Indiana this season.  Petro continued Seattle's trend of drafting a center and then seeing what happens (Robert Swift the year before this draft; Mouhammed Sene the year after this draft) although Petro's the only one out of the three who still has a place in the league.  Maxiell burst onto the scene as a tremendous hustle and energy player for Detroit his first few seasons in the league and was handsomely rewarded with a contract, but has not been able to perform with added roles and expectations.  Kleiza took awhile but became an explosive offensive player for Denver off the bench before going back to play overseas this past offseason.  Mahinmi is the only swing and miss so far for the Spurs this decade, but I like Mahinmi a lot (I've been able to meet him on two separate occasions) and I'll attribute his inability to crack the rotation and play consistently due to the injuries he's sustained over his career.  Simien, meanwhile, was out of the league by 2007 and, after playing overseas for a couple seasons, retired from basketball in 2009 to pursue a career with his Christian ministry.  Good luck to him!  David Lee became a fatnastic hustle player for New York and was immediately a crowd favorite in the Garden.  He's since emerged into an all star for the Knicks and may be a wanted commodity this coming offseason.

Round Two Notables:
33) New Orleans Hornets - Brandon Bass, PF, LSU
34) Utah Jazz - C.J. Miles, SG, Skyline High School
36) Milwaukee Bucks - Ersan Ilyasova, SF, Turkey
37) Los Angeles Lakers - Ronny Turiaf, PF, Gonzaga
40) Golden State Warriors - Monta Ellis, SG, Lanier High School
45) Philadelphia 76ers - Louis Williams, SG, South Gwinnett High School
49) Washington Wizards - Andray Blatche, PF, South Kent Prep School
50) Boston Celtics - Ryan Gomes, SF, Providence
56) Detroit Pistons - Amir Johnson, PF, Westchester High School
57) Orlando Magic - Marcin Gortat, C, Poland

A solid list of second rounders here.  Bass showed potential in New Orleans but never did crack coach Byron Scott's rotation.  He went to Dallas and became a great bench player for two seasons with the Mavericks before signing on to play with Orlando this year.  I actually played against C.J. Miles in high school and, after becoming the target of scorn from Utah's fans and coaching staff, finally showed flashes of being a really good player this season.  Ilyasova actually signed with Milwaukee in 2006 and then asked to be released so he could return overseas.  However, he came back this season and had a signifcant impact for a Bucks team that made the playoffs.  Turiaf was a terrific college player who some teams backed away from because of an enlarged heart, but he's managed to be a fan favorite and great bench player everywhere he's played.  Monta Ellis was a great find for Golden State in the second round and by 2007, was assuming an increased responsibility and becoming a fantastic scorer in this league.  A moped accident in the 2008 offseason, shortly after signing a brand new lucrative contract extension, irritated Golden State fans and management, but he made up for it, largely, this season.  Lou Williams took a couple seasons before becoming a great bench player for some postseason teams in Philadelphia.  Blatche has been a head case and in and out of Washington's rotation, but showed signs during the second half of this season of becoming a really, really good player in the league.  Gomes has managed to become a solid rotation player for both Boston and Minnesota during his career.  Amir Johnson receives the distinction of being the last high schooler ever drafted in the NBA.  He was counted on to do a lot in Toronto last season but underperformed and is now playing in Toronto.  Gortat, meanwhile, emerged as a backup for last year's Eastern Conference Champion Orlando team and received a huge contract last offseason, but didn't take the steps forward this season that some expected.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Jose Calderon, PG, Spain - Signed with the Toronto Raptors
Kelenna Azubuike, SG, Kentucky - Signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2006
Chuck Hayes, PF, Kentucky - Signed with the Houston Rockets
Josh Powell, PF, North Carolina State - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Ronnie Price, PG, Utah Valley - Signed with the Sacramento Kings
Will Bynum, PG, Georgia Tech - Signed with the Golden State Warriors
Fabricio Oberto, C, Argentina - Signed with the San Antonio Spurs

Another great group of undrafted players.  Calderon was convinced to come to Toronto and struggled with his shot his rookie season but eventually burst onto the scene as a pure point guard for Toronto in 2008.  He's been in and out of the starting line up since then but has remained a solid player for Toronto.  Azubuike became an explosive offensive talent in Golden State's system but has struggled with injuries, like many of Golden State's players, the last couple seasons.  Hayes coupled up with Carl Landry to create an old school, physical bunch of forwards with the Houston Rockets and started all 82 games for Houston this season.  Powell eventually cracked the rotation with the Clippers as time went on and then signed with the Lakers, where he won a championship with the 2009 Lakers team.  Ronnie Price eventually returned to Utah as a back up point guard for the Jazz and is still a dependable bench player for the Jazz.  Bynum eventually became a good bench player in Detroit and burst onto the scene last year.  Meanwhile, Oberto signed with the Spurs in 2005 and eventually started on the team that won the 2007 NBA Championship. 

2005-2006 NBA Rookie of the Year: Chris Paul
All Stars from the 2005 NBA Draft: Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Danny Granger, David Lee

2005-2006 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Chris Paul
Charlie Villanueva
Andrew Bogut
Deron Williams
Channing Frye

2005-2006 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Danny Granger
Raymond Felton
Luther Head
Marvin Williams
Ryan Gomes

Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am
 

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

The NBA: where amazing happens.  Don’t believe me?  Well then you get watch the propaganda spewed out by David Stern with his commercials during the NBA Playoffs.  Or, if you want more concrete evidence, watch the Orlando Magic’s meteoric rise to the NBA Finals last season.  Given no credit during preseason predictions last season, the Magic went from being an “above average” team to now being the defending Eastern Conference Champion.  But the Magic did not make it without problems.  The credibility of their coach came into question at the first quotable reference from Shaquille O’Neal.  The offensive game of Dwight Howard was critiqued at every level.  Hedo Turkoglu was criticized, loved, and then all but disowned by the Magic fan base and organization.  So even though the Magic are the defending division and conference champion, they enter this year with new players, a new mentality but with the same goal as everyone in this division: win the NBA Championship.

The southeast division isn’t the most star studded division to take the court but they’re a solid bunch all with hopes of duplicating Orlando’s success from last season.  Miami went from winning 15 games, to riding Dwyane Wade back to the postseason last year.  Washington, playing all of last year without Gilbert Arenas, will look to do the same thing this season.  Meanwhile, a team like Atlanta hopes to take the big step forward that Orlando took last season while a team like Charlotte is full of talent, but still trying to find its identity in hopes of making the first postseason appearance in franchise history. 

With new players, returning players and everything in between, this division has a whole new feel to it.  However, as solid as it is, it’s not crowded at the top.  Orlando enters this season as the team to beat in this division but you have four hungry and capable teams rounding out the division.  From two to five, the division is really tight and could really fluctuate.  There should be no doubt, however,  that this is Orlando’s division to lose. 

This is how I predict the Southeast Division will turn out for the 2009-2010 season.

