Friday, November 2, 2007

Thoughts from Games on 11/2/07

Tonight I watched both the Celtics-Wizards and Bulls-76ers games. I was especially interested to see how the Celtics would play in their first game with Garnett and Allen. The Bulls played disappointingly in their first game against the Nets, so I was interested to see how they would play in their home debut against the 76ers.

My Observations:
-Tonight was certainly the best game of Tyrus Thomas' career. Although he still had a few defensive lapses and made some bad turnovers, he brought energy and athleticism to the team all night. He was active on the boards and had several mouth-opening blocked shots. It really looks like he has improved his jump shot, which will be pivotal in his development. If he can consistently knock down that mid-range shot, Thomas' potential is endless.

-Maybe it's because Thomas played so well, but I still expected the Bulls to get more offense from Joe Smith. I figured he could easily average ten points each game. It's early, but I'm already doubting my initial expectations.

-Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng really struggled tonight. For a perimeter shooter like Hinrich, his field goal percentage has never been as high as it needs to be. One reason may be because he has to exert so much on the defensive end, but long-term this is a concern. Especially in the first half, both struggled to get into any type of flow.

-Andre Miller has always been a real solid point guard. He probably has never gotten the credit he should get, but he is real steady and brings a lot to the table.

-Reggie Evans brings a nice dimension to the 76ers. He works hard on both ends of the court and is unselfish. On a team like the 76ers who have little experienced talent in the frontcourt, Evans could put up career highs in rebounds and points this season.

-If the Celtics can get the type of production they got tonight outside of the Big 3, they are going to be real tough to beat. Rajon Rando, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen, and Eddie House all gave them positive minutes. They don't need any of these guys to score a lot, just play hard and work on defense.

-What a night for Boston. It was truely a perfect start to the season as Garnett, Allen, and Pierce all played well and had the chemistry of a group that have played together for years. Garnett definitely started his MVP campaign on the right foot with this game line:
22 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks

-Gilbert Arenas really struggled tonight to get into any kind of flow. He turned the ball over early and shot 5 for 20 from the field. The game ended with the Boston crowd chanting "Gilbert, Gilbert".

-The Celtics really dominated the Wizards in every aspect tonight. They lost by 20 points, shot 0 for 15 form the three-point line, only had 9 assists, and turned the ball over 19 times. Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were the only Wizards to play effectively.

Articles on Daryl Morey

Below are two articles on Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that I really enjoyed:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Battier's Contribution to His Team

Shane Battier by the Numbers
Beyond stats, there's stats
By Jason Friedman
Published: November 1, 2007

The Rockets are pouring a large amount of money into statistical analysis. Whether or not you think it's a wise investment probably depends upon your opinion of Shane Battier.

Battier enjoyed a wildly successful college career at Duke University, where he led the Blue Devils to one national championship and a pair of Final Four appearances. In 2001, Battier swept the major National Player of the Year awards on his way to becoming a Memphis Grizzly, when that team selected him with the sixth overall pick of the NBA draft.

Since then, Battier has averaged more than ten points a game only once, and that came in his rookie year. His career high per-game rebounding average also occurred during his first season in the league. To be sure, he is a versatile defender and a heady player, one who overcomes his lack of athleticism through discipline and hustle. You'd never label him a bust, but — in the traditional view — you'd never call him a special player either. A stat line of ten points, five boards and two assists doesn't exactly get the heart racing.

But the Rockets didn't care about those numbers. They were focused on something else entirely, something that most definitely made their blood pump a little faster. Here's a small glimpse at what they saw:

When Battier was on the court, his team

• Scored more

• Rebounded better

• Fouled less

• Allowed fewer points

• Shot better

• Decreased their opponent's shooting percentage

In other words, he was exactly the type of player the numbers said they had to have.

"He definitely stood out in all the methods we use," says Morey. "He's someone who creates a large margin over who he's guarding. In the NBA, it's not how many points you score, it's what you do with each time down the floor. And when Shane uses a possession, it's always a high number of points are scored. And when Shane's guarding someone, not many points are scored when the other team uses the possession on the other end of the floor. When he played versus not over his years in Memphis, the team was about eight points per game better, a very significant margin."

Thoughts from Last Night's NBA Games

Last night I watched the Bulls go on the road to play the Nets on my big TV with the Cavs-Mavericks and then Nuggets-Sonics on my small TV. Unlike the previous night with the Rockets-Lakers game, these games certainly had a first night feel to them.

