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Monday, August 6, 2007

An OFF-season to Remember

As the days are counted down to the start of the 2007-2008 NBA season, excitement actually arises in the most static part of the year: the preseason. The NBA has finally begun to show new dimensions, resorting back to team powerhouses and absurd draft classes where the 31st pick can be the Big Ten Player of the Year. It is becoming almost impossible to follow which players are going to which teams nowadays because of the immense number of transactions. That's why I have made it my personal obligation to give a preseason summary and rank of each team so you can follow your favorite team and still have time to shower in the morning.

Atlanta Hawks: This no-name team is finally starting to become a team that has potential for a playoff appearance. The Hawks took Florida Center Al Horford as the number three overall pick. Horford is probably the best defender selected in this year's draft, so it's obvious why Atlanta chose him. Moreover, Atlanta selected Texas A&M's Acie Law IV in an attempt to solve their problems at the point guard position. Law's scoring ability is a need for the Hawks, whose offense is run solely on the shooting of Joe Johnson. Both picks give the Hawks exactly what they need, an offensive leader who moves the ball, and a defensive presence that blocks up the paint. If both these players can blend in with Joe Johnson's style of play, the Hawks have a real future in their hands. Ron's Grade: A

Boston Celtics: Finally, the Celtics are starting to look like the old Boston team of the 60s and 80s. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett make nice replacements for Larry Bird and Bill Russell and Boston is the perfect city to start a new dynasty. It is pretty obvious that Boston is sick of losing, and the fifth pick was not a good enough draft pick to restart the franchise. Boston immediately traded their number five pick, along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West, for Seattle Superstar Ray Allen. But that's not all folks. The unhappy Kevin Garnett also found a beautiful home in Boston after being traded for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two first-round picks. The Celtics are once again, Eastern Conference threats, and their two draft picks of Gabe Pruitt and "Big Baby" Glen Davis only add depth to the new Boston Celtics. Davis is a great fit for Boston, since he has tremendous size for an offensive post-up presence and can pull up the mid-range jumper. Combined with the speed and shooting of point guard Gabe Pruitt, these two youths match well with the All-Stars of Boston. Ron's Grade: A+

Charlotte Bobcats: Even as a General Manager, Michael Jordan is becoming famous and popular for his clutch decisions and intelligent moves. Jordan is turning the Charlotte Bobcats into an all-around well balanced team, and he's not doing it as a player. MJ traded North Carolina's Brandan Wright for Golden State's star, Jason Richardson. The Bobcats are beginning to scare others with their fantastic four, which consists of Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson, Raymond Felton, and Gerald Wallace (not to mention Adam Morrison and Sean May on the bench). The Bobcats also drafted Jared Dudley at the number 22 pick and Jermareo Davidson at number 36. Dudley, the 6'7" small forward known for his hustle and athleticism, fits well with the Bobcats' roster. Davidson, the athletic power forward, contains a similar style of play as Dudley and fits the team as a solid 7th or 8th man off the bench. Ultimately, Jordan is starting to manage his teams with the same tenacity he used to play with. Ron's Grade: B+

Chicago Bulls: Forgive me if I begin to boast over this team's draft, but as a life-long Chicago Bulls fan I have to get excited over this year. The Bulls selected exactly what they were missing in this year's NBA draft. With the number 9 pick, Chicago selected the Florida forward Joakim Noah. As one of the most passionate players in the NCAA, Noah brings character and heart to the Chicago Bulls' roster. At 6'11", Noah also demonstrates defensive strengths and size to partner up with All-Star center Ben Wallace. Chicago also selected the Pittsburgh center, Aaron Gray, and the Oklahoma State scorer, JamesOn Curry. Gray is the first step to Chicago's lack of inside scoring. He stands tall at 7'2" and led Pittsburgh to the thirteenth ranking in the AP polls. The center also led Pitt in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and field goal percentage in his final collegiate year. In addition to the two selected big men, Chicago chose a backup for Ben Gordon in JamesOn Curry. Curry scored 2.5 three-pointers per game at Oklahoma State, but is slightly small at 6'3", 190 lbs. Overall, the Bulls made good use of their picks that they obtained from New York in the Eddy Curry trade, and are starting to alleviate their weaknesses on the court. Ron's Grade: B+

Cleveland Cavaliers: It's tough to summarize and grade a team that makes no off-season moves and has no draft picks, don't you think? However, it must be stated that the Cavaliers cannot win a championship with LeBron James alone. Cleveland has to make a move soon to strengthen their point guard slot and team play or LeBron is going to get frustrated quickly. After all, a one man team is no team at all. Ron's Grade: N/A

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks had the best value picks in the entire draft this year. With Nick Fazekas and Reyshawn Terry, it's not hard to see a future for Dallas after Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks selected Fazekas at the number 34 pick and Terry at number 44, both incredibly low slots for the players to fall in. Fazekas is the epitome of a young Nowitzki, with the ability to score the outside three, and still post up big at 6'11" for an inside hook shot. Fazekas was responsible for Nevada's top ten ranking and led the team with 20.4 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game, 1.0 three pointers per game, a 56.8 field goal percentage, and a 84.8 free-throw percentage. Reyshawn Terry, the younger Josh Howard, plays big at 6'8" and learned a thing or two from Coach Williams at UNC. His smart play and terrific defense is exactly what Dallas needs from the UNC forward. Both Nick Fazekas and Reyshawn Terry can learn from their role models in Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, as well as the 2006 coach of the year, Avery Johnson. The Mavs also selected the Lithuanian guard, Renaldas Seibutis, who's known for his quick drives to the basket and tough defense. Whether or not he will strive in the NBA is a different question, but chances are he will have a small impact on the gargantuan players of Dallas. Ron's Grade: A-

Denver Nuggets: Like the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nuggest made no off-season moves and had no draft picks in this year's draft. However, unlike the Eastern Conference champs, Denver had good reason. They traded away their picks for the Philadelphia star, Allen Iverson. Iverson and Anthony seem to be getting along splendidly in Denver, and it will be interesting to see how the two match up in a full NBA season. Ron's Grade: N/A

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons seemed to have found a few more players that fit the scheme of coach Flip Saunders. Rodney Stuckey, the 15th pick from Eastern Washington, is a quick guard who runs the floor and plays tough defense. Similarly, Arron Afflalo, the UCLA guard, led the Bruins to a top ten ranking and is renowned for his defensive skills and ability to control the fast break. Both players fit perfectly into the Detroit style of play and are clearly the next generation of guards for the Pistons. Their last pick, Sammy Mejia, is a 6'7" guard who shows perimeter ability and sharp shooting. All these draft picks give Saunders and the Detroit team a future and guards that can carry on the Detroit playing style, but are nothing special in comparison to the picks that the Pistons could have taken. Afflalo is the only true guard that may shine in Detroit. Ron's Grade: C+

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors have become one of the most popular teams today because of their improbable victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs. But after this draft, it could be because of the depth and skill of the team. Golden State made a salient trade with the Bobcats that sent Jason Richardson to Charlotte and rookie forward Brandan Wright to the Warriors. This pick gives Golden State a powerful big man down low that plays with aggressiveness and passion in every possession. Although he only weighs 200 lbs., which is very light for a 6'10" power forward, Wright fits well with Don Nelson's run-and-gun offense. With the number 18 pick, the Warriors selected Marco Belinelli, a sharp shooter from Italy. And when I say sharp, I don't mean sharp as a razor that you may cut yourself with while shaving. Belinelli is a 6'6" shooting guard who weighs just as much as Wright, and can score from anywhere on the court, even with a hand or two in his face. Belinelli has separated himself from the rest of the draft as the best shooter picked, and his ability to pass and play aggressive defense gives him the potential to strive in the NBA. Lastly, the Warriors picked Stephane Lasme at pick number 46 fir his shot blocking ability and big playing. Lasme is a small power forward at 6'7", but plays bigger than his size like Ben Wallace or Charles Barkley. When Lasme is paired up with Biedrins, the paint could be heavily blocked up for driving players. These three players are great steps to allaying the weaknesses of the Golden State team, and maybe now the Warriors will be loved for another reason than beating the number one seed. Ron's Grade: B+

Houston Rockets: Personally, I feel that Houston had one of the worst drafts of any teams this year. Although a point guard was the proper choice for Houston, Aaron Brooks may have been the wrong road to take to solve their dilemma. Brooks is only 6'0", and although he shows great speed and scoring ability, these qualities do not make up for his small stature. Houston's other two picks, Carl Landry and Brad Newley, are only role players that do not excel in their position or strengths. Landry is an undersized power forward at 6'7" and Newley's ability to drive and score will likely be thwarted in his shift to the NBA from Australia. I can't say Houston won't do well this year when they have Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but this draft won't be the reason they find success in the 2007-2008 season. In fact, their best off-season move was the firing of Coach Jeff Van Gundy and replacement with Rick Adelman. Ron's Grade: C-

