Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Matters of Hoopinion, Western Conference

Hoopinion is for Jackie Butler out-producing and under-eating Mike Sweetney ca. 2005.

Hoopinion is for living with Beno Udrih's bad possessions.

Hoopinion is against Jacque Vaughn providing much value other than as an unofficial player/coach.

Hoopinion is for good health for big Phoenicians and Leandro Barbosa playing off the ball.

Hoopinion has always been against the conventional wisdom regarding Marcus Banks' potential.

Hoopinion is for acknowledging that Marcus Banks is a significantly better point guard than Eddie House.

Hoopinion is for Austin Croshere (in a contract year).

Hoopinion is against the redundancy of Devean George in Dallas.

Hoopinion is for Earl Watson entering the discussion regarding who makes the Olympic Team.

Hoopinion is for Luke Ridnour becoming an excellent backup point guard.

Hoopinion is for Bob Hill reminding people that he's a pretty good NBA head coach.

Hoopinion is against there being a good solution as to who Seattle should play at the 5.

Hoopinion is already against picking the Sonics to win the Northwest.

Hoopinion is for Shane Battier, Kirk Snyder, and Luther Head making Houston's offense fully functional.

Hoopinion is for Jeff Van Gundy developing a love/hate relationship with Steve Novak.

Hoopinion is against Little John Lucas and his distressingly phony father.

Hoopinion is for Maurice Evans getting to play a key role on a good team.

Hoopinion is against Smush Parker keeping his starting job for 82 games.

Hoopinion is for Jordan Farmar. Next year. And Quincy Douby, too.

Hoopinion is for considering Ron Artest shooting a lot of jump shots as further evidence of his mental instability.

Hoopinion is against whatever it is that Sacramento, Phoenix, and Toronto see in John Salmons.

Hoopinion is for JR Smith maturing into his talents.

Hoopinion is still against George Karl being allowed to coach basketball again after the 2002 World Championships.

Hoopinion is against the idea that Linas Kleiza can refrain from turning the ball over a second year in a row.

Hoopinion is for Elton Brand producing a Werner Herzog film.

Hoopinion is for Sam Cassell sticking around long enough to be named player/coach of an NBA team.

Hoopinion is against the clash of pride between Mike Dunleavy and Corey Maggette.

Hoopinion is for Ronnie Brewer.

Hoopinion is against expecting Chris Paul and David West to improve significantly.

Hoopinion is against criticizing Paul and West for merely remaining their excellent selves.

Hooopinion is for criticizing Tyson Chandler, Cedric Simmons, and Hilton Armstrong when they fail to catch more than 3 out of 5 passes from Paul.

Hoopinion is against Byron Scott's inability to maiximize his players' skills and minimize their weaknesses.

Hoopinion is for Randy Foye, should he ever touch the ball.

Hoopinion is for Kevin Garnett.

Hoopinion is against anyone who blames Garnett for Kevin McHale's failures.

Hoopinion is against the idea of Memphis's young players attempting to play games at 85 or fewer possessions until Pau Gasol returns.

Hoopinion is against Mikey Dunleavy being given a significant role at any position.

Hoopinion is against Don Nelson polluting my fond memories of his Milwaukee Bucks teams.

Hoopinion is for Sidney Moncrief, Paul Pressey, and Junior Bridgeman in perpetuity.

Hoopinion is for Ike Digou and Andris Biedrins getting minutes.

Hoopinion is for Portland's hard work paying off sometime around 2009.

Friday, October 27, 2006

2006-07 Western Conference Preview

UPDATE: Playoff predictions for the Western Conference were inadvertently omitted from the original posting.

First seed, Southwest Division Champion: San Antonio Spurs
Second seed, Pacific Division Champion: Phoenix Suns
Third seed: Dallas Mavericks

These three teams could finish in any order but collectively they'll be the class of the Western Conference.

In San Antonio, Jackie Butler and Francisco Elson should adeqautely replace Rasho Nestervoic and Nazr Mohammed. If Butler can maintain his semi-established level of production while playing more minutes, the Spurs will get improved production from the center position. San Antonio also brought in Matt Bonner as Robert Horry insurance and Jacque Vaughn to replace Nick Van Exel. Vaughn is so ineffective offensively that I think Gregg Popovich will have no choice but to play Beno Udrih more.

I'm not a huge Marcus Banks fan, but he will complement Leandro Barbosa far better than did Eddie House. Phoenix got less than 1500 combined minutes from Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas last year. Every minute more than that they get from those two will significantly improve their defense and add to their win total.

Dallas made a good trade with Indiana. I think Austin Croshere, especially in a contract year, will be an improvement over Keith van Horn and Anthony Johnson is obviously better than Dsrrell Armstrong at this point. I'm not a fan of signing both Greg Buckner and Devean George as both figure to be far less effective than Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse, neither of whom is likely to appear in 82 games this year. Avery Johnson would be better off going small when his top two wings are marked absent. If Dallas is healthy come playoff time, they'll still be a tri-favorite at worst to represent the Western Conference in the NBA finals.

