Thursday, February 28, 2013

Evolution of the Slovenian Lefty Goran Dragic

Goran Dragic finds his way past the Spurs' DeJuan Blair. (D. Clarke Evans)
"Goran Dragic is becoming a hero in Phoenix right now," Dan Shulman said as ESPN coverage went to a commercial. The Phoenix Suns were leading the San Antonio Spurs by 11 with 5:45 remaining to play. It was Game Three of the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals. Phoenix needed all 26 points from its 24-year-old Slovenian back-up point guard. He had everything going, sending Spurs fans home early with 23 fourth-quarter points. A roster patched with a former MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, a superstar and a new coach, the Suns were dismantling the Spurs. When asked about Dragic's performance, Suns General Manager Steve Kerr stated: "I have seen that before, but it was done by the greatest player of all-time in Michael Jordan."

On this night, Shulman was correct. Dragic was a hero.  

Entering the NBA draft after winning the Slovanian Basketball Championship with Olimpija Ljubljana in the 2007-2008 season, Dragic was selected 45th overall by the Suns. Struggling like other Europeans transitioning into the league, he played timid, scared and could be seen peering toward the bench after committing mistakes. Time learning behind Steve Nash and confidence instilled by new coach Alvin Gentry evolved Dragic into what the franchise envisioned. He came closer by following the footsteps of Nash, the player he had admired long before. Suns fans were able to bask in the moment as, finally, they had slayed the Spurs.
Dragic was the hero Phoenix wasn't ready for and the one they didn't need. Nash had two years remaining to lead the Suns and with the trade deadline expiring in 2011, Phoenix traded Dragic to Houston and the Rockets sent Aaron Brooks in return.

In the 48 games he played behind Nash before departing in 2010-11, Dragic averaged 7.4 points, 3.1 assists and 1.8 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game. He seemed to be struggling again, shooting just 27 percent from 3-point range and turning over the ball twice each game. In a second unit, which struggled offensively, Phoenix needed the firepower Brooks could provide. In 82 games the previous season, Brooks a short, spunky, sharpshooting PG from Seattle averaged 19.6 points and 5.3 assists. He also thrived in transition and hit from three on the way to winning the Most Improved Player Award.

With the news of being traded, Dragic described himself as "shocked."  Phoenix's front office and fans bid farewell to a player who helped them triumph and overcome years of frustrating playoff defeats at the Spurs' hands.

Dragic with the Rockets. (Christian Peterson/Getty Images)
Things were different for Dragic in Houston the following season. He wasn't expected to fill the shoes of a once back-to-back MVP like Nash. He started 28 of 66 games after an injury sidelined Kyle Lowry. Rockets coach Kevin McHale trusted Dragic. He was the point guard of the future for a promising team.  

Dragic's 2011-2012 season averages showed an obvious growth compared to his final 48 games with the Suns. Playing 26.5 mpg yielded averages of 11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg and 2.5 rpg. He also recorded 85 steals during the season.

It was no question: Dragic improved his game.

Just one season removed from letting him go, the Suns made a move to bring their hero back. Phoenix needed him more than ever.

"There’s an old expression that you've got to be big enough to admit your mistakes, strong enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them, and bringing Goran back here, if that’s what we’re doing, I’m proud of that,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby told press, who both welcomed Dragic back to Phoenix prior to the current 2012-2013 season. Dragic would decide to wear number 1, and not 2, as he did before.

Fast forward to now. Dragic brings stability to a franchise in disarray. The Suns are at the bottom of the Western Conference. Some call it rebuilding, others consider it tanking. Phoenix's roster relies on scoring from Micheal Beasley, Wes Johnson, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Dragic has started all 57 games for the Suns this season.
Barry Gossage: Getty Images

Here is Dragic's season thus far, compared to averages listed above.
  • 33mpg / 26.5 / 17.6
  • 14.1ppg / 11.7 / 7.4
  • 6.9ast / 5.3 / 3.1
  • 2.9reb / 2.5 / 1.8
Additionally, he has already totaled 84 steals this season.

Last night, Dragic scored 13 points and assisted 13 buckets in a 105-101 overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs, the same team he helped vanquish in the 2010 WCF, and arguably the league's best team in 2012-13.

Perhaps Dragic summed it up best in his re-introductory press conference: “I’m a new guy now. I’m a different player, different person than when I was here. I want to have a fresh start here.”

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Adidas Reveals Questionable Uniform Choices

Adidas' latest uniform design for its college basketball teams has not gotten great results so far. (darrenrovell's twitter account)

Adidas unveiled its new uniforms for a few of its college basketball-sponsored programs, which are Louisvile, UCLA, Baylor, Notre Dame, Kansas and Cincinnati. So far, the response has not been good. For Louisville, UCLA and Baylor, those are not undershirts you are seeing on the arms of the players, but rather the uniforms were actually designed with sleeves.

ESPN Sports Business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted out a picture of the uniforms and then tweeted this after receiving negative reviews from fans:

The colleges have final say in whether the uniforms will actually make an appearance in a game, so it will be interesting to see how many schools jump on board with the Adidas design. The other talking point with the picture circling through the Internet and social media is how much the shorts resemble those of the brand Zubaz.

Let us know your reaction to the uniforms by leaving a comment in the comment section.

Gonzaga Eyes No. 1 Ranking, Which Would Be A Rare Feat For Mid-Major Programs

Gonzaga has soared through this season and now has its sights on a No. 1 ranking. (

"Heavy lies the crown" has been a common theme this college basketball season as No. 1-ranked teams have dropped at a remarkable rate.

Indiana is the latest to fall while at the top, losing on the road to Minnesota 77-73 Tuesday. With the loss, the crown could go to a new king in Gonzaga. This would be a rare shift in command, as rarely do teams from mid-major conferences reach the summit that is the No. 1 ranking.

The Bulldogs fully deserve the honor, which would be the first No. 1 ranking in school history. Gonzaga has the best record in the country, 27-2, and if you've actually taken the time to watch the Bulldogs play, you'll notice they are one of the most balanced and complete teams in the country.

The discussion this season has been if this squad is Mark Few's best. Just being in that discussion means it's a pretty good team. Junior 7-footer Kelly Olynyk is one of the best players in the country this year, and the combination of he and senior Elias Harris, with underrated Sam Dower as the first big man off the bench, make a dominant front court. Olynyk and Harris's numbers are very similar as Olynyk averages 17.7 ppg and seven rpg, while Harris is second in points at 14.5 per game and 7.4 rebounds. Kevin Pangos is a tremendous scoring point guard, Gary Bell can also score at will although he's having a bit of a sophomore slump and David Stockton shows shades of his dad John with amazing passes. Then you have a glue guy like Mike Hart, who will do all the little things necessary to win and will work harder than everyone else on the court. Every team needs a Mike Hart.

But I know what you're going to say: Gonzaga plays in a weak conference. There's no denying that. St. Mary's should make the NCAA Tournament and BYU is tough but having an average-but-down year (Gonzaga is on the road tonight against BYU in the toughest game remaining on the schedule). Other than that, there's not much competition in the league. But worrying about the conference's strength is narrow-minded thinking.