Indiana Pacers: The Pacers only selected one player in this draft, and is it a surprise that it was a big European player? Everyone is now in search of the next Yao Ming, and the Pacers decided to take Stanko Barac, a 7'1", 235 pound Bosnian. Although this big man has great potential based on size alone, 7'0 is starting to become a more popular height among centers nowadays. Just ask the Portland trailblazers, who have two starters at 7'0. If Barac only brings size to the court, which is what it looks like, the Pacers are going to have problems with their frontcourt because of Jermaine O'Neal's lack of a smile. I can only see a downgrade for the team since last year. Ron's Grade: D

Los Angeles Clippers: The Los Angeles Clippers are a solid team that has one primary concern: health. With the injuries Livingston has suffered every season and the aging of Sam Cassell, the Clippers now have no true point guard. Therefore, is it fair to say that I have no idea as to what Los Angeles was doing this off-season? Now I understand that the two top point guards, Mike Conley and Acie Law were taken already, but there was no reason they could have traded up or at least made an effort to obtain someone such as Chauncey Billups, who was thought to leave Detroit after the season. It is obvious that without a point guard teams have trouble moving the ball and keeping the pace of the offense smooth. That what a point guard's role is: to control the offense. Elton Brand can't do everything. Now I do think that Al Thornton is a good pick and a solid player, but he was not the necessary draft pick for this team. Thornton fits well with the team and will probably play under Corey Maggette and slowly share time with the veteran. Their second round pick, Jared Jordan, is a solid point guard out of Marist, but stands not too tall at 6'2" and is a late attempt at selecting a point guard. Ultimately, the Clippers are just going to have to wait another year and get a little lucky next time with the lottery selection, especially with Elton Brand sitting on the bench for a couple of months with a torn Achilles tendon. Ron's Grade: D

Los Angeles Lakers: Much like the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers need a point guard and ball controller. After all, Kobe can't do everything (but can do almost everything). Los Angeles' first two picks were big guards who fit well in the Laker system. Javaris Crittenton, the 6'5" point guard from Georgia Tech, is very big for his position, and has the ability to drain the shot from a distance. With these characteristics, Crittenton complements Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, both who have never been on a team with a truly remarkable point guard. The Lakers' second pick, however, is what truly grabs interest from my eye. Sun Yue, the Chinese sensation, is a 6'9" point guard from China who shows tremendous ball control and point guard qualities. Remind you of any other Laker point guard? Although Sun Yue is listed as a small forward, his point guard ability could be exactly what Phil Jackson and the Lakers organization are looking for. The Lakers last pick, Marc Gasol, fools most ignorant fans. Although he is the younger brother of the dominant all-star Pao Gasol, his height is the only similarity he has with Pao. In the end, the Lakers took a strong step towards their needs and can start looking forward to a successful season. Ron's Grade: B

Memphis Grizzles: Now I have mixed feelings on the Memphis draft, so I am going to try and make this as clear as possible. The Grizzles needed a point guard just many teams in the NBA, and it is obvious that Conley was the best one. However, I can't see the speedy Conley succeeding as a 6'1" point guard in the NBA. At Ohio State Conley was surrounded by college all-stars such as Rasual Butler, Daequan Cook, and number one draft pick Greg Oden. They would run down the court on multiple fast-breaks, and if that didn't work Conley could always feed the ball into the most dominant player on the court: Oden. But in Memphis, only Gasol stands out as an all-star, and the Grizzles can't run up the court on a fast-break without someone tripping over his shoelaces. Conley is number one on my 2007 don't draft. All in all, the Memphis Grizzles drew the Queen of Spades in a game of Hearts, and had no other choice but to risk all their marbles on the speedster. Ron's Grade: B-

Miami Heat: The Heat decided to trade picks with Philadelphia for the rights to Daequan Cook, the sharpshooter from Ohio State. Cook seems average for a shooting guard; he's 6'6" and only excels in his shooting range. Other than that, I can't see him being more than a mediocre NBA athlete. Cook averaged only 41.5% from behind the three-point arc and lacks the percentages needed for a consistent two-guard (.445 field goal percentage and .697 free-throw percentage). It is clear that the Heat continue to rely on their two superstars-Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade-and nothing else. What Miami should be doing is building a team around Wade, their 25 year old all-star and forgetting about Shaq. The only improvement Miami made was finding a back-up for Wade. Other than that, the Heat are one year closer to O'Neal's retirement. Ron's Grade: D

Milwaukee Bucks: If Yi Jianlin, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, cooperates with the Milwaukee organization, the Bucks could have one of the most fierce and dangerous starting five in the NBA. However, Jianlin is complaining about the location of his team, and the thought of going to Sacramento becomes a more likely possibility with each day. However, one has to consider the monstrous size of Jianlin, Bogut, and Villanueva on the court at once. Mixed with the guard play of Mo Williams and all-star Michael Redd, Milwaukee seems impenetrable. In addition to Jianlin, Milwaukee selected Ramon Sessions, the 6'4" point guard from Nevada. Sessions, who played alongside the Mavericks' Nick Fazekas in college, fits perfectly in Milwaukee. The surrounding of big men for Sessions will remind of the good ol' days at Nevada, and he brings with him a great driving ability and can quickly slash to the basket. Although it is clear that Sessions was picked in case Williams left Milwaukee, the meticulous selection could favor the Bucks for the future. If Milwaukee finds a rhythm to start the new season, they could begin with a bang that may make the Eastern conference a little more interesting. Ron's Grade: A-

Minnesota Timberwolves: It's never easy to say a team had a great off-season when they lose their star player. Even with KG out of the organization, Kevin McHale seems to see a light in the near future for his team. The Timberwolves have clearly pressed the restart button for the franchise, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Similar to the Dallas Mavericks, the Timberwolves had one of the best value drafts for the picks they received. At the number 7 pick, Minnesota selected the Florida superstar Corey Brewer. Brewer, who led the Florida Gators to not one, but two national championships and was projected to be a clear top ten draft pick. Brewer truly fits any team well with a rare and extraordinary combination of great defense, quickness, shooting, driving, and endurance. Brewer has all the qualities of a fantastic player, not to mention his enormous 6'9" height. Brewer will join the Timberwolves with his Florida teammate Chris Richard, the 6'9" second string center to Al Horford. Richard, although small for the center position, was a great college player that was under the radar because of the tremendous backcourt in Florida that consisted of Noah and Horford. Richard and Brewer bring aggressiveness and experience to the young and newly acquired team. Ron's Grade: A-

New Jersey Nets: Sean Williams, the Boston College graduate selected at number 17 overall, gives the Nets exactly what they need. Williams is a 6'10", 235 lbs. center who provides quickness, size, and defense. Although he was released from the team due to violations of team rules, Williams made his name in the games he participated in. In only 15 games, the Nets' draft pick scored 12.1 points per game, grabbed 6.9 rebounds per game, and recorded and outstanding 5.0 blocks per contest. He gives New Jersey a new and aggressive big man, the first that they have had since the alley oop days of Kenyon Martin. And with Jason Kidd as the point guard, it's hard to find anyone that does not fit the style of play set forth by the team. Ron's Grade: B

New Orleans Hornets: My question for this team is "who will be the next one to get injured?" First Chris Paul goes down after a phenomenal rookie season. Then the shining David West plays in only 52 games to add to the inconvenience of the health of the team. Now I was never in love with this team, but I don't need "The Idiot's Guide" to tell how high the capability of this team is. With the newly drafted Julian Wright and Adam Hulaska, the Hornets only rise in potential this season. The combination of Peja Stojakovic, Chris Paul, and Tyson Chandler could be deadly. With Wright and West on the court at the same time, this team could massacre teams with their size and appearance alone. Wright, the 6'9" small forward from Kansas, has been under the radar all season and has the ability to burst out of his bubble and demonstrate why it was a mistake to pass on him in the draft. His blend of size, quickness, and leadership should mix well with the strong frontcourt and terrific backcourt in New Orleans. Conversely, Hulaska's presence on the court will have as little of an effect on the team as fifty dollars would have on Bill Gates: none at all. Although one could argue that he scored ninety threes in his senior season and averaged over 20 points per game, too many other statistics come to mind that overshadow these so called "strengths". Firstly, he attempted 248 three-pointers, giving him a .363 three-point scoring average. His .408 field goal percentage does not make up for his 20.5 points per game, especially since his lack of defense and 6'5" height couldn't even flourish on a high school basketball team. In the end, I still like the Hornets' chances this year for some playoff hopes and hopefully this year Paul can dish off his ostentatious passes to Peja for a staggering three-pointer. Ron's Grade: B
d
New York Knicks: I am going to start this summary off with a NO. No good draft picks. No future. And definitely no hope. The Knicks, although they may have improved their team in comparison to last year, are the team where superstars go to become no stars. Marbury, Crawford and Francis were all forgotten in New York, and now Zach Randolph will be the most recent to join them in their dwellings. Randolph is the new "hope" for Knicks fans, if there was any hope for them at all. However, I can't say the Knicks are not trying to improve their team. Randolph and Curry could make a dangerous "big-man group," while rookies Wilson Chandler and Demetris Nichols have some potential in New York. Under the most brutal home fans in the country, Nichols has to reveal the outstanding shooting he had in Syracuse. Chandler needs to learn from the leaders of New York on how to improve his game, because I don't see how his size and talent alone got him in the first round. Unfortunately for the Depaul starter, Isiah Thomas and Stehpon Marbury are not the best two people to play under. What the Knicks have to do is find leadership among their roster, and halt the quarreling and bickering that occurs every year. And a word of advice: if you're stressed out or frustrated because of a long day at work, don't go to Madison Square Garden to alleviate your pains. The game will only make them worse. Ron's Grade: C-