1. Orlando Magic – Last season’s run for Orlando was a sight to behold.  Dwight Howard captured hearts and accolades with his performance all year and is now established as the unquestioned best center in the league.  Things looked bleak as far as a run in the playoffs was concerned when Jameer Nelson was lost for the season.  But the Magic pulled off a terrific trade for Rafer Alston and made the NBA Finals.  Stan Van Gundy was mentioned as one of the best coaches in the NBA, but when he got into a public exchange of words with Shaquille O’Neal, he was accused of being a “master of panic” and immediately Van Gundy was under intense scrutiny.  Every mistake, every play was overly scrutinized in the postseason and every time that Van Gundy’s Magic lost a game, he was immediately blamed for it.  Even Marcin Gortat, the backup center for the team, came out and criticized the coach in a newspaper published in his native country during the postseason.  Somehow, Van Gundy was still able to rally his troops to upset victories in series against the defending champion Boston Celtics and the indestructible Cleveland Cavaliers before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers (another loss he was blamed for).

The Magic enter this season without Hedo Turkoglu, who has been the big floor manager for them for both seasons of the Van Gundy regime.  Once he left for the money in Toronto, the Magic jettisoned the often criticized Rafer Alston, backup big man Tony Battie and promising rookie Courtney Lee to bring in Florida native Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson.  This gives the Magic a new dimension that Turkoglu really couldn’t bring and that’s athleticism.  Now, not only will the team be able to shoot the long distance shot, they can also run the floor better and really push it out in transition.  A healthy Jameer Nelson and the NBA return of Jason Williams, signed to be a backup here in Orlando, will also help matters in terms of pushing the tempo.  The Magic are blessed with solid depth at every position across the board and should use that to their advantage all season long.  With the new addition of Matt Barnes, they can start he or Mickael Pietrus at the three and Vince Carter at the two.  Barnes and Pietrus both give the Magic incredible defensive effort and three point shooting, so either can be used for different matchups.  With big men like Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat on the bench, the Magic are one of the few teams that has premium big men at their disposal.  This may help Rashard Lewis avoid having to play bigger men for extended minutes during the game. 

All in all, the Magic enter this season with a swagger that was missing going into last season’s Eastern Conference Champion team.  Time will tell if the addition of Vince Carter is an upgrade over Hedo Turkoglu or if the chemistry will be missing with Turkoglu gone.  But there’s no denying that the talent is there, the experience is there and the mentality is there.  Now they just need to take that last step to get the job done.


2. 
Atlanta Hawks – Pigs may not be able to fly.  Dogs may not able to speak English and Tony Romo may not be able to win a playoff game.  But another miracle is taking place right before our eyes, consistency is residing in the Atlanta Hawks franchise.  Not that they hadn’t been consistent before; if you include consecutive last place finishes consistency.  But with Mike Woodson entering his fifth year at the head coaching spot and with the Hawks fresh off not only their second straight postseason appearance but their first playoff series victory in ten years, the Hawks display promise, direction and, dare I say it, consistency.  The acquisition of Joe Johnson has a lot to do with that, as he’s given the Hawks a solid first option for the last four seasons and has stepped up continuously when the team has needed it.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby also has done a lot, as it’s given the Hawks leadership and experience when they had none of it outside of Johnson prior to Bibby arriving.  But, when you show promise expectations arrive, and now it’s time for the Hawks to start showing that they can take a new step in the right direction.  Al Horford really proved to be key for the Hawks last year, and there’s no doubt that his injury played a big factor in why the Hawks were so outmatched against Cleveland in the Semifinals.  He needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his game as the Hawks are a much better team when he’s being assertive and looking for possessions.  The Hawks also missed Marvin William in the postseason, as the guard and forward was beginning to play a huge role in the team’s development.  But his injury also derailed the team’s momentum. 

Josh Smith enters the season with no contract problems, no questions about his game, this is going to be his team sometime in the near future.  He’s still prone to taking too many jump shots, but Smith has really evolved his game the last few seasons and stepped up his performance in the postseason.  That was crucial to the Hawks winning that playoff series against Miami.    Coming off the bench, the Hawks have two solid big men in Zaza Pachulia and free agent signee Joe Smith.  Gone is Flip Murray from last season’s squad, but they upgraded the sixth man-combo guard role with the acquisition of Jamal Crawford.  Crawford, if he openly accepts this diminished role, should flourish being the first option off the bench with no other assignment other than to score.  He and Maurice Evans are a solid offensive duo on any squad and really give the Hawks options past the starting five. 

It’s hard to tell if any further progression will be made in Atlanta this season, but the seeds are in place for this team to grow and evolve.  Staying healthy and staying hungry are huge keys for the team and how they start the season will speak wonders about what should be on the horizon in Atlanta.


3. 
Washington Wizards – Last season was disastrous in our nation’s capital.  Washington had injuries to everyone on the roster outside of Antawn Jamison, got their coach fired and watched an abysmal season get worse until it mercifully ended with 63 losses.  But there’s a new feeling of refreshment in Washington and it has everything to do with players on the team getting healthy, and not the turnover from last season’s squad.  Gilbert Arenas has played all of 15 games the last two seasons and his scoring and ability to give the team options in the clutch was sorely missed last season.  He had another knee surgery after signing his big free agent contract last offseason, but the Wizards seem determined to give him, Caron Butler and Jamison one more run at a championship.  The biggest setback to this is that the Wizards never showed any kind of elite potential when all three were on the court together in the first place, and Butler, himself, has missed an average of 19 games a year since arriving to Washington.  But the Wizards are still optimistic and the arrival of Flip Saunders should help fuel that optimism.

Although his reputation has taken a beating, Flip Saunders really has shown an ability to exceed during the regular season, something the Wizards must first do before approaching any talks of winning a championship.  He has a sound feel for the game on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to find a way to maximize the talent on the roster.  Having options like Randy Foye and Mike Miller on the bench should only help matters in Washington, as their thin bench last year became almost laughable.  Nick Young will either settle into the starting two guard role or will go back to the bench this year, something that will also help with the depth of this squad.  Brendan Haywood also is returning from injury this year for Washington, and he and newly acquired Fabricio Oberto give the Wizards solid big man depth as well. 

The pieces are in place in Washington for another postseason run by the Wizards.  Healthier players, new players and a new coach have helped ease the memory of last season’s disaster.  The optimism is legit, as the prospects of a playoff appearance are good for the Wizards.  But talks of a championship, or a run at the Finals, seem a bit premature.  Especially with all the growing they’ll have to do this year.
 