My Observations:
-The Bulls certainly did not come out in the first half ready to play last night against the Nets. Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson were running all over the Bulls and they were showing very little resistance. The most disappointing thing about it was all the dunks and layups the Nets were getting.

-It seems like each time the Bulls play the Nets, not only do they lose, but they let one of their players outside of their big three score a handful of points. In the past it had been mediocre big men like Mikki Moore and last night it was Antoine Wright scoring 21 points.

-I think I was wrong about Josh Boone. I thought he would come in and bring a lot defensively and on the glass to the Nets. Instead, he looks lost and even airballed a free throw in last nights game.

-If the Bulls are going to have success with the team as currently orchestrated, they are going to need to get more from the power forward position. Tyrus Thomas and Joe Smith's combined line:
45 minutes, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 fouls, 10 points

-Thomas and Smith at the power forward position need to bring at least double the amount of points and more blocked shots and rebounds for the Bulls to really have this power forward-by-committee thing really work effectively.

-The Sonics are going to be a bad team this year. Damien Wilkins is a nice scorer and could be a sixth or seventh man on a championship team, but if he is your leading scorer, then you will be ending the season with a ton of lottery balls.

-It's interesting to see how quickly Luke Ridnour has fallen in Seattle's organization. Not long ago, he was a member of the U.S. National team. Last night, he got a "DNP-Coaches Decision". The team clearly played a lot better when Delonte West was in the game than when Earl Watson was directing the offense. West is a bigger guard who can do more things on the court than Watson. I would say that it won't be too much longer before West is playing the majority of the minutes at point guard for Seattle.

-Hubie Brown made a point about Chris Wilcox last night that he could be a 20-and-10 guy this year. Though this is probably a stretch, he did average 13.5 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game last season. With a lack of talent and competition in Seattle, Wilcox should put up career highs this season.

-With Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson playing at their best, nobody can stop the Nuggets. Yakhouba Diawara also complements the duo well because of his size and defensive abilities. With two of the top scorers in the league in the backcourt there is no need for any scoring punch from the guy next to them. Therefore, Diawara is a great fit and could be a key compenent to Denver's success.

-With the Bulls game on, I wasn't able to focus much on the Cavaliers-Mavericks game, but from what I did see, the Cavaliers may really struggle at the start of the season. They looked completely lost on offense and LeBron James did not score in the first half. They played a little better in the third quarter, but by that point the game was already decided. Perhaps they miss the energy of Anderson Varejo, who is still in a contract dispute with the team. Sasha Pavlovic also did not play last night because he just signed his new contract. However, I doubt either of these teams will be the solution to Cleveland's offensive woes.

-I like the idea of playing Jason Terry as their sixth man, but I don't know long-term how realistic it is. At some point in the season, I would expect Jerry Stackhouse (32) and Eddie Jones (36) to show their age and begin to deteriorate. At that point, Terry would have to move back into the starting lineup.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kobe-Bulls Update

Reports out of Chicago are saying that a three-team trade is on the table for Kobe Bryant to approve within the next 48 hours. The trade includes the Bulls and Lakers and now also the Sacramento Kings. With Kings point guard Mike Bibby out six to ten weeks with a left thumb ligament injury and a roster of players either past their prime or vastly inexperienced, the Kings most likely are looking to shake up their roster.

The reports only mention Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Kobe Bryant, and Ron Artest as the primary members. So, I spent some time looking at possible three-way trades and here is the best that I could come up with:

Chicago gets: Kobe Bryant ($19,490,625) and Jordan Farmar ($1,009,560)
Sacramento gets: Ben Gordon ($4,881,669), Joakim Noah ($2,135,400), Viktor Khryapa ($1,928,598)
Los Angeles gets: Kirk Hinrich ($11,250,000), Ron Artest ($7,400,000), Adrian Griffin ($1,593,000), Chicago future first round pick.

With this trade the Bulls would automatically become a contender to win the championship. They would maintain a core of Luol Deng, Ben Wallace, Andres Nocioni, and add in Kobe Bryant. Role players such as Thabo Sefolosha and Joe Smith would also play a critical role. Although the Bulls currently constructed are a nice team that may compete for the Eastern conference title, this team post-Kobe trade would compete for the title. And as I always stress, each year your goal is exactly that -to compete for the championship.