Orlando Magic: Before I even talk about the players or drafts, I already have to remove some brownie points from the management in Orlando for hiring, and then firing, Florida's Billy Donovan. Although I do like Van Gundy in Orlando, the lack of communication in the organization did not help the team chemistry. Now I'm not even going to talk about Milovan Rakovic, the last pick taken in the draft and the only Orlando pick, because he didn't even shine in the Serbian league. Yet, you can't disregard the Magic's off-season completely. Orlando's trade for Rashard Lewis gave them a scorer, another rebounder, and an accomplice to the 21-yer-old Dwight Howard. The Magic needed another all-star, and that's exactly what they got. Lewis is a great fit for team, and has to take on a greater role than he did in Seattle and become the primary scorer for the team. I like their chances this year, and the Eastern Conference is starting to become more competitive than a herd lions fighting for a zebra. Ron's Grade: B

Philadelphia 76ers: Step off AI, AI is in Phili. Maybe I should elaborate. Step off Allen Iverson, Andre Iguodala is in Phili. The new AI is starting to take the leadership role of the 76ers and is becoming the new AI in Philadelphia, not that he was never AI in the first place. With the return of Dalembert and Korver, the Sixers bring back defense and perimeter shooting to the team. Philadelphia selected four players in this year's draft, and they were each picked to serve a different purpose. Thaddeus Young, the freshman from Georgia Tech, left after his first year to come to Philadelphia. He shows great quickness and speed, but his 14.4 points per game, .743 free-throw percentage, and 5.0 rebounds per game are some of many average statistics that would surprise any analyst as to why he was the number 12 selection. Jason Smith, the number twenty selection traded by Miami, is a tall forward/center, standing at 7'0". Next to the defensive Dalembert, Smith shows the potential for inside scoring with his 16.8 points per game and a .579 field goal percentage in his Junior year at Colorado State. Derrick Byars and Herbert Hill, the Sixers' last two picks, demonstrate signs of potential as well. Byars, the 6'7" guard, shows little defense and aggressiveness, and illustrates below average numbers in his free-throw percentage (.711), three-point percentage (.373), rebounds (5.0 per game), and assists (3.4 per game). His 17.0 points per game is his only impressive statistic, but does not compensate for his lack of fundamentals. Herbert Hill, the 6'10" forward/center from Providence, also reveals scoring potential, but blossoms in other categories. Hill averaged 18.1 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, and 3.0 blocks per game. His only challenge: can he bring these stats into the NBA? The 76ers are clearly looking for the scoring they lost due to the Allen Iverson trade; and they are going to need to put the pieces of the puzzle together over the next couple of years to get it. Ron's Grade: B

Phoenix Suns: All I can say about this team's draft is wow. How does the most offensively dominant team, who have Western Conference Title potential every year, end up with the Big-Ten player of the year? For the 29th pick, the Phoenix Suns may have obtained the best value pick in the NBA draft. Alando Tucker, the heart and soul to Wisconsin Badger basketball, landed in the hands of Mike D'Antoni and the Phoenix Suns. Alando Tucker is perfect for the Suns' run-and-gun offense. This team has mastered this offensive scheme, and Tucker brings his 6'6" height to the court, along with his terrific driving ability and all-around performance. Tucker shows no true weakness in his game, and holds the Wisconsin record for all-time scoring. With the 59th pick in the draft, Phoenix also selected D.J. Strawberry, a 6'5" guard out of Maryland. His potential for scoring and terrific speed show that the Phoenix Suns are in hopes of a strong shooting guard to add to their speedy style of play. Ron's Grade: A-

Portland Trailblazers: With the most players selected in the 2007 draft, it's no surprise that Portland's team is looking very "big" for the 2007-2008 season. And when I say "big," I mean in roster size and player size. The Portland Trailblazers luckily received the number one overall pick, and it was no surprise to anyone that they selected Greg Oden, the 7'0" rebounding machine from Ohio State. Paired up with Lamarcus Aldridge, another 7-footer from Texas, and Channing Frye, the new Portland Trailblazers are looking like an impenetrable wrecking crew. The Spanish shooting guard, Rudy Fernandez, and 6'4" point guard Petteri Koponen from Finland, both first round picks, will help Brandon Roy control the tempo in the backcourt. All three of the Trailblazers' first round picks serve salient roles in Portland's game, and could turn the pusillanimous team into a powerful seeking revenge. The last two picks selected by Portland, Josh McRoberts from Duke and Taurean Green from Florida, both started in college and gained great experience under Head Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Billy Donovan. Green, known for his tremendous perimeter shooting, will attempt to solve the lack of skilled and experienced point guards as well as the appalling perimeter shooting in Portland. McRoberts, the all-star Dukie, adds to the great size in Portland and brings all-around performance to the court for the Trailblazers. All five of these players can contribute greatly to Coach Nate McMillan, and now that the complaining of Zach Randolph is gone, Portland could be the sleeper in the West. Ron's Grade: A+

Sacramento Kings: Spencer Hawes, the number 10 selection out of Washington, went to Sacramento to hopefully bring his strong inside presence. Felt to be a young Brad Miller, Hawes will play side-by-side with the 7'0" center. Passed by the Chicago Bulls, Spencer Hawes is felt to have tremendous inside scoring and presence. His 7'0" stature and 230 pounds only add to the potential he brings onto the court. In addition to Hawes, many rumors have spread that the Chinese sensation, Yi Jianlin, is unhappy about his location in Milwaukee and trade talks of Jianlin becoming a King are growing in possibility. If Sacramento can land this deal, the new and improved Sacramento Kings could be eyeing a sixth or seventh seed. Ron's Grade: B

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are a team made of European and other foreign players, so it's no surprise that they took Tiago Splitter, the 6'11" Brazilian forward, as their number 28 selection. However, it was their number two selection that shows the true potential in the San Antonio youth. While Splitter lacks the offensive presence, which will be needed when aging takes affect into Duncan and the rest of the Spurs' veterans, Marcus Williams provides inside scoring and shooting. The 6'7" forward from Arizona portrays a great midrange shot, while still revealing potential for the defense San Antonio is known for. His intelligent playing and .494 field goal percentage allow Williams to fit in nicely with the Spurs. Ron's Grade: C+

Seattle Supersonics: An interesting off-season for Seattle. The Supersonics pushed the restart button and decided to build the team from scratch. With the losses of Ray Allen to Boston and Rashard Lewis to Orlando, it appears that the Sonics have no all-star on their team. As a result, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, both top five picks in this year's draft, are going to have to step to the plate in their rookie season. These two players are the new faces of the franchise and have a load to carry on their backs already. Durant, the 6'9" National Player of the Year from Texas, is the most fundamentally sound player coming out of college. His ability to slash to the basket, hit a contested three-pointer, or block a player going up for a dunk provides all that he needs to succeed in the NBA. KD, as they like to call him in Texas, is unique in his long arms and quickness, allowing him to contain a large advantage over his opponent, similar to that of Tayshaun Prince and Luol Deng. Paired with Georgetown's all-start Jeff Green, Durant can finally rely on another teammate to share the responsibility. Green is a 6'9" forward who also shows a promising all-around game. With a little more meat on his bones than Durant, Green is great at taking the ball to the hole, while still playing the big man position. Jeff Green recorded 14.3 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game, and averaged 1.2 blocks per game. His .513 field goal percentage and 1.0 three-pointers per game give defenders the danger of leaving him open for a jumper. In addition to the two rookies selected, Seattle also managed to obtain Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak from Boston, giving them experienced players and a solid bench. With the newly created Seattle Supersonics, Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo could have the tools to create a powerful and serious contender. Ron's Grade: A+

