Monday, November 12, 2012

Is the center position dead?


       At the beginning of the season, the NBA announced it would change the format of their fan-voted All Star ballot. The Center position is eliminated, leaving three "frontcourt players". This decision has sparked different reactions from the league's big men, most notably Dwight Howard, who came out strongly against the new format. Rockets' coach Kevin McHale lamented the "sad state" of the position in today's NBA. The league rep Stu Jackson stated that the old ballot "just seemed a little outdated and didn't represent the way our game has evolved," an echo of recent player personnel decisions by some teams to shift to a small-ball lineup with more wings and guards. While Dwight Howard has no worry of getting voted onto the starting lineup in any ballot format, and the change could help clarify questionable position labels like why the Spurs label Duncan a power forward, some believe that the center position in the NBA is a thing of the past, or at least the importance of it has drastically decreased. A lot of this change could be attributed to Lebron James' impact on the league, a Magic Johnson type player capable of playing multiple positions in Miami's "position-less offense." With such an influential singular player such as Lebron, a lot of teams are reacting to the challenge the Heat present.
      But the center position is far from dead. The NBA has experienced ebb and flows in position importance like this one before. In the mid 1990s, The only two years when Michael Jordan wasn't owning the league, the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets won back-to-back titles, beating teams featuring Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O'Neal. The mid 1980s also saw teams create lineups featuring one or two dominant big men, like McHale-Parrish of the Celtics. As recent as 2011, the success of the Dallas Maverick's title run was in large part due to the defensive ability of Tyson Chandler. Other recent championship teams were pushed over the top by the addition of centers or power forwards who played like them: Pau Gasol / Andrew Bynum, Kendrick Perkins / Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan specifically. This season the Grizzlies, with a strong duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, showed with a thrashing of the Heat Sunday night that their lineup could be a perfect foil to the small-ball teams of today. Looking ahead, the Jazz, with a rebuilding core of four talented big men in Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors, could be in a good place to be a constant contender after Lebron's reign is over. Along with the NBA's next unibrow-ed star Anthony Davis, the league has some intriguing young centers in Greg Monroe and Demarcus Cousins.
      The tools that a successful center must have have undeniably changed. The powerful, heavy footed "tough guys," like Perkins, Greg Oden and Hasheem Thabeet have found little success in the past few seasons. Dwight Howard was right on the mark in his remarks that centers attract less highlights than guards or wings do, but there is more talent in those positions today than there is in the center position. However, while an unlikely source of wisdom, Howard was again right to say "that doesn't mean you take out a position because of the game evolving, because the players that play center are evolving also." This gets at the basic point: basketball, after all the new offensive philosophies, advanced statistical metrics and over-analyzation, is determined by the talent of the individuals on the floor. The NBA once belonged to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain at brief moments to Olajuwon, Abdul-Jabbar and Shaq. They're not around now, nor is there any center today who can control the league's attention like Lebron James and Kevin Durant. But they won't always be around, and the next player to claim their throne might be a center. Sure, the game is evolving; but the center position isn't going anywhere.

- John Graham (guest writer)
image source: By Wilt_Chamberlain_Bill_Russell.jpg: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer derivative work: Sportingn (Wilt_Chamberlain_Bill_Russell.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lakers hire Mike D'Antoni