Gonzaga has an RPI of 10 and a strength of schedule of 61, even being in the WCC. The Bulldogs countered this by playing a brutal non-conference schedule (a 23 SOS in non-conference games) that they successfully completed. The Zags went 5-0 against Big 12 teams this season (K-State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor), while also beating Davidson, Clemson and Washington State. As for the two season losses, it took a miraculous buzzer-beater by Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in January to win and the other was a loss against Illinois in early December after the Illini had just won the Maui Invitational and they were playing like a top 10 team.

But yet people still go back to the conference. Again, the WCC is weak this year and there's no going around it. But no matter how tough the competition, every highly ranked team has had slip-ups in conference play. Michigan just loss to Penn State, who was 0-14 in the Big Ten. Kansas lost to a dreadful TCU team. Georgetown lost to South Florida. Florida lost to Tennessee. Yet Gonzaga has yet to slip in conference play. In fact, in the last 10 games, the Bulldogs are defeating teams by an average of 22.7 points per game. Two of those wins were by more than 40, five were by 20 or more and nine by double digits. That is unreal. Only San Diego at home was ever close enough to win and the game was not as close at the end as the two-point score would seem.

This team has earned a No. 1 ranking; a ranking that is much more difficult for a team like Gonzaga to achieve. Memphis was No. 1 in 2008. UNLV reached No. 1 in 1990. But there are just a handful of teams outside the power six conferences that have been able to reach that milestone. The list should expand next week and Gonzaga should receive a new crown, because weak conference and all, they've earned it.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The OKC Thunder a.k.a. San Antonio Spurs, Jr.

Serge Ibaka and the Thunder are catching up to the Spurs. (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty)

As basketball has increased in popularity around the world, the NBA has experienced an influx of foreign players making hoops careers stateside. A record-tying 84 international players were on rosters when the NBA season tipped off last fall, with the San Antonio Spurs setting a single-team record by including eight such athletes. While the Spurs have long been a bastion in this regard, the Oklahoma City Thunder are quickly establishing themselves as a franchise that's not shying away from a reliance on talent from overseas.

Although Oklahoma City was nowhere near the top of the list at the season's start, rosters have changed and the ranks of NBA players is thinning even more as the playoff race heats up. Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Hasheem Thabeet continue to get meaningful minutes and they form one of the more domineering combinations of international players in the Association.

Three players isn't many, in the scheme of things, but considering the talent acquired by the Thunder, this trio is an exception to the rule. While Thabeet gets what is essentially clean-up time, that amounts to nearly one quarter of play each game. Sefolosha and Ibaka, who has quickly become one of the best shot blockers in basketball the world over, are both starters. Trotting out two of these players to begin a game puts Oklahoma City on par with San Antonio, where Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter are starters.

The Thunder haven't quite accrued the depth to rival San Antonio, but it is not out of the question. OKC general manager Sam Presti was once a part of the Spurs organization, working his way up to assistant GM from a video intern position. Having worked with the franchise for more than five years, Presti knows the inner-workings and machinations of prospecting foreign talent. He is also familiar with finding the specific players internationally to mesh successfully within a system, having been in the Spurs' front office during five division titles and three NBA championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Shortly before the trade deadline, the Thunder acquired the rights to Georgios Printezis, a 27-year-old Greek forward currently playing overseas. Whether or not he will turn into an asset for Presti's resume is tough to call, as four other teams held Printezis' rights before the Thunder since his name entered the league in 2007. He was selected with the No. 58 overall pick in the 2007 draft by — you guessed it — the Spurs just a few months before Presti left the organization to join the Thunder.

More recently, Printezis dismissed a minimum contract offered by the New York Knicks last summer around the same time he buried a game-winning shot against the defense of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved's CSKA Moscow to earn the first Euroleague title for his club, Olympiacos, since 1997.

With the success he is experiencing in Europe, Printezis could be satisfied playing out his career there. Or he could be taking the Ricky Rubio route and taking time to develop (or, in Printezis' case, to ensure his rights belong to a franchise of which he approves) before making the leap over the Atlantic. If he waits much longer, though, this could turn into the Pablo Prigioni route and we could see a 30-something-year-old NBA rookie.

Printezis' future cannot be predicted. He is playing in Europe right now, as Ibaka is swatting shots and improving his jumper in the red dirt of Oklahoma, being a key role player for Presti's highly regarded Thunder squad — one full of youth, and possibly soon, enough international talent to surpass the Spurs as the premier destination for players making their way to the NBA from overseas.

The Journey And Legacy Of Dr. Jerry Buss

Jerry Buss memorial at the Nokia Theater. (Author' s personal collection)

In 1979, the already historic Los Angeles Lakers were about to enter a new chapter. The largest sports transaction at that time had taken place. A man by the name of Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers of the NBA, the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, and The Forum arena in Inglewood, California.

Dr. Buss earned a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Wyoming and received a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Southern California. Upon completion of his schooling, Buss taught at USC and worked for a short time in the aerospace industry where he met Frank Mariani. The pair soon founded a real estate firm named Mariani-Buss Associates. While Buss originally intended the firm to solely provide income while he pursued his true love of teaching, rapid expansion caused there to be no time for any other profession. His real estate business, which started with only a $1,000 investment, now expanded from California to Nevada and Arizona. Eventually, Buss acquired enough assets to allow him to purchase the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke.

Shortly after entering the league, Dr. Buss helped launch the Prime Ticket Network (now Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket) in 1985. Prime Ticket allowed people in the Los Angeles area to watch every Laker home game, something not available in previous seasons. Thanks to the interest in the Showtime Lakers, Prime Ticket Network became the standard for regional sports broadcasting.

In 1988, Buss completed an enormous marketing deal with Great Western Bank. The Forum was renamed the Great Western Forum. This move was met by resistance, especially from Southern California residents who didn’t want a historic arena being renamed due to advertising. While controversial at the time, selling arena naming rights has since become commonplace across all major sports in America.

Under Dr. Buss, the Lakers won 10 championships while playing in the NBA Finals 16 times. They reached the Western Conference Finals six times and only missed the playoffs twice. In those 33 years, the Lakers added players such as Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Pat Riley and Phil Jackson were also brought in to coach.

Buss loved the Los Angeles community as much as Los Angeles loved him. Each year he would donate thousands of dollars, tickets, merchandise and autographed items to schools, neighborhoods, libraries, churches and various non-profit organizations in Southern California. In 2009, he donated $100,000 to help fight homelessness in L.A. When a worldwide natural disaster struck, Buss was quick to send donations to aid the recoveries. He also used his love of poker to host tournaments that would help charities such as Smile Train.

After three-plus decades of leading the Lakers, Dr. Buss was admitted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. Less than three years later, one of the great visionaries in professional sports history quietly passed away after a battle with cancer on Feb. 18, 2013. Southern California, and the entire sports world, will never forget him.

“I’ve worked hard and been lucky. With the combination of the two, I’ve accomplished everything I ever set out to do” Dr. Jerry Buss

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bill Self Earns 500th Win And We Breakdown The Numbers That Got Him There

Bill Self earned his 500th career win Monday night as Kansas defeated Iowa State 108-96.