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors had a quiet off-season this year since their only acquisition was Giorgos Printezis, the number 58 pick from Greece. Printezis demonstrates good and consistent inside scoring in hopes to share the paint with all-star Chris Bosh. The Raptors are continuing their improvement with second-year players Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa. Toronto shows great potential in the competitive Eastern conference next year, but this off-season provided little aid for the Raptors' future. Ron's Grade: D
d
Utah Jazz: Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams are starting to portray striking similarities to the days Karl Malone and John Stockton. Williams busted out of the bubble this year, leading the Jazz to a fourth seeded rank and a Western Conference Finals appearance. With big men such as Mehmet Okur who can shoot the perimeter jump shot, and small men such as Deron Williams who strive inside the paint, it seems the Utah Jazz have nothing missing on the court. With their best point guard since the days of John Stockton, Jerry Sloan is turning the run-and-gun Jazz into a real threat in the West. However, the Jazz did not seem to find any help this off-season. The Jazz selected Morris Almond from Rice and Kyrylo Fesenko from Ukraine to strengthen their team. These two players are quite inaffective for the surging Jazz. Almond, the 6'6" guard, shows one impressive statistics and that is his 26.4 points per game. However, the scouts easily see through this stat due to Rice's lack of strength in schedule and Almond's selfish play. Similarly, Fesenko has only height working in his favor, and will have little to say in the Jazz's hope for a finals appearance. And if they do happen to reach the NBA Finals this year, let's hope the Chicago Bulls are not on the other side to stop them once again. Ron's Grade: C-

Washington Wizards: Washington's central issue that has been surrounding them since the loss of Larry Hughes is a co-starring role with Gilbert Arenas. Arenas has been putting this team on his shoulders for too long, and the Wizards' organization finally took action. With the number 16 pick, Washington selected 6'6" shooting guard Nick Young from Southern California. Young is clearly a scorer, which should become interesting when he plays alongside number 0. His 17.5 points per game and .525 field goal percentage impressed many viewers, but it was his tournament games that caught everyone's eyes. Young posted 22 points against Kevin Durant's Longhorns and grabbed 7 rebounds in the process. After a miraculous upset over Texas, Young led his team to the Sweet Sixteen. Although Brandan Wright and North Carolina departed with victory, Young did not go quietly. He posted 15 points in the game and began to make a name for himself. Dominic McGuire, the Fresno State Junior, brings size and athleticism to the court. His 6'8" stature and tremendous toughness are what led him to record over 3.5 blocks per game. McGurie will fit in nicely alongside Antawn Jamison as the two rookies will work hand-in-hand with their mentors to take Washington deep into the playoffs. Ron's Grade: B

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Rookie's Resumé

It's a hard life if you want to go to the NBA. First you have to show true talent as a young athlete. Then you have to devote hours and hours every day of the year, working on jump shots, free-throws, or even going to basketball camp to learn a few tips. After that you must prove yourself worthy as a high school player, hopefully as an All-American and standing out from the rest of the nation. Finally, you must take your skills to the college levels, facing plenty of All-American high school players that have the exact same objective as you do: turning pro. If you are able to complete all these tasks, then you have a chance at just signing a contract with an NBA team. And most of these players are only decent or mediocre when they reach the big leagues. Or you could take the other route, similar to LeBron James or Kevin Garnett, and jump right out of high school to sign a monster contract for millions of dollars and spring into action as one of the best of all the NBA stars. It seems a lot easier doesn't it? Well, this is exactly what is occurring now. Rookies are jumping straight out of high school to prove themselves at an incredibly young age. That is, until David Stern implemented the rule of at least one year of college experience before draft eligibility. However, this new law in basketball only prolongs the young athletes to one less year of NBA basketball, and in the case of the spectators, one more year of anxiety and desire to watch the young rookies play.

But is this new generation of players, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and NBA champion Dwyane Wade, a beneficial step for basketball? Not necessarily. This new line of players has not only altered the sport itself, but has also had general managers relying on 19 year-old players to carry his team to the finals. It has undeveloped athletes coming out of college way too early, just so they can see their names in newspapers or receive contracts that have six zeroes at the end. But more than anything, it has spectators expecting their number one draft pick to produce as soon as he hits the floor. These expectations are causing ludicrous amounts of pressure and responsibility on such young athletes. And what happens when they do not perform? They are felt to be horrible and ignored by the public until they break out with a forty point game. As I said before, it's a hard life if you want to go to the NBA.

Fans want more rookies like LeBron James or Chris Paul, who come out and soar among the best veterans and exciting players, rather than boring and dull players such as Tim Duncan. What they expect is Greg Oden to come out of Ohio State this year and score 30 points in his NBA debut. What these spectators do not understand is that basketball takes time, and if you really want to see Oden score 30 points and grab 15 rebounds, you're going to have to wait two or three more years. Kobe Bryant, one of the best players in the NBA today, sat on the bench during his first years as a pro, and now he has progressed into one of the best and most complete players on both sides of the ball. What fans need to drill into their brains is that rookies should not have to deal with the pressures of holding up their entire team on their backs while constantly being asked to score 25 to 30 points each night. The demand for rookies is way too high in sports today, and if coaches and general managers do not respond, each team will be led by a star point guard or star center that still of age to drink champagne as a victory celebration.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I'll Take a Rain Check

A new record was set today in major league baseball, compliments of Jackie Robinson Day. But this record was not one to be proud of. No, it wasn't a home run record, or a highest scoring game record. No, this record had to do with the poor weather and the lack of roofs. This record was the number of postponed games in one day. Today, April 15th, 2007, marks the day that six games, one being a double-header between the Giants and Pirates, were delayed due to rain. Although rain delays are common in professional baseball, six seems to be a high number. And today does not mark the first signs of weather issues. The Cleveland-Mariners series was postponed not one, not two, not three, but four days due to awful storms as the teams were forced to play in the Milwaukee dome where home plate tickets were sold for ten dollars. Although it is uncommon for such a devastating storm to hit in the month of April, actions must be taken to limit the number of postponed games in modern baseball.

Many ideas have been discussed over this drastic situation. One thought is that more stadiums should be domes, having roofs that not only decrease the number of game delays that occur, but also protect the high-paying fans from crummy games and rainy days. Another proposal is that games be counted as official outcomes even before the five inning marker. On Friday, the first of four days the Indians-Mariners game would be delayed, Paul Byrd was one strike away from his first win of 2007 in Cleveland's first home game of the year. Unfortunately, just before that "official" pitch, Alfonso Marquez, the home plate umpire, called for time. After more than an hour, the game was called off and the teams sadly walked off the field. Mariners' fans were relieved, thankful that a check would not have to be drawn in the loss column. Cleveland fans were stunned, furious over the announcement. But rules are rules, and the one-strike-shy game was erased from the "official" recording.

Although the Cleveland-Mariners postponed game was the most popular, it was most definitely not the only one that occurred today. The Mets host Washington in a game that promises to be high scoring. At least it did until a couple rain drops started to fall. "This rain's supposed to last for a few days," said John Maine, the Mets' starter for today. And it did last. The rain fell hard as another game was cancelled for the day. A total of six games were cancelled, and ironically, this disastrous and never-ending day would fall on the historic Remembrance Day for Jackie Robinson. Once again, a beautiful time in professional sports is eclipsed by the very element that keeps mankind up and running: water. And although no one can truly predict the rainy weather, a wet and cold day in baseball can only mean less playing and more negotiating, a mix that never suits well for fans and spectators.

Monday, April 2, 2007

98 going on 99

Top of the National League Central division. World Series Champions. The curse is finally broken. Does this sound like any Chicago sports team to you? NO. Not even close. The Chicago Cubs have by far proven year after year that they own the most dreadful and mystifying curse in all of sports. I mean seriously, what are the chances your two aces both suffer horrific injuries, shifting your pitching from outstanding to outrageous. And to be one game away from a World Series opportunity, and all of a sudden an unknown Cubs fan (now notorious for his actions in the 2003 NLCS) interferes with "destiny". Only a curse can truly explain this Cubs issue. In fact, this Billy Goat curse has been the source for thousands and thousands of depressed Chicagoans. But now the Chicago Tribune Company may have finally begun to turn those frowns upside down.

The Cubs are incredibly infamous for their ability to blow games in the end (9 blown saves by Dempster) and to fumble plays at the worst times (Gonzalez's error in the 2003 NLCS). All these horrendous characteristics, in fact, are starting to reach the owners as they have finally figured out the key to Cubs' success: money. It's money these major league players want, and now in Chicago, it's money they will get. The NL's worst team made 6 transactions this offseason, one being the hiring of short-tempered coach Lou Piniella. This step towards progression might allow fans to start thinking "this might finally be our year." But too many spectators have been saying that for too long for it to actually be taken seriously. And Piniella is not the only signing that put a smile on Cubs fans' faces. The newly acquired Alfonso Soriano, who will now play center field for the Cubs, cost them a whopping 136 million dollars. And to say the least, the Chicago team is facing a record that may never be broken again. They are attempting to add another digit, that's right, a three digit number for the number of years since their last World Series win. So it's really no surprise they've spent over 300 million dollars alone this offseason. Moreover, the addition of pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, and Kerry Wood's conversion to reliever, have truly improved the depth in the Chicago bullpen. And work has been done to improve the offense and defense with the acquiring of Mark DeRosa and Cesar Izturis, not to mention the return of first baseman Derrek Lee who suffered a broken wrist most of last season. You know, this might just be the Cubs' year after all. OK, let's be realistic here. Although I must admit my bias as a White Sox fan has overwhelmed me greatly, one can only take things so far. Yes, the Cubs have made impressive transactions with their new coaching and roster lineups. But let's try and take it one step at a time here. To go from worst to first in one season, beating out your most despised rivals in the division (those World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals), may be too hard a task to ask from the Red, White and Blue. But in all fairness, moving ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a step towards progression since last year.