4. 
Miami Heat – It’s amazing, but it seems so long ago that Shaquille O’Neal was manning down the center position in Miami and the Heat were winning championships.  Amazingly, it’s only been three seasons.  But the Heat hit bottom hard when the injury bug bit start guard Dwyane Wade and they seemed to be a franchise heading nowhere in a hurry.  Wade stayed healthy last season, though, and followed up his spectacular play in the Summer Olympics with an MVP-Caliber season and leading the Heat to a postseason appearance.  The biggest problem in Miami, though, was that Wade seemed to be doing it all by himself.  Michael Beasley took a long time to develop and then crumbled this offseason.  Mario Chalmers was solid all season as a starting point guard, even as a second round rookie, but still heard rumors about being replaced all offseason.  Even a flirting session with free agent Allen Iverson didn’t seem to do much to give Wade hope that help was on the horizon, so it’s hard to imagine the Heat believing they can be any better than they were last season. 

One reason for optimism is that Wade is in the prime of his career and all the young players (and head coaches) on the team are a year older.  Last season’s run at the playoffs did a lot for the franchise but they did nothing to truly expand on it.  Jermaine O’Neal is still going to be the team’s starting center and will have his first full year with Miami while doing it.  But his inconsistent play and continued battle with injuries don’t do much to ensure he’ll be there for the entire ride.  And instead of improving the backup big men on the team, the Heat opted to resign both Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire.  Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn give the team three point shooters off the bench and Udonis Haslem continues to man down the power forward position for this squad, but there wasn’t much excitement last year even during the team’s postseason push.  All of the attention and praise went to Dwyane Wade and his MVP Chase.

If the Heat are to take any steps forward, the maturation process with Chalmers and Michael Beasley will really have to take fruition.  Or else they’ll be stuck in the middle of the pack just as they were last year.  Having to do everything by himself could cause Wade to burn out and that could only spell doom for Miami.


5. 
Charlotte Bobcats – The Charlotte Bobcats are a hard team to figure out.  They have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history on the bench.  They have the best player to play the game as an executive and talent scout, and they have a solid bunch of role players, veterans and young players on the squad to really make up a solid team.  However, there just seems to be no reason for excitement in Charlotte.  The environment there didn’t change much this offseason when the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.  Chandler has a long history of injuries and inconsistent play, although he’s just as good as Okafor at the center position.  If he can stay healthy, it will really do wonders for this squad and it’s ability to run the floor.  But chances are he won’t be able to do that.  In order to make a run at the postseason, the Bobcats acquired veteran role players Raja Bells, Boris Diaw, Vladimir Radmonovic, and DeSagana Diop.  But it didn’t pay off as the team narrowly missed the postseason and is now stuck with bloated contracts from all four players. 

They recently brought back Raymond Felton, who watched his job go to rookie guard D.J. Augustin.  Augustin did a lot off the bench for the Bobcats before fading down the stretch last season.  With some proper conditioning, he can really give the Bobcats hope to be that point guard of the future.  Gerald Wallace looks to have a bounce back season after struggling with injuries all of last season.  With Okafor gone, Wallace is now the only original Bobcat on the squad and is the unquestioned leader of the team.  If he can stay healthy it’d do wonders for the team on the court and in the locker room.  The addition of Ronald Murray will do a lot of the Bobcats as he can be the team’s sixth man and help alleviate some of the pressure off of Augustin coming off of the bench.  Nazr Mohammed teams up with Diop to combine a solid big man trio in Charlotte giving them pretty good depth at basically every position.

It’s hard to explain the problems in Charlotte.  Looking at the roster, there may not be any.  But the organization still has a long way to go in terms of creating a positive environment that players will want to compete in, and believe they can win in.  That’s on the horizon but not quite there in Charlotte. 

Posted on: September 24, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2009 2:20 pm
 

Outlook For The 2009-2010 New Orleans Hornets

When I did this preview last season, I mentioned that the Hornets entered the season with serious championship aspirations.  Never before had I been so excited for a season to come as I was for last year's Hornets squad.  In the first game of the season, Peja Stojakovic injured his back and a trend was started.  Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, David West, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic missed a combined 22 games when the Hornets shocked the league by winning the Southwest Division and making it to the Conference Semifinals.  Last year, those five starters missed a combined 107 games.  The Hornets lost Jannero Pargo from that 2008 season but added James Posey.  The loss of Pargo proved to be substantial as the Hornets simply had no backcourt depth at all.  Posey also struggled with injuries last season and suffered an unfortunate elbow injury late in the season.  Quite frankly, injuries ruined any chances the Hornets had of improving on 2008's success.  The Hornets also lost a ton of money last season and their financial woes became a story in the league.  Reports about the Hornets being too expensive for the city of New Orleans were released.  At the deadline, the Hornets traded Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder for perennial bench players Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.  The trade was rescinded due to Chandler's toe injury, and the Hornets responded with a nice stretch of success when Chandler was moved back to the team.  But Chandler's injuries resurfaced and the rescinded trade only brought to light how bad the Hornets were in terms of financial standing. 

In 2008, George Shinn invested a lot into that squad.  He got an emberassing return as the Hornets were humiliated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets and entered an offseason of uncertainty.  But then one of the most unheralded general managers in the game, Jeff Bower, put the wheels into motion and eventually turned out a solid offseason.  Gone from last season are key contributors Tyson Chandler, Rasual Butler and Antonio Daniels.  Arriving are Emeka Okafor, Darius Songaila, Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton.  Given his strict limitations, Bower made talent upgrades and cost effective decisions at the same time and was able to field a competitive team for this season without killing Shinn's checkbook.  He and Byron Scott still don't have the most talented team in the league, but they're solid at every position and have a nice mix of young, core players and contributing veterans on the squad.

 PG: #3 Chris Paul (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Returning this season, hopefully fully healthy, is the unquestioned leader of this squad in point guard Chris Paul.  Paul's 2009 season was quietly one of the best in the league.  He again led the league in assists and also led the league in steals and triple doubles.  Paul, however, simply became a victim of having to do everything for this squad all of last season.  By the end of the season, he was ailed by knee and groin injuries and his performance in the postseason against Chauncey Billups really had him looking inferior.  But Paul is still the best point guard in this league and is still the guy who the Hornets have attached the hitch to.  He enters this season with a rapidly improving jump shot and three point shot and is almost unguardable when on his game.  Paul still may become a victim of having to do too much this season as well, but he shouldn't be called on to do everything for the squad. 

#2 Darren Collison (35 Games, 14.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 39.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.9 FG Pctg.)* - Collison enters this season as the Hornets first draft pick in two years.  Collison manned down the point guard position for the UCLA Bruins for four seasons and went to three Final Fours with the Bruins.  Collison is an ideal fit to backup Chris Paul and may become the Jannero Pargo hybrid guard that was missed last season.  Collison is tenacious on defense, can hit the three point shot and is incredibly fast.  His lack of size may have been a factor in why he dropped as late as he did in the draft, but Collison was a great find for the Hornets at 21.  At the time, the pick was criticized because of the team's lack of frontcourt depth.  But it has since grown on Hornets fans and Collison is a big reason for optimism around the fanbase and organization.  He may be bullied a bit because of his size and also will have the mandatory rookie learning curve, but he's learning from one of the best in the league and should fit in nicely backing up CP3.