Fourth seed, Northwest Division Champion: Seattle Supersonics

In the end, I chickened out of picking an upset winner in either the Atlantic or the Southeast Division. Despite Robert Swift's possible absence for the year, I won't renege on this prediction in what could be a disastrous example of iconoclasm.

Here's my case: Seattle was historically awful defensively last year. More playing time for Earl Watson and Nick Collison should help improve the defensive numbers and neither of those guys will kill the effective Seattle offense. Bob Hill's an underrated coach, too.

Fifth seed: Houston Rockets

A healthy Tracy McGrady will make a big difference, but, assuming he still misses a fair number of games, I'm not sure that Shane Battier, playing his typical 80 games, won't have a bigger hand in improving Houston's offense. I also like all the options Jeff Van Gundy has in the backcourt. Out of Rafer Alston, Luther Head, Kirk Snyder, Bonzi Wells, Vassilis Spanoulis, and John Lucas there's got to be a combination more effective than Alston, Head, David Wesley, Keith Bogans, and Derek Anderson were last year.

Sixth seed: Los Angeles Lakers

I underestimated the combined strength of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson last year. With an improved bench: Maurice Evans, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jordan Farmar, and Shammond Williams, I not only won't make the mistake of picking them to miss the playoffs again, they're one of the five teams in the West I'm certain will make the playoffs.

Seventh seed: Denver Nuggets

Denver's in the (projected) playoffs on the strength of Carmelo Anthony's talents and their overstocked, yet injury prone frontcourt. Enough of those guys will be healthy at any one time to field a decent team, yet they'll never all be healthy enough to create problems over minutes. The sooner George Karl and JR Smith become mature enough to help each other out, the better Denver will be.

Eighth seed: Sacramento Kings
First playoff runner-up: Los Angeles Clippers
Second playoff runner-up: Utah Jazz

Sacramento could be the fifth seed if they get a full year from Ron Artest. If Artest goes off the reservation or they suffer a serious injury to Mike Bibby or Brad Miller, they might not get to 40 wins. They don't have a lot of depth behind an excellent starting five with John Salmons slated to backup multiple positions.

The Clippers made the playoffs on the back of Elton Brand's career year. Sam Cassell is still effective, but declining from his peak. Shaun Livingston should be better this year, but he'd have to take a major step forward to match Cassell's production. Corey Maggette could conceivably take up some of the slack if Brand and Cassell aren't as effective, but Mike Dunleavy is rather ambivalent about playing him. I would be shocked if Tim Thomas is as productive as Radmanovic and Chris Wilcox were in their half-seasons with the Clippers last year.

If I thought Jerry Sloan would play Ronnie Brewer more often than Derek Fisher, I'd put the Jazz in the playoffs.

Eleventh place: NO/OKC Hornets
Twelfth place: Minnesota Timberwolves

Chris Paul is a great point guard but he's not good enough to turn any of the Hornets' centers into effective offensive players. Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo project to be inadequate replacements for Speedy Claxton and I'll be impressed if Paul and David West maintain their outstanding play from last year. To ask for improvement from both seems awfully optimistic.

If I thought he'd get to touch the ball very often, I'd make Randy Foye my Rookie of the Year pick. I don't understand how he, Mike James, and Ricky Davis are going to complement each other. In the frontcourt, Kevin Garnett produces about as much as any player in the NBA, but not so much that he can make up for the lack of contributions from Trenton Hassell, Mark Blount, and Eddie Griffin.

Thirteenth place: Memphis Grizzlies

No team, not even one whose success is built on a foundation of limiting possessions and playing hard every night, can survive the loss of its two best players.

Fourteenth place: Golden State Warriors

Moving Mikey Dunleavy to power forward and running the offense through Mikey Dunleavy are horrible ideas independent of each other. The silver lining for Warriors' fans is that doing both at the same time might prove so disastrous that the experiment doesn't last very long. Don Nelson's desire to go small appears to marginalize Golden State's two most intriguing young players (Ike Diogu and Andris Biedrins) in order to give more minutes to Mickael Pietrus (who will probably become effective now that I've given up on him) and Monta Ellis (he of the old-man knees) or Dajuan Wagner (missed 2006 season while having colon removed/reputation helped by Tskitishvili being an even worse Top 6 pick in 2002 Draft).

Fifteenth place: Portland Trail Blazers

I expect Portland to be much improved, but even a ten win improvement might not keep them out of the Western Conference cellar. Brandon Roy should be able to contribute immediately and Jarrett Jack will be far more effective as a full-time point guard. I still think Martell Webster is more likely to be George McCloud than Glen Rice, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't take a big step forward in his second year.

1st Round Playoffs
San Antonio over Sacramento 4-1
Phoenix over Denver 4-1
Dallas over Los Angeles Lakers 4-2
Houston over Seattle 4-2

Conference Semifinals
San Antonio over Houston 4-3
Dallas over Phoenix 4-3

Conference Finals
San Antonio over Dallas 4-2

NBA Finals
San Antonio over Cleveland 4-2

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Matters of Hoopinion, Eastern Conference

Hoopinion is for living with Drew Gooden's bad possessions

Hoopinion is for Anderson Varejao when he's rebounding.