However, along the path towards success lies many road blocks for the tenacious Chicago Cubs. Contract issues have risen in the case of Carlos Zambrano. He has recently demanded that his contract be renewed before the first pitch of the new season or he will declare for Free Agency at the end of the year. This surprising demand has stunned the owners, as the player who stepped up big when Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were sidelined with injuries, is now becoming a hassle. The Chicago Cubs, as well as their fans, are beginning to realize raising a title contending team is no easy task. Just look at Boston Red Sox. The year after winning their World Series rings, they were swept out by the true Chicago champs. And the next year, they had to sit on their couches to enjoy the postseason. And the same occurred for the 2005 World Series champions. The Chicago White Sox were out-dueled by both division rivals: the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers. Hey, if you're a Cubs fan I honestly have no problem with your traditions or insignificant good luck charms, but I advise you to be wary of the many disastrous events to come (even though they have experienced many), if the Cubs even reach that peak.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Tall Order

It is a little difficult to grow on your own will. Yet, this is what basketball coaches and managers are asking players to do if they want even the slightest chance to perform in basketball’s highest caliber. It’s a little unfair I agree, but the thought of natural born players is becoming a true concept around the league. Players are much bigger in size than they were ten or twenty years ago, and it can only get higher. Players such as Yao Ming and Greg Oden are what NBA teams are looking for. A powerhouse that is too big or tall to handle for any ordinary 6’11” center to handle. And even the forward position ranges from 6’8” to 7 feet tall. Players such as seven footer Dirk Nowitzki show incredibly unique skill when they can throw up a three pointer with ease while still able to post-up in the paint. These remarkable traits are the epitome of an impenetrable all-star, and even the college all-stars that are felt to be “too small” or “not quick enough” are getting left in the dust.

But it’s time those players took a stand. Guys like Allen Iverson and former all-star Mugsy Bogues portray characteristics that are even more impressive than just being 7 feet tall. They reveal the greatest amount of skill, coerced to compensate for their lack of height. Iverson, the 2004-2005 leading scorer is a clear cut future hall of famer, mastering the crossover move and working it to perfection. Now who says you have to be tall to be good? Mugsy Bogues is known as one of the greatest and purest dribblers in NBA history, using his quickness and awareness to speed right by defenders. However, the desire for height remains the number one priority. Why? Well it is because height reveals a player with the most potential. A coach’s objective is to teach his players, aiding them in skills they lack. With a point guard under six feet tall, it is very difficult to teach him how to beat experienced defenders when he lacks speed or quickness. But when you have a 7 foot center that weighs over 300 pounds, you have a step on other teams that contain smaller big men, and you’re already ahead of every team in the game. The only problem is another Yao Ming is extremely hard to come by. Teams are in search of bigger, faster players, which is why the average small forward today is about 2 inches taller than the average small forward 15 years ago.

But that dilemma is about to change. This year’s NBA draft could just be the turn of the century. Critics are already praising these players in college, and they could be part of the greatest draft class in history. The top ten teams all contain future all-stars, and the best part about it is that almost each one is above 6’6”. Guys like 7’1” Greg Oden on #1 Ohio State, or player of the year candidate Kevin Durant, who measures at 6’11”, already have scouts eyeing them every day of the week. And it’s not just the height this time. These guys possess insurmountable skill, swishing three pointers and slamming down two handed jams. Conversely, life gets a little harder when you don’t have the capability to slam dunk because you’re just too short, even if you do score 18.1 points per game and dish out 5.4 assists per game. Yes, I am talking about All-American Acie Law IV. Law, who is 6’3”, has led Texas A&M to the top of the rankings, putting his team at #7 and turning the 2007 Aggies into a March Madness contender. Yet, he is felt to have a smaller chance as a top ten NBA draft pick. Why is it that the forward who averages about 18 points per game is thought to be on the short end of the NBA draft class? Two words: too short. Law, a phenomenal and complete basketball athlete, is already being criticized as a result of his height, even when he has carried the Aggies on his back throughout the entire season. But he still has the opportunity to prove these critics wrong. Although he is a few inches short of what the NBA desires in a scoring guard, which is about 6’6”, Acie, if picked late in the draft, will get the opportunity to drive down the court with other all-stars on his team, and set an example for other players challenged with height issues and disadvantages.

After all, it has happened before. Gilbert Arenas, the 6'4" point guard for the Washington Wizards, was an extraordinary player for the Arizona Wildcats, that is, until the sports analysts stepped in. Arenas was a top scorer among others that tried to step in his way. The critics and draft projectors, thought otherwise. They said he was too short, and influenced his pick as he dropped to the second round where he was acquired by the Washington Wizards. But Arenas didn’t give up. He wore the number zero, symbolizing the amount of people that believed in him during his transition from college basketball to the NBA. And that’s how many people were right about Arenas’s career. Gilbert did not stop playing just because someone said he wouldn’t do well. Instead, he went out and dominated other teams, and now is putting up almost 30 points per game, a task that would have been thought impossible for Gilbert to do 5 years ago in college. Arenas hadn’t stopped there though. He is still playing for revenge, threatening to bring a golden trophy to Washington and still proving to every team that they should have picked him when they had the chance. Arenas posted 60 points on December 17, a statistic that centers and power forwards seem to have trouble doing. So why is it that the big man is the most praised position today when one would rarely see a 7 foot player put up 40 or 50 points on a single night? Why is it that teams continue to reach for big men when guards, such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, are truly the most talented and complete players on the court. It could be because of the lack of big men today. Or maybe there is a new secret that coaches are beginning to realize that involve a monster in the middle. The question can only be solved by those that truly understand the game. All that is known is that the rarified secret is out there, and maybe, just maybe, a player such as the deeply interested Sun Ming Ming, who stands at 7’9”, will pass over a lucky team and take them down to the finals. That is, if they can handle the quickness and variety of today’s true threats: The Guards.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Now It's Time to get Serious

It's time to turn things around. That's what Ohio State Buckeye players are starting to think now that they know what it's like to live life on the edge. "I'm hoping we can learn from this game and know we can't just play around with teams in the first half," star center Greg Oden said after the near loss against Xavier. Even though the score ended in a seven point spread, Ohio State was on the verge of elimination. In fact, Buckeye fans better start bowing to Shooting Guard Ron Lewis. Lewis hit the amazingly clutch three-pointer over Xavier's Brandon Cole in the final seconds of regulation; I should know, I copied that picture to my desktop only minutes after the great win. "I was just trying to get an open look. I told Mike [Conley Jr.] before we even left the huddle, 'Just give me the ball.' That's what he did. He found me," said Lewis after the game. His ability to keep the Buckeyes alive through thick and thin leaves fans wondering whether God added a little extra umpf to that three-point prayer. But this near-upset may just be the spark Ohio State needs to take home the gold from March Madness 2007.

Although the Buckeyes were close to losing a shocking upset, they understand now what it takes to win and even what it takes to lose. A stunning upset would have been heart-breaking for Ohio State, and now that they realize what it would feel like to be sent home packing, there is no going easy anymore. As Mike Conley Jr. said, "We came too far to lose," and they won't stop now. If you are an Ohio State Buckeyes fan, or even just a spectator, get ready to see the true Ohio State basketball team. These guys are going to show no mercy, nailing three-pointer after three-pointer and grabbing rebounds as if they were a foot taller than everyone else. The true essence of Ohio State is soon to emerge and you won't want to miss it now. With big man Greg Oden in the middle, surrounded by phenomenal athletes such as Mike Conley Jr. and Ron Lewis, who put up an impressive 28 points in the second round, no one will stand in the way of these hungry Buckeyes. Red and White are going to be the only colors opponents will see when those jerseys come crashing at them full throttle. Be prepared to see a surging Ohio State fleet because they will not stop for anything, that is, unless it is big, gold, and has the big O.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Abdication of "King" James

This is a comment I wrote on the lack of support LeBron James receives from his teammates. Or does he have what he needs in order to "go all the way?"

Now I'm not the biggest LeBron James fan there is, but I can still see the skills he possesses to lead an Eastern Conference Championship caliber team. However, he does not display them in his game. Those of you who say LeBron has no team around haven't even looked at the team. HELLO! First off he has himself. I know that sounds funny, but when you put up 29 PPG and over 6 assists and 6 rebounds you shouldn't need much else. Yet, he still has many weapons he does not utilize.

