Monday, April 30, 2007

Warrior Mentality

Up 3-1 over the mighty Dallas Mavericks, Baron Davis(left) and his fearless Golden State Warriors are shocking the basketball world. Better yet, they are doing it with almost incomprehensible passion. Anyone who saw game 4 last night had to have been overwhelmed by the electricity of the Golden State players and the long-suffering Oakland fans. The arena was on fire all night, more so than any other NBA game in recent memory. It was truly a joy to watch and should go down as one of the all-time classic playoff games in NBA history.

First round series aren't supposed to play out like this, not against a giant like the 67 win Mavs. Then again, Baron Davis wasn't supposed to remind everyone why his best game may be better than any other guards best game in the league (yes, that includes you Steve Nash, and you too Dwyane Wade). Then again, Stephen Jackson wasn't supposed to remind everyone how his unrivaled competetiveness and confidence can drive a team in the biggest of games. Then again, Mickeal Pietrus wasn't supposed to remind everyone why a brash and giddy Chad Ford called him "the Euro Michael Jordan". And most of all, Don Nelson wasn't supposed to remind everyone that he may just know a little more than his fawned-over protege Avery Johnson.

If you really love NBA basketball, there is no way you cannot be mesmerized by these scrappy underdogs aptly called the Warriors and their spit-fire, diehard fans. And if you really love NBA basketball, there is no way you would miss game 5 Tuesday in Dallas to see if they can shockingly finish off perhaps the most memorable first round series in league history.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Last Game for Grant Hill??

Is this dunk at left Grant Hill's last flush in the NBA?

Hill is considering retirement, after his Orlando Magic were swept by the top-seeded Detroit Pistons, losing game 4 97-93. The former All-Star's massive $16.9 million contract is up this year, and even if the Magic offer him a new deal--a very big if--it will likely be somewhere around the mid-level exception, or lower.

Hill's ankle has seen more action than Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan combined. His heel has been reshaped, and he has sat out parts of the last 6 seasons, playing more than 60 games only twice. He is 34, his legs are about 28, and his ankle is a senior citizen. It's a sad story for a former MVP candidate, who I still imagine making championship runs with a Tracy McGrady--sans back injury, of course.

But, Hill can still contribute. He averaged nearly 15 a game this year, shooting his characteristic 50% from the field, and is still a stabilizing force on the court. Multi-talented, good handle, good passer, solid defense, a glue guy of sorts. He still has a place in the league. But if Hill decides to hang 'em up, he deserves a pat on the back, and a solemn one at that. A job well done, with a body that betrayed him. Hill would have been a career 22-25 ppg scorer and one of the classy faces of the league, like a Tim Duncan.

If Hill decides to stay, you have to think he'd like to go to a winner: Spurs, Mavs, Bulls, maybe a return tour of duty with the Pistons. A team that can live with his injuries and save him for the playoffs. A good example to watch would be Chris Webber. If he gets Detroit to a finals, that might serve as a model for Hill, that he can still be a force and have an impact for the right suitor.

If not, though, we'll have to remember Hill for his high-flying dunks at Duke, and his ability to make those old Turquoise Pistons unis look damn good. Better not to think about what might have been.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Future of the Nuggets

After surprising San Antonio in game 1, the Denver Nuggets fell back to earth in game 2, and watched as the Spurs wrested control of the series. The Nugz battled evenly on most front but--surprise--were held to 38% shooting. I wonder why?

Denver acquired Allen Iverson thinking that pairing him with a rising Carmelo Anthony would make them one of the league's most dangerous teams. On paper, this would seem to be true: 2 of the league's top 5 scorers; 2 guys who can get their shot at any time; 2 all-world competitors.

What did Denver forget? How about that neither of these guys plays defense. What about shot selection? Iverson is a career 40% shooter while Melo shoots a ho-hum 45%. What about character? Both of these guys have each had one year of team success in their careers: Melo's came when he was still living the life at 'Cuse, and Iverson's Sixers took the East in one of its worst years in history.

I cringe when people say that either of these guys is a winner. Yes the have won, but winner implies consistent winning. Even on a team with dominant defensive center Marcus Camby, and a host of big and athletic bodies to throw around, Denver doesn't get it done. Will they in the future?

I remain skeptical. An AI/JR Smith backcourt scares me, and not in a scary-good way. Melo has all the tools to be one of the best in the game, but where's the leadership, the desire, and the defensive close-outs that get your team past the 1st round of the playoffs? And what is George Karl thinking telling him to jack it up as much as he does? Is he trying to catch lightning in a bottle? Against this year's West, that's laughable.

If the Nugs are going to ever win with this bunch, they are going to have to convince AI to become a pass-first point guard, which he has struggled with in the past. The team proffesses a love of the running game, but lacks the engine a la Steve Nash or Chris Paul. Did the AI trade really make them any better? Maybe more of a threat, yes, but a really better team--no. They didn't address any of their weaknesses.

The Nuggets would have been better off missing the playoffs and getting Mike Conley in the draft. He's almost as quick as AI, and is a true PG.

The Nuggets' problems run deeper: a bloated payroll, injury-prone talent, and a coach who for all he's done, has never won the big one, and has left a mess in the wake of every team he's coached.