With the Kansas Jayhawks' Monday night win against Iowa State, Bill Self cemented his 500th win as an NCAA head coach, with 293 of those wins at KU. Self's coaching resume includes time at Oral Roberts (one year), Tulsa (three years), and Illinois (three years) in addition to his nine years at KU. To recognize his achievement, here are some stats breaking down Self's career so far.

293 – Number of wins Bill Self has at Kansas
24 – Number of Jayhawks he’s coached that have gone pro
94.4% – win percentage at Allen Fieldhouse
2 – number of times I’ve imitate this dance move
8 – Big 12 conference titles in nine years
5 – Big 12 postseason titles
70% – win percentage in NCAA Tournament
8 – losses against his former alma mater, Oklahoma State University, which is the most losses he has to any school
3,641,420 – number of views the KU harlem shake video has gotten

3 – wins against teams coached by former KU coach Roy Williams - one while Self was at Illinois and two while at KU
2 – Final Four appearances
1 – National Championship

Monday, February 25, 2013

Georgetown Finally Getting Credit It Deserves

Otto Porter and Georgetown are climbing up the ranks of the nation's best teams at the right time. (

Blind resumes are popular in college basketball this time of year, so let's try one now. Here's one team's breakdown:

This team has a  21-4 record, 11-3 record in the conference, a RPI of 13, strength of schedule of 32 and a 3-2 record against top 25 teams.

Not bad, right? Well, if your deductive reasoning skills are sharp, then you know from the headline this team is Georgetown. Does that surprise you?

The Hoyas will move into the top 10 in the country this week and are riding a nine-game winning streak. All of a sudden a team that wasn't on anyone's radar a month ago now has an outside chance to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday's 57-46 win over then-No. 8 Syracuse finally drew the national attention to Georgetown that it had been deserving for weeks. But Syracuse was not the only big-name Big East team to fall to the Hoyas during this win streak. Georgetown has defeated Notre Dame, Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati and the before-mentioned Cuse since Jan. 21.

One of the reasons for the Hoyas' jump in rankings and popularity is the play of sophomore forward Otto Porter, who is averaging 15.9 points per game, 7.7 rebounds and came up huge with 33 points and eight rebounds in Saturday's win over Syracuse. When Porter gets going, he's as fun to watch as almost any player in the country. He takes good shots, shooting just over 50 percent from the field, and can shoot the three effectively, hitting 45 percent of them this season, which is outstanding for a 6-foot-8 forward. Markel Starks is the Hoyas second best scoring option, averaging 12.1 points per game.

Georgetown isn't the prettiest offensive team. The Hoyas only average 65 points per game and when they've lost, it's usually due to a lack of scoring. With the exception of the Indiana game, in which the final score was 82-72 in OT, the Hoyas have not been able to crack 60 points in their other three losses. But that doesn't mean Georgetown can't score. When the famous Princeton motion offense is flowing, the Hoyas are efficient enough to win games. This is mainly because of defense, which could adequately be referred to as smothering. During Georgetown's nine-game winning streak, only two teams, Rutgers and DePaul, were able to score more than 60 points.

The Hoyas deserve all of the credit being tossed their way, but what took so long? As conference play began, the Hoyas only had one loss, and it was to now and then-No. 1 Indiana in overtime, yet the buzz wasn't this strong. Granted, conference play didn't begin particularly well, but even back-to-back wins over Notre Dame and Louisville wasn't enough to get people to buy in to the Hoyas' stock after those early Big East losses. Now, after nine wins, the Hoyas bandwagon is overflowing. Coach John Thompson III has done a terrific job getting this team better over the course of the season and allowing the Hoyas to peak at the right time.

It doesn't matter if it's pretty or high-scoring, the only numbers to be concerned with are the wins and losses, and right now Georgetown's win numbers are as good as anyone in the country. And in March, that is the only number that matters.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Take A Pick: Evan Turner or Derrick Williams

Evan Turner drives against Derrick Williams. (Jim Mone/AP)
The Minnesota Timberwolves defended the den from a hungry Philadelphia 76ers team Wednesday, winning 94-87. Target Center played host to a dismal display of fourth quarter shooting. Minnesota scored only one bucket on 12 attempts while Philadelphia made its 25 percent shooting feel like an air-raid assault. Before tip-off, trade rumors swirled around Derrick Williams and Evan Turner. This, at the time, seemed as if could have been both players' last time out with their respective teams.

Turner and Williams, both drafted with second overall picks in consecutive years, have yet to consistently play at a level that satisfies standards predicted for the two coming into the NBA.

Playing an average of 21.5 minutes per game, Williams struggled to find a scoring niche his rookie year, averaging close to nine points shooting and only 26 percent from 3-point range. In the following offseason, the Wolves made an offer for Nicholas Batum, which after being matched by Portland Trail Blazers, left Minnesota thin at the 3-4 positions. After injuries to both Kevin Love and Chase Budinger, Williams saw his playing time skyrocket. Williams, in a career high 36 minutes on Wednesday, scored 17 going 7-12 from the field, shooting 2-4 from behind the arc, while snatching eight boards in the victory over Philly.

Turner averaged 20 ppg during his final season as an Ohio State Buckeye. Turner, a SF with respectable handles, could create a mismatch in almost every game at the collegiate level. Not having size as a luxury in the NBA, the Sixers coaching staff worked with Turner on moving without the ball, as well as finding ways to catch and create in the low block when matched up against smaller defenders. He led the Sixers in Wednesday's losing effort with 17 points on 6-16 shooting. Turner tallied six rebounds and shot 5-6 from the charity stripe, getting his game going about midway through the third quarter.

With neither player moved at the trade deadline, Turner and Williams will finish out the season continuing to play the roles the Sixers and Wolves ask of them. Both teams are looking in from outside the playoff picture. Philly is 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Wolves remain 6.5 back in the West. The Minnesota front office made a promise to appear in this year's postseason, rewarding season ticket holders a 10 percent discount on next year's packages if the team fails to make the playoffs. The Wolves not only have to overcome the deficit in the loss column, but also need to jump Portland, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers, all of which are fighting for a playoff slot.

Here's the hypothetical situation: your organization just missed a postseason appearence by two games. You have the opportunity to sign either Williams or Turner. Who do you believe helps more in making the playoffs during the 2013-2014 season?

Career Numbers
  • Evan Turner, third season.
    • Age 24, 6'7" 220lbs
    • 27.7mpg 9.7 ppg 5.2 rpg and 2.9 apg
    • 43% FG 32% 3ptFG and 75% FT
      • Current Season
        • 36.3 mpg
        • 16.8 ppg 6.6 rpg and 4.3 apg (per game)
        • 42% FG 47% 3ptFG and 76% FG

  • Derrick Williams, second season.
    • Age 21, 6'8" 240lbs
    • 21.4 mpg 9.3 ppg 5.8 rpg and 0.5 apg
    • 41% FG 29% 3ptFG and 70% FT
      • Current Season
        • 21.2 mpg
        • 10 ppg 5 rpg and 0.4 apg (per game)
        • 41% FG 33% 3ptFG and 71% FT

Williams' rookie year makes comparing these career stats worthy, but Turner is clearly the more developed product thus far.

Over the last ten games, Turner is averaging 13 ppg in 35.4 minutes and shooting 40 percent while Williams has accumulated 12.3 ppg in just 25.3 minutes and is shooting 42 percent in his extended role.