 SG: #9 Morris Peterson (43 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 63.2 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - With the departure of Rasual Butler, it looks as if Byron Scott will have no other option than to turn to Peterson to start once again this season.  That's not really a bad thing; Peterson did start on the Southwest Division Champion team in 2008.  But Peterson, even that season, hasn't truly delivered on that four year contract that the Hornets gave him to come and start at the shooting guard position.  Injuries and inconsistency forced Scott to push Peterson down to the end of the bench and he hardly played any factor in the stretch run for New Orleans.  Given his contract and his previous production as a starter, it looks as if Peterson will regain the job he lost last year.  But with rookie Marcus Thornton breathing down his neck, there won't be that much room for error for Peterson. 

#23 Devin Brown (63 Games, 5.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 78.0 FT Pctg., 28.9 3PT FG Pctg., 35.5 FG Pctg.) - Brown exercised his player option and is now set to return for  his third year in the last four with the Hornets.  Brown never really got into a rhythym last year and Byron Scott never seemed to trust him as he did during the Hornets last season in Oklahoma City.  Brown is versatile and can really play either the 1, 2 or 3 spot on the floor for the Hornets.  He improved his three point shot last season but seemed to shoot it too much.  But with the thin frontcourt depth for the Hornets, Brown will really be looked upon to contribute at both the point guard and shooting guard positions.  Given that it's a contract year as well, Brown will really have to impress to guarantee a job for the following season.

#5 Marcus Thornton (35 Games, 21.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 74.5 FT Pctg., 38.8 3PT FG Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - Thornton is the Hornets second round draft pick and is a local product coming out of LSU.  The Hornets spent a 2nd round pick on another LSU product a few years back, Brandon Bass, and simply let him go to become a more productive player for a rival squad.  The Hornets seem to really love Thornton's ability and he's an extremely talented player.  He can score from all areas of the floor and is adept at attacking the basket.  However, there's not much to his game that separates him from your typical shooting guard and that's why he fell as late as he did in the draft.  With the short depth at the shooting guard position, Thornton will see minutes that Byron Scott normally wouldn't give to such a raw rookie.  That can either make or break him and it's crucial that he stay dedicated to his trade.  Thornton can be a really good player for the Hornets or just another forgotten player in a couple of seasons.

# Bobby Brown (68 Games, 5.3 PPG, 79.1 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 39.2 FG Pctg.) - Brown was acquired in the Darius Songaila trade and also spent some time with the Hornets summer camp team back in 2008.  Brown had an OK season last year splitting time with Sacramento and Memphis.  He can score the basketball but may not be able to do much else for the Hornets.  Even though frontcourt depth is thin, it doesn't make much sense to carry four shooting guards and therefore I'm uncertain whether or not Brown will make the final squad.

 SF: #16 Peja Stojakovic (61 Games, 13.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 89.4 FT Pctg., 37.8 3PT FG Pctg., 39.9 FG Pctg.) - Coming off an impressive 2008 season, Stojakovic came into the season last year with more than a few expectations.  He bombed miserably last year with injuries and an inconsistent shot really hurting the team.  Also, given the fact that Scott is insistent on man to man defense, Stojakovic routinely got pushed around by the bigger, better wing men of the league.  As a result, a lot of people jumped to bash the same guy they cheered for a year earlier, but that's sports for you.  Stojakovic had an offseason to rest following his back injury last season, but this is a repeated problem for Stojakovic.  You start to wonder at his age and height, whether or not a back injury will ever fully heal.  He'll be the starter by default again, but I'm not certain he can regain his 2008 form and whether or not he can stay healthy again this season.

#41 James Posey (75 Games, 8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 82.2 FT Pctg., 36.9 3PT FG Pctg., 41.2 FG Pctg.) - Posey's acquisition last season was met with much fanfare.  Given that he was a player with championship pedigree, a tough, clutch and gritty player of his caliber was supposed to help turn the inexperienced Hornets into a team with a swagger.  That never did happen last season and it really wasn't because of any kind of complacency from Posey.  He really tried last year but I think too much was expected from a player of his caliber because of the 24 million dollar pricetag that he came in with.  Posey will again be the primary backup this season off of the bench for the Hornets and should come in motivated to silence critics of his performance last season.

#32 Julian Wright (54 Games, 4.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 56.7 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) - Julian Wright had an extremely promising 2008 season and a lot was expected of last season.  But with the acquisition of Posey, Wright seemed to be the odd man out at the small forward position and, as a result, really dissapointed last season (which seems to be a recurring theme for the team and its players).  Wright showed some promise late in the season when Stojakovic got hurt and he started at the small forward position.  But his jump shot faltered last season and he found himself in and out of the rotation.  Unless Stojakovic gets hurt, Wright may have trouble cracking the lineup again but he has to show more when given game time anyways.  If his jumpshot improves enough, there's a possibility he could play at shooting guard given the lack of depth.  But Wright's increased minutes will have to come with dedication and improvement.  No matter what Hornets fans say, Byron Scott should not give this guy anything.  Wright should earn all of his time.

 PF: #30 David West (76 Games, 21.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 88.4 FT Pctg., 47.2 FG Pctg.) - David West showed that his 2008 season was not a fluke last year, as he and Chris Paul really made the Hornets a two man squad late last season.  He again wore down at the end of the year and really dissapointed against Kenyon Martin in the postseason.  But West is still the second option here in New Orleans and is a welcome face for fans.  In the offseason, some people felt that the only way the Hornets could get rid of either Peja or Tyson Chandler's contract would be if they packaged the relatively cheap West with them.  But Bower found a way to move Chandler without moving West and West remains the power forward for the Hornets.  West's jump shot went from being an asset to a crutch last season and his FG Pctg. suffered as a result.  However, it was revealed that West never fully recovered from the back injury that hindered him in 2008.  So that will obviously deter you from mixing it up down in the paint.  With the acquisition of Okafor, West may be not be asked to go down to the paint so much, but his game could become too soft if he does nothing but shoot jumpers.  So the Hornets need more muscle and grit from West this year.

# Darius Songaila (77 Games, 7.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 88.9 FT Pctg., 53.2 FG Pctg.) - Picked up in a trade with the Timberwolves for Antonio Daniels, Songaila is kind of expensive for a player of his talents but is still a solid bench player for the Hornets.  His size, grit, and effort has made him a fan favorite everywhere he's been and I expect much of the same here in New Orleans.  He immediately becomes the team's primary backup in the frontcourt and can really help speed the game up when he's on the floor.  Songaila isn't going to blow you away much on a game to game basis, but he rarely dissapoints either.  You know what you're going to get from him, and consistency is something that would be valued coming off the bench in New Orleans.