Wizards Fighting Good Fight, But in Vain

The injury-decimated Washington Wizards seem to be fighting a hopeless battle against the Cleveland Cavaliers and it is easy to see why. Coach Eddie Jordan (left) has had to turn to guys like Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Jarvis Hayes, Brendan Haywood, Darius Songalia and even vagabond Roger Mason as primary offensive options behind Antawn Jamison, who is the Wizards only legitimate scoring threat left standing.
The best player of the bunch is Daniels and though a proven playoff performer, he fits best as a 6th man who provides hustle and solid defense of the bench. The rest are utility or spot players. Seeing DeShawn Stevenson consistently brick 20 foot jump shots of the dribble is one of the most frustrating sights in the NBA; its easy to see why the once-ballyhooed prospect is playing for the league's minumem salary this season (after rejecting what now seems like a decent offer from the Magic over the summer). Hayes has not seen his fluid shooting stroke translate into success as an NBA marksman; he is injury prone and seems stiff in the legs. Haywood lacks the basketball I.Q to develop into anything more than what he is now: an average backup center, with a hair-trigger temper too boot (see the repeated fights with the Wizards other mediocre center, Etan Thomas). Without their temperamental superstar Gilbert Arenas and all-around standout Caron Butler, the Wizards are a couple of games away from calling it an early summer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

KU's Wright a Risky Draft Prospect

Lets break down the talented Kansas Sophomore forward who declared for the draft on April 9th.

The Chicago native is tremendously versatile. He runs the floor unusually well for a 6'8'' player. Wright really thrives in the full-court game with his ability to push the ball and find open teammates; he does this as well (if not better) than many guards. Wright is a well-built athlete who looks great on the hoof, blessed with long arms, strong legs and quick feet. He gets after it on defense and is able to defend either forward position (he's quick enough to slide his feet on the perimeter, stout enough to bang down on the block). An unselfish player almost to a fault, Wright will find a way to fit in on just about any team in the NBA, regardless of their style of play or his role on the team (he appears to be a high character individual and is a team player).

Despite all of these strenghts, the weaknesses in Wrights game are what may doom him to "perrenial tease" status once he is in the league. The soon-to-be 20 year old is simply not very strong with the ball in tight spaces; against Southern Illinois ( a mid-major team with no notable NBA prospects), Wright struggled securing rebounds which he was in position to snatch and often had his dribble disrupted by smaller, slower, less-talented players. His spotty mid-range shooting and poor free-throw shooting are major concerns; he does not posses the deft touch of a scoring forward. His in-and-out focus and lackadasical body language bring question to whether his mental game is strong enough for the NBA.

Wright's stock may have peaked during the Big 12 Conference season, when Kansas looked unbeatable and Wright had a 33 point breakout game vs. Missouri on national TV. His NCAA tournament performances vs. Southern Illinois and UCLA (7 and 8 points respectively) have his stock sinking at the moment. Still, Wright should not slip out of the lottery; look for him to go somewhere between picks 7-15 on draft night. Declaring this season ensures Wright will not suffer from the overexposure and nitpicking endured by fellow enigmatic forward Josh McRoberts of Duke, a sure-fire Top10 pick had he declared last year who's reeling draft stock (a projected 15-30 pick ) will cost him millions of guranteed NBA dollars this June.

The Running of the Bulls

Up 2-0, the question already is looming on the horizon: can the Chicago Bulls win on the road? This is the same team that went up 2-0 against Gilbert Arenas's Washington Wizards in 2005, and then lost 4 straight. This is the team that went 18-23 on the road this season.

The defending champs were 27-14 at home this season, hardly a stellar mark, but this is the same team (1 year older mind you) that won 3 straight at home last June en route to one of the most impressive finals turnarounds in recent memory. The Heat are down, but they are a long way from being out. Facing must-wins in games 3 and 4, expect Shaq and D-Wade to take their games up a notch. Can the Bulls stem the inevitable onslaught that we all know is coming?

With a bigger and deeper team than ever this year, you have to give the Bulls a fighting chance. They are getting unexpected contributions from Thabo Sefolosha, who's defense is the opposite of the porous cheese bearing his country's name. Tyrus Thomas, like he has repeatedly since the All-Star break, is showing game-changing flashes of talent. PJ Brown and Ben Wallace are giving exactly what was expected of them: hard-nosed defense, leadership, and rebounding.

The Heat are on their heels and the Bulls have to go for the kill, now. Give Riley's bunch any wiggle room, and you will be out of the playoff faster than you can say, well really, the name of any team that the champs have deposed in the last yearm, including as it were, the Chicago Bulls.

Welcome to The NBA Guru

The 2007 NBA Playoffs have just begun, and with them the blog that will seek to re-define all things NBA.

My roommate Evan Argall and I (Nick Churchill) are going to attempt to write about the NBA comprehensively. The analysis and writing out there right now on the world's greatest sport falls far short of our expectations. We want more. So should you.

We will look at the NBA from different angles. What is that GM thinking? Who told this college kid he's ready for the draft? Does your favorite player really believe he's going to get a max contract?

We will try to cover the LEAGUE's different parts: Stern's hypocrisy, locker room cancers, luxury-tax land, and everything in between.

While we are not professionals, our knowledge extends to all corners of the game. While we cannot have our blog be devoid of opinion, our goal is to be 100% more objective than Mark Stein, ESPN's senior NBA writer. We believe this is totally within the realm of possibility.

So, without further ado, we welcome you, Mr (or Mrs.) NBA fan. We hope you enjoy your stay.