Larry Hughes, for example, is an elite scorer who averaged 22 PPG, 4.7 APG, and 6.3 RPG the year before he left Washington for Cleveland. And that was with TWO great players (Arenas and Jamison). He should be able to do the same things with LeBron but James does not utilize Hughes enough and does not work him into the game like Arenas did. Not to mention "King" James also has the 7 foot tall Ilgauskas. When combined with this powerhouse and a great but unappreciated Larry Hughes, LeBron should easily take the Cavs to the throne of the east. And just to add to his productive list of teammates, James has a solid Power Forward in Drew Gooden and a good alteration in the PG position (offensive minded Damon Jones and defensive specialist Eric Snow). Now I'm not saying LeBron is not great because I think he belongs in the "did he just do that" class of players.

But I feel that he is the lowest of the three All-Stars that came out of his draft (Wade and Anthony). If he wishes to show that he is the best he has to use his teammates and stop trying to carry the team on his back when he does not have to. That, and he also needs to learn how to handle the pressure situations, but that's for another story.

Originally posted on:
https://www2.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8433970209023954527&postID=8377197711201122631

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The College Prospects

As March Madness draws closer, NBA fans begin to scout and rate their most desired prospects. Who will go where? Which player will shock the rest of the league? How good will the 2007 NBA draft really be? These are all questions that will be answered with time, and not even the General Manager's can truly answer them now. Here is a list of the top nine prospects (since everyone uses ten) that remain in college and will hopefully enter the NBA Draft this summer:

1. Kevin Durant (G/F, Texas)

Durant stands at number one in these standings because he is the most complete and talented of any college basketball star. He has single-handedly posed the Longhorns as a major threat to any ranked team in the NCAA polls. They have the potential to upset #1 seeds in the March Madness tournament, and due to Durant's skill, the players that surround him are becoming more skillful and dangerous. His 25.1 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game leave analysts questioning why no one saw this athlete before college. Not only do his stats amaze critics, but the skills he contains are remarkable for his age. Kevin Durant is only a Freshman at Texas and he has already won the Big 12 Player of the Year Award. Durant, who also averages 1.9 steals per game and 1.9 blocks per game, stands as a 6'9" potential guard/forward, and is highly speculated as a possible first overall draft choice in this year's NBA draft. He could be on his way to a big signing and the dream that every college basketball star contains: living the rich life. His ability to drive for a dunk and sink three-point shots has defenders running everywhere on the court, still unable to halt the youngster from dropping over 20 points. Now that he has proven he can handle the higher ranked teams by scoring 32 points against #2 Kansas, and upsetting Texas A&M in a double overtime game, scouts and teams are beginning to think there is nothing this player cannot do.

2. Nick Fazekas (F, Nevada)

Fazekas just won Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Player of the Year, stands tall at 6'11", and has led Nevada to becoming a top ten nationally ranked team. Almost sounds too perfect for the NBA. Nick Fazekas is built for the sole purpose of dominating the paint in basketball, and so far, he has shown he can. Fazekas averages an astounding 20.9 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game. Not to mention he denies 1.5 shots per game, scores 57.3% of his shots from the field, drains 1.0 three-point shots per game, and hits 84.8% of his free throw attempts, a remarkable percentage for such a big player. Fazekas has no true weakness, big enough to post up in the paint and quick enough to run down court on a fast break. If Nick Fazekas is not picked within the first five opportunities, one lucky team will receive a player that is out to prove himself.

3. Greg Oden (C, Ohio State)

Greg Oden has received a lot of press since he has been in high school. As the most publicized player in college, Oden has gotten maybe a little too much attention. Oden, who measures at 7'0" and 280 pounds, contains the most potential of any other NCAA player today. He has the physical structure to go deep in the NBA, and has the skill to give him a jump on other players that come out of the draft. In fact, he averages a miraculous 15.3 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game. But the true talent is revealed through the overlooked statistics, in which Oden averages 61.4 FG% and a ridiculous 3.5 blocks. Greg Oden, with the help of his All-American teammates Jamar Butler and Daequan Cook, has driven the Buckeyes up the ranking page, putting his Ohio State Buckeyes at #1. With victories over #1 Wisconsin and #16 Tennessee at the time, the Buckeyes have an excellent shot at the Final Four. The only problem is Oden is contemplating his leaving for the NBA, as he may just mature one more year in Ohio before the money starts rolling in.

4. Tyler Hansbrough (F, North Carolina)

Hansbrough could be described as maybe the most solid player in this list. Although his stats don't quite portray his rank as #4, he truly deserves the spot. Hansbrough puts up 18.8 points per game to add to his 8.0 rebounds per game. These notable numbers stun critics around the nation as to why he is compared to players such as Durant and Fazekas with such lower averages. The answer: he gets the job done. Hansbrough's numbers, although not the best among college all-stars, are incredibly consistent throughout his college career. As a 6'9" sophomore, Tyler has taken the responsibility of leading the Tar Heels to a title, and he won't let anything stop him, not even a broken nose. In the closing seconds of the North Carolina-Duke game, Hansbrough was hit by Duke Guard Gerald Henderson. Even when the blood poured onto his shoe and on the court, Hansbrough got right back up and revealed his emotion. And even when he suffers a nose injury when he shouldn't have even been on the floor, Tyler is showing remarkable courage and stating that he is ready for the ACC tournament. Ultimately, the best part of Hansbrough's talent is his ability to perform in the most salient games. The incident with Henderson truly overshadowed the Forward's impressive game, posting 26 points and a ridiculous 17 rebounds against the rivaled Blue Devils. And when Ohio State threatened to jump to #1 on the ranking ballot in late November, Hansbrough had other ideas. He led the Tar Heels to a surprising victory, and put up 21 points to go along with his 14 rebounds. As a young and mature player under Coach Roy Williams, Hansbrough has proven he can only bolster upwards in the NBA draft rankings, which only leaves UNC scouting for another superstar.

5. Aaron Gray (C, Pittsburgh)

Aaron Gray is what we like to call in the sports world, a Beast. He stands at a monstrous 7'0" and has established Pittsburgh as a major threat in the March Madness tournament. Gray has posted terrific numbers, scoring 14.4 points per game and grabbing 10.1 rebounds per game. In addition, he sinks 59.1% of his shots from the field, a remarkable statistic. Overall, Gray is a prepared and experienced player for the NBA, having played at Pittsburgh for four years. His maturity and physical structure are a great combination for players that approach the professional level, and Gray is beyond ready for the draft. After suffering a small ankle injury, Gray was forced to sit out a couple games, and played injured against a top-ranked Georgetown team while faced with the tremendous Roy Hibbert, who stands tall at 7'2". Even when faced with the difficult tasks at hand, Gray continues to perform, giving the Panthers opportunities to come out of games with victories. With Senior guard Antonio Graves by his side, Gray comes face to face with the chance of winning the Big East title, and maybe even reaching the Final Four. The only problem Pittsburgh has right now is that they are 0-5 when competing against ranked teams. If the Panthers don't step up against talented teams quickly, Gray may be forced to sell his soul to the devil.

6. Joakim Noah (F/C, Florida)

Noah went from a "who cares?" player to a "how do you not know him?" player almost overnight. By this I mean that Joakim Noah became famous after his miraculous victory with the Gators in the 2006 March Madness tournament. After leading the Florida Gators over UCLA, Florida, as well as 6'11" Joakim Noah, became the talk around the nation. The one characteristic that truly strikes the public is the heart and emotion Noah puts into each individual game. He takes a loss as a personal and heart-breaking defeat. And he has had to deal with many of those as the defending champs have four losses against non-ranked teams alone. But when you see number 13 starts banging his chest profusely, you know the game is over if Joakim has something to say about it. His "sweet emotion" is what separates him from other players and truly adds that distinctive trait he contains. Noah's numbers are fairly solid with 12.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game, and 1.7 denials per game. But more importantly, when the game is close and Noah is on the court, you can be sure he's going to lead his team down the court and assure them a victory, whether it's this year in the March Madness finals or in his final NBA season as an All-Star player.

7. Alando Tucker (F, Wisconsin)

Tucker may just be the most underrated player in college basketball today. His team is currently in third place, and only lost their number one seed because of a close loss to the giants of Ohio State. He averages over 20 points per game (20.1 to be exact) and runs up and down the court with the rest of his quick Badgers. He grabs 5.4 boards per game, a high number for a player only 6'6" in height, and is the go to guy when the pressure hits at the end of a game. Now tell me why you couldn't see this guy in the top ten? Tucker's agility and speed are only a couple reasons for his incredible talent. His height matches well with NBA sized guards. The only problem is Tucker plays the forward position. However, his ability to shoot mid-ranged jump shots and sink the occasional three make it seem as if switching to the guard role will not be so difficult. Tucker leads a smaller, yet hasty Wisconsin Badgers team and could take them far into the tournament, putting his name higher on the list eye-catchers.

