Monday, December 13, 2010

Blazers Don't Quit

Of all the teams in the NBA, the one I am most impressed with is the Portland Trailblazers. But, first, let's get it out of the way: They are not winning a title. Greg Oden can't seem to stay healthy enough to develop into the blue-chipper we all know he can be, Roy's knee is turning him into this generation's T-Mac, and... well... let's not get started on the Centers.

But, Pritchard must have had a crystal ball in his office that he used to communicate with spirits before Paul Allen sacked him. Seriously? Portland signs Wes Matthews to an obscenely bloated contract after his only good year? Seriously? Portland trades for the huge cap figures of an aging Marcus Camby? Seriously? Portland signs Andre Miller, the worst possible guard for this team, to be a cornerstone player? Seriously? All these moves work out? The last time a team tried this, we realized that Isaiah Thomas is never going to be a good GM, but for some reason Pritchard has been the GM of the year and he's not even employed. Crazy league we're in.

Where's Portland without these guys? Portland only scores around 90 points a game, and these guys represent 35 points and 11 boards a game. Without the unheralded 3, Portland looks more like last year's Nets than last year's Bucks. The mere fact that they're hanging with everyone is why Pritchard, the best unemployed mind in the NBA, deserves GM of the Year.

With all of these injuries, it would be easy for Portland to write themselves off. They're down to 7 healthy bodies that should even play in the NBA, but they're still winning! Portland has pulled of marquee wins against the Suns and the Magic and took OKC to overtime twice. I hope they can pull off a midseason trade and move Rudy for a good piece to get back into the running in a few years, because Aldridge and Matthews are keepers.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

MVP Power Poll 1

As Bill Simmons pointed out in his fantastic Book of Basketball, MVP really means three things, all rolled into one award. You can either vote for the "Best Player on the Best Team," the "Best Stats in the NBA" or the "Most Indispensable Player." Now that this season has a month under its belt, I think it's time to debut the B&B NBA MVP Power Poll (BBNBAMVPPP?)

Best Player on the Best Team:
1) Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics need him as much or more than any guy on that team. His beautiful passing has made their whole offense work this year, and that's why they're 7th in Offensive Efficiency (107 pts/100 poss). On the defensive end, Boston is playing the best ball in the Association, holding its opponents to 97 points per 100 possessions. Rondo's unshakable on-ball D and knack for jumping passing lanes is a big reason why. He gives every other PG fits - look at how bad he made Derrick Rose look while defending Chicago's prize player.

2) Dirk Nowitzki.
Yes, it's time we consider Dallas as a top 3 team. The Mavs have put together an absolute juggernaut now that all the small parts are finally learning to play with each other. Tyson Chandler's signing was a very shrewd one, because it freed up Dirk to guard softer forwards and centers. However, Dirk has returned to his 2006 dominance offensively, putting up a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 62.7%. He's draining everything that he releases and having another career year. It's amazing that Dirk can put these numbers up as an aging big man.

3) Manu Ginobili
Let's first admit that Timmy has lost a step or two. Normally Duncan has the "Best Player on the Best Team" also-ran category locked up year-to-year, but something doesn't seem right about him. His rebound rate, shooting percentage, blocks and other relevant stats have really plummeted to earth so far. To be clear, this nomination of Ginobili isn't so much for Ginobili as it is for me needing to find the best player on the third best team. Right now, it's not Timmy and it's not Rappin' Tony Parker... so that leaves Manu.

Best Stats Guy
1) Chris Paul
MONSTER year coming up if he can maintain these numbers. 16/10 is not going to tell the whole story. CP3 is shooting 48% from the field and 50% from 3 point range. He's efficient, and sporting a career high in steals, while near his career high in rebounds. He's having an even better year than he did in 2008, when King James took his MVP trophy. Currently the best season right now.

2) Russell Westbrook
See the PG power poll for more of my opinion of this guy. He's one of two guys currently averaging 20/5/5, and is doing it by averaging 23/8/5 (Better than Lebron's 23/7/5). He's making the NBA's most lethal scorer, Kevin Durant, differ to him on important plays. When you can get the best scorer in the NBA to look your way for clutch play, you've arrived.

3) Pau Gasol

Most Indispensable Player
1) Pau Gasol
20/11/4/2. 20 ppg, 11 rpg, 4apg, 2bpg. He fills every single deficiency on this Lakers team. His 54% mark from the floor has been a revelation of why he is the best big man in the NBA. Gasol scores with either hand, anywhere in the post, anytime during the game, against anyone. After the 2008 NBA Championship, he became mean and tough on defense and has shut down any post player on any given night. The Lakers are a 48 win team and a first round playoff exit without him.

2) Westbrook

3) Rondo

I hold by my declaration that Westbrook is the MVP so far. However, if the Lakers figure out what's wrong, or Rondo somehow keeps method acting as John Stockton, this piece of hardware is going to be very difficult for the AP to hand out this year.

