Wednesday, October 31, 2012

LeBron James Has His Ring, But The Pressure On Him Is Alive and Well

LeBron James now has an NBA Championship, but he still has more pressure on him than any other player. (totalprosports.com)

LeBron James has his ring.

To some, watching LeBron win a title was worse than if someone had hit them with their car. To others, the best player in the game finally got the ultimate success he deserved. Either way, the biggest question in the NBA got its answer in June.

The talk during the off season and coming into the opener was that the pressure was off LeBron. His teammate Dwyane Wade even said so. LeBron proved he could win a ring, and now he can calmly win more.

The sentiment is nice, but also ignorant.

LeBron is the most polarizing player in the game (thank you Dwight Howard for closing the gap for second place and giving LeBron some company) and will be criticized for everything he does. "What? LeBron had red meat as his pre-game meal? This is why everyone hates him." LeBron could score 50 points in a game, but if he passes on or missed a late shot, then he chokes and it's another excuse to hate him.

Because of this - as well as the constant comparisons to MJ, and LeBron's now infamous introductory prediction at Miami - LeBron will always have pressure on him.

If the Heat don't repeat, then last year was a fluke, or LeBron is slipping. Maybe they do win again, but LeBron struggles. Then Wade or Chris Bosh carried him and he didn't earn it. Michael Jordan has six rings, and until James reaches that point, the voice of the critics will be loud. He was dubbed a superstar before stepping on an NBA court. Is there not pressure there?

LeBron has to be perfect to silence the critics, and even then it's not enough. Sure, the first title is the most difficult to get, so LeBron has passed the toughest hurdle. But what, now that he has one, fans and analysts will be indifferent to what James and the Heat do this year or how well he plays?

Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony have never won a championship, but they still don't have as much pressure on them as LeBron. People will be more surprised if James doesn't win a second ring than if any of those (excluding maybe Durant due to his talent and age) win one at all.

James has begun silencing his critics, with a second ring being the next step, but he won't be able to play without pressure any time soon.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ACC Preview: NC State Breaks Out From UNC/Duke Shadow


The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

C.J. Leslie and the Wolfpack are the favorites to take down Duke and UNC for the ACC crown. (heraldsun.com)

Favorite: NC State
It's hard to imagine an ACC preview without Duke or UNC as the favorite. Don't stress, tobacco road fans, Duke and UNC will be squarely in the hunt for the title, but it would be ignorant to overlook what NC State is entering the season with. The Wolfpack gained a lot of attention last year during their run to the Sweet 16, when it took the national runner-up Kansas to end NC State's season. NC State has long been in the shadows of its in-state foes UNC and Duke, but now has the talent and depth to make a run at the ACC crown. The Wolfpack are long and quick and led by juniors C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown and senior Richard Howell. Add freshman Rodney Purvis, who is expected to make an impact early, and NC State has a good chance to own the state of North Carolina and the ACC in 2012-13.

Dark Horse Team to Watch: Florida State
Florida State had been known for playing spoiler and getting a signature conference win as it tried to move up into the top half of the ACC. Last year, FSU showed it was ready to compete with the big boys, knocking off Duke in Cameron - one of the most hostile home environments in the country - and obliterating UNC at home 90-57 on its way to a 12-4 conference record (and winning the ACC Tournament over UNC) and going 25-10 overall last season. Senior Michael Snaer is the superstar of this team, but having guard and second leading scorer Ian Miller back should take some of the scoring pressure of him. FSU has a pretty light non-conference schedule to find its style and chemistry before the gauntlet of ACC play begins.

Player of the Year: Michael Snaer (Florida State)
Many are handing this award to C.J. Leslie, and that is a hard pick to argue. However, NC State has several talented scorers who will be battling each other for shots, whereas Michael Snaer is FSU's No. 1 and go-to scorer. Snaer didn't drop huge, 30-point games on opponents last year, but he was consistent and effective, especially against the best competition. Snaer had seven 20-point games last season, including a season-high 23 against Clemson. Against the ACC powers (Duke and UNC) Snaer scored 17 points (along with five rebounds and three assists) in the UNC blowout and 18 points in the ACC Championship game against UNC. He also scored 48 points in three games against Duke. At 6-foot-5, Snaer is also an excellent rebounder for a guard (averaging nearly four per game). Expect him to find larger scoring totals this year, while also continuing his consistency.

Coach of the Year: Roy Williams (UNC)
The saying at UNC - along with other powerhouse programs who contend for titles every year - is that they don't rebuild, they reload. Roy Williams will put this saying to the test, and if he succeeds, it will be one of the best coaching jobs in the country. UNC didn't just lose a NBA-lottery-pick talent; it lost four. How do you respond by losing Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall? You do it by trusting the guys who have experience as role players and had to practice against them every day last year will now be ready to take on the load. That means sophomores James Michael McAdoo - who some are saying will be the ACC Player of the Year - and P.J. Hairston, junior Reggie Bullock and senior Dexter Strickland will be asked to step up, which they should do well. Roy has done this before and will make sure his team remains in contention for a conference title.