8. Joey Dorsey (F, Memphis)

When I first made this list, I knew very little about Joey Dorsey. So I watched a couple Memphis Tigers games and looked up a couple numbers to really get a sense of him. If this was a list of the top defensive players, Dorsey would be at the top of the list. Blocking 2.5 shots per game and stealing 1.6 balls per game, Dorsey can be viewed as a young parallel to Ben Wallace. He takes all the right moves and knows how to make basketball a personal hell for players. At only 6'9" it becomes obvious that Dorsey defeats players with skill and intelligence, mastering the basic parts of the sport. And Dorsey isn't all about monstrous defense. He averages a solid 8.7 points per game, but a ridiculous 9.5 rebounds per game. Joey has the capabilities and potential any young athlete would want when thinking about pro basketball, and his time may come soon if he can bring his #5 Tigers far through the tunnel of tournament obstacles.

9. Roy Hibbert (C, Georgetown)

Roy Hibbert's most impressive trait has nothing to do with skill at all. In fact, it is impossible to train for, or practice for, or even work for. The advantage Roy has over any other player in college basketball is his preposterous height. Hibbert measures in at an incredible 7'2", and weighs almost 280 pounds of pure strength. With Big East Player of the Year candidate Jeff Green, Georgetown has a bright future ahead of them with the Big East tournament and March Madness. Once the Hoyas get the ball rolling, it will be very difficult for other teams to penetrate the giant defense, and even harder to cope with Green's durability matched with Hibbert's size and power. When a truck comes at you full speed what do you do? Get out of the way. Well, this is the issue most defenders are having with Roy Hibbert, whose powerful features and overwhelming size make it difficult for players not to jump for safety. Although Hibbert still has room for improvement, scoring only 12.7 points per game and crashing 6.4 boards per game, he has the potential to become one of many young shining stars to burst out early in the pros. Hibbert's defensive presence is an extraordinary impact for the Hoyas as he averages 2.4 blocks per game. And on the other end of the court, Hibbert remains a force to be reckoned with, scoring a tremendous 68.8% of his shots, even when he lacks the points and rebounds projected for a player of his stature. While Hibbert continues to discuss his plans to remain in the NCAA for another year, fans are already beginning to see the glimpse of talent he reflects.

On the Bubble: Acie Law IV (G, Texas A&M, 18.2 PPG, .516 FG%), Arron Afflalo (G, UCLA, ranked #4 team, 2.6 3PM), Al Horford (F/C, Florida, 8.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG), Josh McRoberts (F/C, Duke, 1.2 SPG, 2.5 BPG), Aaron Brooks (G, Oregon, 18.0 PPG, 37.1 minutes, 4.5 RPG at 6'0"), Brandan Wright (F, UNC, .660 FG%, 14.9 PPG as a freshman), Mustafa Shakur (G, Arizona, 1.6 SPG, 7.0 APG, 1.98 A/T)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

My Sweet Fantasy

It's that time of year again. Yes, the players practice their swing, test the strength of their arms, and work the mouse and keyboard? Yup, no mistake there. The fantasy owners are beginning to scroll through the fantasy rankings and are predicting their picks in the suspenseful draft. And the keys to winning your league this year lie right here in this article. It's as easy as that. Just follow my predictions and thoughts and you'll be on your way to a golden trophy or a cash prize sitting on your front desk. The key to these leagues are the little picks that make the difference, and the lower ranked players that burst out as Cy Young winners or MVP surprises. So who will it be this year?

Sleepers

Pedro Martinez- With this pitcher you can't go wrong. He's a sure strikeout pitcher and is likely to get his wins behind the best offense in the National League. So why is he ranked so low? Injuries. Pedro suffered an awful right shoulder injury that sidelined him for part of the 2006 season. And now he's back. With Martinez you're guaranteed strikeouts, wins, and even a good ERA. How do I know? In his career he has averaged 10.20 strikeouts per nine innings, a 2.81 ERA, and 206 total wins. Not good enough? Well what about the fact that he is a three time Cy Young winner, and won the award in both the American and National League. Oh, and how about the fact that he is only two strikeouts away from the unreachable 3,000 career strikeouts. Like I said before, with this pitcher you can't go wrong.

Hideki Matsui- Another injured product, this Japanese slugger is one of many dangerous weapons courtesy of the New York Yankees. With a wrist injury in the 2006 season, Matsui was sidelined for 111 games. And now he has become even more feared. With players such as Rodriguez and Abreu surrounding him, Hideki is bound to hit dingers, since walking him is out of the question. Before last season Matsui played each of the 162 regular season games, smashing 23 home runs, but more importantly, 116 RBIs and hit with a .305 batting average. The last association Matsui wishes to be a part of is that of inconsistency.

Derrek Lee- What a surprise. Another injured player rises to the top of this list. Well it's no surprise, since he went from 8th ranked in the 2006 season to 31st in the 2007 season according to Yahoo Fantasy Sports. The 2006 Triple Crown candidate was phenomenal, bodacious, staggering, astounding. Anything I missed? He put up numbers critics thought were untouchable: 46 home runs, 120 runs, 107 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, and a .335 batting average. This is what the Chicago Cubs thought they would get from Lee every year of his contract. That was until he suffered the notorious wrist injury that only allowed him to participate in 50 games in 2007. But now he's back. And he wants revenge for the 2006 MVP trophy he felt he deserved. He still wants to prove his worthiness to Chicago, and when better than now? With the newly acquired Alfonso Soriano by his side, he will have more opportunities to drive in runs, and even score a little more himself. All of that and a couple more homers.

Big Busts

Chase Utley- Yes I know, Utley was superb last season and there is no reason for him to choke. Hey, I like Utley a lot and I think he really proved himself last season. But it's a new year, and Utley just has no gas left in his tank. With an unbelievable ,309 batting average, including 131 runs, 32 home runs, 102 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases, Utley is going to have a tough time following with another ridiculous year. His numbers will remain fairly well, but if you're thinking about Utley as a top 15 pick, you are undoubtedly heading the wrong direction for a fantasy trophy.

Matt Holliday- Fantasy baseball is too difficult enough without the question of Holliday as a top 30 pick. This player is no where near his rank of 26 on yahoo rankings. As a player ranked ahead of Miguel Tejada and Andruw Jones, Holliday should be putting up even better numbers than his career year last season. With 34 home runs and 114 RBIs Holliday has shown he has potential. A .326 batting average also adds to his success, but many fans feel a repeat of last year is slim to none. Holliday is a good player, don't get me wrong, but to put him so far up with the risk of a bust by a player who was unknown last year is too dangerous. Not to mention Todd Helton, a huge impact on this team could be headed out of Colorado for good.

Hanley Ramirez- This player, I feel, was the hardest to put on this list. The number of stolen bases Ramirez robbed (51) is so astonishing, that I would not be surprised if comments blew up in my face over this placement. But Ramirez just cannot be trusted. Hanley, who posted 17 home runs and only 59 RBIs, is not a strong enough candidate to trust for anything besides runs and stolen bases. Although he did have 119 runs last year, matching a career high is extremely difficult. Moreover, even with these fantastic numbers in these two categories, Ramirez remains incomplete, only producing two out of the five categories. And don't forget, he's thought of as a 3rd round pick.

Always Reliable

New York Mets- Geez, talk about an offense. This powerhouse team is the epitome of a pitcher's worst nightmare, and I can see why. They contain hitters such as Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Lo Duca, and way more. And that's not even the end of it. With Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, the pitching is pretty good. Not to mention one of the top five closers in baseball, Billy Wagner, with 40 saves and 94 strike outs. This team has everything. Stolen bases (league leading 64 by Reyes), home runs (41 and 38 by Beltran and Delgado), and RBIs (over 114 by three different players) are just some of the categories each of these players show consistency in. With the selection of any of the eight players mentioned, you're getting a performer who takes on any task.

Johan Santana- Johan has been the only pitcher for the last five years that is among the first round draft players. The two-time Cy Young winner has proven that he deserves to be at the top of the fantasy list with all those batters. In fact, last season Santana was the Triple Crown winner among starters who pitched at least 125 innings, leading the majors in wins (19), ERA (2.77), and strike outs (245). Not to mention he had a WHIP of only 1.00. This guy does it all. And now that Mauer, Cuddyer, and 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau are getting the offense started, Santana has plenty of back up to support his arsenal. If you're a fantasy owner that is focused more on pitching rather than batting, the only way to win is by starting with the puissant Johan Santana.

Albert Pujols- The best of the best. That's what sports critics are starting to call Albert Pujols. Pujols, if he stays long enough, could be the record leader in career home runs, or even RBIs. This "work of art" is an epitome of natural born sports players, hitting home runs after home runs after home runs after, well you get the point. Albert hit 49 home runs, along with his 119 runs and 137 RBIs. And that was in only 143 games. Now that Pujols is coming off a World Series win, he is out to prove he is the best; and after showing aggravation over his loss to Ryan Howard in the MVP ballot, Pujols will blow out the competition, making it clear that the 2006 MVP voting was a fluke.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Weekend with the Stars

This is a post I wrote for the Sweet Home Sports website magazine.