Rise of the Pacers

Through the first month or so of the season, no team has really surprised me more than the Pacers. This was a team that I was sure would be in the bottom 3 of the NBA, right next to New Jersey, Minnesota and Sacramento. But, lo and behold, they own wins on the road against the Lakers and the South Beach Heat.

I think the reason that they're positioning themselves for a run in the Central Division is their surprising brand of offense. They've got two big men that are really great, gifted passers. First, Roy Hibbert has been an absolute revelation through 20 games, averaging 16/9 with 3 assists and a very serviceable 2 BPG. Danny Granger, known for his box score stuffing shenanigans, is averaging 21/5/3/1/1 and maturing into a borderline first banana. I really like the risks they took on Brandon Rush and Collison, who are both paying big dividends for the team. The end result is a team with a sweet post guy, sweet drive guy and 2 sweet spot-up shooters. The Pacers are morphing into a poor-man's Laker team and are giving the rest of the NBA fits in defending them.

This is surprising because they're outside the top 20 in the NBA at offensive efficiency (Just over 100 points per 100 possessions), but they really do some good things on defense too. The Pacers are 8th in the league in defensive efficiency and play one of the fastest paced games on the court. This style of play is letting them gun for good shots, get back on D, grab the rebound and wear out the opponent by repeating it. Not many teams really have the conditioning to play the Pacers well.

The exact opposite in the conditioning world are the Pistons. They look just sluggish after half-time, like Kuester can only stand to have the team practice for 24 minutes before he quits giving a rat's ass. The Pistons have blown more leads at halftime than any other team I can think of, and often get annihilated in the 3rd and 4th quarters by good teams because they simply don't have the youth or talent required to stick with them. Whereas Indiana is a team with complimentary parts that gives some matchup problems, any team with a forward or two could tear the Pistons apart. Indiana has a nice blueprint for success and will be the best of the middle teams in the East. Hell, I think they could give a team like Orlando, Atlanta or the Knicks fits in the playoffs this year.

It doesn't quite make up for IU basketball/football/athletics in general, but at least the Hoosier state has one team looking competitive this year (Sorry Peyton!)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NBA to take over Hornets

The AP is reporting today, 12/5/10, that the NBA is going to take control of the New Orleans Hornets.  The cash-strapped franchise can't put together the unity of ownership or the cash to make any prudent basketball decisions.  Frankly, David Stern getting control over a franchise gives me the willies, and it almost insures that there will be no pro basketball in the Big Easy come 2012.  If Hornets fans don't pack The Arena, there are no protections keeping the team in place.  Right now, the team is only 100 fans a game over the threshold, so there is no reason to expect this group to continue showing up.

I, for one, hope that the Hornets do move out of those facilities.  New Orleans has some great fans, but there are no real businessmen who want to control that franchise and make it wonderful.  I bet if they do relocate, some certain fans in Washington, fans of a team formerly named after a certain type of boom created when an object exceeds the sound barrier, would be really interested in putting together a package for the 10th biggest media market in the USA.

I also hope that Chris Paul doesn't demand his way out of this situation, but you couldn't blame him if he did.  CP3 has the potential to be the best player in the Association and deserves a team with some stability and an operation that wants to win.  Frankly I'd like to see the Hornets trade him, rather than lose him in free agency if it came down to it.  

A trade like this takes off some $20M of cap, which would make the team much easier to move and get a beneficial owner.  Plus, it gives the Hornets three good pieces of young talent who all play defense.  Az puts up some great drives and can shoot the 3, Landry Fields has a sweet midranger and Randolph would finally have some big men to learn from.  It'd be nice to see a team really reload for the future from a good trade unlike the recent superstar trades with Kidd, Pau or T-Mac.  

UPDATE 5:45PM - The NBA has stated that under the terms of the deal it will not have the authority to trade Chris Paul. Please forget the preceding two paragraphs.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Top 7 Point Guards - Steve Kerr's dilemma

Over the last week we’ve learned a few things basketball wise:  LeBron doesn’t give a damn about forgiveness from Cleveland, the Lakers rely way too much on Pau Gasol and that everyone has a bizarre fascination with asking Steve Kerr to rank PGs.  I’ve seen 4 games this week in which someone asked the poor guy to make sense of the elite group of distributors in the NBA – and 4 times where he couldn’t.  We here at B&B want to make it a little easier for Steve Kerr, so we’ve undertaken the effort to rank the 1’s around the NBA

#7) Monta Ellis
Yeah, Ok.  He’s listed as a 2 guard, but have you seen him play?  A dominant scorer who puts up some of the most efficient numbers in the NBA, Ellis only passes when he’s got a teammate who is more likely to score than himself.  In other words, rarely.  He’s got some great lane-jumping steals, but his high risk style leaves him open to get blown by in the fast break.  Monta would lead the NBA in points if you put him on a team that had big men to set screens for him (like Portland, Sacramento or Atlanta).  He reminds me of a Chauncey Billups circa 2004, great shooting, serviceable D, but knows he’s got to be “The Guy.”  Ellis’s inspired performance over the last year has been the only thing keeping Curry off this list.  Curry could potentially crack the top 5 in the next two years, but he’s stil one of those few guys whose fantasy performance is far better than what he brings to the table in real life.