This morning the news came out that the Lakers were hiring Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach. When I heard this, I was stunned as was much of the basketball world. Since firing Mike Brown, ESPN and multiple sources were saying it was Phil Jackson’s job if he wanted it. It seemed as though it was already a done deal and that the Lakers would bring back Jackson and his triangle offense. Instead, D’Antoni is the man. Was he the right choice? It’s hard to make a judgment right away, but here are some thoughts.
First off, while hiring D’Antoni was surprising, I don’t think Phil Jackson was the answer to all the Lakers’ problems. As Jack noted in his piece last night, Nash wouldn’t have fit in Jackson’s famous triangle offense. Nash is however pretty familiar with D’Antoni and his style of play.  Back in Phoenix, Nash won two MVPs under D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” offensive style. Hiring D’Antoni is a smart choice in that regard because Nash will be comfortable and he will have the ball in his hands, which is when he is most effective. Kobe Bryant is also familiar with their new coach as D’Antoni served as an assistant for Team USA in the past two Olympics.
I assume D’Antoni will bring an up-tempo style of play to L.A. This approach will be much more effective than the Princeton offense Mike Brown tried to implement. The Lakers need Nash to push the tempo and find shooters on the wing in the fast break. In the half court, he needs to run the pick and roll with either Howard or Gasol. With D’Antoni on board, I think the Lakers offense will be much more fluid and effective.
There is however one area on offense that D’Antoni has a weakness. Throughout his time in Phoenix, D’Antoni barely ran any sets through the post. In fact, during the 2009-2010 season the Suns used post-plays only 8.5 percent of the time. Amare Stoudemire, the Suns big man during the D’Antoni era, never developed a strong post game while in Phoenix. In fact, this summer he worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon to develop his post game. The Lakers have the best big man combination in the league and need to utilize them in the post. Their advantage over teams like the Spurs and Heat is their size, so D’Antoni will have to adjust his system a bit by putting in some more post sets.
While Mike Brown probably wasn’t the right choice for head coach in Los Angeles, the one thing he got the Lakers to do was play pretty good defense. The Lakers were in the top half of the league (13th) when it came to defensive efficiency ratings. Brown is one of the better defensive coaches in the league, D’Antoni however is known as one of the worst. In the 2008-2009 season when he was coaching in Phoenix, the Suns finished 25th in defensive efficiency. When D’Antoni takes over, he will have to emphasize defense more because San Antonio and OKC are great offensive teams that L.A. will have to shut down in order to reach the Finals.
One thing that scares me about D’Antoni taking over in Los Angeles is he had a similar situation in New York with the Knicks and he couldn’t make it work. The Knicks had superstars Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire, and D’Antoni couldn’t get the two to click and the team struggled. I’m not saying it was totally his fault, but it is something to think about. He is entering L.A. where they have four superstars who haven’t quite clicked yet. The Lakers front office has already showed that its title or bust, so it’s up to D’Antoni to bring it all together or the blame will fall on him. It will take some more time for the Lakers to learn a new offense and still learn to play with each other; so don’t expect a 10 game winning streak right away. While I think D’Antoni is safe for more than five games, we’ll have to wait and see if he is the right man for the job.


- Parker

image source: By matt hickey (Flickr: PA224170_1) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nash won't fit Jackson's triangle

     Upon hearing that Mike Brown had been fired by the Lakers after going 1-4, my first thought was that the organization had made the right move.  There was a ubiquitous feeling around the league that Brown would not last the season as the team's head coach, but no one could have predicted that he would be let go so quickly.  However, his firing gives the Lakers the refreshing feeling of a do-over; or at least turns Brown into the scapegoat of their losing situation.  The move was an easy way for the Laker's organization to say: "We've gotten rid of the problem, now we'll be the title contender we were expected to be".  This isn't at all fair to Brown, but it does give fans and players a new sense of hope.
     Mike Brown is a good coach, especially on the defensive end.  The Princeton offense he implemented in L.A. was an experiment, and ended up being a failure.  He could have changed his offense, given more time.  What he couldn't change was his persona: he did not have the big personality necessary to coach this band of superstars.  For this star-studded cast, the Lakers need a coach with just as big of an ego as his players, and there is only one coach out there who's ego could possibly be that big: Phil Jackson.  
With that said, Phil Jackson will solve all of the Laker's on court issues.  My biggest gripe with what Brown had employed on offense was the way he effectively wasted Steve Nash's talent.  The offensive system he implemented completely negates the necessity of a star point guard, so having one of the best in the league on a squad that runs the Princeton offense does not make sense.  Luckily, Phil Jackson has heard these complaints about wasting Nash, right?  Upon arrival, he'll implement an offense that will incorporate Nash's skill set, right? I'm afraid not.  
    If hired, he will implement the Triangle offense in Los Angeles, which is what he used to win 11 championships in Chicago and L.A previously.  What could be the problem with arguably the best coach in NBA history utilizing a strategy that contributed directly to his success? The problem is that the Triangle offense will also waste Nash's talent.  
     The Triangle offense involves the ball being brought up the court by the point guard, who then passes the ball to another wing player, who in turn passes into the post and then cuts.  Pau Gasol, the best passing big man in the league, is a perfect fit for this half court offense, because much of the offense is run through the post in this system.  But anyone who has seen Nash play knows that he thrives in a pick and roll offense, or in the open floor when he can find trailing big man on their way to the basket or spot up shooters on the wing.  He also needs the ball in his hands for much of the shot clock to be successful.  So what will Nash do in this half court system in which the offense primarily runs through the post? Nothing.  Look at Derek Fisher's career in LA.  The point guard played under Jackson and his Triangle offense for the majority of his career, and averaged 8.6 points and 3.1 assists while there.  Anyone who can hit open corner threes could do what Fisher did on the offensive end for the Lakers.  
     So if the Lakers were to hire "The Zenmaster," would he solve their offensive identity crisis? Not at all.