Hoopinion is against Anderson Varejao when he's flopping, sneaking cheap shots, or diving after loose balls that have already gone out of bounds. Danny Ferry and the people of Cleveland, these are not things to celebrate.

Hoopinion is for playing Kirk Hinrich at the point exclusively.

Hoopinion is against comparing Tyrus Thomas to Stromile Swift.

Hoopinion is against the notion that any player could be an effective enough defender to off-set Lindsay Hunter's offensive limitations.

Hoopinion is against Flip Murray being able to figure out what made the Pistons work.

Hoopinion is for living with Brendan Haywood's bad possessions.

Hoopinion is for Jameer Nelson and to a slightly lesser extent, Carlos Arroyo and Travis Diener.

Hoopinion is against Keyon Dooling, any other shoot-first point guard who can't make shots, and GMs who give multi-year contracts to players on the basis of one decent playoff series.

Hoopinion is for Salim Stoudamire, though.

Hoopinion was for Rajon Rondo before everyone else.

Hoopinion is against Al Harrington setting up in the low block while Jermaine O'Neal watches.

Hoopinion is for Milwaukee's long-term planning.

Hoopinion is against Miami's short-term planning because it doesn't involve making any immediate improvements.

Hoopinion is for Raymond Felton taking over the point in Charlotte.

Hoopinion is against anyone finding out that Raymond Felton was ranked ahead of Chris Paul in the 2005 Draft Preview.

Hoopinion is for the implausible: Shavlik Randolph seems like a serviceable NBA backup power forward.

Hoopinion is for PJ Tucker getting an opportunity in Toronto.

Hoopinion is, sadly, against the perception of TJ Ford as being an impact player.

Hoopinion is for Starbury Ones.

Hoopinion is against the possibility of Stephon Marbury playing the one for a successful basketball team.

Hoopinion is for Josh Smith moving without the ball, passing, rebounding, and defending.

Hoopinion is against Josh Smith shooting three-pointers.

Hoopinion is for free agent point guards.

Hoopinion is against Royal Ivey.

Hoopinion is for intangibles in the locker room, in practice, or on the road.

Hoopinion is for, nay demands, tangible contributions from everyone who sees the court.

Hoopinion is against unrealistic expectations.

Hoopinion is for good-natured exuberance.

Hoopinion is for a willingness to be wrong.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2006-07 Eastern Conference Preview

First seed, Central Division Champion: Cleveland Cavaliers
Second seed: Chicago Bulls

Cleveland and Chicago should comfortably distance themselves from the field in the race for the East's best record. Cleveland has the advantage of the league's best player and a supporting cast that has to improve on last year's sub-standard production.

Chicago possesses not just the NBA's deepest team, but the one with the smallest talent difference between their best and 12th-best player. The extreme balance won't be much help come playoff time but will allow the Bulls to survive any reasonable amount of injuries.

Third seed, Southeast Division Champion: Miami Heat

As I've mentioned earlier, Pat Riley is committed to negating as much of the advantage of having two of the ten best players in the league as possible. This to me, considering the likely absence of O'Neal and Wade from about 30 games combined, is madness. If either Washington or Orlando get off to a hot start, Miami will be forced to chase them down just to get home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Fourth seed, Atlantic Division Champion: New Jersey Nets

New Jersey's only a 45-win team, but that should be enough to win the Atlantic handily. If either Antoine Wright or Marcus Williams develops into a decent player by playoff time, New Jersey could present matchup problems with a small lineup.

Fifth seed: Detroit Pistons

I think I was a year early in predicting Detroit's retreat from the NBA's elite though could finish the regular season fifteen games worse than last year and still have the East's third-best record. An overextended Antonio McDyess is most likely to break Detroit's streak of good health. Maurice Evans will be missed as well. Even though he didn't play much, he played more and played far better than any other backcourt reserve.

Sixth seed: Washington Wizards

DeShawn Stevenson could make a big difference in the Eastern Conference this year. I think he's a better defender than Jared Jeffries and he won't force Caron Butler out of position. Even if Washington can't overtake Miami in the regular season, they'll have a good chance of playing the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That will be a tremendously difficult series for Miami to win.

Seventh seed: Orlando Magic

Orlando's probably a year away from challenging the best of the Eastern Conference. Unless, of course, Grant Hill stays healthy.

Seriously, though, Orlando needs to improve their frontcourt depth and get JJ Redick in playing shape as quickly as possible. If Redick can't go, I would advise Brian Hill to play two of his three small point guards together as much as possible rather than let Keyon Dooling hurt the team on both ends of the floor.

Eighth seed: Boston Celtics

I've got no confidence in this pick because I have no confidence in Doc Rivers finding the very effective nine-man rotation that's latent in this roster.

First playoff runner-up: Indiana Pacers

Al Harrington is not a major addition. Al Harrington is as average as an NBA player gets. Furthermore, I think he'll limit Jermaine O'Neal's touches. Combine that with the lack of a quality NBA point guard on the roster and a glut of young wing players and I'm very pessimistic about the Pacers. That being said, Rick Carlisle is a good coach.