In Sacramento and Los Angeles, this trade allows both teams to rebuild their roster without falling too hard. Sacramento gets another scorer to play next to Kevin Martin, another young big man in Noah, and cap flexiblity next season when Khryapa's contract expires. The Lakers acquire two starters and some flexibility for the future. Hinrich and Artest would team with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to create a nice core for the Lakers to build around.

Big Market Teams Utilizing Their Deap Pockets

I wanted to post a portion of a column that Bill Simmons wrote the other day after the Boston Red Sox won the world series. It touches on how franchises with large budgets should spend their money and how they have gone about it in the past. He makes a point that I never really thought about:

Not only are the people running professional sports teams getting smarter and smarter, but some franchises with deep pockets have figured out it's better to funnel that money into development and scouting instead of just overpaying veterans for splashy, "quick-fix" signings. After the NBA Draft in June, a friend who works for another team fretted that Portland had finally figured out how to spend Paul Allen's money: Instead of handing out lavish extensions to the likes of Darius Miles and Zach Randolph, the Blazers started buying extra first-round picks and even stashing prospects in Europe, with the long-term goal to maintain financial flexibility, build around young stars (Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden) and stockpile as many assets as possible. My friend was petrified of a Portland resurgence, pointing out it's one thing to have a significant financial advantage; it's another thing to know what you're doing with that significant financial advantage.

In the old days, big-market teams spent money like rappers happily spending record royalties, especially in baseball, where ludicrous contracts have been handed out for 31 years and counting (Barry Zito for $126 million???). Even if Boston GM Theo Epstein has a mixed record with free-agent signings (and that's being kind), his overall mindset hasn't wavered since 2003: build up the farm system, build up scouting, don't give away younger assets unless you're getting a blue-chipper back (such as Beckett), don't mortgage the future for one season. You can't argue with the 2007 results or the long-term outlook. I grew up watching Boston teams that threw money at the wrong guys, traded the wrong guys and never seemed to have more than a few blue-chipper prospects per decade. The only other time in my life when the Sox had a perfect blend of young guys and older guys was 1975 -- the World Series team that featured Freddie Lynn, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant -- and the front office botched that situation within a few discouraging years.

Observations on Rockets @ Lakers - 10/30/07

Last night, I watched the Houston Rockets open their season in Los Angeles against the Lakers. All week, there has been discussion around Kobe Bryant and whether or not he will continue to force a trade out of Los Angeles.

Here is the boxscore from last night's game:;_ylt=AhLqHhTyqnNLGQi8kUst.sU5nYcB?gid=2007103013

My observations:
-Hiring Rick Adelman as the head coach of the Rockets was a great move. He will bring more innovation to Houston's offense and they will take advantage of the team's personnel. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are in the prime of their career and it would be a waste for them to continue to play in a slow-down, pull-the-ball-out type of offense.

-Shane Battier is a perfect fit in Adelman's offense. When Houston plays Battier at power forward, he brings a great deal of versatility that fits very well with the rest of the team. His ability to pass the ball - ala Chris Webber - could be the key to their offense running smoothly.

-The fact that Yao Ming's scoring average has improved every year of his five-year career is something that probably does not get enough attention. The key for him this year will be to stay healthy for the majority of the season. The last two regular seasons he has missed a combined 61 games.

-It may take Adelman awhile to figure out who will fit best at point guard with the team's new offensive philosophy. Rafer Alston is currently the starting point guard, but he makes too many bad plays and struggles to properly run his team's offense in the half court game. Mike James is much more of a shooting guard and Luther Head has never shown the ability to play any position beyond shooting guard.

-Mike James could end up fitting in perfectly with Adelman's team as long as its at the off guard spot. Like Bobby Jackson did in the past with his Kings teams, James can come off the bench and score in bunches. As an undersized shooting guard, he takes advantage of his speed and quickness and can be instant offense.

-It wouldn't suprise me if by the end of the season, neither Alston or James is the teams' starting point guard. Adelman may give Aaron Brooks a chance at some point during the year. Trading for a point guard may be the end solution for the Rockets to take the next step.

-Bonzi Wells looked noticeably thinner and ready to play this season for his former coach. If he can get back to the way he played in the 2005-06 season, it would be a real boost for Houston. He provides a great deal of versatility by being able to post up smaller defenders and rebound terrifically.