- Jack


image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APhil_Jackson_2.jpg

Friday, November 9, 2012

Los Angeles' Other Team


How good are the Clippers? One thing that’s clear is that they are the best team in Los Angelos right now.  After a 2-2 start, LA's other team has won two in a row, both convincing wins over playoff bound western conference teams.  One of these games was a rematch of last season's playoff matchup against the Spurs, which they were swept in. But on Wednesday night, the Clips dominated the Spurs, winning 106-84. 
It was the type of win that showed just how much better the Clips are this season than they were last season.  Blake Griffin reportedly worked on his jumper all summer, which was evident against the Spurs.  It appears his mid range game could now actually be a threat, which would greatly improve the Clip's offense. 
The team is also much deeper this season, led by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford.  Thus far, Crawford is averaging over 20 points a game off the bench, and is bringing a level of flash that will keep their fans interested even when Chris Paul and Griffin are resting.  With veterans such as Crawford, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, and rising talent Eric Bledsoe, this may very well be the deepest team in the league. 
But the biggest difference between this season's Clips and last season's is DeAndre Jordan's improved game.  Against the Spurs he had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and showed how much he developed in the offseason.  His stats may be similar to those of last year, but his effect on the game will be much vaster.  His better understanding of his role on the court has showed thus far this season, but it is his increased activity on defense that will help the Clippers the most.  His ability to hold down the paint and alter shots has been evident, even against the likes of Tim Duncan (who had only 10 points and 6 rebounds). 
So how good are the Clippers? With the addition of Crawford and Griffin's developing game, their offense will be very good.  But the answer depends on whether DeAndre Jordan will continue to hold down the paint.  

- Jack
image source: By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA (DeAndre Jordan) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NBA's most underrated: starting five

Point guard: Ty Lawson, Nuggets.  He may be the fastest player in the NBA with the ball in his hands.  Lawson can get around his opponents and to the rim with relative ease, and once there, is a great finisher.  Last season, Lawson averaged 16.4 points a game on almost 49% shooting.  He dominated the playoff series against the Lakers, scoring 32 points in game 5.

Shooting guard: Wes Matthews, Blazers.  A strong wing defender known for his toughness, who shoots a nice three-ball.  Last season, Matthews averaged only 13.7 points a game, but that was a down year from the one previous, in which he averaged 15.9.  So far this season, he is averaging 18.8 points a game, along with 1.8 steals a game, and is playing a big role for the Blazers.

Small Forward: Rudy Gay, Grizzlies.  For some reason, when the basketball world names the league's best small forwards, Gay name is not usually thrown out.  He is one of the most athletic players in the NBA, and has a sweet touch from mid range.  Over the last few seasons, he has also proven that he has the ability to hit big shots.  Last year he averaged 19 points a game and just over 6 rebounds. He and Zach Randolph are still meshing, but expect another solid all-around season from Gay.      

Power Forward: Paul Millsap, Jazz.  Millsap is a big-bodied power forward who averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game last season.  Not much of a shooter beyond the paint, but has proven that he is one of the most clutch players in the league over the last two seasons.

Center: Nikola Pekovic, Timberwolves.  In his second season in the league, Pekovic averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.  His game showed steady improvement as the year progressed, and I expect his averages will rise to about 15 and 9.  The Montenegrin has a soft touch around the rim, and works tirelessly down low.  Needs to improve his rebounding numbers a bit, but otherwise is a rising presence in the NBA.    


