Friday, April 22, 2005

First Round Playoff Preview

I'm moving this weekend and will be without TV and internet for the start of the playoffs which should give me a ready excuse to escape the boxes from time to time. Plus, there will be a bit of ignorant bliss should any of these predictions look horribly wrong initially.

There's nothing better than NBA Playoff basketball. Detractors make a few valid points about the varied quality of ball during the 82 game grind, but in the post-season the best players and coaches (and, this year, George Karl too) in the world exploit each other's weaknesses ruthlessly and repeatedly. Missing the first weekend will only whet my appetite.


Miami vs. New Jersey

Shaq’s health will determine how long this series lasts. Richard Jefferson’s return to the Nets likely won’t make much of a difference.

Not to get all Charley Rosen here, but Vince Carter appears to have no regrets with purposely tanking while a Raptor in order to force a trade. Such selfishness is still apparent whenever Carter touches the ball. Carter has been a highly effective scorer since arriving in New Jersey but he’s still an aesthetically unpleasant player who plays no defense. The self-imposed limitations of Carter’s game will be all the more apparent when he shares the court with the better players and teammates who populate this series.

Miami in 5

Chicago vs. Washington

Eddy Curry and Luol Deng will be missed. Both could have taken advantage of the soft underbelly of the Wizards defense. Without those two, this becomes a fairly terrible matchup for the Bulls. Yes, Arenas and Hughes will take too many chances defensively and give up easy buckets, but their length and athleticism should trouble the Bulls two remaining offensive options: Gordon and Hinrich. The combination of Harrington, Antonio Davis, Chandler, and Funderburke will have to contribute enough garbage buckets and face-up jumpers to weather the guards’ inevitable cold stretches.

On the other end of the court, Gilbert Arenas will be holding his coming-out party. Hinrich can only cover one the Wizards guards at a time. The other Wizard guard will have his way with Gordon or Duhon. Deng’s absence will preclude Skiles from going big and sliding Nocioni into the backcourt. Nocioni’s more of an annoyance than a great defensive player at this stage of his career, anyway.

Points will be at a premium for the Bulls, but they’ll play hard, physical basketball. These two teams fought in the pre-season and Tyson Chandler got thrown out of their game last week for kicking at Jaimson’s groin. This will be as ugly a series as possible for two teams featuring four guards this good.

Washington in 6

Detroit vs. Philadelphia

Iverson will give another valiant effort. Webber will be completely physically intimidated by the Pistons frontline. Larry Brown will gaze longingly at Andre Iguodala. It will all be over with quickly.

Detroit in 4

Boston vs. Indiana

If Jermaine O’Neal is reasonably healthy, the Pacers have a chance. If O’Neal is limited, some combination of LaFrentz, Blount, Jefferson, and Perkins should be able to slow O’Neal enough for the Celtics broader array of talent to prevail.

The Celtics are an odd mix of veterans reduced to role players by age (Payton) or injury (LaFrentz) and young players who have to yet grown into their potential (Jefferson, Allen, West, Perkins) surrounding two players (Pierce and Walker) who don’t always channel their desire to win in the ideal direction. Thus, their quality of play varies wildly, often within the same game. The in-game swings of fortune could make this an exciting series even if one team or the other sweeps. I don’t think that will happen. The Celtics inconsistency and Rick Carlisle’s coaching will bridge some of the talent gap. Paul Pierce won’t have to deal with Ron Artest, though. I expect Pierce to get to the line his customary 10 times per playoff game and lead the Celtics to the second round.

Boston in 6


Phoenix vs. Memphis

Memphis is constructed to be a very good regular season team. Their depth and interchangeable parts alleviate the 82 game grind. In a short series, however, frontline talent almost always takes over. Phoenix has frontline talent and they exploit it better than any other team in the league. Furthermore, The Grizzlies two-deep is stocked with players of similar skill sets but lesser talent so there aren’t any matchups they can exploit.

Phoenix in 4

Dallas vs. Houston

Who’s going to guard Nowitzki? Clarence Weatherspoon? Scott Padgett? Ryan Bowen? Exactly.

Houston’s attempts to slow the pace will likely result in more forced shots by Tracy McGrady than a free-flowing offense making use of the varied skills of a very nice collection of backcourt players (Sura, Wesley, Mike James, Jon Barry) or Yao Ming.

At this point, Yao is partially responsible for not yet dominating games regularly. It’s too early to give up on him as a franchise player, but this series won’t help his reputation. Or McGrady’s likely, either.

Dallas in 5

San Antonio vs. Denver

If Tim Duncan’s healthy, San Antonio is the best team in the league. Because he’s not and because the Nuggets players don’t all hate George Karl yet this series holds some interest.

If Duncan plays at all, the Spurs should advance to the second round. This isn’t a good matchup for the Nuggets. Andre Miller won’t be able to fully exploit Tony Parker’s defensive limitations. Earl Boykins might be able to do so, but he’ll give back roughly the same number of points he scores. Bowen and Brown should be able to force Carmelo Anthony into bad shots while Nesterovic and Mohammed compete with Kenyon Martin, Camby, and Nene on the glass.

San Antonio in 6

Seattle vs. Sacramento

I’ll say it. Brad Miller is Sacramento’s best player. It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to play in this series so Seattle should advance even if Radmanovic can only play limited minutes.

Seattle is best when Allen, Lewis, and Radmanovic are all on the court. If those three are healthy and creating problems then Ridnour and Daniels are interchangeable at the point and any member of the Evans/Collison/Fortson triumvirate can contribute with screens, rebounds, and fouls.

Either of these teams would be in serious danger were they playing one of the other six teams in the first round. Though both teams might be absent an important player and play hobbled stars their shared preference for the downhill portion of the game should make for an entertaining series.