I really have no idea how many games Indiana will win. It'll be somewhere between 30 and 45.

Second playoff runner-up: Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee should be pretty good once everyone gets healthy, but they'll be too far behind the pack once that happens. Another good off-season from Larry Harris will make them a perennial playoff team.

Eleventh place: Philadelphia 76ers
Twelfth place: Charlotte Hornets
Thirteenth place: New York Knicks
Fourteenth place: Toronto Raptors
Fifteenth place: Atlanta Hawks

Put the bottom five in a hat, pick them out, and go with that. None of these teams will be good, one of them will suffer a significant injury and be terrible, and the rest will clump around 32 wins.

1st Round Playoffs
Cleveland over Boston 4-0
Chicago over Orlando 4-1
Washington over Miami 4-3
Detroit over New Jersey 4-3

Conference Semifinals
Cleveland over Detroit 4-2
Chicago over Washington 4-3

Conference Finals
Cleveland over Chicago 4-2

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Preview of NBA Preview Week On Hoopinion

As I ready my Eastern and Western Conference previews for publication later in the week, I'd like to direct any and all readers in the meantime to the re-launched CourtsideTimes.net and this CelticsBlog post wherein Doc Rivers seems to be trying to convince me not to pick Boston to make the playoffs.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rebutting Jeff Goodman's Poorly Argued Defense of Greg Paulus

Writes Goodman on the heavily-capitalized FOXSports.com:
"As Greg Paulus goes, so do the Duke Blue Devils."
Anybody who has watched Paulus play would assume that Goodman means that Duke is headed toward missed shots (43% eFG), turnovers (32.8 TO Rate), and terrifically ineffective defending (watch the games). Goodman, however, attempts to cast Paulus's many limitations as strengths:
"There's no question that Josh McRoberts is the most talented player on the team. Gerald Henderson Jr., an athletic freshman wing, has a better shot of earning a paycheck in the NBA than Paulus. Ditto for 7-foot frosh Brian Zoubek.

However, Paulus not only brings leadership and all the intangibles to the table. He's also the only floor leader on the entire roster."

That Paulus is the only floor leader on the entire roster is a black mark on the generally exemplary recruiting record of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Goodman continues:

"He led the ACC (the best conference in America) in assists (5.2 apg) his freshman campaign."

To lead the league in assists per game, Paulus needed to play over 80% of the minutes on the 29th fastest-paced team in the country in a league without any good point guards.

Here's a list of the ACC's team leaders in assist rate. Once we level the playing field in terms of pace (both Singletary and Gray played a higher percentage of minutes than Paulus but their teams both played at a much slower pace than Duke) and playing time (Frederick and Frasor didn't get quite as much playing time as Paulus), Paulus is simply in the top third of a rather pedestrian collection of ACC distributors.

Sean Singletary, Virginia 30.1
Justin Gray, Wake Forest 26.6
Zam Frederick, Georgia Tech 26.2
Greg Paulus, Duke 26.1
Bobby Frasor, UNC 25.9
Jamon Gordon, Va. Tech 25.0
Louis Hinnant, BC 24.9
Isaiah Swann, FSU 24.7
Anthony Harris, Miami 24.4
DJ Strawberry, Maryland 22.8
Cliff Hammonds, Clemson 20.9
Gavin Grant, NC State 20.5

Also, the Big East and the SEC were both clearly better leagues last year than the ACC.

Finally, Goodman attempts to build Paulus up by comparing him to a former, similarly pigmented teammate whose game Paulus's resembles not all:

"Paulus, who will take the throne of the most hated player in the league now that J.J. Redick is in the NBA, has his share of critics."

As a freshman, JJ Redick was an overrated, one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot player. If he was wasn't making shots, he was useless. Over the course of his career, Redick diversified his game, becoming an outstanding offensive player and an adequate defensive player. For the majority of his career, ACC fans hated JJ Redick because he was good enough to beat their teams. Unless Greg Paulus improves greatly, in a number of different areas, opposing fans will welcome his ineffectiveness with open arms, saving their ridicule for anyone who argues that having Greg Paulus play point guard is a good thing for Duke.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Even Smart People Say Silly Things When It Comes To Eddy Curry

From John Hollinger's Eddy Curry player comment on ESPN Insider, an otherwise sober assesment of the vast difference between Isiah Thomas's expectations for (and concomitant financial investment in) Eddy Curry, "he'll be a beast in the post capable of going off for 30 on any foul-free night."

Hollinger's qualifier doesn't leave many nights for us to discuss, but Curry has kept foul rate down somehwat the last three years (4.8, 4.5, and 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes). Over those last three years, Curry has scored 30 points exactly zero times in 208 games played.