Newcomer of the Year: Rodney Purvis (NC State) 
UCONN, Ohio State and Missouri couldn't pull the Raleigh, NC, native and No. 20 recruit on the ESPN 100 away from his hometown team, which is a testament to the product building at NC State. Purvis' body and style - quick and tall - fits in well with the Wolfpack's game plan. The scouting report on ESPN says Purvis is a true wing scorer who has no trouble getting to the basket, although he still needs to improve his jump shot. This looks like a match made in heaven for NC State, which could lead to Purvis having a breakout year as a freshman.


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Monday, October 29, 2012

Thunder Trade James Harden to the Rockets Three Days Before NBA Season Starts



Oklahoma City won't have this beard to trim around any more. (EdmontonJournal.com)

On Saturday evening, James Harden's trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets shocked even Kevin Durant, one of Harden's teammates in OKC and in London with this summer's Olympic gold-medal winning incarnation of Team USA.

Let's set things straight, though:  Harden's was not entirely a surprise. The timing — three days before the start of the NBA's regular season was unexpected, certainly, but Thunder GM Sam Presti's dream of building a championship team entirely through the draft was inherently flawed.

If the point of participating in the draft (rather than trading away picks for used assets) is to get young players that fit or can be molded to fit into a preset system and thrive in their surroundings — which, by the way, is the point — then the OKC front office did exceedingly well. In all probability, they defied the odds by drafting talents like Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden in consecutive years (2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively).

Finding athletes that complement each other in such a way that, after playing together for a relatively short amount of time, they are contending for titles is not easy business, so kudos to Presti and his team for doing just that. But the problem arises when this kind of farm system works too well and too many individuals are expecting to be paid like superstars, no matter their actual status.

That's exactly what happened with the Thunder. Too many cooks in the kitchen or what have you. Extending Durant was a must. He's a three-time All-Star, a scoring champion three times over and he competes for the MVP award year in and year out. Westbrook's extension makes sense, too, given his scoring acumen and ability to incorporate others into OKC's game plan, although some critics are quick to decry giving a maximum contract to a sometimes streaky (read: moody) point guard with a ceiling that may be out of reach. Even Serge Ibaka's extension was a no-brainer — he's the sturdiest stanchion in the defense, plus he's young and still very coachable, having only been playing competitive basketball since 2007.

Consider what other contracts the Thunder already had on the books past 2012-13 and Harden's impending unrestricted free agent status next summer, and the Bearded One was left as the odd man out — a position the Rockets became accustomed to after purging the best-known names from their roster to make room for a legitimate superstar, only to be shrugged off by the best of this summer's free agency class, namely Dwight Howard.

Whether or not Houston now has that kind of centerpiece is debatable. Harden won the Sixth Man of the Year award for 2011-12, but has only started seven games during his three years in the NBA. In those games, the Thunder have gone 4-3, counting losses to Miami's newly formed Big Three in '11-'12 and the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin-propelled Los Angeles Clippers last season.

That record does not accurately reflect Harden's overall sterling body of work. In each of his three campaigns, Harden has played increased minutes in successive seasons and produced a better field goal percentage and defensive rebounding numbers each go round. Likewise, the stats in his assists column has improved year-to-year, spiking last year at 3.7 apg — up 1.6 assists from the season prior.

Harden's advanced stats also reveal the damage Harden does to competitors. His win shares per 48 minutes played showed up at .230 last season. To put that into perspective, it more than doubles the league average of .100, eclipses Westbrook's .163 and equals Durant's .230 WS/48. Other than his lanky teammate, only LeBron James and Paul recorded better numbers.

WS/48 encompasses a player's contributions over an entire game, but against Basketball-Reference.com's league-standardized per-minute production of 15, Harden shines again with a 21.1 regular season PER.

Harden's ratings in the majority of these and other notable categories dip slightly during the playoffs, with his WS/48 dipping significantly to .184 last season and .188 for his career during postseason play.

Still, that's more than what the Rockets had in the stable after jettisoning premier forward Luis Scola and point guards Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Their offseason addition of former New York Knicks pointman Jeremy Lin comes complete with its own questions, but Lin is also capable of putting up almost-All-Star numbers while incorporating his teammates. While that will behoove Harden, the Thunder transfer is also capable of creating his own shot, having made 309 baskets throughout all of last season and only being assisted on approximately 50 percent of them.

Harden's going to get his baskets regardless. Given his scoring prowess, there is even a chance that he rivals Durant for a scoring title. The Rockets are young — the franchise's oldest player is 30, and no one else is over 27 —and there are other players who can score, but they don't even approach Harden's ability to fill the bucket.


Harden, creating. (NBA.com)
A starter's role is different than a sixth man's, and being cast as a leader is another beast entirely. The bench squad in OKC accepted Harden as the go-to guy and perusing Houston's roster, there is no reason to believe any Rocket will question His Beardness.

Point blank: the Rockets had to make a move like this. Lin is a good, potentially great pick-up, but Harden is a proven talent that was ready to ascend from a reserve to be one of the first players on the floor every night. 

There are few players worthy of the maximum contract Houston has promised to deliver Harden. That gesture alone speaks volumes, however, and if Harden delivers he could stand as bait to draw other notable free agents to the Texas town that is now his home base.

That likely hinges on several seasons, but the early months of 2012-13 will assuredly be a test for the Rockets. Lin is coming off knee surgery and Harden has less than half a week to become acclimated with his teammates, coaches, playbook and surroundings. It takes time to develop the chemistry that worked so well for Harden and his Thunder cohorts.