Seattle in 7

Miami over Washington in 5
Detroit over Boston in 5
Phoenix over Dallas in 7
San Antonio over Seattle in 6

Detroit over Miami in 7
Phoenix over San Antonio in 7

Detroit over Phoenix in 6

Friday, April 08, 2005

Secondhand Portsmouth Reports

The college basketball season is over, but Hoopinion rolls on. My difficulties with structure and my lack of free time make me best suited to previewing seasons, tournaments, play-offs, and drafts anyway.

DraftCity is providing some excellent daily coverage of the Portsmouth camp. Jonathan Givony has singled out these players as excelling thus far: Jason Maxiell, Ivan McFarlin, Carlos Powell, Will Conroy, TJ Sorrentine, Jackie Manuel, Mindaugas Katelynas, and Aaron Miles.

Portsmouth exists for guys to play themselves into the second round of the draft or a nice contract in Europe. We're talking about guys who most likely have the upside of useful bench players, but that can be more interesting than arguing the infinitesimal separation of greatness between Duncan, Garnett, Nash, and Nowitzki.

Despite Givony's raves I'm still skeptical of Maxiell and not because he's a 6-6 power forward. He's a gifted athlete who is excelling in a less structured environment than he ever did as a college player. He'll need to translate his performance in Portsmouth first to the Chicago camp and then organized basketball in order to be useful.

McFarlin had a wonderful career at Oklahoma State, improving every year despite remaining a role player. Barring injury, he will make a lot of money playing basketball over the next ten years. I suspect that will happen in Europe because of his size and the fact that he is, at least not yet, much more than a serviceable defender. He makes up for the limitations in his game with exceptional basketball knowledge.

Carlos Powell is a small forward without a perimeter game. Pass.

TJ Sorrentine was an excellent college player, but I have a very difficult time seeing him play point guard in the NBA. His defensive limitations will likely force him to Europe. It's a fine line between Sorrentine and Luke Ridnour.

Jackie Manuel demonstrated some defensive ability on teams both great and terrible during his time at North Carolina. He could develop into the next data point on the Michael Cooper-Mario Elie-Bruce Bowen continuum.

I have never seen Mindaugas Katelynas play basketball. He went to Chattanooga, won the NCAA slam dunk championship at the Final Four, and is a 6-9 SF. He'll get a chance somewhere, sometime.

Will Conroy will have an opportunity, either as a second round pick or as a free agent to be somebody's backup point guard next fall. It seems to me that all teams would be better served to have a backup point guard capable of increasing the game's tempo as the second unit is presumably less talented than the first and needs more help in creating easy shots.

Aaron Miles is essentially the same player as Jacque Vaughn. Vaughn got more attention at Kansas, but Miles played on better teams. Unlike Vaughn, Miles will not be a first round pick and won't get a three-year grace period to establish himself as a serviceable backup point guard in the Association. Like Vaughn, Miles will past first, play decent-to-good defense (depending on the matchup), and not cause any problems in the locker room.

There don't seem to be a lot of second round point guards available in this draft. If Miles or Conroy get picked by a team with point guard issues and some frontline talent (Lakers, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Houston, or Cleveland) either one could hit the Chris Duhon lottery.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Preparing to Wrap Up the College Basketball Season

1) Let me say before tonight's game (lest those few who care think that I tailor my feelings to the result) that I do not begrudge Roy Williams his opportunity to win a National Championship. I only hope that should achieve that goal he finds some happiness.

I believe that his desire to win a National Championship is every bit as intense as his public disavowals regarding that desire. His insistence on "enjoying the ride" is largely in response to the embarrassment he suffered from the public response to his intensely emotional annual press conference following Kansas's NCAA Tournament loss. He stayed at Kansas to coach Gooden, Hinrich, and Collison and he left for North Carolina to coach May, McCants and Felton. Roy wants to win a National Championship more than anything.

2) I do not think that Roy Williams should have called his former players at Kansas until they had used up their eligibility. Nor do I think that his phone calls had any malevolent purpose. Roy has a tremendous need for approval demonstrated by his inability to accept that Kansas fans were upset when he left and that some refuse to forgive him for accepting the North Carolina job. Were I a North Carolina fan (or player), I'd be none too thrilled that my head coach talked constantly about Kansas, either.

3) I think tonight's matchup is basically a toss-up. In lieu of actual analysis, I'll cop-out and say that whichever team plays better will win with the caveat that an appearance by the point-zone will significantly diminish Carolina's chances.

4) The odd feeling of seeing Kansas's old coach (I could stop there having completed a coherent thought. I hope that Roy is the first and last coach to leave Lawrence for another college job.) square off against our current coach's old players isn't a dreadful as I expected due in large part to last week's McDonald's All-American game.

Unquestionably, Kansas stands third after the first two years of this tri-partite transition, but I like the Jayhawks chances of having the best team of the three two years hence. Now that I've seen the incoming freshmen and Alex Galindo appears to be the only candidate to transfer out I'm somewhat less cautious in my optimism for the '06-'07 season. Though Wright, Chalmers, and Downs all played well last Wednesday, I still think that next year's team will struggle to score consistently.

As for Galindo, he seemed to have the least utility of the five freshmen going forward in terms of the team it appears Self is building. I would not be surprised if he finds another program that could make better use of his talent. It would be unlikely that he would get enough playing time at Kansas to expand his game beyond his apparent, singular skill (shooting).

If Galindo's scholarship goes to DeAndre Thomas, I'd expect one of Thomas, Kaun or Darnell Jackson to redshirt next season. Assuming Julian Wright and CJ Giles start and that Moody plays some minutes at the 4, there's no need for a six-man rotation through the two post positions.