Saturday, June 29, 2013

NBA Draft Day Grades: Cavs, Magic, Wizards, Bobcats, Suns

The decisions that were made on Thursday night weren’t only surprising, but they were big game-changers.  Each and every team had an unusually large amount of selections to strongly consider and choose between.  Every single process in picking the team’s player was important, such as watching game tape, the NBA Draft Combine, and individual team workouts.  However, sometimes these can be somewhat misleading.  That’s why instinct is a huge part of this crucial decision-making, especially in a draft where the seventh pick is supposed to be the most talented player.  I am going to tell you how well I think each team did (in different parts) in the 2013 NBA Draft, as well as give my opinionated ceilings and floors for some draftees:

Cleveland Cavaliers: Zach Tennen on Anthony Bennett
Pick #1. 6-7 PF Anthony Bennett
Ceiling – Larry Johnson
Floor – Brandon Bass
In my mock draft, I said the Cavs had a bundle of options.  Honestly, the Cavs may not have made their decision until just hours before the draft started.  At the end of the day, I think this was a safe decision.  Bennett is a very exciting and very physical player.  I don’t see him being afraid to take a big role from day one and help turn around the Cavs’ franchise.
Pick #19. 6-7 SF Sergey Karasev
Having the knack for picking out European players that are capable of being effective NBA players is not easy (unless you’re the Spurs).  I’m sure the Cavs invested some time in Karasev and saw him fitting in well with their current group of young players.  Karasev speaks very confidently about himself and envisions a successful NBA career.
Pick #33. 6-6 SG Carrick Felix
Grade:  B+

Orlando Magic: Zach Tennen on Victor Oladipo
Pick #2. 6-4 SG Victor Oladipo 
Ceiling: Dwyane Wade
Floor: Avery Bradley
The comparisons for Oladipo are tough to come up with because there have been very few all-star shooting guards that were defensive specialists (aside from Wade).  Oladipo’s jump shot is probably the biggest concern at this point.  However, I see no reason he won’t develop into a solid shooter.  Oladipo is the type of player that will put extra hours in the gym but it may take him a few years to possibly get to all-star level.
Pick #51. 6-7 PF Romero Osby
Grade: B+

Washington Wizards: Zach Tennen on Otto Porter
Pick #3. 6-8 SF Otto Porter
Ceiling: Luol Deng
Floor: Al-Farouq Aminu
I really like what the Wizards are doing.  In my opinion, John Wall was the start of a good future in D.C.  Adding Porter to a mix of Wall and Beal gives Washington the potential to be a young, upcoming team full of very good, explosive players.  Porter is definitely going to have to spend some time at PF as the Wizards don’t get consistent production at that position.
Pick #35. 6-6 SF Glen Rice
Grade: A-

Charlotte Bobcats:
Pick #4. 7-0 C Cody Zeller
Ceiling: David Lee Zach Tennen on Cody Zeller
Floor: Zaza Pachulia
Most definitely a stretch at #4.  Although Charlotte’s bigs were M.I.A. last season, their biggest need was any type of talent.  MJ must have seen a ton of risk in Ben McLemore not to take him.  Don’t get me wrong; Cody Zeller is a workhorse and he could surprise just as David Lee did.  However, he isn’t the most ideal center to be selected fourth overall.
Grade: D+

Phoenix Suns:
Pick #5. 7-1 C Alex Len
Ceiling: Zydrunas Ilgauskas Zach Tennen on Alex Len
Floor: Rasho Nesterovic
The Suns must have seen the same problem, whatever it was, in Ben McLemore than the Bobcats did.  The fact of the matter is that this is another squad that needs a player to bring them to life.  Alex Len has the potential to be a stable starting center for several years.  It depends on how agile and coordinated he can prove himself to be.  On the bright side, Charlotte and Phoenix are two teams sure to remain in the top five in the 2014 draft.
Pick #29. 6-5 SG Archie Goodwin
Pick #57: 6-9 PF Alex Oriakhi
Grade: C

This isn’t it…I’m just breaking my draft review up into a few different sections.  Stay tuned for more draft analysis to come in the near future…

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 NBA Draft Preview

This draft may not have one stand-out player to be excited about, but that”s what makes the 2013 draft unique.  It gives us a lot to question and it reflects on the true quality of each franchise’s front office decision-making.  Here, I will discuss some potential lottery pick situations and factor in my take on them (Keep in mind, this preview disregards the possibility of lottery picks being traded, which there is a fair possibility of):
Italicized – My prediction