Turner's responsibilities as a Sixer started as limited, but have become a pivotal. Turner now has playoff experience to aid aside the chemistry developed with his teammates, primarly Jrue Holiday, who has been Turner's only PG while in the NBA.

Williams fights a different battle. Love, Minnesota's both beloved and hated star player, has been irrelevant this season. Injuries not only to Love, but also Budinger, Andre Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic during the course of this season have forced Williams in new places on the court. At times, he has played as a 4 an undersized 4 and struggled to match-up with the likes of Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol and even NeNe. When playing as a 3, Williams seems lost in pick-and-roll sets when faced with a quicker guard.

Both players have shown maturity, character, and have worked hard both on and off the court, saying all the right things to coaches and the press, careful not to provide any ammo that could be used by media.

The choice is yours, Internet.

Winners and Losers of the 2013 NBA Trade Season

J.J. Redick was among the NBA players traded before the Thursday deadline (

The clock for trading players in the NBA expired Thursday at 3 p.m. EST and, to be honest, the trades made didn't live up to the hype built up in the weeks before the deadline. Sure, several players changed teams, but no major names will be showing up on new rosters or appear on upcoming tickets in different uniforms. Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce all stayed put. For the sake of completeness, however, let's figure out who won and lost the trade season.

The Orlando Magic had a busy final day of the trade deadline, trading away four players in two deals.

The major player in the mix for the Magic — and the most valuable player moved by any team before the deadline was shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is now a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Redick was part of a six-player trade which also included the Magic sending Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith for Doron Lamb, Beno Udrih and Tobias Harris.

In a separate deal, Orlando parted with another former Duke player Josh McRoberts for Hakim Warrick from the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bucks acquire Redick during his most successful season in the NBA. The sharpshooter is averaging 15.1 ppg, nearly six points more than his career averages of 9.2. Redick is also improving in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals (although the difference in the final two stats is slim).

It seems like Redick, in his sixth season in the NBA, has come into his role on an NBA team and has learned how to be successful moving from a star at Duke to a supporting character in the NBA.

The Bucks seem to have won this trade due to the fact that Redick is having the best year of his career. Brandon Jennings is already the premier scorer, so Redick can resume the role of 3-point threat and give the Bucks some needed offensive firepower. Doron Lamb is the youngest and possibly has the most upside of of any player the Magic got in return, but he is mostly unproven, averaging just 3.4 ppg. However, this was a smart time for the Magic to trade Redick if it was going to happen because his stock was looking to climb by the season's end.

We already touched on one angle of the Houston Rockets/Phoenix Suns trade, which reunites Marcus and Markieff Morris in the Suns' logjam of a frontcourt. If played at the same time, the twins' chemistry could give Phoenix a small spark. They aren't going to be beating top teams at the end of this season, but they are developing players again with rookie and social media star Kendall Marshall getting minutes as the second-string point guard, prompting a swap of Sebastian Telfair to the Toronto Raptors for center Hamed Haddadi and a protected second-round pick.

Haddadi is on his third team of the season, having been moved in the same deal that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto, but is unlikely to get minutes playing behind Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal in the desert. That deal overshadows another deal the Grizzlies made: sending Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a conditional first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jon Leuer. The most notable portion of this trade — other than Memphis going under the luxury tax is the pick, as it was the only future first-rounder traded this season. Under the new CBA, first-round picks are more valuable than ever. This is the sixth first-round pick the Cavs had obtained via trade since 2010 and will continue to help Cleveland solidify a young core around Kyrie Irving.

Easily the busiest team over the course of the trade season, the Grizzlies also received Dexter Pittman, a 2013 second-round pick and cash considerations from the Miami Heat in exchange for the rights to Ricky Sanchez, a forward selected in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers who is currently playing in Argentina.

The Blazers may have missed out on Sanchez, but shortly before yesterday's deadline they welcomed Eric Maynor into their guard rotation. Maynor had played decreased minutes with the Oklahoma City Thunder after injuring his knee last season and becoming the third point guard option after returning. The Blazers get a much needed reliable, if rusty back-up for rookie stalwart Damian Lillard while OKC shaved approximately $1 million in salary by receiving cash and the rights to 27-year-old Greek forward Georgios Printezis.

The most forward getting the most attention because of a trade, though, is Thomas Robinson. Drafted as the No. 5 overall pick less than a year ago by the flailing Sacramento Kings, Robinson was dealt to the Rockets along with frontcourt brethren Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt for fellow Kansas Jayhawk Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and Patrick Patterson. While Patterson is putting up better per-game numbers than Robinson this season, Robinson has been mired in a crowded rotation of big men and played 410 fewer minutes than Patterson. Comparing the per-36 minutes numbers, though, reveals that while Robinson is averaging 1.7 turnovers and 1.5 personal fouls more than Patterson, the rookie is putting up better defensive stats than his replacement with 4.1 rebounds per 36 and holding the edge in assists, steals and blocks, as well. Patterson is the better player right now. He's also more exciting at the moment, scoring more points per 36 minutes than Robinson, but this trade is another bungled move in a series of them for the Kings. Giving up on a player so early is foolish and the Rockets don't intend to do the same thing, having said they intend to keep Robinson (and, for now, they have by refusing to flip him immediately after acquiring his contract). Robinson is going through typical rookie struggles and should even out next season, if not before.

Of the more ancillary moves, Jordan Crawford landing in Boston will give the Celtics more offensive firepower in the absence of Rajon Rondo, whose back-up, Leandro Barbosa, also tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was traded in return to the Washington Wizards along with Jason Collins. With Barbosa and Collins entering free agency this summer and only one-third of their current contracts left, the Wizards save a bit of money (Crawford's contract goes through 2013-14 with a $1 million pay raise next season) and can continue restructuring around John Wall without Crawford living in bench limbo.

Other trades included the New York Knicks sending Ronnie Brewer to the Thunder for a 2014 second-round pick and cash, and the Atlanta Hawks receiving Dahntay Jones (for Anthony Morrow) and Jeremy Tyler (for cash and future draft considerations) in separate trades with the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors, respectively. The Warriors were involved in a second trade, taking in a protected second-round pick from the Philadelphia 76ers as Charles Jenkins and a bit of cash goes to the City of Brotherly Love.

Who wins and who loses, then? Here's a quick recap, with the lessons, as always, being that most trades have more to do with pocketbooks than with play on the court and the Maloofs hate Sacramento:

Winners: Bucks, Celtics, Rockets, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Wizards
Losers: Kings (and their fans)
Line-Steppers: Everyone else

*Kyle Davis contributed to this article due to conflict of interest.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Video: Cheerleader Hits Amazing Half Court Shot

Someone get this cheerleader a basketball scholarship.

Ashlee Arnau, a member of the William Carey University cheerleading squad, made the play of the night during halftime of a William Carey basketball game. She didn't just hit a half-court shot, which is difficult for the average cheerleader in itself, she hit one of the most impressive and creative half court shots ever.

I've seen soccer players do this trick while throwing the ball in, but to do a front cartwheel while simultaneously picking up a basketball and swishing it from half court is a first.

Have to feel bad for the players in this game, because nothing they could have done in the second half was going to beat Ashlee's halftime shot.

Friday Roundtable: College National Player of the Year

Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo are No. 1 and 2 in the latest Player of the Year straw poll and will be two of a handful of players battling for the award in the last month of the season. ( 

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among three of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: If the season ended today, who would be your choice for college basketball's National Player of the Year?

If voting ended today, Trey Burke would be at the top of my ballot. However, it doesn't and after a few surprising losses, Creighton is poised for a late comeback with Doug McDermott leading the Bluejays.

The junior is third in the latest NPOY straw poll after making a run at the award last year and with good reason. He is averaging 22.5 ppg, 7.8 rebounds per game and nearly as many nightly assists (1.8) as Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, who came in second in the same poll.

McDermott's race toward NPOY could mirror Jimmer Fredette's. Preceded by a stand-out year on the national stage, Fredette shouldered the workload for his team and won the title the following season. Both players are from schools outside of Power Six conferences, and an argument could be made for this year's Missouri Valley being tougher than the Mountain West in which Jimmer competed when he won NPOY.

Voters have soft spots for athletes from mid-major schools and players whose teams succeed based almost entirely on their play. McDermott fits both those descriptions and Creighton is on the path to finish at or near the top of the MVC before playing in the NCAA tournament.

Trey Burke has been one of the front runners in the NPOY race all season, and for good reason. Burke is one of the best scoring guards in the game and yet is still a great passer and makes his team better. If the season ended today, Burke would receive my vote, but there's still another player that I think has a legitimate chance to overtake Burke in the final month of the season.

I've always been a fan of Doug McDermott, but I'm afraid Creighton's struggles will keep him out of the race. I think Kelly Olynyk of Gonzaga has been the most improved player in the country and has turned into one of the best and most versatile big men in college basketball. Again, playing in a weaker conference without the national attention on a weekly basis as a Burke or Mason Plumlee will keep him from being in the top three.

Then there's Indiana's Victor Oladipo. While he averages fewer points per game than Burke (14 to 18.6), although he is one of the best rebounding guards in college averaging six boards per game, Oladipo seems to make big play after big play for the Hoosiers and has proven to be their most valuable player. Take the Michigan State game Tuesday as an example. Oladipo tallied 19 points, but more importantly, every time a game-changing play needed to be made for Indiana, Oladipo was the one with the ball. With Indiana inbounding the ball with under a minute left in the game against the Spartans, it was Oladipo who broke free from his defender for a wide-open dunk that all-but sealed the Hoosiers' victory. Not to mention Oladipo had nine rebounds and five steals in the contest.

Burke still has the upper hand at this point in the season, but if Oladipo's numbers remain consistent and if he continues to be the most clutch player on the nation's No. 1 team, I could see Oladipo taking the crown from Burke.

The point guard is the most important position on a basketball team. He sets the tone defensively and is the quarterback for the offense. So how is it, then, that no point guard has won the Wooden Award since Jameer Nelson in 2004 (there is some dispute regarding whether Jimmer Fredette classified as a true point guard)? If the Player of the Year were to be chosen today, I believe that streak should finally come to an end, as Trey Burke (G, Michigan) and Marcus Smart (G, Oklahoma St.) have pushed out in front of a crowded field of contenders.

Burke dominates the statistical categories that are typically strong for a point guard, posting 18.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. Meanwhile, Smart does it all. He has a remarkably strong stat line across multiple categories, with 15 points, six rebounds, 4.4 assists, and three steals per game. It may be that no single player in the country is more valuable to his team than Smart. He has time and again led the Cowboys to victory, seemingly by will alone. Not to mention, Smart is still a freshman.

All said, I would ultimately cast my ballot for Burke. He has excelled as the premier floor general in the nation's best conference. He is a consistent scoring threat, whether he is shooting from deep or taking his defender off the dribble. Most impressively, though, he posts an eye-popping 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Michigan and Burke ran into a rut recently, but he has averaged 23.5 points the last two games and looks poised to gain momentum down the stretch.

There is no position more important than point guard, and no one I would rather have filling it than Trey Burke. At least until Marcus Smart proves me wrong.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Morris Twins Reunited In Phoenix; Kings, Rockets Also Make Deal

After playing on different teams for the first time in their careers, Marcus and Markieff Morris are again teammates in Phoenix. (

NBA Draft day two years ago was a difficult one for Marcus and Markieff Morris.

This is not because their stock dropped them further than expected, they went back-to-back with the No. 13 and 14 picks, but because for the first time in their lives, they would not be playing basketball on the same team. Throughout high school in Philadelphia and college at the University of Kansas, the Morris twins have always been teammates.

Part of me thought a team should find a way to draft and trade for both players, keeping them together. It just didn't feel right to separate the two brothers who had never had to play on different teams. The twins played so well as teammates at KU, the thought was why couldn't that continue in the NBA?

After one-and-a-half seasons apart with Marcus in Houston and Markieff in Phoenix, the twins will be back together as the Rockets traded Marcus to Phoenix for a second-round draft pick this year, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. 

"If I was to be traded, that's where I would want to go," Marcus told the Associated Press in a story published in the Topeka Capital-Journal. "I think Houston knew that. I'm excited. That's all I can say."

Marcus Morris is averaging 8.6 points and 4.1 rebounds this season for the Rockets while starting 17 games. Markieff is averaging similar numbers with 7.3 ppg, and 4.3 rebounds. Those are respectable numbers for second-year players, but the biggest aspect of this trade is the possibilities of what these two could now accomplish together.

At Kansas, the Morris twins dominated the post position as Marcus averaged more than 17 points in his final season as a second-team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year. While Markieff scored less than his brother, he was the better rebounder of the two and was more efficient from the field, leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage.

The two have played basketball together for more than a decade, and make each other better on the court. Plus, attitude will not be in question, as the twins must be ecstatic to be on the same team once again. If both continue to develop as players, this makes for a great story for the Suns. And with no real "superstar" players on the Suns roster, this is an ideal team for the twins to build stats and minutes and excel.

The twins weren't the only former KU players involved in trades Wednesday. The Sacramento Kings traded rookie Thomas Robinson to Houston for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and fellow Jayhawk Cole Aldrich. The trade deadline is 3 p.m. eastern today.

Monday, February 18, 2013

BDD is Seeking Contributors

Gilbert Arenas does not write for BDD. (Getty Images)
Beats, Dimes & Drives is about basketball. Sometimes it is about tangents involving pop culture and other times it is about rappers' sneakers, but for the most part, it is about Dr. James Naismith's wonderful invention. With so many subjects in the sports' realm deserving attention — not to mention March Madness' looming shadow and the NBA playoff hunt heating up BDD is seeking more contributors.

Up to this point, BDD has primarily been a two-man game with Kyle and myself taking the bulk of writing duties. This has produced modest results since we began last summer with each new month setting one record or another for the blog, including a remarkable January, but we are still a comparatively small operation.

Considering this, we are looking for writers who can propose their own ideas for posts and/or consistently take assignments with approximate deadlines. The amount of work can range from one-off guest pieces to multiple posts per week. If you have a steady hand for sketching or drawing, there are also opportunities for a posts dedicated to visual graphics.

If you made it through the previous three paragraphs and are determined to keep reading, you may have a few questions by now, like:

1) What kind of pay and benefits package does BDD offer?
None. There's also no severance package to speak of, so we're all hanging on by hypothetical threads. You may produce some clips to bolster the ol' résumé, though, or something to slide into the art portfolio. For those unfamiliar with or new to blogging, you could get some experience. No matter your level of comfort with blogging, you may actually even like writing for BDD.

2) What will I be writing about?
Take your pick of options, as long as they are basketball related. We have weekly features and ongoing serial posts, all of which need proper attention, but there are new NCAA and NBA stories to cover each week, as well. Of course, we're all for creative posts based on metaphors and big-idea pieces, too. We even have numerous ideas in the bank that just need the right touch.

3) What is BDD's editing process?
Great question. You're savvy and I like that. Editing is minimal as long as the idea for a post is well-formed before a finished product is presented. As a rule, we tend to follow AP standards and have certain style guidelines within BDD. Other than a comma here and a corrected spelling error there, though, we want your voice to be clear so BDD can offer different styles and opinions to readers. I have a weakness for clauses, but you don't have to, and that's just fine.

4) Alex, how can we contact you (or Kyle)?
Email us at or find us at the Twitter and Facebook links below. To reach out to one of us individually, our respective twit-handles are @kyledavis21 and @AJSkov.

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D-League Decoded: All-Star Weekend Recap

A breakdown of the 2013 D-League All-Star game. (

This weekend marks the unofficial halfway point to both the NBA and D-League seasons as they're both celebrating their All-Star weekends. While the NBA is at center stage with their star-studded, three-night event, the D-League quietly had their celebration on Saturday afternoon.

This weekend marks the seventh anniversary of the D-League All-Star game, which started in 2007 when the NBA had its All-Star game in Las Vegas. Since that game, more than a dozen D-League All-Stars have made their way onto NBA rosters, including Othyus Jeffers, Garrett Temple and Gerald Green.

While the All-Star game is the main event of the afternoon, they D-League also has the 3-point contest and Slam Dunk contest to show off some of the best leapers and sharp-shooters the D-League has to offer. This past Saturday was no different as some of the best talent the league has ever seen competed in a game that lacked defense but shined when it came to high flying and entertaining basketball.

Before the All-Star game tipped off, the league held its 3-point contest with participants Marcus Landry (Reno), Micah Downs (Maine), Justin Holiday (Idaho), and Justin Dentmon (Texas). While all four of these guys are solid perimeter shooters, the contest in general was a little sub-par. Sure, these guys probably aren't going to be sharp-shooters like Kyrie Irving or Ray Allen, but I was disappointed in what I saw. Former Wisconsin Badger and current Bighorns forward Marcus Landry defeated Justin Holiday, 13-11, in the finals to win the contest.

One of those strange things I like about the D-League is the fact that it has its dunk contest during halftime of the game, which is better than an awful concert with a girl who lost her voice. The participants of the dunk contest included Glen Rice, Jr., Tony Mitchell, Josh Owens and Dar Tucker, who was a clear-cut favorite after previously winning the contest twice. Tucker probably had the highlight of the competition with a dunk over his 7-foot teammate Jerome Jordan, but Mitchell ended up winning the competition after defeating Owens in the final round.

Moving on to the All-Star game itself, which was contested between the Prospects and the Future rosters. The following is a list of players who were on both teams.

Prospects:                                                  Futures:   

Damion James (Bakersfield)                          Micah Downs (Maine)                             
Tim Ohlbrecht (Rio Grande Valley)                Chris Wright (Maine)
Henry Sims (Erie)                                        DaJuan Summers (Maine)
D.J Kennedy (Erie)                                      James Mays (Maine)
Jerel McNeal (Bakersfield)                            Shelvin Mack (Maine)
Arinze Onuaku (Canton)                               Tony Mitchell (Fort Wayne)
Demetris Nichols (Sioux Falls)                      Courtney Fortson (Los Angeles)
Travis Leslie (Santa Cruz)                            Marcus Landry (Reno)
Justin Dentmon (Texas)                              Jerome Jordan (Reno)
Chris Wright (Iowa)                                   Ron Howard (Fort Wayne) 

It's kind of strange to analyze an All-Star game because it's basically an exhibition game, but I did notice a few things while watching. The first thing I really noticed is how it looked like Travis Leslie was at a level higher than the rest of the roster. Leslie is an extremely athletic player, but also plays at a higher pace than most of the other guys in the D-League. Travis finished the game with seven rebounds and 19 points on 8-13 shooting, which led to him winning All-Star game MVP.

The Prospects won 139-125, but one thing I found both interesting and humorous was Mike Taylor (coach of the Red Claws and Futures team) started and played all five of his Red Claws players. Now that decision was decent because the team played really well together and caught up to the Prospects near the end of the first half. That core of five players featured DaJuan Summers, who had a great 28 point and seven rebound performance that will be forgotten because of his team's defeat.

My last take of Saturday's game was how impressed I was with the overall play of the centers in this game. The center position has been going down-hill in both the NBA and the D-League, but Jerome Jordan and Tim Ohlbrecht shined brighter than some of the guards in this game. I've been a huge fan of Ohlbrecht since I watched him play last month in the D-League showcase and he looked fantastic once again posting double-double numbers of 12 points and 12 rebounds. While those numbers aren't quite impressive, he just looked like a solid player with how smooth he was on the court. 

Even though this was only an exhibition game, Jordan looked like the kind of player that would be worthy of being the top D-League prospect with Donald Sloan heading to China. Jordan has been having a great year but he's been slightly overshadowed by Samardo Samuels, who is his partner in the Bighorns front-court. Jordan had close to a perfect game with 12 points on 6-6 shooting with seven rebounds. 

History Says Don't Doubt A Tom Izzo Michigan State Team

Tom Izzo always finds a way to get his teams ready for March. (
Tom Izzo-led Michigan State teams are always dangerous, this year included, and one of the main reasons can be linked to an unlikely source: early-season losses.

It’s a formula that Michigan State fans probably don’t particularly enjoy. It causes a bit more stress and worry in November, but the end result surely makes up for the early heartache. It seems that over the past half decade or so, Michigan State drops a couple early games, usually due to the strenuous schedule Izzo puts together on a yearly basis, yet the Spartans bounce back and make a run into the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Don't believe me? Let's take a look:

Michigan State had two losses to Maryland and No. 1 UNC by Dec. 3 and lost two more to non-ranked Big Ten teams Northwestern and Penn State by Feb. 1, yet advanced all the way to the National Championship game where the Spartans fell to UNC.

Again, a No. 11 UNC team gets the better of Michigan State early, as well as Florida and No. 2 Texas as MSU has three losses before Christmas. Even a three-game losing streak in early February didn’t stop Izzo’s club from making a run in March and reaching the Final Four.

This was a down year for the Spartans, who struggled all season, failing to reach the 20-game win mark and lost in the first round of the tournament to seven-seed UCLA. It's nearly impossible for a program to keep a level of success this high every year.