In fact, the team Harden leaves behind is expected to take the brunt of the force from this seemingly instantaneous trade. According to NBA.com writer John Schuhmann, OKC head coach Scott Brooks entrusted Harden to lead the charge without Durant or Westbrook for 7.5 minutes per game last season. That is a big chunk of time — undoubtedly enough to affect the outcome of a contest. Whether or not Brooks can find anyone on the bench to command that kind of time as the on-court focal point is a question. 

Veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin, obtained from Houston in Saturday's deal, is a logical option but he is not nearly as efficient as Harden. Fellow trade acquirement Jeremy Lamb has upside as a two-guard, but is just entering his rookie season, as is OKC-drafted small forward Perry Jones III, who recently starred at Baylor. Backup point guard Eric Maynor has been good in the preseason, although the fact remains that he had knee surgery in January, although he knows the system and was a reliable chemistry guy before the injury.

There's that word again. Chemistry.

The combined impact of Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward heading to Houston cannot match the fact that the Thunder traded away their third — second, some would argue — best player, an offensive firecracker that will see more touches this year, as scary as that may be for opponents. They could have held onto him longer, until the trade deadline or next summer, when another franchise would have almost certainly offered him a maximum contract if he avoided in bumps in the road as he rode out '12-'13 with OKC.

But the front office sold high, before the season even started, getting two players, two first-round drafts picks and a future second-rounder for someone touted as one of the league's best shooting guards.

It's a mastermind move, really, the more I think of it. The Thunder will grab a high seed in the Western Conference playoffs on the strength of Durant and Westbrook, even if it falls outside of the top two, in which they were projected to land. The trade leaves Houston satisfied, but scrambling, dropping games early because of a new addition that happens to be a major cog in the Rockets' machine still getting used to his environment. That will not last forever, and the Rockets should win some games coupling Harden's offense with head coach Kevin McHale's sermons of defense.

At best, the Rockets grab a mid-seed in the playoffs — a seed the Thunder more than likely can avoid by landing higher in the bracket. That sounds preferable to racking up regular season wins, swinging the same deal just before the trade deadline and letting Houston sneak into the postseason with a 7- or 8-seed, set to face a Thunder team that Harden knows front and back. And, who knows? Maybe Harden's a little disgruntled and comes into the contest firing at free rein. It has the makings of an upset scenario.

Of course, those last two paragraphs are merely machinations from my mind. Those ideas? All hypothetical. But it is certain that after striking out more than once, Rockets GM Daryl Morey is happy to have a young scorer to build around and that Presti is having machinations of his own about how to cultivate those draft picks into proper pieces to surround Durant and Westbrook once they reach their respective primes.


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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Three Days, People...



The BDD crew (and Rodrigue Beaubois) wanted to remind you that the NBA season starts on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Get excited.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

No Dap for David


Cut it out, LeBron. (cbssports.com)

Gosh damnit, David Stern. Lockouts, blocked trades, the “respect for the game” rule – and now this? The NBA announced last week it’s implementing a 90-second clock for pregame rituals. After player introductions, teams will have just a minute and a half to perform rim pull-ups, chalk tosses and shorty solicitations. Less clowning and quicker tip times, the NBA says. Tell me, David, do you lease your fun-sucker or did it come with an option to buy? 

The NBA pregame dap exchange is more important than the third quarter! It’s DVR-worthy. True story: I once rewound a Toronto Raptors game just to see how awkward it was to see Linas Kleiza and DeMar DeRozan bump torsos. That has to be the first time “rewound a Toronto Raptors game” has ever appeared in the written word. These are the greatest athletes on the planet. The handshakes, the theatrics, the egos – that’s what makes your league go, Mr. Commissioner. Why would you take that awa-ohmyGod you’re retiring.

As I’m writing this post – my first for Beats, Dimes & Drives – ESPN is reporting that Stern, 70, will retire Feb. 1, 2014. On that date, he will celebrate his 30th year as commissioner of the Association. Wow, I don’t know what to say, really. This was a curveball. I was kind of hoping to crank out another 500 words on how the big, bad man took my John Wall Dougie away. Now I just, I don’t know.

Joe Posnanski, I feel your pain, dog.

Thinking…

Congratulations, Mr. Stern. I just put two envelopes in a tumbler. One said to FINISH YOU Mortal Kombat-style and turn this into a litany of your wrongdoings as Big Boss (the ’85 lottery, urinating on the already rainy Seattle, the “buried bodies,” CP3 to the Lakers); the other said to let you off blast and offer five ways to speed up NBA games without murdering The Dapshow. I pulled the latter. I know, should have bent the envelope.
1. The five-minute jump: If a team, up 15 points, hits four three-pointers in a row, the game clock skips forward five minutes. Think of it like jumping off Rainbow Road on Mario Kart and landing halfway through the next lap. Obviously, this rule has its limitations. You can’t use the shortcut with under five minutes remaining, effectively ending the game. But if the Bobcats are down 23 with 6:51 in the 4th quarter… c’mon, that game needs to get off my TV.

2. Picture-in-Picture the second half of all TV timeouts. Mute the broadcasters so the advertisers don’t get pissed, but throw the ball back in before Kobe’s done ladling soup for the NBA Cares campaign.