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: a bundle of options including Ben McLemoreNerlens Noel, Otto Porter, Alex Len, and Victor Oladipo.
There is thought to be a significant difference between the talent level and potential of this year’s first pick and next year’s first pick (Andrew Wiggins or whoever that may be).  At first sight, it was looking like Nerlens Noel was the guy to grab at the number one slot.  However, injuries and doubts about his ceiling on offense have made him a questionable call.  My opinion: too risky of a pick and the Cavs may be better off going in another direction.  Ben McLemore definitely has superstar potential and talent is what the Cavs need.  Maybe him and Irving become the best backcourt in the NBA in a few years.  Don’t count out Otto Porter.  He may actually be the safest pick because you know what to expect out of him: immediate solid all-around contribution from a lanky small forward (making the playoffs next season is one of the Cavs’ main goals).  Alex Len being the first pick has also been mentioned.  Nobody really knows if that’s a legitimate possibility, though.

Zach Tennen on 2013 NBA Draft - Ben McLemore

2. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel
The Magic are definitely going to end up with one of these three players.  After some excellent moves by Orlando’s front office, we should assume that they remain confident about big decisions they have to make.  According to reliable sources, the Magic claim to “guarantee” they’ll take Nerlens Noel if he’s there.  That may be true but I’m not completely buying it.  Orlando already has pretty solid size and they would greatly benefit from an explosive guard who can score the ball/run a team.

3. Washington Wizards: Nerlens NoelOtto Porter
These two guys seem to be the most likely possibilities for D.C.  I think the Wiz are more than content with their future backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.  Plus, it’s not like they’re looking for an upgrade over Beal, who they chose 3rd overall in the 2012 draft.  The Wizards really need some more life at the PF/C position.  Nene Hilario is a very good player but he doesn’t seem to possess the energy and athleticism that he used to; that’s a strong case for Nerlens Noel and I’m sure they would be thrilled if he was on the board.  Otto Porter is probably their selection in an ideal world.  Washington absolutely does not have a starting small forward set-in-stone, and Porter would certainly be that guy.

4. Charlotte Bobcats: Otto Porter, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, Anthony Bennett
This pick, obviously, strongly depends on what players are available.  You could make a case for Michael Jordan taking any of these guys.  McLemore would be really hard to pass up here.  However, if that’s the case, they might favor Oladipo over him because of his work ethic and defensive ability.  The Bobcats also desperately need a power forward and center.  But in this scenario, talent (Otto Porter) wins overall.

5. Phoenix Suns: Anthony BennettBen McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter
After letting go of Steve Nash, the Suns basically had to start from the beginning.  Phoenix is at the start of a major rebuilding process.  They are craving an intriguing prospect that can take over a game and eventually make them a competitive team.  McLemore and Oladipo would very likely be their top two priorities.

6. New Orleans Pelicans: Alex LenBen McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Trey Burke
I, personally, don’t think Ben McLemore will slide down this far.  Then again, this draft is a total guessing game for the fans (and the GMs).  Trey Burke seems to be the common projection for the Pelicans and I don’t see why not.  I think he’s the perfect fit for this team.  They could plug him into the starting lineup right away, assuming Eric Gordon gets moved.  Burke and Vasquez could start together considering both are combo guards.

7. Sacramento Kings: Trey BurkeAnthony Bennett, CJ McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams
This is a huge draft for the Kings.  Sacramento continues to land great lottery picks but they haven’t seemed to benefit the team much.  I think they are in desperate need of a smart player who knows how to lead a team.  Trey Burke or CJ McCollum could be that guy.  McCollum played four years of college ball, which is a factor that is definitely underlooked.  Both players have a sweet stroke as well as most of the tools necessary to play point guard in the NBA.

Zach Tennen on 2013 NBA Draft - Trey Burke

8. Detroit Pistons: CJ McCollum, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Shabazz Muhammad, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Again, we have to see what players are going to be left on the board at number 8.  In last year’s draft, the Pistons were extremely fortunate to have a potential franchise-changing player available at number 9.  Who knows, maybe a name that I don’t expect to drop could fall this far.  Let’s just say that the Pistons have narrowed it down to McCollum, Carter-Williams, Caldwell-Pope (assuming Burke is taken).  Any of these players are a strong possibility.  Personally, I like McCollum because of his court awareness and the fact that he can consistently put the ball in the hoop (the Pistons need that).  The Pistons could have a future backcourt of Knight and McCollum, who both have the flexibility to play the 1 and 2.

The Pistons are my hometown team so it’s only right that I stop here before I continue to embarrass myself with these incorrect picks (although I’d be extremely impressed if someone could get all eight correct).

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

NBA Finals Recap: San Antonio Spurs collapse but legacy remains

The San Antonio Spurs were “oh so close” to bringing home their fifth NBA title in 15 years.  When I say “oh so close,” I mean they were up five points, and they were 28 seconds away from likely reeling in the Larry O’Brien trophy (key word being likely.)  ”It isn’t over ’till it’s over” and “it isn’t over ’till the fat lady sings” are phrases that will be around as long as this game is.

The Spurs had an extremely high probability of winning the championship when they were up five points with 28 seconds in regulation.  Then a very unlikely sequence of events occurred: a LeBron three-pointer, a missed Spurs free throw, a Miami offensive rebound, and a Ray Allen contested three in the corner.

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 6

That game 6 loss can be described as brutal or heartbreaking.  Yes, a lot of luck factored in Miami’s miraculous game 6 comeback in the last 30 seconds.  However, even as outstanding of a coach Popovich is, he made a highly questionable decision that could havechanged the result of the game: taking out Tim Duncan, their best rebounder, on Miami’s final possession in which they were behind by three huge points.

“Pop” was so worried about stopping Miami’s perimeter shooters that he didn’t opt to put in his longtime superstar, Tim Duncan, in order to secure a defensive rebound.  But it’s over now, and that is a decision that Coach Popovich has to live with.  Here’s where the twist comes into play: that decision will not affect his tremendous coaching success in the least bit.
Popovich and the Spurs cruised to the NBA Finals as they went 12-2 before meeting the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.  San Antonio wasted Memphis in four games and they made it look easy.  Don’t get me wrong; Russell Westbrook’s postseason ending injury most definitely was a big game-changer.  The Spurs may have had to deal with the Thunder again, but that’s something we’ll never know.

The fact of the matter is that San Antonio, once again, had a remarkable season.  About four years ago, I don’t think many people would have guessed that the 2013 Spurs would be an elite team.  After last year’s 4-2 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs could have just come to their senses and tried to reconstruct their team.  However, the Spurs were never known to employ that method following an unsuccessful postseason.

San Antonio would keep it’s head up high as long as the dynamic duo of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan remained.  The addition of stellar young players, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, kept high hopes and expectations for the San Antonio Spurs.  Both of these young players had tremendous postseasons:  Danny Green set the new record for most three-pointers made in the NBA Finals (26) and Kawhi Leonard could not have done a better job guarding the league’s most dominant player (LeBron James).
The Spurs were extremely unfortunate to let this series slip away, but credit must be given to Miami where it is due.  The Heat were starving for this championship.  As Chris Bosh first pointed out, many of Miami’s disgruntled fans strolled out of the arena at the time they were down five points in game 6.  Bosh must have been fed up with the impatience and unappreciation of their fans because he was determined to grab that series-saving offensive rebound (which led to Ray Allen’s game-tying corner three.)


Sure, another ring would have been fantastic for Tim Duncan, but in all honesty, that loss won’t do much damage to Tim Duncan’s spectacular legacy.  Manu Ginobili is well past his prime, and through the years, he has served as a consistent third wheel for the Spurs.  Tony Parker is the man that missed out the most on another championship opportunity: in the last two seasons, Parker has been the guy most responsible for San Antonio’s ascension.  A ring in 2013 could have taken his desirable career to another level.

At the end of the day, the best team in the league, deservingly so, won the championship.  Even Gregg Popovich stated that “the better and more athletic team won.”  San Antonio well understands that they let an enormous opportunity slip away.  However, this undeniable Miami Heat team they lost to, makes this historic comeback a bit more reasonable.  A substantial amount of luck did go Miami’s way, but I’m getting the vibe that they were destined to win.  A few special hall-of-fame players made it happen and proved that 2013 was their time.

San Antonio’s seven game defeat should bring an important point to attention:  that is, nobody’s perfect…not the Spurs, not LeBron, not Jordan, not anyone.  There are times you will celebrate and there are times you will stumble.  A loss wasn’t what San Antonio had hoped for, but at the very least, they can take this valuable experience with them and include it as a part of their memorable legacy.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

NBA Finals: Miami Heat’s championship hopes on the line

In a series that has had dramatic swings by the game, Miami returns home where they face the brink of elimination.  Miami won by 19 points in their last home game, but a lot of time has passed by between now and then.  It’s also extremely important to note that every playoff game the Heat have lost, they have bounced back and redeemed themselves by torching their opponent in the next game.
But all that is the past and, right now, game 6 is the only concern to the Heat and the Spurs.  Let me give you a few reasons why this situation is different from all the other times Miami has lost in the postseason:
This is the NBA Finals, which means Miami faces the ultimate pressure.  We’ve seen LeBron James rise to the occasion when his team needs him, but we’ve also seen him crumble with the series on the line (against Dallas in 2011).  It isn’t clear how much pressure James feels or how nervous he is.  However, it is clear that his team needs him to play like a bonafide hero in game 6.
Secondly, the Heat aren’t just facing any great team.  They are dealing with a franchise that knows, very well, how to close out series’, particularly the NBA Finals.  Tim Duncan has been there more than enough to understand what he and his team need to do to, once again, rise as world champions.  We know that he, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich are all on the same page and very rarely do they lose one another.
In game 6, experience is more of a positive factor for the San Antonio Spurs.  It matters for Miami, but not as much, because they are the team at risk of losing this series.  No matter how young or how experienced they are, the Heat have to play their hearts out and figure out a way to consistently score.  It shouldn’t be considered silly to believe that Popovich has Miami figured out after 5 games.
The Heat love nothing better than to get out in the open court and shine for the highlight reel, but that hasn’t been easy against an assertive Spur team.  Miami’s half court offense has been a big problem in this series.  In game 5, Miami was not able to capitalize enough off San Antonio’s plentiful 18 turnovers.  Every Heat player needs to make sure he is on his toes and reacting as quick as possible.
I’m not saying it’s a definite, but let’s just assume that both James and Wade are on their A-game tomorrow night.  That isn’t going to cut it in order for Miami to cruise to a victory.  Role players are going to be so important and that means Erik Spoelstra has crucial decisions to make.  Their point guard play has been subpar for the majority of the series.  What kind of lineup will “Spo” choose to employ?
San Antonio has had some very encouraging signs throughout the series: the Spurs won game 3 and the winner of game 3 is 12-1 in the history of the 2-3-2 format.  Danny Green broke the record for most three-pointers made in the finals as he has an incredible 25 through five games.  San Antonio, as a whole, has been shooting with great confidence and efficiency.  The last sign is that the Spurs have kept James under control for the most part.  Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be significantly harder to slow him down in Miami, but their defensive strategy against LBJ has clearly worked.
It’s all on the line for LeBron James and the Miami Heat.  James is 28 years old and his legacy could really use a championship in 2013.  If the Heat lose tomorrow night, that so-called “super-team” won’t look so hot after-all.  So what is it going to be, gentleman: will you force a game 7 or let Popovich and the Spurs walk away with their fifth title in 15 years?

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

NBA Finals: Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh prove their viability

Critics seem quick to judge the other two-thirds of Miami’s highly-regarded “big three.”  Just because Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren’t superstar status, doesn’t mean they aren’t still capable of holding a decently heavy amount of weight.  Chris Bosh clearly isn’t the same player he used to be, but that is largely a result of the system he is in.  Dwyane Wade hasn’t consistently performed at an all-star level since he turned over the keys to King James.
In game 4, however, Wade threw aside the significance of him being the second option.  D-Wade played with that funk and poise that the young product out of Marquette had.  Despite LeBron’s terrific numbers, Wade was a true star in game 4.  Maybe we just don’t come to appreciate James’ performance as much because the Heat have been searching for that type of performance from Wade.
Chris Bosh (20 points, 13 rebound, 2 blocks) also played extremely well on Thursday and it was about time.  Prior to game 4, Bosh had been so disappointing that the benefit of starting Chris “Birdman” Andersen over him came across my mind.  Don’t call me crazy for actually saying that because Bosh hadn’t been playing with nearly as much energy and aggressiveness that Birdman had been playing with.  On top of that, Bosh’s ineffective shooting largely took away the impact he had on the game.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stepped up and rose to the challenge in a game 4 that Miami really needed them in.  For the majority of the first three games, LeBron had been screaming for help.  Wade and Bosh finally responded in game 4, which Miami won in a dominant fashion.
It’s not like we didn’t see any of Wade through the first three games.  In all three games, Wade played his part in the first half, but for some reason, disappeared after half time.  D-Wade erased that trend in game 4 as he was extremely active on both ends of the floor.  On defense, Wade had the eye of a tiger as he anticipated every lazy pass made by San Antonio.  Those six steals helped Wade capitalize on the offensive end, and he ended up with 32 points on 14-25 shooting.
We can’t just look at this situation as Miami being fortunate to finally have a great game from Wade.  We must not forget who Dwyane Wade is and what he is ultimately capable of doing on the court.  Nowadays, people act like they’re surprised when Wade blows up, but that shouldn’t be the case.  The truth of the matter is that Miami needs Wade to act as a superior second fiddle.
In Bosh’s case, he doesn’t need to make spectacular plays like James and Wade do.  Bosh really doesn’t have to focus on much but hitting open shots and holding his ground on post defense.  Bosh doesn’t make a living off banging inside and being physical with players, but his tremendous length still takes a great toll on San Antonio’s offensive attack.
You can consider them the “big three” or you can simply play that term off.  I don’t care what you think and Miami certainly doesn’t care what you think.  LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh aren’t here to label themselves anything other than “world champions.”

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