#6) Russell Westbrook
It kills me having to rank this guy.  He’s maddening to watch.  Simultaneously the most beautiful and ugliest game in the Association.  Pretty jumper, beautiful hussle, great feeds, but when he’s cold, he’s an icicle!  Unquestionably the MVP of the first month of the 2010 season (look for B&B’s MVP watch coming soon!!).  He looks like one of those guys you love to play with, because his own game covers up all the problems with yours.  He may eventually steal the title of Mr. Clutch in the NBA, with absolutely breathtaking overtime performances against Portland and New Jersey in the past month.  He's the only guy outside of the top 2 who could be #1 someday.  

#5) Derrick Rose
The first three times I wrote out this column, I had Rose at #3, #7 and #5.  He’s got all the skills in the world, but he seems that one small step away from being “The Guy” for this Bulls team.  He’s averaging a career high in points, assists and steals right now, courtesy of improved offseason workouts and the great gameplan that Thibs makes for every Bulls game.  But, you can’t help but feel something is off with his chemistry on the team.  Rose does great things with guys he can acclimate to, but for some reason doesn’t play too well with the Bulls’ veterans (Deng, Ben Gordon, Nocioni…).  Smart moves by the front office have maximized his talent, but I hope he spends the 2011 offseason (or maybe the 2011-2012 lockout) working exclusively on a jumper.  If/when he learns to sink 3’s, he vaults up this list.

#4) Rajon Rondo
The what-if nobody outside of Detroit ever talks about: Rajon Rondo/Ray Allen for Tayshaun Prince/Rodney Stuckey/Rip Hamilton trade offer after the Celtics won the title in 2007-2008.  With apologies to three class-act HOF players in Garnett, Allen and Pierce, Rondo is the best guy on that team, hands-down, no debate.  If Rajon was in Motown these last 2 years, the Celtics are a first-round exit in ’08-09 to the Bulls and don’t even squeeze into the 09-10’ playoffs.  He steals the ball like a cat-burglar.  Through a month of the season, Rajon is averaging an insane, mind-boggling, death-defying 14 dimes a game.  Nobody but the immortal John Stockton has ever put up numbers like that.  Making it even more impressive: the Celtics’ pace is one of the slowest in a league that’s far slower than it was 20 years ago.  His only weakness is his utter lack of a J, but his game is predicated on never exposing his vulnerability.  A fast, effective and smart player.

#3) Steve Nash
How does he do it?  Steve Nash is old enough to be my father, but he’s still putting up numbers that land him MVP votes every year.  Nobody finds the open man like Nash does and nobody is such a joy to play with.  Nash has earned more money than anyone else in the NBA over the last 4 years – most of it for his former teammates.  Do Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire make $200,000,000 over the next 6 years if they never run the court with Nash?  Does Phoenix pay $60,000,000 between Hakim Warrick, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye if they don’t believe Nash finds them for an open shot at least twice a game each?  His downside: no D.  Guards carve up poor Steve Nash, and Phoenix never brought in anybody to hide it.  I hope he finds his way out of that situation in Arizona, because he deserves a chip before his carreer is over.

#2) Chris Paul
Putting Chris Paul at #2 spits in the face of my personal belief that he's the #1.  Objectively, CP3 is the best pure passer in the game, even if his assist stats don’t always show it.  Paul has to lead the league in beautiful-assists-followed-by-awful-shots.  He can put up 30 points or 20 assists with equal ease.  He hits the 3’s, spins around for easy layups and basically created David West’s career with his bare hands.  He plays some of the most amazing on-ball defense on guards that you’ll ever see.  Somedays you’ll swear he’s prescient because he knows just where to get the poke-checks on the ball.  Paul has such a complete game, but the only guy he never beats is at the top.  Can’t argue with that.

#1) Deron Williams
D-Will is fast, accurate and clutch.  Last year he put together some awesome 4th Q comebacks and the Jazz are already the most dangerous team in the Association when playing from behind.  D-Will is the reason why. He’s equally dangerous spotting up, driving, running the Pick and Roll and finding the open man.  He’s got no holes in his game, ideal size and stays on the court week-in, week-out.  Rondo was the only guy on this list to even make him look average.  Next time someone asks Steve Kerr who is #1, he can’t go wrong saying ‘Williams.’

-Note on the Rankings-
I would say any of the above guys are #1 options on any team you put them on.  They can all be “The Guy” on a championship team, even ‘Crash’ Ellis.  With apologies to Jason Kidd, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Chauncey Billups, Tyreke Evans and Mike Conley, I just don’t feel that they can bring enough to a team to put them in the highest eschelon of the NBA. I’m leery of Conley, Augustin and Felton as system players who will never put up great games, regardless of stats, against quality competition.