Back-to-back losses to No. 1 UNC and No. 6 Duke to start the season had the country writing off Michigan State early. Maybe part of the reason was the poor play of the season before, but the Spartans fell off the radar early on, despite not losing again until Jan. 14. MSU was definitely on people’s radars late in the year, winning the Big Ten Tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16 before eventual-Final-Four member Louisville ended the Spartans season.

This year has been mostly the same. The Spartans lost the first game of the year to a UCONN team that was without Jim Calhoun for the first time and facing NCAA sanctions. Despite winning against Kansas the following game, MSU then lost to Miami in late November (now this doesn’t seem bad but hindsight is 20/20) and then No. 9 Minnesota (this one looks a bit worse now) on the road on New Year's Eve. Yet since 2013 began, the Spartans have only lost one game to now-No. 1, then-No. 7 Indiana and have wins over No. 11 Ohio State, No. 18 Minnesota and No. 4 Michigan. The Spartans have regained a spot in the top 10 and are one of the hottest teams in the country.

Which brings us to our valuable lesson. The season is a long one, and a team can be very different in March than it was in November, especially if it is coached by a man like Izzo. His teams consistently improve throughout the course of the season and seem to use early losses as lessons on toughness and how to get better. Many of the losses covered above were to very talented and highly ranked opponents, which Izzo is known to scatter throughout the schedule to give his players a taste of what it’s like to play the best of the best. Izzo’s trial-by-fire approach means his Spartan teams have experienced it all, and while the record won’t always be as pretty as others, his teams will always be ready for when it counts in March.

Yet people still tend to look past the Spartans after the second or third early loss each year and Izzo keeps proving why that is not wise. As we get closer to Selection Sunday, go ahead and throw Michigan State into the pile of teams that could make a run at the Final Four, because recent history has proven discounting this program before March is rarely a smart decision.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Mini-Roundtable: Trading the NBA

J.J. Reddick is among the names of possible trades before the Feb. 21 deadline. (

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among three of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: With the NBA trade deadline coming up on Feb. 21, what trade is most likely to, or what trade should, happen?

Kyle Davis:
The trade rumor I would keep an eye on is the Clippers and Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe is a valuable draft commodity and with the Clippers already having an elite point guard in Chris Paul and a need for another shooting front court presence to play alongside Blake Griffin, Bledsoe could soon find himself in another city. What makes this trade so interesting is it's a risky move. Paul has battled through his share of injuries and Bledsoe has been a reliable and comforting backup to have step in when needed. But the Clippers seem to feel like the time is now to make a deep run in the playoffs, and seem to feel another post player will prove more valuable this season.

Alex Skov:
Pau Gasol's injury virtually makes him untradeable. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce helped power the Celtics to a 7-0 start after Rajon Rondo's injury, protecting their spots on Boston's roster. Most of the other players on the trading block are there solely because their salaries and production are out of proportion. If one trade happens, it's going to involve J.J. Redick. The Milwaukee Bucks seem to be the suitor most likely to acquire the former Duke guard since the other teams that may make a play for him — namely the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers — are in better situations to survive without Redick's dead-eye shooting abilities. Hypothetically, this means the Bucks would be more willing to send better pieces to Orlando. Indiana is the current No. 3 seed and the Bulls are sitting at fifth in the Eastern Conference. Those are safe spots. Milwaukee, at eighth, can't be quite as comfortable.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kentucky Can't Replace Nerlens Noel's Defensive Presence After Injury

Nerlens Noel's torn ACL is a painful exclamation point on an already rough season. (

Kentucky fans thought this season had been rough after winning a national championship last year. They didn't quite know what rough was until Tuesday when freshman Nerlens Noel tore the ACL in his left knee.

For the rest of the country, the biggest concern with Noel's injury is how this will affect his NBA draft stock and the future of the one-and-done rule. But Kentcky has bigger concerns than if Noel will head to the NBA in June (in case you're curious, ESPN's Chad Ford still has Noel as the No. 3 prospect even after the injury).

The Wildcats are fighting just to get into the NCAA Tournament and now will do so without the most consistent all-around force they have. The schedule isn't a cakewalk for a team in Kentucky's position, as they still have to go on the road to Tennessee and Arkansas and face Missouri and Florida in Rupp Arena. If the Wildcats come out of those four games at or below .500, they may be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday, barring a run in the SEC Tournament.

The loss of Noel form a statistical standpoint is painful, but the biggest loss for UK is the now empty defensive presence around the basket.

Kentucky still has offensive weapons. Noel was the fourth leading scorer on the team, so it just means that Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer can still carry the load by stepping up a bit more. The real concern is on the defensive end and having a shot blocker roaming the paint and terrifying opponents into resorting to jump shots. Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein will take Noel's place in the lineup (he has averaged 7.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg) and while he has great potential, it's impossible to replace a player who is one of the best shot blockers in the game and deflects more than four per contest.

Imagine if Jeff Withey would go down for Kansas. That defense is completely altered because the player who made it impossible for the other team to get easy shots inside is not longer a threat. Withey, like Noel, is a player who cleans up his teammates mistakes with his blocking ability. Poor guard defense is much less noticeable if the opposing guard blows by his defender but his layup is blocked into the third row.

This means less room for error for the other Kentucky defenders and the aspects of the defense like rebounding and challenging shots, which Noel did so well, might come a little bit tougher the rest of the season.

Kentucky could already not afford a loss as significant as Noel, and especially now that the chances of a NCAA Tournament appearance becomes more bleak with every loss and poor performance. The season has been unusual by Kentucky fans' standards and now the young Wildcats have possibly their most difficult challenge ahead in the form of a 7-foot road block placed in their path.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Friend Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley has a fuzzy past, present and future. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

I have a strange connection with Michael Beasley. By no means is it unique because there are plenty of one-way relationships between spectators and athletes that have formed and progressed in the exact same manner. The Phoenix Suns forward gives a little effort and puts up a big performance, then he gets a bit of positive attention from the NBA community at large and quickly re-adapts the humdrum attitude that Beasley has held for most of his professional career.

My introduction to Beasley came in the summer of 2006, when he committed to Kansas State. "Fantastic," I thought, except with more expletives because I was fresh out of high school and had not yet undergone the significant refinements typical of attending junior college. My university of choice was going to be the last amateur stop for one of the best teenage basketball players on the U.S. basketball circuit.

Of course, Beasley didn't disappoint when he donned the purple in 2007-08. He didn't quite lead the Wildcats to a victory over the in-state rival Kansas Jayhawks in Africa, but he could have if the NCAA sanctioned Big 12 conference games to be played on that continent. The Wildcats split the season series with the Jayhawks as each team protected its home court and Beasley totaled 17 rebounds, four blocks, two steals, two assists and 64 points on nearly 50 percent, including hitting 8-11 three balls.

In a historically one-sided rivalry, Beasley remains a major figure. He was a harbinger of things to come, as most of the contests between K-State and KU have been decided by fewer than 10 points since Beasley's departure, making blowouts like Monday night's 83-62 bludgeoning by the Jayhawks sting more for the KSU faithful than when those were expected outcomes.

Beasley's last win in a K-State uniform was in the NCAA tournament over a Southern California team featuring O.J. Mayo. The Wildcats' brightest star dropped 23 points, the same number he recorded two days later when Wisconsin ejected Beasley and Co. from championship contention.