In the 361 games Curry has played in his NBA career, he has scored 30 points twice.
  • On March 22nd, 2003 Curry scored 30 points against a New York Knicks team using Othella Harrington, Kurt Thomas, and Michael Doleac at center.
  • On April 15th of the same year, in the Bulls' final game of the season, Curry scored 31 points against Tyrone Hill, Brian Skinner, and Efthimi Rentzias.
Foul trouble or no, Eddy Curry isn't going to play enough minutes to score thirty points in a game very often--not in his shape, not when he makes less than two-thirds of his free throws, and not with all the turnovers.

Atlantic Division: First Team To 40 Wins, Wins

With Marcus Williams joining Josh Boone and Eddie House on the shelf, the Nets look to open the season with three excellent starters, two average starters and no good bench players. They may be giving up their margin of error in the Atlantic without Kidd, Carter, or Jefferson missing a game.

Antoine Wright (whom I was high on prior to his disappointing rookie season) figures to spell both Carter and Jefferson. Soon-to-be 40-year-old (and three years removed from his last good season--four if you're not feeling generous) Cliff Robinson and Mikki Moore should take the leftover minutes in the post. Ersatz feel-good subject Jay Williams will attempt to follow up on his predictably disappointing rookie season of four years ago as Kidd's backup. He could even see some minutes alongside Kidd at the 2 if Wright fails to show improvement once the games start to count.

It is not unreasonable to wonder if Bostjan Nachbar, Hassan Adams, Mile Ilic, and/or Matt Walsh could make this team's rotation. It wouldn't be a bad idea for Lawrence Frank to keep his resume updated should he ultimately take the fall for Rod Thorn's poor roster construction.

Monday, October 16, 2006

PJ Tucker Watch, Episode #3

With Chris Bosh resting a sore left heel, PJ Tucker got extended pre-season minutes for the first time on Sunday, scoring 18 points in a 119-110 win over the Nets. Surprisingly, Tucker grabbed but two rebounds and refrained from turning the ball over.

Reports from Toronto are positive, though Sam Mitchell's nickname for Tucker, "Baby Mule," doesn't do it for me. In Mitchell's defense, my preferred nickname for Tucker, "The Man Who Will Repatriate Joey Graham," isn't especially catchy and carries a sell-by date.

Mitchell, saying what I've been saying for months:
"I don't know what position he plays ... he just plays. We're working him at the three (small forward); he played four (power forward) today and we feel like he can guard some twos (shooting guards), most threes and fours. This kid just battles."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Revisting the Bulls' Rotation

The fine folks at Blog-a-Bull pointed me toward an article I'd missed when preparing my earlier post.

From KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
With seven new players, Bulls coach Scott Skiles has said he might begin as early as Wednesday's exhibition opener against Washington to try to establish a rotation.

In another breath, he has talked about being cognizant of possibly playing into late May or even June and the inherent need to keep players fresh.

"We're a pretty deep team," Skiles said after practice Monday. "The fact we may play a lot of guys on Wednesday may end up how we play. We may play 10, 11, 12 guys most of the season.

"I'd like the guys to settle into some sort of routine they can expect every game. We have so many guys who are good players, but all do something a little bit different that nobody really jumps way in front of anybody. We think that's a strength, our versatility. I'd be foolish if I don't try to use all that."

"There may be two or three guys that are very valuable to our team that play for a week and the next week don't play that much," Skiles said. "But they're there when we need them and for certain matchups, we'll get them out there. We're trying to sort all that out now. It's very difficult."

Thoughts While Perusing Exhibition Box Scores From October 10th

I'm still going back-and-forth on whether or not to compose a post delineating what I'm for and what I'm against regarding the 2006-07 NBA season. My pre-season posts may make all that clear, but a one-stop clearinghouse for all my predictions and predilections may prove useful to friend and foe alike.

I'll start with a game I watched.

Philadelphia 103 Phoenix 100 (Cologne, Germany)

Amare Stoudemire (6 pts, 6 reb, 4 PF, 5 TO in 17 minutes) does not look like his pre-microfracture self. Paul Coro in
The Arizona Republic reports Stoudemire grading himself as "85 percent healthy." If that's true, we won't ever see the promise of Stoudemire's 2004-05 season fulfilled.

Orlando 109 Charlotte 90

Adam Morrison offered no surprises on his debut. He scored 19 points on 14 shots and made no other contributions (one defensive rebound, no assists, no steals, and no blocks).

Boston 109 Cleveland 93

One thing a for-and-against would make clear is that I'm not against Bassy, I just think Rajon Rondo is a better basketball player. After one game that doesn't count for anything, I appear to be right. Rondo played well in Cleveland last night, shooting 3-7 from the floor, 5-6 from the line, with 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, and just one turnover. Telfair managed to negate the value of unexpectedly scoring 12 points (4-6 from the floor, 4-9 from the line) by adding a single rebound and a single assist while turning the ball over 5 times and committing 3 fouls.

The box score linked above has Rondo playing 35 minutes and Telfair just 10, but according to that box the Celtics as a whole only played fewer than 200 minutes last night which I consider unlikely.

Dallas 81 New Orleans/OKC 84

The supposition that Chris Paul is talented enough to make Tyson Chandler into an offensive threat took a hit last night. Chandler attempted one field goal (he made it) and two free throws (he made one) in 21 minutes.

Cedric Simmons and Hilton Armstrong both struggled, but promising backup power forward Brandon Bass went for 8 and 8 with 2 blocked shots in 24 minutes.

Memphis 75 Houston 69

The score indicates a prematurely micro-managed game from Coaches Fratello and J. Van Gundy, but it was played at a faster pace than either team averaged last year in the games that counted. The teams combined for 49 turnovers, 87 missed field goals, and 64% free throw shooting.

Rudy Gay, perhaps overreacting to long-standing criticism about his perceived passivity, attempted 18 shots in 23 minutes (approximate), making 5.

Three of the candidates to join Rafer Alston in the Houston guard rotation played (Luther Head and Bonzi Wells did not) with none of the three making a strong case for minutes that count. Little John Lucas went 2-11 from the floor with two assists and one turnover. Kirk Snyder started, shooting 2-7 from the floor, missing both free throws, and grabbing a single offensive rebound. Vassilis Spanoulis was 2-6 from the floor, missed all four of his three-point attempts, and turned the ball over five times. I think it's unlikely that any of those guys made up for it on the defensive end, either.

Detroit 84 Miami 64 (San Juan, PR)

Per Will Miami Win 50 Games?, I present the Heat bench from last night, in order of minutes played: Dorrell Wright, Wayne Simien, Jason Kapono, Antonio Burks, Earl Barron, Michael Doleac, and Chris Quinn. In 119 minutes (approximate) they combined to score 36 points on 42 field goal and 7 free throw attempts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

PJ Tucker Watch, Episode #2

PJ Tucker was not among the 11 Raptors to play in their 93-88 win at Washington.

Anthony Parker started alongside TJ Ford and Morris Peterson in a three-guard set. Joey Graham, Kris Humphries, and Andrea Bargnani were the only frontcourt players to get time off the bench.

Toronto was killed on the glass, grabbing just 17.8% of possible offensive rebounds and 71% of possible defensive rebounds.

How Inclusive Will Chicago's Rotation Be?

Granted, the type of positive training camp stories linked herein are endemic to every team, but Scott Skiles has demonstrated a willingness to play a lot of guys. Eleven Bulls played at least 50 games last year and each one of them averaged over 11 minutes per game. Some of that time got spread around because none of Mike Sweetney, Darius Songaila, Malik Allen, or Othella Harrington ever made a strong case that they deserved the bulk of the minutes at the 4, plus all four players had to fill in at the 5 because of Tyson Chandler's nightly battles with foul trouble.

Still, it's possible that one of those guys would have played better had they been given a consistently defined role and the accompanying minutes. Furthermore, I refuse to believe that the 11th guy in Skiles' rotation, Jannero Pargo, needed to play a career-high 643 minutes last year.

Pargo, Chandler, Songaila, and Harrington are gone, replaced by Ben Wallace, PJ Brown, Tyrus Thomas, and Thabo Sefolosha which appears to make the Bulls just as deep, numbers-wise, but with a better collection of players. With Viktor Khryapa (who is already earning compliments from Skiles) and Adrian Griffin, useful players both, replacing Eric Piatkowski and Eddie Basden at the end of the bench, Skiles will have the opportunity to use 12 legitimate NBA players every night.

Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, PJ Brown, and Ben Wallace figure to start with Chris Duhon, Thabo Sefolosha, Adrian Griffin, Andres Nocioni, and Tyrus Thomas likely comprising the second unit. Khryapa and either Sweetney or Allen (more likely Allen as Sweetney's conditioning does not appear to have improved) will fill out the active roster most nights.

That much quality depth will help Chicago survive the minor injuries that impact any NBA team's season and provide a reasonable level of insurance should any key player miss significant time, but the NBA playoffs almost always reward concentrated, front-line talent over depth. The Bulls could easily end the regular season with the East's best record (especially if Ben Gordon really has turned into even a competent defender and rebounder) and still find themselves as legitimate underdogs to Miami or Detroit in a second-round playoff matchup, especially if Chicago's two promising first-round draft picks fail to make an immediate impact and get stuck at the back of the rotation, stunting their development.

Friday, October 06, 2006

PJ Tucker Watch, Episode #1

I am completely serious when I say that PJ Tucker was one of the ten best players available in the draft. I'm even more serious when I say that Tucker was the best University of Texas product that Bryan Colangelo acquired this off-season.

I think any hopes of TJ Ford developing into a miniature Jason Kidd have been extinguished. Ford's upside now appears to be Avery Johnson minus the defensive awareness. Ford will struggle, as he did in Milwaukee with Mo Williams, to get significant minutes ahead of Jose Calderon.

I'm not sure who exactly Tucker is competing against for minutes. Today's glowing article in the Toronto Star claims that Morris Peterson, Fred Jones, Anthony Parker, Joey Graham, and Tucker are all competing for minutes at small forward. I'm sure that's somehwat true, but at least Jones and Parker figure to get minutes at the 2, and, if Toronto wants to go small, Tucker could be effective backing up Bosh and Bargnani at the 4. Toronto will probably struggle early in the season as Sam Mitchell sorts through the various combinations of largely interchangable players at his disposal. The sooner Tucker moves ahead of the one-dimensional Joey Graham in the Raptors' rotation, the better.