#1 Ike Diogu (29 Games, 4.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 80.4 FT Pctg., 50.1 FG Pctg.) - Coming on the heels of the Okafor trade, Diogu was quietly signed to shore up the frontcourt by New Orleans.  Diogu has always been an interesting prospect.  He can really score the basketball and showed that in college.  As a lottery pick by the Warriors, Diogu was considered a good acquisition by the Pacers but dissapointed in Indiana.  He sat on the bench last year for the Trail Blazers and Kings last year, but right at the end of the year finished with back to back games scoring 32 and 28 points respectively.  The Hornets picked him up and this is another chance to prove himself for Diogu.  If he can score, he'll see a huge increase in minutes because nobody on the Hornets bench can really light up the scoreboard.  So if Diogu shows that kind of capability, we'll see what happens.  If not, we'll hardly see him at all.

 C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 13.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Here is the Hornets biggest acquisition this offseason.  Okafor steps in immediately and starts for the departed Tyson Chandler.  Given that he started in all 82 games last season and is every bit of, if not better, the defender that Tyson Chandler is, this is a great move for the Hornets.  A healthy player at the center position will be a welcome change of pace for New Orleans.  Okafor is a good athlete for his position but his love for the game was questioned in Charlotte.  Player with Chris Paul should help all of that for Okafor and should also do wonders for his points production.  The defense, blocked shots and rebounding will be welcomed in New Orleans.  He still may be undersized at the center position, but he's penciled in there for New Orleans for this year most definitely.

# 12 Hilton Armstrong (70 Games, 4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 63.3 FT Pctg., 56.1 FG Pctg.) - Armstrong, a former lottery pick for the Hornets, has largely dissapointed in his three seasons with the organization.  But now is the time for Armstrong to step up and prove that he's a capable center for the Hornets.  He's shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of stupidity and last season was the biggest mixed bag of all.  As a result of his mediocritiy, Armstrong routinely lost minutes and his spot in the rotation.  But he's the more talented of the two backups at center and will be given another chance to prove his worth.  Armstrong can be one of the best backup big men in this league if he showed any kind of effort or dedication but too often dissapears on the court.  An aggressive side and dedication can be taught, but there's no guarantee it will stick with Armstrong.

#4 Sean Marks (60 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 68.2 FT Pctg., 48.5 FG Pctg.) - The polar opposite of Armstrong, Marks was brought onto the squad last season as a good locker room guy to shore up the roster and show off his championship ring.  But with injuries and Scott's reluctance to play Arstrong and Melvin Ely, Marks found himself as a regular in Scott's rotation.  His hustle, effort and hard nosed play were welcome on the court but Marks simply isn't talented enough to be taken seriously as a backup big man in this league.  But, because of his cheap price tag and because of the good impression he made with the team last year, he finds himself back in the locker room this season.  Hopefully, we don't see too much of Marks, because that will mean that Armstrong has finally lived up to his potential. 

Coach: Byron Scott - Scott's job came into question last year after the 58 point home loss in game four of the first round against the Nuggets.  But Scott, the 2008 NBA Coach of the Year, returns to New Orleans and I'm happy about that.  He's been to two NBA Finals and lead a really impressive turnaround in New Orleans in his first four seasons, but really made questionable moves last year.  Hornets fans were impatient with his reluctance to give minutes to Julian Wright and his insistence of putting Sean Marks on the floor for substantial minutes.  But people need to understand that Scott played with the hand he was dealt last year.  If you look at last year's squad, production, and the amount of injuries that the Hornets suffered, a 47 win season and a postseason apperance were not dissapointments in New Orleans.  A lot was expected, but you can hardly blame Scott for last season's dissapointment.  But he's on shaky ground now so if the Hornets struggle again, critics may start chirping again.  Scott's confidence can come across as being stubborn and arrogant, but he's a proven player and coach and shouldn't be blamed for last season's dissapointment.  But we all know this is a business and that coaches get fired all the time.  I just hope it doesn't happen here in New Orleans.

All things considered, the Hornets have a solid bunch heading into this season.  With one of the best players in the league in Chris Paul leading the way, the Hornets are almost guaranteed to make the postseason.  A southwest division championship wouldn't be farfetched, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy may be.  The Hornets have a talented squad but really don't have the depth to make a true run at a title.  Too many people will be looked at to "step it up" and not enough will be asked to "keep it up".  There's a lot of unproven talent on the bench and the Hornets need to find a way to make those guys into stars if they want to win a championship.  But this team will not fall victim to the mediocre and complacent ways of last season.  This is a bunch designed to play hard and dedicate themselves to victory every game.  That's a great attitude to have going forward, but they still need more talent.

Prediction: 49-33

* Denotes college statistics
Posted on: July 8, 2009 1:02 am
 

Hard Times For The Hornets

Life as a Hornets fan is very cyclical.  Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues gave everyone hope before contract disputs between Johnson and Mourning forced the two to refuse to co exist and lead to both of them being shipped off to the Heat and Knicks, respectively.  Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, David Wesley and company came within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in game seven of that series.  They proceeded to slowly let injuries cripple the team before they were destined for medicority until the God awful 2004-2005 rebuilding season.

Last year's Hornets were supposed to give us fans new hope once again.  At this time last season, the acquisition of James Posey looked exactly like what the Hornets needed to push them over the top.  After all, they had one of the best players in the league in Chris Paul, one of the most underrated players in the league in David West and they now had a player that brought defense and championship intangibles to help this young squad learn how to win.  But then the circle completed this season and dark days look to be ahead for the Hornets once again.

Contracts ruined the promising 1993 team and injuries to Davis and Mashburn slowly crippled, no pun intended, that promising 2001 team.  However, both of those cost the Hornets this season and look as if they will curse the team for the next few seasons.  Chris Paul is still one of the best players in the league.  David West, although no longer underrated, is still as viable a second option as you will find in this league.  But the Hornets spent big time to land Posey.  At the time, there's nothing wrong with that.  After all, crunching numbers in regards to salary isn't becoming of a possible championship team.  As much fault as George Shinn receives, he paid to make this team win this season.  However, things quickly fell apart once again for the Hornets.

At this time, most of us Hornets fans were given hope that we'd be celebrating a possible first championship in franchise history.  At worst, another postseason run looked to be in the cards.  However, things didn't go that way at all.  Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson, three of the five starters that pushed the Spurs to a 7th game in the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals, all missed substantial time and Paul and West were therefore forced to play heavy minutes while nursing elbow, knee, back and groin injuries.  The end result was a dissapointing 49-33 season.  The end result was an embarassing performance in the 2009 postseason against the Denver Nuggets.  The end result was what looks to be one of the most dissapointing offseasons in Hornets history.

David West may have to be traded so that the team can unload either Chandler or Stojakovic's ridiculous salaries.  When you're a small market team, you usually tend to have to overspend on above average players so that they can come to your franchise.  It's payed off for the Magic with Rashard Lewis, for now, but it hasn't worked out that well for the Hornets with Stojakovic.  Two of his three seasons have been littered with back injuries and, although he had a really good 2008 season, he's nothing more than a spot shooter; an expensive and inconsistent spot shooter at that.  How they can convince anybody to take him off their hands I won't know.  Chandler is a player who has spent eight seasons in the league and has shown a knack for injuries in all of those seasons.  It's well publicized that the team wanted to trade him to the Oklahoma City Thunder only for the Thunder to rescind the trade due to Chandler's big toe problems.  However, it was his ankle that forced him to be a sad figure at the end of the season and in the playoffs.

Times are especially hard for the Hornets because the team is flat broke.  Although attendance this season was at an all time high since the team's relocation to New Orleans, ticket prices were among the lowest in the league and have to remain at that level in order for fans to show up.  Last season's attendance numbers were attrocious until the team caught fire around February.  Due to the inability to make any money off of the fans because of the city that they reside in, the Hornets are forced to make up for their payroll with victories and extended apperances in the postseason.  Needless to say, giving consistently big minutes to Sean Marks at the center position isn't going to set you up for success in the playoffs.

The Hornets have Chris Paul to build around, so this rebuilding process won't be as bad.  And they can still attract a Brandon Bass or a Joe Smith to come on board and may add Jannero Pargo back to the team (although I don't see why they need to do that since they drafted Collison).  But make no mistake about it, this is an uncertain time for Hornets fans.  One year ago, all the reason in the world for optimism.  Currently, nothing to get excited about.  It's funny how sports works.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

 Team By Team Previews
Western Conference:
1) Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

2) Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

3) San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

4) Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

5) Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

6) Dallas Mavericks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14440073

7) New Orleans Hornets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14427724

8) Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

2) Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

3) Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

4) Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

5) Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

6) Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

7) Chicago Bulls - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14504657

8) Detroit Pistons - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14467742

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Pistons bring their experience to Cleveland to stand opposite the Cavaliers. The Cavs are really riding a huge wave of momentum into the postseason, the complete opposite way which Detroit is entering the playoffs. The Cavs have beaten the Pistons the last time they played in the postseason as well, and there's no reason for Detroit's intimidation factor to affect Cleveland. This is a solid matchup for the Cavs, because their lack of size won't affect them as the Pistons, likewise, lack significant size in their frontcourt.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Mo Williams - It will be interesting to see how Williams, the Cavs' second option, responds to having that kind of pressure on him in the postseason.
Pistons Player to Watch: Kwame Brown - With the Cavaliers lack of size, Brown can continue his solid play down the stretch with solid defense on Zydrunas Ilgauskas if called upon. He can really help the Pistons if he elevates his play.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade and the Heat are a tough out for anybody in the postseason, including an unproven playoff team like the Hawks. The Hawks are still a tough team to take seriously, although we all should, and they can look at that as a rallying cry. This is the most even matchup in the entire Eastern Conference, and the Hawks fantastic play at home should help this squad get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. Dwyane Wade and company will put up a fantastic effort, but I look for every home team to win in this series.
Prediction: Hawks in seven.
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - The Heat's lack of a true center should speak for a good series for Al Horford. Also, the Hawks are nearly unstoppable when Horford averages over 15 points a game. So his play is critical for the advancement of Atlanta.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley is entering the postseason on a tear, and if he can continue to be that consistent second option for Miami then the Heat have the chance to pull off the upset.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This is a matchup of slumping teams running head to head and will probably provide the least interesting of all of the playoff matchups in the NBA. The 76ers, even though they'll throw Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at him, really have no answer for Dwight Howard. Andre Iguodala will have to do it by himself and I don't believe he's the kind of player capable of doing that. Also, his dissapointing performance in last season's playoffs has to weigh on his mind. However, Hedo Turkoglu's injury is something to look for in Orlando.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Magic Player to Watch: Hedo Turkoglu - It will be intersting to see how he plays with this injured ankle. This team can really take off if he can somehow go back to the style of play and consistency he showed last season.
76ers Player to Watch: Samuel Dalembert - His defense on Dwight Howard will be critical for the 76ers chances to advance. However, he's had moments where he dissapears.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - Without Kevin Garnett, the Bulls lack of inside scoring can really be masked in this first round matchup. These two units play spectacular basketball at home and can really put points on the board. The key will be which team can make the defensive stops when it's necessary to get them. The defending champions, even without their defensive leader Garnett, have experience doing so and can really put the inexperienced Bulls on the ropes. I look for the Bulls to put up a great fight, and push the C's to seven but I look for the Celtics to somehow prevail.
Prediction: Celtics in seven.
Celtics Player to Watch: Rajon Rondo - Rondo's play in this series is going to be crucial for Boston. Without Garnett, the teams are very evenly matched and Rondo's defense on Derrick Rose will be key for the Celtics.
Bulls Player to Watch: Derrick Rose - The Rookie of the Year will have a lot of pressure playing point guard in his first postseason against the defending champions. He can really blow skeptics away or he can struggle against the insurmountable odds.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - The Lakers get the unfortunate task of facing the inconsistent Utah Jazz in the first round. The Lakers should be confident, seeing as how Utah simply cannot win on the road, but the Jazz always give the Lakers fits. Kobe Bryant and company, though, should replicate last season's conference semifinals and really look to push Utah to the limit. Nobody outside of Deron Williams is really playing consistently for Utah, and he simply cannot do it alone. The Jazz will put up a fight in every single game, but they don't have the weapons or the confidence to pull games out.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Lamar Odom - Odom always plays well against the Jazz, and coming off of the bench he can match up against Andrei Kirilenko and really take it to the Jazz. Without pressure Odom always seems to shine, and this is a perfect chance for the Lakers to develop a playoff rotation that includes Odom on the bench.
Jazz Player to Watch: Carlos Boozer - Boozer struggled mightily last season against the Lakers and without him scoring inside, the Jazz are simply a jump shooting team. That plays well into the Lakers' hands, so it's on Boozer to improve from last season's (and mainly this season's) performance.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were coming into the postseason on a huge positive note, but stumbling to the 5th seed and having to face Portland is not what the Dr. ordered for a team looking to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1998. It's all mental with the Rockets, and Yao Ming should really be a force, but Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are big enough to stay in front of Yao and really alter his shots. With that being negated, the Rockets must rely on Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer and none of the three shoot consistently enough to match the late game heroics of Brandon Roy.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in six.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Greg Oden - He's dissapointed all season long, but his defensive capabilities give the Blazers a lot of hope in their matchup with Yao Ming. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he can give the Blazers a good 20-25 minutes of solid defense on Yao and has the best size to matchup with the Rockets center.
Rockets Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry - Aaron Brooks is the better offensive player, but Lowry will most likely draw the assignment of guarding when he's in the game. His defense will be critical if he can slow down Roy for stretches and affect his confidence for the late game situations when Roy will be forced to take the shot for Portland.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - The Spurs pulled off an amazing run to win the Southwest Division, but if there's one team that always troubles the Spurs it's the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have peaked at the right time and are entirely capable of winning games in San Antonio. Tim Duncan always plays fantastic ball against Dallas, but the same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki matching up against San Antonio. The role players will be huge in this matchup, as will Tony Parker, but the Mavs role players (Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass) should give the Mavericks the edge they need to pull the upset.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Spurs Player to Watch: Roger Mason Jr. - With Manu Ginobili out, Mason's contributions will be critical. After an unbelievable first half to the season, he's been rather inconsistent as of late. If he can provide good minutes and consistently hit his jump shot, the Spurs will be in great shape.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Coming off of the bench, Barea has the speed to really give Tony Parker fits when the Mavs have the ball. If he can come in and play well alongside either Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, the Mavericks will really have a leg up in the matchup.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - This is a fantastic matchup here as the Hornets and Nuggets engage in a tightly contested head to head battle. Chris Paul may be too quick for Chauncey Billups to guard one on one, and if the Nuggets go to Anthony Carter that will give the Hornets the advantage defensively seeing as how Carter struggles with his shot. The Nuggets frontcourt could provide a lot of problems for the Hornets, especially Chris Andersen, who can really provide problems for Tyson Chandler and Sean Marks. When called upon, though, the acquisition of James Posey will pay off with his defense on Carmelo Anthony in this tough matchup.
Prediction: Hornets in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: J.R. Smith - Coming off of the bench, J.R. Smith gives the Nuggets a huge advantage with his ability to take games over with his shot making ability. However, he takes possesions off on defense and can also shoot the Nuggets out of games, so he has to one day his erratic play to be fully helpful to the Nuggets.
Hornets Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Coming off of an injury, Chandler should be monitored. If he doesn't play many minutes then that could prove to be a huge problem for the Hornets. However, the Hornets are infinitely better when Chandler plays and it will be crucial to see to it that he contributes as much as possible.
 