He was expected to spend just a single season in college, even before leading the country with 12.4 rebounds per game and producing 26 regular season double-doubles (plus two in the NCAA tourney), breaking the NCAA freshman record held by Drew Gooden, a former Jayhawk. Beasley was more than welcome to quench the thirst for a win in a lopsided rivalry, collect his Big 12 Player of the Year award and declare for the NBA draft, which is precisely what happened.

Memphis guard Derrick Rose was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, taken by the Chicago Bulls and immediately becoming the starting point guard. Publicly, I decried the choice, making argument after argument for Beasley being the proper No. 1 pick, despite the Bulls' crowded front court. Secretly, though, I staged a minor celebration for Rose going to Chicago because this sated a portion of the college rivalry Beasley was leaving behind. Had the Bulls selected Beasley, he would have competed with Gooden for a starting spot as the double-double record lurked in both of their minds, but Rose's draft spot meant he would single-handedly be sending former Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich to the bench.

Beasley at KSU, post-dunk. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Udonis Haslem was the incumbent power forward in Miami and there were six small forwards — including Shawn Marion — on the team during the course of the 2008-09 season, but Beasley stilled managed to start 19 games. He could be a reserve as a rookie, though, and learn the NBA game from veterans. Beasley still landed on a team with one of the Association's best players in shooting guard Dwyane Wade; the franchise may have traded Shaquille O'Neal the previous season and missed the playoffs, but it was only three years removed from a championship season, beating the Dallas Mavericks 4-2; and, to the surprise of no Kansas State fan, Beasley finished second on the team in scoring, netting 1,123 points (13.9 ppg). Even his WS/48 was respectable (0.081) given his role.

Beasley had issues, though, even that early in his career.

He may or may not have been involved in an incident involving marijuana that saw Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur dismissed from the 2008 NBA Rookie Transition Program. Seeing two recent Jayhawks hit a small speed bump before playing in a single NBA game was fair-weather fun for me, but only to the point that Beasley's name was mentioned. To me, there was almost no question about his presence in the room with Chalmers and Arthur. It was a lucky break and perhaps nothing else, until Beasley — possibly at the behest of Heat president Pat Riley — admitted to being party to the marijuana incident, eliciting a $50,000 fine from the NBA. In comparison to the $20,000 fines levied against the other rookies, Beasley's was much heavier. Then again, he had failed to cooperate with initial investigations and he not been ejected from the program.

One more year, one more episode. In August 2009, Beasley checked into a rehabilitation facility in Houston, all but confirming his involvement in the Chalmers/Arthur incident and drawing numerous "Who gets addicted to pot?" quips from my friends with opposing college allegiances. Beasley's stay in rehab came after several concerning tweets and his posting of a photo showing off a new tattoo, which also included multiple plastic baggies in the background.

Beasley's maturity had been in question throughout his rookie year and even dating back to the pre-Kansas State days when Beasley enrolled in six different high schools. At a mere 20 years old, though, Beasley's decision to seek treatment for possible substance and psychological issues was very wise. It was a move that was supposed to put him on the right track, one which would allow him to realize his full potential and flourish in the NBA.

Incidentally, Beasley started 78 games in the 2009-10 season, upping his scoring (14.9 ppg), rebounding, assisting and WS/48 (0.095), but his field goal percentage declined, falling from 47.2 as a rookie to 45 percent, largely because of a sharp decrease in his efficiency behind the three-point line (40.7 in 2008-09, 27.5 in 2009-10).

His play fell off further during the playoffs that season, garnering a negative WS/48. With free agency on the horizon and Wade about to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh into the loop, there was no room for such an inconsistent and seemingly troubled player. The Heat began shopping Beasley and, shortly after the Heat's free agency coup, the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired the forward for next to nothing (cash and two future second-round picks).

A new start, they said. A chance to come into his own, they said. Playing small forward next to an All-Star like Kevin Love would afford Beasley plenty of room to operate, and he started 73 games, scoring more points than he had in his short career (1,401 at a 19.2 ppg clip) but using 28.3 percent of the Timberwolves' plays when he was on the floor. Beasley's scoring uptick clearly flew in the face of efficient play and earned him a spot on the bench in 2011-12.

Before the season started, Beasley was fined and ticketed by Minnesota police for speeding and possessing marijuana. No one was surprised. Not the Heat, not the Timberwolves and not even the Kansas State fans that were so loyal to Beasley in return for a sole season of excellence. The same sentiments apply for Beasley's altercation with a heckler at a streetball game in late 2011, and the reactions were even less of shock and more of groaning and head shaking.

Before this mess. (
The highlight of Beasley's season was a 34-point performance at Houston, commanding the court on 10-14 shooting (2-3 from three) and going 12-12 from the free throw line in a 120-108 T-Wolves win. It happened in late January 2012, just over a month after the lockout-shortened season began, and Beasley's name began appearing in trade rumors — some pundits were proposing the Los Angeles Lakers make a play for him — but that Beasley showed up only once more that season, in a road victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Two out of 66 games didn't do it for the Timberwolves, as GM David Kahn's plan of making the franchise into a contender became more actualized with the pairing of Love and Spanish point-savant Ricky Rubio. Beasley was allowed to walk in free agency and found a home with the Phoenix Suns, getting an $18 million, three-year deal in spite of his past.

This brings us more or less up to current day. The occasional big game, the sporadic off-court detriment and the all-too-familiar aloofness that accompanies Beasley to every stop he has made in the NBA. On Jan. 25, Beasley was handcuffed by police in Arizona after being pulled over for going 71 in a 45 mph zone, among other infractions. This time, however, he was given leeway and released for cooperating with authorities. Blatant speeding? Not mature. Possessing a loaded handgun and replying with "slow speech and slow responses," as the police report states? Not mature. But cooperating? Mature, and smart.

There has been less hoopla over this incident than anything in Beasley's career. The novelty is gone. Long gone. But five days later, his talent crept back into the frame and reignited the idea that Beasley could one day be a star. He ruined Steve Nash's first return to Phoenix as a Laker by recording 27 points (12-20 FG%), six rebounds and five steals, all of which catapulted the lowly Suns to a 92-86 win over the reeling Los Angeles crew. Since that night in the desert, Beasley has yet to explode again, coming close in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and his friend Kevin Durant but without the same fanfare.

These big games are the exceptions to the rule. Beasley is scoring at the lowest per-36 minutes and per-game rates of his career and was made a reserve when the idea of playing him as a starter flamed out after 20 games. His WS/48 is currently -0.047 for the season, meaning he is usually worth more to the Suns on the bench than on the hardwood.

This is the story: the exemplary (his year as a Wildcat, a few NBA games in each season since), the incorrect (mistake after mistake away from basketball) and the inconsistent (every other NBA game in which he plays). The talent is there but the commitment is questionable. His self-given nicknames B-Easy, Super Cool Beas — are tattooed on his skin, but maybe if he lets them fade, if he doesn't give them any audience, and just focuses on being Michael Beasley, he can be the superstar everyone knows he can be.

Not everyone knows that, I guess. But I do, even if the odds are against such a transformation. Even if, on my hard drive, this file is titled "Super Cool Beas."

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