Mitchell is beginning to figure this out:

"Joey can't — none of (the small forwards) can — relax when they come to practice, not with (Tucker) around. He's not smooth and he's not stylish in what he does. ... He's one of those guys, the game is getting ugly, and you may put him out there for three or four minutes and just say, `Just go throw your body around, see if you can get some offensive rebounds or tip-ins ...'"
Tucker's playmaking ability is underrated. He's similar to Ron Artest in that the brute strength of his offensive game overshadows his guile. Tucker possesses a nifty spin move and is a good passer. Last year, as Daniel Gibson struggled to run the Texas team, Rick Barnes ran more and more of the offense through Tucker.

Should Tucker ever develop an effective jump shot, he would become a near-unstoppable offensive force, overpowering small forwards and beating power forwards off the dribble. Unlike Artest, Tucker never figures to become enamored with the three-point shot and waste possessions in futile pursuit thereof.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

JR Smith Watch, Episode #1

Sometime within the next 24 months, John Paxson is going to get a lot of criticism for trading JR Smith for two second-round picks. The criticism won't be entirely fair. Acquired from New Orleans in the swap of Tyson Chandler's long, expensive contract for PJ Brown's short, expensive contract, Smith had little chance of playing in Chicago. Not because he's the malcontent that Byron Scott made him out to be, but rather because the Bulls had already put together a guard rotation with which they were happy: Hinrich, Gordon, Duhon, and Sefolosha (the sooner those last two names swap places in the rotation, all the better for Bulls fans).

Getting two second-round picks for JR Smith does not constitute getting equal value in return for Chicago, but trading him to Denver, where he has an immediate chance to fill their opening at shooting guard, makes the world a better place. For that, I congratulate John Paxson.

Early reports from Denver are positive.

Will Miami Win 50 Games?

It's not necessary they do so in order to achieve their goal of winning another NBA Championship. They only won 52 games in the regular season last year. Neither of the prohibitive favorites for the best record in the East (Cleveland and Chicago) would definitely be favored in a seven game series against the Heat (presuming both Shaq and Wade to be reasonably healthy). If Shaq and Wade aren't both healthy, none of this matters.

Still, 50 regular season wins are far from assured as the Heat seem intent on making things as difficult as possible for themselves this season. In addition to the reasonably assumed absences of Shaq and Mourning from 15 games each (minimum), and Wade from ten (he's getting an MRI on his right hand soon), Jason Williams postponed his knee surgery long enough that he will be out until at least mid-November, Pat Riley did not sign anybody of note this summer to back up James Posey or the rapidly disintegrating Williams/Gary Payton tandem, and Riley is apparently counting on Dorrell Wright (career minutes played: 160) to play productive minutes at all three perimeter positions depending on the circumstances at leastr until the remains of Shandon Anderson are healthy enough to pass a physical (see Jason Williams story linked above).

With Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, and Orlando figuring to gobble up most of the wins that Detroit and New Jersey give back to the field this season and New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Toronto each possessing reasonable hopes of cracking the 30-win mark, Miami, despite having two of the top ten players in the entire league, risks finding themselves amidst a tight six-team fight over the third through eighth seeds in the East. All the question marks that hover over Miami's regular season campaign are more likely to create post-season complications if they attempt to win three or four successive series without home-court advantage.

Most of the time, teams make gradual steps toward a Finals appearance. This off-season, Miami and Detroit have not just allowed Cleveland and Chicago to build teams that look better suited for the long haul of 82 games, but have failed to supplement their outstanding frontline talent such that anything that deviates unhappily from the organizations' respective plans will open the door for an Eastern Conference team to make a tremendous leap forward and earn a shot against whoever is left standing from the Western Conference.

Eddy Curry Will Never Satisfy You

Howard Beck writes as positive an article as one can about Eddy Curry in today's New York Times. Beck uses the old trick of mentioning Curry's excellent shooting percentage while ignoring all the possessions that end with a Curry turnover, assigns Larry Brown blame for not playing Curry more last year (though Curry played the second highest number of minutes in his five-year career), and reports that Isiah Thomas "vows" to give Curry more minutes as he's arrived to camp in the best shape of his career.

The best shape of his career is judged on a generous curve, as this sentence from the article's final paragraph attests:
[Curry] lagged behind teammates during end-of-practice sprints Tuesday morning, but Thomas said he was extremely satisfied with Curry’s conditioning.
Curry is what he is: an above average scorer who can't pass, rebound, or defend. I don't think Curry's a bad kid (see his quote in Beck's article about getting more playing time this year, "If I show him (Thomas) that I can play the whole game, I’ll play the whole game.") but he's never learned to work hard or translate his size and athletic ability into a useful set of basketball skills.