- Jack

image source: By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA (Ty Lawson) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 5, 2012

Jack says: Kevin Durant will be the MVP this season


Kevin Durant will win the Most Valuable Player award this season.  Parker has picked Lebron James (along with most of the basketball world), and I was picking him too until the James Harden trade.  The biggest effect of the James Harden trade will not be on how deep into the playoffs the Thunder will go, or how many games they will win this season.  The biggest effect of the James Harden trade is on Kevin Durant's MVP chances. 
Lebron will average around 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.  Statistically, no one will be able to match him.  Durant will average around 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.  Lebron is the better all around player, but that is not what the Maurice Podoloff award celebrates.  The Thunder will win the Western Conference this year.  They will have the best record, and they will return to the finals, for one reason: Kevin Durant is still in an OKC uniform.  People see the loss of James Harden as crushing to the Thunder's hopes of beating the Lakers and Spurs in the playoffs.  I disagree. I see Kevin Martin as a good sixth man who will not be able to fill the entire gap James Harden has left, but who will be able to fill some of it.  So who will fill the rest? Kevin Durant.  If the Thunder do indeed win the West and/or make the finals, it will be because of Kevin Durant.  Russell Westbrook is very good player, but does not have the same impact on a season as Durant.
The MVP award goes to the player who seems the most valuable to a winning team's success.  If the award actually went to the most valuable player to his team, the award should go to someone like Kevin Love, who, even though his team will not have a great record, if was taken off his squad they might not win a game all season.  Steve Nash in his last year as a member of the Suns is another example. 
But that is not who the award goes to.  The award goes to the player on a successful team who seems to have the biggest impact on a season.  Two players may be equally valuable, but context makes one appear more valuable than the other.  If Kevin Durant can lead this Harden-less Thunder team to the best record in the West, he will seem to be the most valuable player.  Lebron may be just as valuable (if not more), but until he loses Wade or Bosh for good, he cannot show it as concretely as Durant.  



- Jack
image source: By J.smith (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Parker's Season Award Predictions



MVP- Lebron James
James is the obvious pick and prohibitive favorite to repeat as MVP. After winning the regular season MVP, Finals MVP and Olympic Gold all in the same year, he joins Michael Jordan as the only players do so. He is the best player in the league hands down and with the pressure of winning a title off his back, he will put up ridiculous stats once again.
2nd Place: Kevin Durant

Most Improved Player: Kawhi Leonard
While I may be biased as an avid Spurs fan, I think the second year forward will be the most improved player in the league. First off, he had a solid rookie campaign in a shortened season without training camp. After a solid summer league in which he showed vast improvements in his scoring and dribbling abilities, Leonard looks poised to become a more involved part of the Spurs offense. With Duncan and Ginobili starting to age, their minutes will continue to decrease and Leonard’s will only go up. Along with these factors,        Coach Pop loves him and wants him to be a “Spur for Life,” such high praise from the best coach in the league can only be a good sign. Look for a stat line of around 12/7/3 along with a block and two steals a game.
2nd Place: Paul George


Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Iguodala
With Dwight Howard coming off back surgery and adjusting to a new system in LA, as well as Tyson Chandler starting the year hurt, the race for DPOY is wide open. I think Iguodala comes out the winner, as he will greatly improve the defense of the Nuggets. Iguodala is a lock down wing defender who will rack up steals and a few blocks per game. He will guard the best wing player on the opposing team night in and night out and ultimately I think he takes the award home.
2nd Place: Dwight

Coach of the Year: George Karl
With the addition of Andre Iguodala and a full training camp with this ultra deep team, the Nuggets will finish in the top 4 of the West.  Using the strategy of building a team without a superstar, the Nuggets have the perfect coach for that system. Karl is known for getting the most out of his players and turning average players into good ones. He will guide this team into at least the second round of the playoffs and may surprise a team in the later rounds.
2nd Place: Rick Adelman


Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis
Yes, Jack has stated that Damian Lillard will win ROY.  I disagree.  Davis, the number one overall pick, is the clear cut favorite and obvious choice for ROY. He will have an immediate impact for the Hornets with his rebounding and shot blocking skills. While his offensive game is still developing, I think he will still put up 13 to 15 points a game. Damian Lillard, the Blazers guard out of Weber State, will finish a close second. Lillard won’t win the award because he will struggle with turnovers facing the plethora of good point guards in the Western Conference.
Sleeper Pick: Jonas Valanciunas


Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford
Since James Harden is now a starter in Houston, Crawford is the front-runner in my eyes. Crawford won the award back in 2010 and I believe will win it again this year as a member of the L.A. Clippers. Crawford will lead the Clips’ second unit with his ability to shoot the light outs and score in a variety of ways. He may finish games as the two guard along side Chris Paul because of his reputation as a crunch time scorer. I expect he’ll average around 16 to 17 points per game.
2nd Place: Louis Williams




- Parker

image source: By Keith Allison (Keith Allison) from Baltimore [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons