Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Miami Heatless Against Bigger Celtics

The Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat started the season squaring off in one of the most anticipated openers in NBA history. The Boston faithful were in playoff form; cheering exuberantly with every basket made by the men in green while booing and chanting “overrated” when Lebron James and the Heat had possession of the ball.
From the very beginning the pressure was clearly on Miami’s big three and with every missed shot and turnover in the first quarter the pressure intensified. Despite a disappointing opening lose we have to keep in mind that Miami is a work in progress. Undoubtedly they will get better over the course of the season as the team chemistry develops, but will it be enough to compete with the veteran teams in the league?
No one can deny the talent oozing from the Miami Heat and their wing players: James and Wade are capable of completely dominating a game on any given night. However, without a true low post presence each will find themselves playing a familiar style of one-on-one isolations no different than what they did last year while playing on separate teams. Boston scored 38 points in the paint to Miami’s 24 with back to the basketball low post players while Miami’s points in the paint came primarily from penetration and put backs.
Early on in the game Chris Bosh attempted to establish a back to the basket low post presence while being defended by Kevin Garnett. You could sense his lack of comfort with this style of play as he quickly reverted to facing up KG and settling for mid-range baseline jumpers for the remainder of the night. Lebron James would also try his hand in the low post. In the first quarter as he was able to back Paul Pierce down for an easy lay in. Boston quickly adjusted by sending help a defender with either KG, Shaq or Davis taking away the baseline.
On the opposite end Boston revealed their blueprint for beating the Heat on their first possession. Shaquille O’Neal posted up against Bosh and missed a short jumper. He would capitalize on the next series of plays when he was the recipient of a nifty alley-oop pass from Rajon Rondo and when he completed a fastbreak with a thunderous two-handed dunk down the middle on lane off of another Rondo assist. Ironically, the Heat made its most significant run to get back into the game when Dwayne Wade was on the bench and Lebron ran the offense as point forward. It was reminiscent of his days in Cleveland. James would score or assist on the Heat’s final 14 points at the end of the third quarter.
The Miami Heat team we saw tonight competing against one of the better defensive teams in the league will be a different Heat team come March. As the big three find cohesion with each other and coach Spostra settles in on a rotation that will allow each superstar to take advantage of their strengths, this team will excel. In order for them to topple the Celtics in the East or the defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers in the West, they will have to find a way to establish a low post presence. But for now, let us simply enjoy the evolution of one of the most potent offensive trios we have seen in recent years.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Duncan and Shaq Alliance?

Nearly a week after the “Decision” all the buzz still centers on Lebron James. Dan Gilbert’s scathing rebuke of his former centerpiece echoes the unspoken feelings of many of his peers as well as a large segment of angry fans. As the Miami Heat intensify their effort to build a team around their core of superstars, the contenders are continuing to stockpile talent for a probable showdown with the newly favored eastern conference contender in south beach.
The Boston Celtics wasted no time signing the former Miami Heat center Jermaine O’Neal, Dallas and Utah are wrangling over the once coveted big man Al Jefferson and the San Antonio Spurs quietly added the best big man in Europe, Tiago Splitter to their roster. Far more intriguing are the whispers of a mutual interest between the future hall of famer Shaquille O’Neal and the San Antonio Spurs. When the dust finally settles on the summer of 2010 might it be remembered as the period when the Diesel and the Big Fundamental partnered up to take on all the young guns? What would the addition of Shaq mean for the Spurs? Let’s examine the pros and cons of a possible Duncan and Shaq partnership.
Let’s begin with the assumption that the Spurs are able resign Richard Jefferson; the starting lineup for San Antonio could then be Shaq, Duncan, Jefferson, Ginobili and Parker. Shaq would give the Spurs the size in the middle they have been searching for since the days of David Robinson. Unlike Splitter Shaq is a veteran of the NBA and knows all of the nuances that separate this league from International Basketball. It is this experience that would give O’Neal the nod over the younger Splitter. With Shaq manning the post, Duncan would be able to shift to the power forward position. He would once again assume the role of help or weak side defender, a role that he has excelled at over the course of his career. This front court tandem along with the addition of Tiago Splitter alongside Dujuan Blair should instantly improve the team’s rebounding and shot blocking which were two areas of concern much of last season.
From an offensive standpoint, Duncan and Shaq are both excellent back- to- the- basket post players, if they can find a way to co-exist on the block or in a high low set then they should be able to generate a healthy point production between the two of them. Additionally, both players are excellent passers, either hitting cutters to the basket with pinpoint precision or kicking it out to a spot up shooter off of a double team. If the Spurs’ wing players are able improve their three point efficiency to the levels seen during their championship years then teams will find it difficult to contain Duncan and O’Neal in single man coverage. With Shaq playing alongside Duncan the Spurs should see considerable improvement offensively and defensively, nevertheless there are some potential pitfalls to this merger.
Teams that feature up-tempo offense like the Phoenix Suns will be able to exploit the Spurs transition defense with O’Neal on the court. They could find a measure of success against the Spurs jumbo line up if they are able to stretch the defense with big men who are able to shoot it from deep like Dirk Nowitski which could create driving lanes for speedy guards. However the biggest risk facing the Spurs with the duo of Duncan and O’Neal on the court during crunch time would be free-throws. O’Neal shot .496% from the free throw line last year and even though Duncan shot a respectable .725 %, he was at the very least extremely inconsistent when it mattered most. Fans could end up watching some very ugly basketball in the closing minutes of the game as the opposing teams implement their “hack a Duncan-Shaq” strategy.
When the pros are measured against the cons in regards to this potential alliance between two of the greatest big men to play the game, the scales lean considerably in favor of the pros. Aside from the basketball aspects, bringing Shaq to San-Antonio would be a huge financial incentive. It would most certainly make for “must-see TV”. Among the story lines for the 2010-11 season could be “Shaq’s Last Stand at the Alamo”, or “Duncan and Shaq’s Pursuit of Kobe’s Fifth Title” or “King James Foiled by the Old Towers”. Due to the unexpected salary cap increase, the San Antonio Spurs were able to solidify their front court with the signing of Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter. They still have their 2.365 million of the MLE to use. More than likely it is earmarked for Richard Jefferson which makes the acquisition of Shaq a longshot. Needless to say, Shaquille O’Neal in a San Antonio Spurs uniform would be one of the best stories resulting from the summer of Lebron.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Projection: The 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs

The 2009-10 NBA season is over and the NBA draft is in the books, now it’s time to focus our attention on the annual NBA free agency buffet with one caveat: this year’s buffet features filet mignon with the superstar trio of Lebron James, Dewayne Wade and Chris Bosh headlining the menu. Every NBA franchise should be lining up to partake of this wondrous bounty of talent, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, looming in the back drop of this year’s free agency market are two storm clouds, the financial restrictions placed on owners brought about by the current recession and the pending Collective Bargaining Agreement that has the potential of stalling the NBA season altogether just as it did with the 1998-99 lockout.
With so much uncertainly, it pays to have your major pieces locked into an existing contract and is even more beneficial if the majority of your roster is intact before the free agent market opens on July 1. This brings us to the San Antonio Spurs and its roster projection for 2010. Last year, the Spurs made the biggest splash in free agency by signing Antonio McDyess and acquiring Richard Jefferson through trade. They effectively used up their cap space originally earmarked for this summer one year earlier. While the end result wasn’t another championship title or even a conference finals appearance, the long-term wisdom by their decision to use the cap space in 2009 should not go unnoticed.
Consider this, the Spurs will enter the 2010-11 season with the same starting five and two primary reserves (Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Dujuan Blair and George Hill). This line-up was key in their surprising first round victory over their instate rival, the Dallas Mavericks. One should expect for this core to play better in 2010 after one year of on-the-job training and another summer camp. Also under contract are two young wing players (Alonzo Gee and Malik Hairston) who have spent several years learning the Spurs system as players for the D-league team the Austin Toros. This gives the Spurs nine players under contract prior to the start of free agency. Most teams do not play more than an eight or nine man rotation during the course of the regular season. Nevertheless we should expect the Spurs to carry anywhere from the league minimum of 12 players to the maximum of 15.
Who might the Spurs target to fill out their roster and what effect could they have on the team? The primary target of the Spurs this summer is their 2007 1st round draft pick, Tiago Splitter.(Video: In 2007 Splitter chose to remain in his native country of Spain and play international basketball over the NBA. However the Spurs still retained his draft rights. Now there are clear indicators that Splitter will choose to opt out of his current contract in favor of playing in the NBA. Shortly after July 1, we should know if Tiago Splitter will be the 10th player added to the Spurs roster. Splitter would bring much needed size and athleticism to the aging frontcourt of the San Antonio Spurs. With the 20th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Spurs acquired another wing player with the selection of James Anderson. Anderson will bring another scoring option to the team. He averaged 22 points last season with Oklahoma State and at 6’.6”, he should be a suitable replacement for Roger Mason at a third of the cost.
As previously mentioned, many teams will be hampered in their quest for free agents due to financial restraints; the Spurs are not exempt. In fact with nine players already under contract, San Antonio exceeds the projected salary cap of $56 million and are close to the projected luxury tax threshold of $68 million, which means every player starting with Tiago Splitter and James Anderson will cost the team a dollar for dollar per contract. The Spurs will take advantage of 3 exceptions (Mid-Level, Bi-Annual and Minimum Salary exception) to fill out their roster. San Antonio will most likely use the MLE to sign Tiago Splitter. Expect them to target another shooter like Mike Miller or Kyle Korver with their BAE. Of course they might just decide to use it on Matt Bonner which would eliminate the learning curve the aforementioned players would experience. By signing any of these three outstanding sharpshooters the Spurs would bring their roster to 12. They could play the majority of the regular season with 12 players under contract in order to keep the cost down but more than likely they will fill the seats at the end of the bench with a revolving door of players from their D-League affiliate team.
The San Antonio Spurs are going into the new season as they left it, with their major parts intact. They will attempt to fill various holes by way of draft picks and various exceptions. Will it be enough to give Tim Duncan and company one last shot at glory? Time will tell.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


1. Wizards
Need – A versatile point guard of the mold of Steve Nash.
Pick – John Wall

2. 76ers
Need – A dominate big man who can run the break alongside Iguodala.
Pick – Derrick Favors

3. Nets
Need – A scorer to play alongside Harris in the backcourt.
Pick – Evan Turner

4. Timberwolves
Need – A true center. It’s time to cash in on Big Al or Love by way of trade.
Pick – DeMarcus Cousins

5. Kings
Need – A backcourt mate for the ROY would be nice.
Pick – Xavier Henry

6. Warriors
Need – The best big man available.
Pick – Cole Aldrich

7. Pistons
Need – The small forward position is in need of young legs.
Pick – Wesley Johnson

8. Clippers
Need – Small forward is the only weakness on this team.
Pick – Al-Farouq Aminu

9. Jazz
Need – Size and versatility in the frontcourt is a must if Boozer leaves for South Beach.
Pick – Greg Monroe

10. Pacers
Need – This team is desperate for a top flight point guard.
Pick – Eric Bledsoe

11. Hornets
Need – Collison and Thornton solidified the backcourt but what about the 3 position?
Pick – Patrick Patterson

12. Grizzlies
Need – The Conley experiment is over. OJ gets another backcourt mate with this pick.
Pick – Paul George

13. Raptors
Need – Their starting over from scratch. Go for the player with the most upside.
Pick – Hassan Whiteside

14. Rockets
Need – The Rockets are desperate for size in the middle.
Pick – Ed Davis

15. Bucks
Need – Get Jennings a scoring mate at shooting guard and really “fear the deer” next season.
Pick – James Anderson

16. Timberwolves
Need – with their second pick in the first round the T-Wolves can address their lack of scoring at the SF position.
Pick – Luke Babbitt

17. Bulls
Need – Losing Gordon at SG exposed this team’s lack of fire power. Bringing another Gordon in makes sense to me.
Pick – Gordon Hayward

18. Heat
Need – Assuming they get frontcourt help through free-agency, the Heat pick small here.
Pick – Avery Bradley

19. Boston
Need – An aging frontcourt necessitates a SF/PF with this pick.
Pick - Daniel Orton

20. Spurs
Need – Another team with multiple needs in the frontcourt. Spurs go big here.
Pick – Solomon Alabi

21. Thunder
Need – This team is loaded at all positions so taking the best available makes sense.
Pick – Damion James

22. Trailblazers
Need – Will Oden ever play to his full potential for a complete season?
Pick – Jerome Jordan

23. Timberwolves
Need – this is most certainly a value pick for the T-Wolves, high reward, low risk.
Pick – Larry Sanders

24. Hawks.
Need– How do the Hawks replace the departure of a Joe Johnson? They can’t, not with this pick.
Pick – Willie Warren

25. Grizzlies
Need – If they fail to secure the service of Gay, this pick could prove useful.
Pick – Ekpe Udoh

26. Thunder
Need – Don’t be surprised if they move this pick for a veteran.
Pick – Terrico White

27. Nets
Need – A backup for Harris would be a smart pick here.
Pick – Armon Johnson

28. Grizzlies
Need – This is another team that will more than likely move this pick.
Pick – Elliot Williams

29. Magic
Need – The Magic could use more firepower in the front court.
Pick – Donatas Motiejunas

30. Wizards
Need – The Wizards need a defensive presence to balance out their offense.
Pick – Jarvis Varnado

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Love Him, Hate Him, Respect Him

Bruce Bowen officially retires from the NBA after a 12 year career. Bruce is a controversial figure, the type of player that is either loved or hated, however, before we start the name calling, we should consider his accomplishments.

First, how many players with limited offensive skills and with a career shooting average below 40% have managed to stick in the NBA for 12 years? How many of us have been at our current job for 12 years? Bruce Bowen’s longevity alone should garner respect.

Secondly, Bruce earned eight consecutive votes to the NBA 1st or 2nd All Defensive Team from 2000-2008 and he was an integral part of the Spurs three Championships (2003, 2005, 2007).

Also, let’s not forget that Bruce Bowen had a streak of 500 consecutive games played that only ended when he kicked CP3 in the family jewels. He was the Cal Ripken Jr. of the NBA for the past decade. Finally, although Ruben Patterson boasted that he was the “Kobe-stopper”, it was actually Bruce Bowen who presented Kobe with the greatest individual challenge.

It wasn’t as if Bowen could stop Kobe in a one-on-one play, not many can, but what Bowen possessed was uncanny lateral speed and an active set of hands that rarely presented Kobe with an uncontested shot. Additionally, Bowen knew how to play team defense, often funneling his opponent, including Kobe, toward help defenders. While some may see his physical style as an irritant, a distraction from the game of one of our greatest players, remember that all of the great ones had their nemesis: that one opponent that really got under their skin. Jordan had Starks and Kobe had Bowen.

The NBA makes its money on the backs of spectacular offensive plays by the likes of Kobe and Lebron. It’s no secret that high octane offense sells tickets. In fact, the best selling merchandise comes with printed numbers or images of the players who can flat out score. It’s a business and that is understood, but as a fan of the game there is nothing more appealing than a game that features a little defense, a little grit, a little Mutumbo finger wagging. To this end we should all tip our hats to Bruce Bowen because great defense is what he brought night in and night out for 12 years. In the end regardless of whether you love him or hate him….. you have to respect him as one of the great defensive players of the past decade.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Buss, What's The Fuss?

The latest buzz has Lamar Odom leaning toward accepting a deal with the Miami Heat. If this happens, no one will be more to blame than Jerry Buss and the Laker brass. It's astonishing to think that the owner of the hottest franchise in all of sports is squabbling over one million dollars a year. That's correct, Odom is seeking 10 million a year over five years and Jerry Buss refuses to pay him more than 9 million a year. If there was ever a player that should be overpaid, it would be Lamar Odom. Why? Lamar Odom is the Lakers bench. While the Lakers may possess one of the best starting units in basketball, they have absolutely no reserve that comes close to the caliber of play that Lamar Odom brings when he enters the game. The Celtics have Rasheed Wallace, Dallas has Jason Terry, (last year's six man award winner), and the Spurs have all-star Manu Ginobili anchoring their second unit. Without Lamar Odom the Lakers’ best reserve will be the hope that Luke Walton suddenly morphs into the player his father once was. The Lakers blew away the western competition last year, but most analysts feel that the reloaded Spurs have closed the gap. According to ESPN’s trade machine, losing Lamar Odom would result in 7 less wins for the Lakers. Considering the Lakers won 65 times last year that would mean a win total of 58 without Lamar Odom. The Spurs had 54 wins last year with Ginobili, Parker and Duncan missing long stretches at a time. Given their recent acquisitions, it's not hard to imagine the Spurs winning 60 or more games this season. If Jerry Buss and the LA brass would only rationalize the situation from a win/lose standpoint then the one million dollars that is hindering the deal with Odom doesn't seem like a whole lot after all. Jerry Buss bought the Lakers for 60+ million and their current value is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 million. Surely Mr. Buss has the money needed to keep the Laker's dynasty dreams alive.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two Western Conference Titans, One Title!

Remember when the Spurs were too old and athletically challenged to keep up with the Lakers, well not anymore. Both teams appear to have their rosters set so I ran a few averages to see how they match up. Including the eventual signing of Odom for the Lakers and Ratliff for the Spurs, both teams top out at an average height of 6.8". The average age for the Lakers is 27 compared to the Spurs 28. Lets look at both teams by position and depth.

At center the Spurs start Tim Duncan with Theo Ratliff likely backing him up. The Lakers counter with Andrew Bynum with DJ Mbenga coming off the bench. The Spurs drastically improves the PF position by starting McDyess with the rookie Dejuan Blair backing him up. LA counters with tandum of Gasol and Odom. At small forward the Spurs will start Richard Jefferson with Finley and Malik Hairston in the wings. The Lakers start Ron Artest with Luke Walton backing him up. The Spurs are banking on a healthy and motivated Manu Ginobili playing in a contract year to light it up from the shooting guard position with sharp shooter Roger Mason providing relief. For the Lakers the black mamba, Kobe Bryant would love nothing more than a competitive battle with Ginobili come the playoffs. He will be backed up by Vujacic. Once again Tony Parker will be the motor pushing the Spurs offense at point guard with 2nd year guard George Hill running the second unit. The Lakers will rely on veteran Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmer to provide offensive direction for the defending champs. It's fair to say, this may go down as one of the most exciting seasons we will ever witness.