-Bryant certainly seemed to want to silence his critics lsat night as he score 53 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had eight assists, two steals, and a block. As they showed last night on the broadcast, in games where Bryant scored at least 40 points last season, the Lakers went 13-5. Perhaps Bryant scoring almost a half of his teams' points may be the key to the Lakers success this season.

-The Lakers roster is severly flawed by my account. They have too many hustle-type guys and not enough talent. Guys like Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar, and Cobe Karl work hard, but should not be playing on a nightly basis. However, some may put Luke Walton into that category, but I really like what he does for the team. He is a terrific passer, works hard on defense, and can even post up a bit.

-I think Phil Jackson should consider getting Javaris Crittenton some playing time. I recognize this was only the first game of the season, but Crittenton is a big guard who I think would look great next to Bryant. Ideally, I think you would have Crittenton starting the game and playing significant minutes and finishing the game with Derek Fisher in his spot on the floor. Fisher obviously has been there before and can hit big shots, but at this point in his career, should not be playing 30+ minutes per night.

-That game winning shot by Shane Battier took a lot of guts and was taken very deap. It would have been great to have seen this game gone into overtime and watch what Bryant would have done then. I'm guessing he would have finished with 60 points or so and the Lakers would have won on opening night. Hats off to Battier for playing great all night and hitting a really tough shot to win the game.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Western Conference Power Rankings

With six Western Conference teams kicking off their season tonight, I wanted to share my power rankings as of today:

1.) San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs bring back their core from last season's championship team, so why wouldn't they be on the top spot?

2.) Phoenix Suns - A full year with Nash, Marion, and Stoudamire should help the Suns once again compete for the title. Another year of development from Leandro Barbosa and Marcus Banks and the additions of D.J. Strawberry, Alando Tucker, and Grant Hill should be beneficial.

3.) Dallas Mavericks - Like the Spurs, the Mavericks essentially bring back the same roster. Like the Suns, the Mavericks are hoping another year of development from Devin Harris and DeSagana Diop along with the additions of Eddie Jones and Trenton Hassell will help them advance further this year in the playoffs.

Near Contenders
4.) Houston Rockets - The Rockets certainly had the best offseason in the Western Conference adding a handful of rotation players. However, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady still have not won a single playoff series. Houston is most likely one year away from really contending.

5.) Utah Jazz - The Jazz had an uneventful offseason with their only significant additions being signing Jason Hart and drafting Morris Almond. Andrei Kirilenko's ability to play in Jerry Sloan's system and the development of Ronnie Brewer will be keys to Utah's success. I expect the Jazz to win the Northwest division once again this season.

6.) Denver Nuggets - The Nuggets will benefit from a full season with Kenyon Martin, however, I do not think they have enough to beat out the Jazz in the Northwest. The overall talent level of the Nuggets roster is still unbalanced and lack scoring off the bench. The Nuggets will get three-fourths of their scoring from Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and Nene Hilario.

Potentially Frisky
7.) New Orleans Hornets - Another year of the David West-Peja Stojakovic-Chris Paul-Tyson Chandler core playing together will be beneficial towards their success. The Hornets hope that one of their young big men - Hilton Armstrong, Melvin Ely, or Julian Wright - can be a significant contributor to the team. If so, the Hornets will play hard and be competitive each night against the league's best.

8.) Golden State Warriors - The Warriors have put together a nice, young group of players though I think this year they will take a step back. Brandan Wright, Patrick O'Bryant, Mickael Pietrus, Monta Ellis, and Marco Belinelli is a great young core, but they will not be ready to seriously compete for the Western Conference title. The Warriors will most likely get as much from Andris Biedrins, Baron Davis, and Stephen Jackson as they did last season.

Playoff Contenders
9.) Los Angeles Lakers - With other teams around them improving, I do not expect the Lakers to perform much better than they did last season. The Lakers will hope to avoid the injuries that plagued them last year, but certainly do not have enough talent to jump into the top six in the Western Conference and maybe not even enough to make the playoffs this season.

10.) Sacramento Kings - The Kings will continue to struggle as long as both Mike Bibby and Ron Artest are on the same roster. Both players have shown an inability to play with one another and they are still relying on too many unknown commodities. Although some of these guys (Fransisco Garcia, Quincy Douby) have shown potential, they cannot provide enough each night for the Kings to make the playoffs this season.