Well that was fun. This is the response given by most spectators after the popular all-star weekend which included an unbelievable dunk contest, followed by a phenomenal three-point contest, as well as a repetition in the skills competition. These events may have just been the highlights of the weekend.

When it came down to Sunday night, East versus West, the game was “ok”. Yes, the match-up between the best of the East versus the best of the West was just OK. And that’s stretching it. Players were just goofing off and, dare I say it, having a good time. What these players don’t understand is that the fans want to watch a fun and intense game. But the players felt otherwise. They were throwing alley oops to themselves, and in the case of LeBron James, some did not even complete them. The West crushed the East 153-132, as Kobe’s 31 points, six assists, and six steals were enough to name him the MVP of the game, but not enough to keep the fans in their seats.

So why did I go through the trouble of writing this article? It was the night before that left television sets running. Unknown stars began to shine and the families sitting at home were on the edge of their seats. The dunk contest began with a couple of lackluster, anonymous players, besides 6′11” Dwight Howard. And what did these players do? They made it so their jerseys were selling the next day. Defending champion Nate Robinson exploded, throwing alley-oops to himself while finishing his superb dunks in Michael Jordan fashion, who was in fact judging the contest himself. Even after time expired, he still put smiles on fans’ faces with his off the backboard 360 slam. Dwight Howard managed to stun the crowd with a sticker placement of his face, 12 feet 6 inches off the floor, while still completing the fanatic dunk. But the real story came with the winner of the losers. That’s right, Gerald Green, of the horrendous Boston Celtics really put on a show. And why shouldn’t he during this magnificent weekend? Green came out with ridiculous slams, causing the crowd’s jaws to drop lower and lower. Green came out of the gates hungry, catching a pass from teammate Paul Pierce off the side of the backboard, and putting it in with a two-handed slam. And that was the least impressive of the night. Green came out again, this time with a Dee Brown jersey, and jumped over Nate Robinson while still completing the dunk. Oh, and did I mention he covered his eyes in the process? This historic move gave him a bid to the final round when Green jumped over the scorers table, still having enough air to finish off a perfect windmill slam. And when I say perfect I refer to the judges, who scored Green with a perfect 50.

But that was not the only intriguing part of the night. Jason Kapono easily took the three-point contest without even trying. Kapono was well into the final round before he unleashed his true potential. As soon as the clock started, Kapono began draining three pointers as if they were lay-ups and received an unbelievable 24, crushing former champion Dirk Nowitzki and tying the final round record set by Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And that’s not even the end of it. Dwyane Wade defended his trophy with another Skills Challenge win, making it a second consecutive victory and blowing out Kobe Bryant, the second place winner. So as the clock ticks closer to the start of the second half of the regular season, players begin to regroup, putting the past behind them, and preparing for buzzer beaters, explosive dunks, long distance-shots, and a weekend’s worth of action.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cinderella Man

Six. That's not enough for the former NBA champion who wants another gold ring on his finger. That's right ladies and gentlemen, Scottie Pippen wants in. The 41-year old veteran desires a life in the old days, and what's better than winning another championship to add to your resume? Pippen understands his situation and believes that he still has the skills. So what are his chances to join the Bulls and bring them their first ring since Michael? Very slim. Pippen says he "would only do this for a contender," a selfish comment in my opinion. Pippen's late comment is truly a result of his passion for basketball.
His desire to play and want for glory have driven him where most past NBA all-stars go, back to the court. But according to previous statistics, history is not in favor for the comeback players. Michael Jordan, 3 years after his last season as a Bull, joined the Washington Wizards to put up 22.9 points per game, almost six points less than he had posted up last season. And the next season? A measly 20.0 points per game. Now those are still fairly good statistics for a 38-year old player. But for MJ, those stats are unacceptable. Moreover, Pippen is entering a new generation of basketball. What Scottie doesn't realize is that the game has changed since he left, revamping the role of the big man and the lack of defense. Pippen's superb defensive skills, along with the perfect combination of offensive aggressiveness, allowed Pippen to stand out amongst most NBA players in history. But his age is finally catching up. Scottie just can't keep up with his lack of conditioning and his fatigue will ultimately strike. Now I fully support Pippen's decision to return to fame, but it won't be easy for #33. He will have to learn to adapt, and he will have to do it without #23 by his side. If Pippen goes to a team like Miami or San Antonio, teams he is considering at the moment, he will learn to cope with the fact that he may not even start. With a player like Tim Duncan or Dwyane Wade, Scottie may not even be truly influential.

But Pippen's purposes lie far beyond his role as a player. In fact, he is acting more as a coaching figure and improving the game for his teammates, especially on the defensive end. As old as Pippen is, his knowledge for the game will never be forgotten, and his tranquil and pleasing personality is big enough to fit in any locker room. Pippen hopes to make a difference on and off the court, taking each player's attributes to the next level with his love for the game. Scottie, almost an emulation of Jordan, has always been known for his heart and passion for the game. He has shown that he can still handle the big league's, and wants to prove all those critics that say he can't succeed in his comeback. Although I concur with most of the statements made on Pippen, I sincerely wish he does prove each and every opposing critic wrong, especially me. By succeeding in his new career, Scottie Pippen would bring hope to the NBA, and hopefully spark a change in the game once again.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Best in the Business

The votes are in and the players are waiting patiently. Which only event can you see an alley oop from Tracy McGrady to Kobe Bryant? That's right. The All-Star game is just five days away and you know what that means. The halfway point of the NBA season is near completion and everyone begins to ponder over the best of the best. I'm talking about the 2006-2007 MVP award. Although it is a bit early, too many fans are already on the edge of their seat waiting to read that sweet headline whether it's their favorite player smiling on the front of that Sports section in the paper. And where's the fun in the MVP poll without a little opinion.

As the players begin to blossom over the first half of the season, their rankings for MVP begin to emerge. Names like Steve Nash, Gilbert Arenas, and LeBron James are uttered on a daily basis. But who really deserves the honor. Although it seems unlikely, Nash is the favorite once again to take this year's trophy home. If the all-star Suns point guard wins once again, he will join Wilt Chamberlain and Celtic teammates Larry Bird and Bill Russell as the only players to win MVP three years in a row. And why not? Nash has clearly improved over the years, handing out a career best 11.8 assists and 19.3 points per game. But that's not all. Nash has set a personal record in three other categories, posting amazing numbers in field goal percentage (53.6%), three-point percentage (49.0%), and three pointers made (2.5 per game), all silencing the opposing critics. This 6'3'' play maker has controlled the Suns offense for three years now, winning the MVP award for the two full seasons he has carried them. And what happens to the Nash-centered team when he's gone? They lose two out of three games, both being home games against the young Bulls and pitiful Hawks. And what about last year when Nash was hurt? The Phoenix Suns managed to lose the three games without their star point guard.

So why shouldn't Nash win the MVP? Without Steve, the Suns look like a little league basketball team, kids just throwing up shots, hoping one of them goes in. And if that's still not enough to persuade you, then what else would? The only top candidates that are really on my list are Dirk Nowitzki, Gilbert Arenas, and LeBron James. And do these players even compete? Arenas is averaging almost 30 points per game (29.0 to be exact), and an astounding 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds. But is this really enough to compare him to such a high profile point guard like Nash? It's a blowout. Nash almost doubles his assists, and it wouldn't surprise me if he did at the end of the season. I know that Arenas averages ten more points and 1.4 more boards, but when you are surrounded by players like Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and even Raja Bell, you don't have to put up 30 points a game just to give your team a chance to win. And why don't we look at the history. Besides the fact that the Wizards are slightly better this year, going from number four in 2006 to number 2 presently, these players emulate last years statistics. Arenas is practically miming his past stats (going from 29.3 PPG, 6.1 APG, and 3.5 RPG to 29.0 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 4.7 RPG). And Nash, although slightly as well, improved his attributes as well (going from 18.9 PPG, 10.5 APG, and 4.2 RPG to 19.3 PPG, 11.8 APG, and 3.3 RPG). And the outcome in the MVP race in which both these players were in extremely similar situations they are in now? Drum roll please... Nash won by a landslide, taking 57 out of a possible 125 first place votes. How big of a landslide was this? Second place was Kobe Bryant with 22 votes, less than half the amount Nash received. And how do other players such as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki fair in this heated competition? Not too well considering both have surprisingly dropped since last year, lessening their possibilities for bragging rights.

So it's easy to see that Nash could be a clear cut winner if all goes according to plan. But usually that's not what happens. Maybe LeBron will go on a scoring rampage, putting up 35 PPG in the month of March. Or Nash might go up for a lay-up that wasn't there, and injure his elbow for a month in the process. Who knows? But one thing is for certain. This is the NBA, and anything goes, anything.