3. And1s in quarters 1-3 are automatic points. This will result in fewer trips to the free throw line and more hard fouls. If you get hacked on a made bucket in the fourth quarter, you still have to shoot the free throw. The pressure remains when the game is on the line. Put on your stars and stripes bandana – that rule is ’Merican right there.
How will this man's introduction be entertaining? (canishoopus.com)

4. Coaches no longer get introduced during pregame. Sure, I’m just shaving seconds at this point, but LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, THE HEAD COACH OF YOUR MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES…RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKK ADDDDEEEELLMANNNNNNNN!!!
Stop it.

And finally, any on-court beef between league-minimum players takes two minutes off the game clock. This happens all too frequently in the NBA. Hey, guy-who-rides-pine, sit down. It’s garbage time. We didn’t care about you when you were an athletic, high ceiling, 8.3 ppg-dude in the Big Sky. We certainly don’t now that you’re in the league. Get out of Mo Harkless’ face.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Houston's Jeremy Lin Quandary

Would it be a surprise if Jeremy Lin's production fell in Houston? (Eric Kayne/AP)

Jeremy Lin.

That's all that needed to be said in February to start a borderline frenzy, or in April after his success as a starter produced borderline all-star statistics.

As it is with most cultural trends in America, New York was the epicenter of Linsan... Lin's whirlwind performances. Unlike the reputation of a big city, Lin offered understated humility, a squeaky clean past rife with religious affiliation, and a degree from an Ivy League institution characteristics atypical of most professional athletes, as well.

It endeared him to the public, the city, and drew ire from sects of fans who appreciate good basketball regardless of a player's race.

Then the New York Knicks changed things up, letting the Houston Rockets turn a signed offer sheet into a full-blown contract after the Big Apple club reneged on repeated statements that it intended to keep Lin in blue and orange.

Knicks GM Glen Grunwald confirmed on the Monday that skittish feelings emerged when the Rockets' backloaded their offer to Lin, which gives the guard a $14.8 million paycheck in the final season of a 3-year contract worth a total of $25.1 million. Initial reports pegged Houston making a pitch that, presumably, was more reasonable to front office personnel in New York — a hypothetical contract that dealt out $28.8 million over four years.

Lin's mere presence will be a financial boon for the Rockets. After all, Lin is one of few Asian-Americans to ever play in the NBA and the only one to have ever started a game in the Association. As little as it has to do with the actual game, that fact that his race gives Lin a major global appeal cannot be denied. His playing for the same franchise as Yao Ming and a potentially Tim Tebow-esque following of diligent Christians add extra dimensions to the fanbase inherent in bringing Lin to the Lone Star state.

Even the traditionally German car company Volvo is cashing in on his star, releasing a commercial featuring Lin driving a Rockets-red SUV earlier this month. The vehicle's plates show it being registered in California thus capitalizing on Lin's Palo Alto roots and the state's large Asian-American population even though Lin played only sparingly during his 29-game run with the Golden State Warriors and otherwise has never suited up for a home team in his native state.

For marketing purposes, Lin is one of the most valuable assets in professional sports. The ruling on his worth as to a basketball team is still out, however.

After being booted by both the Warriors and Rockets, Lin found himself on the Knicks bench at the beginning of 2011-12, posting inconsistent numbers through nine games before logging 25 points and seven assists against the lowly New Jersey Nets, who finished 28th out of the NBA's 30 teams in defensive rating last season.

That being said, Lin became a starter after that performance and, afterward, produced a high level more often than not. He assisted on 41 percent of his teammates' baskets while on the court, leading to an average of 8.3 dimes per game. Along with his 19.3 points per contest, Lin's numbers warranted .140 win shares per 48 minutes, a mark well above the league watermark of .100.

Things aren't looking as hot this preseason, though. Exhibition numbers are rarely indicative of what is to come during the regular season, but Lin is shooting just 25 percent from the field through four games. That's actually an improvement from the 21 percent, 4-for-19 lines that he accumulated over three games.

If this is indicative of what Lin will do in a Rockets uniform, the Houston brass sorely overpaid. Lin could prove it all to be preseason fodder, too, by returning to form or even putting up better numbers than he did in his 25 starts for the Knicks.

So goes the story of investing in small sample size.

Lin is now expected to be the focal point of a young Rockets team whose talent is less than that of what inhabited Madison Square Garden in last year's march to the playoffs. The 2011-12 incarnation of the Knicks finished with two more wins than Houston. What chance do the Rockets have now that Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic who all played pivotal roles as the team fell just short of the Western Conference playoffs — are gone?

If nothing else, Lin's stay in Texas could be an interesting study in the importance of a newly minted star's personal marketability and individual performance on what may be a subpar team.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Big East Preview: Syracuse And Notre Dame Will Challenge Louisville For The Big East Thrown


The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Peyton Siva and Louisville have their eye on the Big East Title. (thesportsbank.net)

Favorite: Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals made it to the Final Four last year, and many are starting them out as the No. 2 team in the country in preseason polls. The main reason for this besides seeing the coaching job Rick Pitino did last year is senior point guard Peyton Siva. He only averaged 9.1 ppg and 5.6 assists, but Siva is the leader of this team and when he plays well, the Cardinals usually win. Louisville is having to replace last year's leading scorer Kyle Kuric and guard Chris Smith, but this is a balanced-scoring team who has a fairly easy schedule except for traveling to Memphis and the rivalry game against Kentucky heading into Big East play.

Dark Horse: Notre Dame

Notre Dame is returning all five starters from a team that went 22-12 last season. The Fighting Irish struggled at times a season ago, losing games they shouldn't have to Georgia and Rutgers, but Notre Dame also knew how to string big wins together. During a stretch in 2011-12, the Irish knocked off No. 1 Syracuse, No. 19 UCONN and No. 15 Marquette in a span of four games. Mike Brey's squad doesn't have nearly as challenging of a non-conference schedule this year, and should compete with Louisville and Syracuse for the top of the Big East.

Player of the Year: Peyton Siva, Louisville

Siva epitomizes the term "Most Valuable Player." He probably won't score the most points in the conference and have the best numbers, but Louisville is a much better team when he is on his game compared to when he struggles. Siva was selected as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, so he clearly has the conference and the nation's attention. If Siva can cut back on the turnovers this year (he averaged more than three per game last season) and continue to be a scoring threat, the award is his to lose.

Newcomer of the Year: Steven Adams, Pitt

Last year was a season to forget for the Pitt Panthers, and Steven Adams is a freshman that can help fade the memories of the 22-17 overall and 5-13 conference records in 2011-12. The 7-foot center from New Zealand was the No. 6-ranked player on the ESPN 100, and has been praised for his athletic ability. Adams has the build and athleticism to be a force in the paint from the first game he plays and that presence in the low post could be what Pitt needs to return to their successful ways in the Big East.

Coach of the Year: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Louisville is the clear favorite to win the conference, but they will have to take down the defending Big East champions in Syracuse, who went 17-1 in conference play last season under Boeheim. The Orange lost a talented group in Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, but now it is Brandon Triche and Rakeem Christmas' turn to run the show and a preseason ranking of No. 9 in the country shows this team not expected to falter. With the loss in talent from a year ago, if Boeheim's team can breeze through a semi-challenging non-conference schedule and lead this team to a conference championship or within a game or two of that mark, he will have a strong case for the award. This could be the last chance Boeheim has to win the award before Syracuse and Pitt move to the ACC.


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Friday, October 19, 2012

Busy Offseason for Point Guards Shows NBA Trend



Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo all helped lead their teams in last season's playoffs. (sixthandgreen.com)

Now more then ever, there is a need for teams to have a dominate point guard. Three of the final four teams in the playoffs Oklahoma City, Boston and San Antonio had an all-star point guard
(Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker). The Miami Heat don’t have a dominant point guard but they do have LeBron James who is as quick as most point guards and just as good of a ball handler.

The Bulls tied for the best record in the regular season with a lot of help from Derrick Rose. Chris Paul helped the Clippers to their best season ever. The only all-star point guards to not make the playoffs were Deron Williams and Steve Nash who were carrying their respective teams on their shoulders.

This is all indicative of the new style the NBA is moving toward. Teams aren’t walking the ball up the hardwood and playing half court sets anymore. There are very few true centers that can score in the post. Now, the game is all about moving fast and a team can’t do that without a quick, dominant ballhandler. This new style has led to big payoffs for point guards.

Williams was the biggest free agent this year, and he was awarded with a max contract for choosing to hop the Hudson River with the Brooklyn Nets. Jeremy Lin also got a huge payday after meandering through multiple franchises and finally getting significant playing time with the New York Knicks. Despite starting only 25 games and having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in April, the Houston Rockets gave Lin a three-year, $25 million contract that is structured in a way to give him $15 million in the last year. The terms of that final season gave the Knicks enough pause to not match the offer sheet Lin signed (though the other salaries on the NYK books for 2014-15 did not realistically allow such a move). Eventually, the Knicks replaced him with veteran Jason Kidd and their former showrunner, Raymond Felton. 

Nash, too, received a three-year contract worth $27 million in a deal that sent him from the Phoenix Suns to their division rival Los Angeles Lakers, but he could have gotten a better deal from Toronto. Instead, the Raptors find themselves with John Lucas III — a former Bull and Landry Fields, acquired from the Knicks in an attempt to make a feasible offer to draw Nash to Madison Square Garden. With the departure of one of the greatest guard in NBA history, the Suns replaced him with Goran Dragic, who returned to his first franchise and lightened the Rockets' ledger enough for them to win the Lin sweepstakes and even give a three-year deal to undrafted rookie Scott Machado, who led the NCAA in assists last season by racking up 9.9 per game as a senior at Iona. 

Coupled with the fact that three of the last five No. 1 draft picks Rose, the Washington Wizards' John Wall, and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers were point guards, this offseason's rash of point guard transactions shows that GM’s are moving toward a faster paced game.

Alex Skov contributed to this article
  

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Big Ten Preview: Can Cody Zeller Lead Indiana To A Big Ten Championship?

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Jared Sullinger isn't around to guard Indiana's Cody Zeller any more. (USA Today)

Conference Champion: Indiana Hoosiers

Last season, Indiana earned the designation of being the only team to beat eventual NCAA champion Kentucky. The regular season victory was a precursor to the Hoosiers' Sweet 16 run, both of which could serve as standards for the team this season.

Tom Crean's group of veterans is comprised of eight returning players, including all five starters. The No. 5 recruiting class won't hurt things either, with five-star point guard Kevin Ferrell and four-star small forward Jeremy Hollowell setting the Hoosiers up for success in the foreseeable future.

Stocked with talent, they should breeze through the non-conference schedule with the only potential exceptions coming on team buses with North Carolina and Butler — before setting themselves up for official re-anointment as the class of the Big Ten.

Indiana needs to shore up their collective defensive inabilities, and dropping games to Michigan State and a resurgent Michigan Wolverines squad is not out of the question, but the Hoosiers will take advantage of the rest of the conference during a season in which teams 4-12 could end up almost anywhere in the Big Ten rankings come the end of regular season play.

Dark Horse Team to Watch: Ohio State Buckeyes

Outside of the conference's clear-cut top three teams, the Big Ten is a bit anomalous, but not so much so that Ohio State reigning over its peers is out of the question. Jared Sullinger is no longer around to be an All-American security blanket in the paint, and this will be the first season in four years that the Buckeyes play a game without newly-graduated shooting guard William Buford, but Aaron Craft is one of college basketball's most reliable point guards. He'll have to provide the bulk of leadership in his junior year and Craft's commitment to defense should inspire younger teammates.

Ohio State's default on-court second-in-command is forward Deshaun Thomas who averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. Expect Thomas to up the stat line as some of the touches that formerly belonged to Sullinger come his way.

Seven other players from last season's Final Four team return, but if the Buckeyes are to truly contend, Thomas will have to simultaneously ascend to clutch performer status and be more willing to spread the ball around instead of trying to shoulder the scoring load. In turn, the Buckeyes' role players must elevate their respective games.

It sounds like a hypothetical title run depends on many changes, and it would if Ohio State is to get the best of the Hoosiers, Spartans and Wolverines. If Thad Matta is the coach and recruiter he is believed to be, though, a Big Ten championship is not out of the question just yet. 

Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana 

True seven-footers are rare. That alone tells you that Zeller is something special, but his dedication to working out and adding muscle over the summer is indicative of a motivation that goes beyond brawn.

Crean’s plan to mix in more pick-and-roll plays bodes well for Zeller, who could demolish his freshmen year watermark of 15.6 points per game if the coaching reins are loosened. The same goes for the 6.6 rebounds per game he established last season if he really has added proper bulk.

Zeller’s already a National Player of the Year candidate based on his performance over 33 games on the collegiate level, so there’s no way a conference POY award is a hard sell.

Newcomer of the Year: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

Any Big Ten team that brings in noteworthy recruits already seems to have an established hierarchy amongst players, but Badgers head coach Bo Ryan works magic with small forwards and while Wisconsin is returning most of the key parts from a Sweet 16 team, Dekker will instantly add a new layer to the dynamics.

He’ll play big minutes as a freshman and be expected to bear the scoring load on occasion. After all, his offensive prowess is what earned the in-state recruit a Mr. Basketball title and a No. 17-overall ranking in the ESPNU 100. Add the trademark defensive-mindedness that Ryan requires of his players and Dekker could be the Big Ten’s best all-around freshman.

Coach of the Year: Tom Crean, Indiana

If Indiana lives up to expectations – and given the nature of college basketball, let alone the Big Ten, that could be a big if – they could have a conference championship and a national title to tout when the 2012-13 season is done.

A potent offense. Team chemistry that allows players to excel more as a collective than as individuals. These are characteristics the Hoosiers will possess. They do not have to play blustering defense, but if the team makes even mild improvements on that end of game, they will be applauded.

If Crean is to win this accolade, it will be for his work over multiple years of recruiting and bringing a program with storied history back to the forefront of college basketball. The Hoosiers could achieve only 75 percent of what pundits are predicting and that would still be enough to bring Crean COY recognition.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kevin Love's Broken Hand Could Break Hearts

Kevin Love's injury leaves the Timberwolves in need of production. (Getty Images)

This was supposed to be the season "it" finally happened for the Minnesota Timberwolves. After 16 seasons, the team was projected to reach the playoffs again and, depending on seeding, maybe even play in multiple rounds.

That scenario — although not ruled out completely — is now in jeopardy with the news that All-Star forward and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Love is expected to miss 6-8 weeks after breaking two bones in his right hand during a pre-practice workout at his condo Wednesday morning.

There is a lot of work to reconcile the absence of one player. Love is top-five in the NBA in scoring; free throws attempted and made; every rebounding category; and player efficiency rating. He's also fourth in win shares, just behind the likes of Finals duelers LeBron James and Kevin Durant. CBSSports.com's Royce Young further notes how integral Love is to all aspects of T-Wolves basketball:
"Love has emerged as a premier player, averaging 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game last season. He's expanded his game to become a deadly 3-point shooter while maintaining his impressive work on the glass. The Wolves are essentially losing 26.5 percent of the points per game and more than 30 percent of their rebounding production."
Essentially, Love is a really good basketball player. The injury to his shooting hand comes at an unfortunate time for the T-Wolves not only because there is never a good instance for a small market team's undisputed superstar to miss games, but because there is no definite timetable for Ricky Rubio's return after tearing the ACL in his left knee during a game in March.

Technically, last season was supposed to be the Timberwolves' first chance to break back into the postseason, and that very realistic possibility was sliced apart along with Rubio's crucial joint. This year, the healthy remainders of the team will have to open the season and compete for one or two months before either player rejoins them on the court.

The long side of 6-8 weeks is nearly 20 games, and as Young points out, is nearly 25 percent of the NBA season. Before Love can conceivably come back, the T-Wolves play away games against the Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks during a four-game road trip.

If the two bones — those in his hand below the middle and ring fingers, or third and fourth metacarpals, to be exact — take a full eight weeks to heal, Love could also miss road dates against the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and the retooled New Orleans Hornets, plus two contests against the always-improving Denver Nuggets, and the playoff-hopeful Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.

What good news is to be had resides in Minnesota's new-look roster, a rebuild that Love's offseason criticism surely helped along. Former All-Star Brandon Roy and experienced Russian combo guard Alexey Shved, in his first NBA season, add backcourt depth. Andrei Kirilenko, a teammate of Shved's on the bronze-winning Russian national squad, can add firepower and strong defense at the wing. Greg Steimsma and all-around hard worker Lou Amundson are new additions to a frontcourt that already includes second-year pro Derrick Williams, who has the opportunity to grow his game and become a high caliber player as Love sits in street clothes.

Whether or not these guys plus the incumbent players and minus Michael Beasley using over one-quarter of all possessions during his playing time — can collectively make up for Love's absence is debatable, but not likely.

Minnesota's playoff push does not die with this injury, but I wish godspeed to the Timberwolves who have to find a way to win without two leaders for a significant period — and to Love and Rubio's repaired body parts if the losses outweigh the wins when either is ready to play.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The SEC: Boynton's Back, but can Kentucky be Stopped?

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel's potential is higher than his flattop. (Chet White/UK Athletics)

Favorite: Kentucky Wildcats

Coming off a national title, the Wildcats are primed and ready to make another run in the SEC. Even though Kentucky lost all five of its starters to the NBA draft, it did bring in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Head coach John Calipari has shown he can bring a young group of talented individuals together and turn them into an unselfish team. Young players like Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley will do their best to replace the likes of Anthony Davis, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, Terrance Jones and Marquis Teague. With Calipari at the helm, the Widcats should run away with the SEC, even with the additions of a strong Missouri team and Texas A&M to the conference.

Dark Horse: Florida Gators

Despite losing stud shooting guard Bradley Beal to the NBA, the Florida Gators are returning a solid nucleus. The Gators are bringing back three of their top five scorers this year, all of whom averaged double digits. The team’s leading scorer, Kenny Boynton, is returning to the team as a senior, so leadership should not be an issue. Add in a solid recruiting class, and the Gators are poised to take a run at the Kentucky Wildcats for the top spot in the conference.

POY: Kenny Boynton, Florida

Boynton averaged 16 points per game last season as a junior to lead the Gators — including Beal in scoring. In each of his first three seasons, Boynton has seen his statistics get progressively better across the board. His 3-point shot is lethal, as he drained 40 percent from downtown in 2011-12. If his track record is to be believed, Boynton should take another step forward this season, which should put him at the head of the player of the year race in the SEC.

Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky

Coach Cal has shown he has the ability to reload his team with talent, ready to win despite the number of players he sends to the NBA each season. Calipari will again have the best recruiting class in the NCAA coming to Kentucky, and will have yet another opportunity to push for a title. If he can even come close to replicating his success from last season, Calipari will be a shoe in for coach of the year.

Newcomer of the Year: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

At 6'10", Noel is a long, lean forward, with the ability to throw back a lot of shots. Wildcat fans will take little time in beginning the comparisons to former Kentucky big man Anthony Davis. Noel has some polish to apply to his game, but his raw talent is undeniable. If he reaches his potential, the Wildcats will have yet another one-and-done on their hands.


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Derek Fisher/Los Angeles Lakers Could Reunite For Third Time

Derek Fisher could be a Laker for the third time. (sportscoma.com)

The next chapter could soon be written in the Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers long love story.

ESPN's Marc Stein reported Monday that the Lakers could sign the 38-year-old Fisher as early as today, after the initial belief was that the Lakers could not make a move for Fisher until March, a year after trading him to Houston. Fisher finished last season as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Fisher spent the first eight seasons of his career with LA, but the story ended when he left for two seasons with Golden State and then one with the Utah Jazz. Fisher recovered from the split well and had his most successful offensive season with the Warriors in 2005-06.

But just like all love stories, Fisher and the Lakers reunited for five more triumphant years, which included a few more rings.

More challenges ensued and the Lakers traded the aging guard last season. We thought the story was over. Maybe it should be. LA has a overflow of guards at the moment, and would have to get rid of Chris Duhon or Steve Blake to make room for Fisher. Fisher knows the system, knows how to play with Kobe and is loved in LA, but is he worth it?

Maybe a happy ending is in store for the two sides, with Fisher leaving the league on top with another ring. But the Lakers know just like every other team that this is a business, and if Fisher doesn't measure up it could be another tough conversation for the guard and his beloved franchise.


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Friday, October 12, 2012

If Myck Kabongo Is Ruled Ineligible, Texas Will Suffer

Texas sophomore Myck Kabongo is being investigated for receiving improper benefits from an agent. (burntorangenation.com)

Texas sophomore guard Myck Kabongo is the latest college athlete to be investigated for his involvement with an agent, and if wrong-doing is found, it will be the team that will pay the biggest price.

The NCAA is reviewing Kabongo's relationship with agent Rich Paul, who represents LeBron James, and if Paul paid for a trip to Cleveland and a workout for Kabongo last May. Kabongo has yet to be ruled ineligible and is practicing with the team.

But should the NCAA find that Kabongo received improper benefits from Paul, he could be ruled ineligible for a portion of the season. This is a punishment the Longhorns can't afford.

Kabongo is just a sophomore, but on a team with only two seniors and no juniors, Kabongo will be looked at as one of the leaders. His numbers as a freshman were good, but many expected him to blossom in his second year. He averaged 9.6 ppg last season good for the third highest on the team and lead the team with 5.2 assists per contest.

One of the reasons his numbers should improve is there will be more shots to go around with the departure of leading scorer J'Covan Brown. Brown averaged 20.1 ppg and in doing so took 535 shots, nearly double the amount of any other teammate.

Without Kabongo in the lineup, Texas could have trouble finding people to score, and with their non-conference scheduling, this could lead to losses. The chances are if Kabongo is suspended, it will not be for the majority of the season, which is good for Texas with Kansas and Baylor waiting early on in conference play. But Rick Barnes likes to challenge his team early in the season, and Kabongo will need to be on the floor.


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The Longhorns' December schedule looks like a murderer's row of blue-blood programs. After facing Georgetown and UCLA in a four-day span in early December, Texas has back-to-back games just two games later against North Carolina and Michigan State before Christmas. It's tough enough to survive that stretch at full strength, but without Kabongo, the Longhorns might be happy coming away with two wins.

A ruling has not yet been made, so right now this is all a worst-case scenario. But Texas fans should hope a ruling comes quickly if the decision holds Kabongo out of games. That way maybe he just misses the month of November.

Because the longer the ruling takes, and the closer it gets to that December gauntlet, the more worried Texas should be to make it into conference play without a few L's.

New Flopping Rule, Same Old Game

Everyone gets blurry when Chris Bosh flops, but he gets over it. (huffingtonpost.com)
 
The NBA has a plan to combat the flopping that occasionally seems like a plague. If that sounds familiar, good. It should.

That little half-circle under the hoop — the charge circle, if you like — is purposed to deter defenders inclined to stay relatively motionless before drawing contact from a driving ballhandler. The idea is good and is intended to keep defenders honest while protecting offensive players from racking up inordinate amounts of fouls.

The major flaw of the charge circle is that, well, there's only so much area to cover directly underneath the hoop. While it is useful, there is plenty more hardwood to be exploited.

Enter the new rule, in which the NBA will give floppers one warning before doling out fines ranging from $5,000-$30,000, depending on the violator's number of past false falls. All judgments will be made by officials at league headquarters by means of tape review. Slight tweaks to the rule could be made for playoff games — as the official memo skimps on details but for the regular season, while a player may be able to wink-wink-nudge-nudge his way into a generous call during a game, he will literally pay for it later.

That's the spirit: hit 'em where it hurts. Of course, there is an inherent problem in leveraging financial penalties against people who make thousands of dollars during the course of one 48-minute game. Not everyone in the NBA is signed to a maximum contract, and ludicrous spending by players is perhaps more rampant than flopping, but $5,000 for a second-time offender is not equivalent to a cease-and-desist order when a professional knows one call could change the course of an entire game, especially as the minutes wane and any prospective penalty would be dealt after the fact.

To point, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin boiled it down to the choice of paying the cost and winning a championship or fearing the fine and falling short. That wouldn't be a tough decision for anyone playing at the highest level of basketball in the world outside of hell, potentially including the Olympics.

Ideally, monetary ramifications would stop any unjust actions in any circumstances. As in the world at large, this is not always the case in sports, and though fining players for flopping is a step in the right direction for fair play, this particular measure is as hopeless as a penny with a hole in it.


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Thursday, October 11, 2012

UCLA's Youth Could Contend in Pac-12

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Ben Howland gives two (stern) thumbs up to his recruiting class. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Favorite: California Golden Bears

The Pac-12 offered a dogfight for the top position, as only four games separated first and seventh place in the conference. However, this coming season belongs to the California Golden Bears. The Bears are returning their top scorer in Allen Crabtree, who averaged 15 points per game last season. Crabtree also grabbed nearly six rebounds a game. The Bears will also have good size on the interior with David Kravish (6'9") and Richard Solomon (6'10").

Dark Horse: UCLA Bruins

The Bruins had the second-best recruiting class in the country according to Rivals.com. With young talent like Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker, the Bruins will have the talent to be a challenger in the Pac-12. It’s up to head coach Ben Howland to bring it all together.

POY: Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Muhammad averaged 29 points and five rebounds per game during his time at Bishop Gorman (NV) High School. A guard with great size (6'6"), Muhammad’s talent should take over in a conference with little to show at elite levels in recent years. If Howland can harness Muhammad’s ability, the freshman will run away with this award.

Coach of the Year: Ben Howland, UCLA

With an incredibly talented recruiting class, Howland has all the tools to bring UCLA back to the prominence it’s been used to in past years. Howland is a good coach, who has brought out the best in players like Kevin Love, Aaron Afflalo, and Darren Collison. With a team infused with new talent, Howland should be the frontrunner for this award.

Newcomer of the Year: Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

If Muhammed takes the POY award, he will easily take this one as well.


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