11.) Memphis Grizzlies - The Grizzlies are certainly a nice, young team who at this point next year will be competing for a playoff spot. However, at this point, they are building for that time. They have the groundwork laid with a fantastic young point guard (Mike Conley), a versatile wing scorer (Rudy Gay), a scoring power forward (Darko Milicic), and an all-star caliber big man (Pau Gasol). They also have a nice array of bench players who can contribute. However, in a loaded Western Conference, they will fall short of reaching the playoffs.

12.) Portland Trail Blazers - Without Greg Oden, Portland is still one man short of being a contender this season. Travis Outlaw and LaMarcus Aldridge will be expected to fill the missing numbers from the Zach Randolph trade. Sorting out a group of point guards (Sergio Rodriguez, Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake) will also be interesting to watch.

Not Ready Yet
13.) Seattle SuperSonics - Seattle rebuilt their roster this summer and now features two talented rookies: Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. They will continue to slowly build a roster that will eventually compete for the championship, but at this point they are not at that level just yet.

14.) Minnesota Timberwolves - Minnesota has begun to put together the blueprint to quickly rebuild their roster after trading Kevin Garnett. Corey Brewer, Randy Foye, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, and Sebastian Telfair are all expected to be apart of Minnesota's long-range plans. However, outside of Jefferson, the Timberwolves will struggle to get consistency each night and will be one of the league's worse teams this season.

Falling Hard
15.) Los Angeles Clippers - With Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston expected to miss the entire season, the Clippers may be one of the league's worse teams this season. A once promising team, now lacks focus and a plan to make its way back to the playoffs.

Responding to the Kobe Rumors

As a lifelong Bulls fan, I would like to get all excited about the possibility of us acquiring Kobe Bryant. But at this point, I realize that the likelihood of this happening is slim. This doesn't need to be said, but I will go ahead and say it anyway: for a trade to occur, both parties need to agree. In this case, more than just the Lakers and Bulls need to agree to this trade - players and agents are involved in it as well.

However, for the sake of argument, here is the most realistic trade I have come up with that I could see all parties agreeing to to bring Kobe Bryant to Chicago:

Chicago trades Joakim Noah ($2,135,400), Tyrus Thomas ($3,505,320), Ben Gordon ($4,881,669), P.J. Brown ($8,000,000), and a future first round pick to Los Angeles for Kobe Bryant ($19,490,625).

Now obviously in this trade, I am assuming the Bulls would agree to a sign-and-trade with P.J. Brown for one year and $9,000,000. I also assume that for Brown to agree to be apart of this trade, he would immediately be released by the Lakers so he can be a free agent. Brown is considering retirement, but also may be interested in playing again towards the middle of the season. Either way, his contract is vital to this trade occuring.

The Lakers would receive three young players with a great deal of potential, significant cap room for next season, and a future first round pick. Now if I were the Lakers, I still would not do this deal without getting Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng in return. However, John Paxson and the Bulls have shown an unwillingness to move either of those players.

In addition, Bryant would have to waive his no-trade clause to come to the Bulls. If Deng or Hinrich were not included in the trade, then Bryant would certainly waive his clause. If either were included, then it would be hard for me to believe that Bryant would want to come to the Bulls and therefore waive his no-trade clause.

By adding Bryant to this group, the Bulls would immediately become the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and potentially the NBA championship. Their starters would include Hinrich, Bryant, Deng, Joe Smith, and Ben Wallace. They would have a perfect mix of offense and defense. Bryant would get plenty of postup opportunities and Deng and Hinrich would be the perfect backcourt complements to the league's best scorer. Smith and Wallace would also fit in well with Bryant.

With three significant players being traded, coach Scott Skiles would shorten up his rotation. Chris Duhon would continue to backup Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosah would also get backcourt minutes. Upfront Andres Nocioni would be asked to play more at the power forward position and Aaron Gray would be expected to play the bulk of the backup center minutes.

I would also expect once the Bulls completed the Bryant trade to turn their attention towards signing Chris Webber or Juwan Howard. Both of these players would come relatively cheap and would fill the open roster spots well. Webber and Howard have both played in playoff games and would bring consistency to the power forward and center position.

Although I want to reiterate that I do not think a Kobe-to-the-Bulls trade is imminent, I did not want to share my thoughts on a trade if one were to happen.

I'm sure of this though, a backcourt of Hinrich-Kobe-Luol would be better than any other in the Eastern Conference and probably the entire league - with the Suns (Nash, Bell, Marion) being the only exception.