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks - The Cavaliers will still be riding that wave of emotion heading into the semifinals after their dispatching of the Pistons. However, they're going to run into a tough, battle tested Hawks squad that could steal a game in Cleveland. Joe Johnson and LeBron James give the fans quite the one on one matchup and fans will be tuned in to watch those two go at it. However, Cleveland's role players outshine Atlanta's in critical spots and the Cavs will escape in seven.
Prediction: Cavaliers in seven.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Zydrunas Ilgauskas - There's no reason anywhere near his height in Atlanta, and he can really pull defenders away from the basket with his jump shot. If he has a big series, the Cavaliers will undoubtedly advance.
Hawks Player to Watch: Ronald Murray - Murray is the best player on a shallow Atlanta bench, and he can really jumpstart Atlanta's role players and give the Hawks a ton of energy in spots where they least expect to receive it.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Orlando Magic - Without Garnett, Dwight Howard looks to dominate against Boston and may very well do so. These two squads meet head to head and give a fantastic first four games in this series and the series should head back to Boston tied at 2 apiece. However, the Celtics will miss Garnett as they look fatiqued from a tough series with the Bulls. That gives the Magic an opportunity to steal a game and close out the series in Orlando. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will really shine in this series, but Boston's lack of options will do them in.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Celtics Player to Watch: Glen Davis - Assuming he'll be playing the power forward position without Kevin Garnett in the lineup, he can really get his shot off against the smaller Magic. His ability to knock down the 15 footer could really help open the floor up for Boston.
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - With the Celtics throwing out a bigger, slower lineup Lewis can really put the Magic over the top. He'll create the fantastic offensive mismatch for Orlando if he remains aggressive and looks to take it to the basket more than settling for his jump shot. Furthermore, he's long and quick enough to guard Davis and Powe if he stays out of foul trouble.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Portland Trail Blazers - Coming off of facing the Jazz, the Lakers match up with another hated rival in Portland and have to be worried about this contest. The Lakers struggle against Portland, especially at Portland, and the Trail Blazers are one of the dangerous teams playing with no expectation to win. The Trail Blazers should give the Lakers lots of fits, but the Lakers have the best player on the court in Kobe Bryant, and have players outside of Kobe who can hit the big shot to win crucial games. The Blazers really will give the Lakers all they can handle and should take them to seven games.
Prediction: Lakers in seven.
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - Portland has very servicable big men, so Bynum's effort, play and intensity level should speak volumes on if the Lakers will advance or not. If he isn't as commanding as he can be, then the Lakers may have to go small with Odom and Gasol in the lineup instead.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge - Going up against Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, Aldridge is talented enough to get his points against either of those defenders. If he takes to the basket more often and stays aggressive, then the Lakers will be hard pressed to find options to stop him. However, he has a tendency to fall in love with the jump shot and that could hurt the Blazers more than help them.

(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In this matchup of underdogs to advance, the Hornets and Mavericks both should count their blessings to be so close to the conference finals. These two teams will meet up for the second straight postseason, providing a lot of intense moments of basketball. However, the Mavericks have always struggled with the combination of Chris Paul and David West. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass always give the Hornets trouble, but Nowitzki will be guarded closely by James Posey and the Hornets can allow Peja Stojakovic to run relatively free, giving the Hornets the series victory.
Prediction: Hornets in six.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Brandon Bass - Bass has always given the Hornets fits since signing as a free agent from New Orleans a few years ago. His strength, speed and ability to hit the mid range jump shot give the Hornets plenty of fits and he really can take over games if given significant minutes by Rick Carlisle.
Hornets Player to Watch: Peja Stojakovic - Peja's struggled mightily against more physical teams, but the Mavericks usually throw Josh Howard at Peja, and Peja generally gives the Mavericks problems. If he's able to run free and hit his jump shot, like he did last postseason, the Hornets will dispose of the Mavericks.


Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic - LeBron James should really dominate in this matchup, as the Magic simply have no answer for him. Courtney Lee will provide the best line of defense, but having to rely so many minutes to a rookie could hurt the Magic on the offensive side of the basketball. Dwight Howard may go off in this matchup as well, but his role players will be hard pressed to knock down the jump shot consistently against the fantastic defense of Cleveland's.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: LeBron James - When times get thick, your best player is the one that can carry you out of tough situations. The Cavaliers will all feed off of the play of their MVP and if he plays well, the team will play well.
Magic Player to Watch: Courtney Lee - His defense on LeBron will be crucial, and if he can stay in front of and attempt to contain LeBron then the Magic can allow Howard to really take adavantage of Cleveland's lack of strength inside.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - The Lakers, after two extremely draining matches will now be faced off with the postseason's cinderella team. However, the Hornets will be vexed from their two tough series as well, and their lack of size will finally come back to hurt them. Players like Odom and Bynum always perform well against the Hornets lack of height and the Lakers have more options to turn to than the Hornets do. They'll both be tired, but the Lakers have much more talent than New Orleans does and that will be enough for the Lakers to advance.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Pau Gasol - The Hornets have no option to defend Pau Gasol. He can basically get his shot off at will against David West or Tyson Chandler and can really take over the series and give the Lakers the easy victory.
Hornets Player to Watch: James Posey - Posey was brought to this team for critical spots like these, and he will be assigned the task of guarding Kobe Bryant. Posey will look to feed off of last season's finals to get into Kobe's head, and if he can stay in front of Kobe and keep him around a percentage near 40%, the Hornets will be in contention.