Curry should be the poster child for improving player development in the U.S. He went straight from playing against boys in high school to men in the NBA. Through no fault of his own, he was drafted by a dysfunctional organization then traded to another. Eddy Curry hasn't made himself better. I doubt he ever will. He hasn't had much help, though, either.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Let's All Take A Deep Breath

Everyone is predicting, if not real improvement, at least a better record for the Knicks this year. The reasoning is solid: Isiah Thomas, for all his faults as a GM and limitations as a head coach, won't actively try to sabotage the team to prove a point. I'm on board with the Knicks winning more than 23 games, but refuse to go overboard and pick them to be more than 10 games better in the win column. This is still a poorly assembled team whose overpaid veterans don't have much interest in doing anything that's asked of them.

To wit, Frank Isola in today's New York Daily News:
"Isiah Thomas mailed letters to his players in August suggesting that they arrive in New York after Labor Day for informal workouts, which is common for NBA teams. Thomas' plan was to encourage his team to begin building camaraderie while removing the ugly memory of last season as soon as possible.

In theory, it seemed like a great idea. But on the day following the holiday, only four players, including Channing Frye and David Lee, bothered to show up for work, according to a team source."

Frye and Lee certainly weren't part of the problem last year. I'd like to know who the other two players were. If they were Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, that'd be reason for optimism (though not irrational optimism in the spirit of Bench Renaldo's Knicks preview). I think the team source would have mentioned Curry and Crawford prominently had they been there. I'm guessing it was more along the lines of Mardy Collins and Elton Brown hanging out with Frye and Lee.

Is The NBA Season Peaking Early?

Between this picture...

...and the news that should-have-been Team USA member Gilbert Arenas has converted his home to "Colorado altitude," I wonder.

Quoth Agent Zero:
  • "I had my house converted to the Colorado altitude, so I am always above sea level."
  • "I had to put a tent in one room, and then they are going to come during training camp and fix the whole house."
  • "You know, that's kind of weird."
No, Gilbert that's why we love you.

Unfortunately, Arenas backed off his earlier, uniquely reasoned vendetta against Team USA assistants Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan: "I said some things, and I vented out against Phoenix and Portland, but those teams actually had nothing to do with anything. That was wrong of me. I really want to say sorry for it and I want to say sorry to Mike D'Antoni."

The good news is that Arenas doesn't need a reason to go for 50 against anybody, that's just something he can do.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bob Hill Talks Sensibly

I met Bob Hill once, almost 25 years ago, when he was an assistant under Larry Brown at Kansas and lived down the street from my under-6 basketball coach. Hill's magnificent head of hair, arguably even more impressive in the days before it turned silver, must have had an impact on me as I've had something of a fondness for Hill for no good reason ever since.

The disastrous end to Hill's tenure with the Spurs and his sunsequent failure to create a competitive basketball program at Fordham have overshadowed his NBA record. Hill has coached teams into the playoffs five teams: all four of the full seasons he's coached (two in Indiana, two in San Antonio) plus the first Indiana team he took over from Dick Versace (taking a 9-16 team to a 41-41 finish and the Celtics to the brink in their first-round playoff matchup).

Hill isn't a great coach, both Larry Brown (in Indiana) and Gregg Popovich (in San Antonio) had to build on Hill's work to get to the Finals, but I think he's good enough to get the Sonics back in the playoffs this year.

Seattle's defense last year was awful last year. They were last in the league, a point-and-a-half worse per 100 possessions than 29th-placed Toronto, six-and-a-half points worse than 25th-placed Milwaukee, almost nine points worse than the league average, and four points worse than their own, fourth-ranked offense. If Hill can get the Sonics to approach mediocrity defensively, they can improve by the 5 to 10 games necessary to challenge for the final playoff spot in the West. Hell, with a five to ten game improvement, they'll probably challenge for the Northwest Division title.

That assumes that the team's defensive improvement doesn't sacrifice offensive efficiency. I think that's possible. Radmanovic's minutes (1088 before the trade) almost have to go to someone who is a better defender. Wilcox and (especially) Collison should both fare better defensively if one of Swift, Petro, or Sene allows them to stick to guarding opposing power forwards. Most importantly, though, Hill has the option of replacing one of the worst defensive point guards in the league, Luke Ridnour, with one of the best, Earl Watson. Hill seems willing to do so:
"I like Luke starting and getting us into games, because he's very good at that, and I like Earl coming in behind him because he speeds the game up and there's more unpredictability when Earl comes into the game, but I'm not married to that, because Luke needs to play better defense."
Watson is unlikely to shoot over 40% on threes again this year, but if he can improve on his career 34.8% standard, he'll allow the Sonics to play 5-on-5 on both sides of the ball. Ridnour makes for an excellent backup. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 3:1 for his career and, unlike Watson (67% for his career), Ridnour is a good free throw shooter, 87% for his career.

Watson and Ridnour's skills complement each other nicely. Even better, their respective weaknesses might force Hill to platoon them late in close games, effectively keeping neither one from monopolizing important minutes and preventing an out-and-out benching and (possible) subsequent complaining.