NBA Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers - And now for the matchup that the nation, David Stern and ESPN want and that haters across the world will despise. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will match up head to head in a battle between the two best teams in the NBA all season long. Coming into the finals, both teams will have been tested although the Lakers will have had the tougher time getting there. The Cavaliers can use Los Angels' fatique to their advantage for at least the first game of the series, but after a co uple days rest, the Lakers should shock Cleveland in game 2 on their home court. Once the series returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers should really use their size to their advantage and pound it into the paint against Cleveland's smaller lineup. LeBron's heroics will be tested against the defense of Trevor Ariza and the Lakers bench will do just enough to send the series back to Cleveland with the Lakers ahead 3-2. With a fantastic sixth game being held in Cleveland, the game of the year will come down to the wire but the Lakers prove to be too much for Cleveland and take the series.
Prediction: Lakers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Daniel Gibson - Gibson can be the true catalyst for a Cavaliers bench that is deep in body's but shallow in terms of point production. If he can come in and hit the three point shot consistently, that should bring more to the table nightly than anybody the Lakers can throw off of the bench. He also can spell either guard in critical moments and has hit big shots in the postseason before, and should be comfortable taking them when called upon.
Lakers Player to Watch: Trevor Ariza - His athleticism and defensive prowress will really come into play here against the Cavaliers. He's quite possibly the best option to defense LeBron as he is strong enough to where LeBron can't entirely muscle Ariza and Ariza's quick enough to stay in front of him as well. If he makes the open jump shot as well, that makes things all the better for the Lakers.

Posted on: April 9, 2009 10:55 am
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

New Orleans Hornets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14427724

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the last team to wrap up a playoff spot in the Western Conference: the Dallas Mavericks.

Strengths
The Mavericks can really play on offense.  Offensively, the team has a 7 footer who can score from anywhere on the court and who's capable of creating his own shot in Dirk Nowitzki.  They have one of the greatest facilitators in the game's history in Jason Kidd and players like Jason Terry and Jose Juan Barea make up an offense that can run and can really light it up on the scoreboard.  Coach Rick Carlisle, a coach historically known for his emphasis on defense, said in the preseason that the team would push the tempo with a full season with Kidd at the helm and he's followed through on that promise.  The team can just really score the basketball, and they're one of the better shooting teams in the league.  Nowitzki is one of the more unheralded players in the game, as he simply is unguardable when he's feeling it.  He can shoot the three, finally added a little bit of a post game and he's the main catalyst for this squad in crucial situations.  Also, if necessary, Nowitzki almost always makes the right pass in tight situations, and he's a huge asset for this Mavericks team to have.  Josh Howard has also elevated his game this year as a scorer, even though he's fought injuries to play this season.  He's really improved his three point shot and is more of a scorer than at any point in his career.

The Mavs also bring a very solid bench with them to the postseason.  Even though Jason Terry is the third best player on the team the Mavericks bring him off of the bench in a strategic move and it fits his role best, because all Terry has been in his career is a shooter anyways.  In this role, he can step into either guard position and simply light it up from all areas on the floor.  Also, the team brings the aforementioned J.J. Barea and also brings a great big man off of the bench in Brandon Bass.  Because of this, the Mavericks are deeper than most teams that play the full court style and they don't necessarily tire at the end of games. 

Weaknesses
Everything with the Mavericks is psychological.  So many years, the Mavs have had one of the better teams in the league and talent has never been an issue, but they've never recovered from that collapse in the 2006 finals, and to be honest with you they've been making the playoffs consistently since the year 2000 and that 2006 Western Conference championship is the only achievement they really have to show for it.  And that's through different regimes, different coaches, different styles of play, the Mavericks just never seemed to find out how to win.  Nowitzki's numbers have historically gone up in the postseason and he plays very well in the playoffs, but he's not commanding enough or, possibly, confident enough to demand the ball in tough situations in the playoffs, and when he does nobody has faith that he's going to come through and help the Mavericks win.  In tough situations, the Mavericks will look to Jason Terry to close games out.  Terry's not half the shooter that Nowitzki is (Terry is more of a scorer than a shooter) but never has any lack of confidence.  But because of Terry's small stature, bigger defenders can give him problems in postseason matchups.

Speaking of Terry, how awful is this team's lack of a shooting guard or center?  The reason they run as often as they do is because it allows them to mask that the team doesn't have a true wingman or a true center.  Erick Dampier has been a horrible signing through and through and he doesn't have the presence, nor the minutes, to really make a difference out there.  He shows up in stretches, but for the most part the Mavericks only play him around 15-20 minutes and then play either Nowitzki, Bass, or Ryan Hollins at center, and none of those players are effective at the center position.  Those matchups can work well on offense, but they're going to hurt you on defense.  Also, because the team brings Terry off the bench, they start Antoine Wright.  Wright usually draws the task of defending the other team's best wing man, and he's adequate in that role but because the team has to play Terry off of the bench they give up a lot on the defensive end.  Also, Wright's not effecient enough offensively to really rack up big minutes because the Mavericks need everyone to be involved.  Aside from Terry, the Mavericks lack of depth is shown in their wingman and center spots, where players like Hollins, Gerald Green and Devean George are listed on the bench. 

Why They Will Win It
The Mavericks have two fantastic scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, an amazing offensive threat in Josh Howard, and a true point guard in Jason Kidd who usually makes the right play at the right time.  Because of this, they have a fluent offense that really can have other squads on their heels.  The Mavericks, when they're on, can get other teams caught up in their game trying to match the lineups that they bring on the court, and if a team tries to match the Mavericks, the Mavericks will win.  Nobody plays their game better than they do, and if you go small the Mavericks are more than capable of defeating you.

Why They Won't Win It
The Mavericks, for all of the offensive mismatches they can create, still lack the defensive prowress that allows you to take the legitimately as championship contenders.  Even coaches like Carlisle and Avery Johnson, defensive minded coaches, couldn't preach that side of the ball to the team and unfortunately they still suffer on that side.  Also, because the only 7 footer on the team, aside from Ryan Hollins, prefers to shoot on the perimeter than play in the paint, the Mavericks are mainly a jump shooting team.  Regardless of how hot you are shooting the basketball, games will slow down and you have to find a way to score around the basket if you're to be taken seriously.

Conclusion
The Mavericks did a great job this season making the postseason without a true shooting guard or center.  Dirk, Terry and Kidd have carried the team this season and they've really peaked as of late.  They can score and there's no doubt about that, but for some reason the Mavericks never have succeeded in the postseason.  There has to be something psychologically wrong in Dallas, and it won't be fixed this season as well.  With a likely matchup with the Lakers in the first round, the Mavericks would get dispatched rather quickly.  There is a chance, if they draw Denver or San Antonio, that Dallas could sneak in a first round playoff victory, but you can't avoid big, physical teams throughout the entire postseason and eventually you have to lace them up and play a physical style of ball, and the Mavericks, simply put, are incapable of doing that.  So it looks like another playoff dissapointment is in the cards for Dallas fans.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com