Showing posts with label nets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nets. Show all posts

Monday, October 29, 2007

Commenting On A Preview

The Bratwurst spent some time giving a rundown of the Bucks' roster with player-by-player previews.

A sample:
"Mo Williams: I’ve never really bought into the whole “pure point guard” vs. “shoot-first point guard” thing for two reasons: first, the most important thing is for the team to score more points than the opposition and, second, there isnt really any good way to objectively measure how good a passer a player is. Assists, for example, has as much to do with the point guards’ pass as it does with the finishing ability of the recipient and the decision of the official scorer. So does Mo shoot too much? Last season he took the 5th most shots per 40 minutes of all point guards (behind Arenas, Parker, Cassell and Davis) with 16.87, but the difference between him and the #21 point guard (Stephon Marbury) was only 2.81 shots per 40! That’s less than 1 per quarter! Also, Mo had several games where he was the only starter in uniform, so his scoring was necessary. No, his shooting was fine. Mo’s new contract is reasonable given his production and age, and he still has room to improve. Point guards often take years and years to reach their peaks, so while Williams will most likely plateau as a slightly below-all-star level player, there is always the outside chance that he could have a Chanuncey Billups-like career."
Good stuff as always. I tend to agree that while there are different types of players at every position who possess different strengths and weaknesses, and point guard is no different, it is sometimes an exaggerated concept. If Williams is going to help the team score, and use his strengths to do so, he shouldn't be condemned. Not everyone can be like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash and I'd sure rather have Williams than Brevin Knight, or a number of other "pure point guards" running Milwaukee's show.

That said, hopefully he will continue to play to his strengths while developing better distribution skills. Like it was noted, point guards take time to progress, so it's certainly not out of the question, and in fact is likely that Williams will develop as a passer. That shows that players shouldn't be labeled so generically, because labels stick, but players change.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Redd Evaluation

In a previous post about Team USA clinching an Olympic spot, I quoted ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan, who gave Michael Redd a B+ for his performance in the FIBA Americas.

SI.com's Chris Mannix also recently graded each player on Team USA. Mannix thought even more highly of Redd, rating him an A-, on level with Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, and trailing only LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who received A's.
"Michael Redd: The long search for a steady perimeter threat is over thanks to Redd, the purest shooter to don a USA uniform since Ray Allen. Redd admits even he is noticing his impact on the floor. In a preliminary round game against Venezuela, James drove to the basket against single coverage thanks to the help defender being afraid to leave Redd open. Redd could pick up his defense a little, but any deficiencies are probably more noticeable due to the fact that he is usually replacing the ball-hawking Bryant in games."
These high marks are simply continued reinforcement that Redd is a near-lock to make the Olympic team. Taking a step back from the situation, it's pretty amazing to think that Redd is likely to go to Beijing next summer and play on what should be one of the greatest basketball teams ever put together. Further, his roster spot will likely come at the expense of superstars like Gilbert Arenas and Paul Pierce. He's certainly representing the city of Milwaukee and the Bucks franchise pretty well for a second-round pick.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Five Observations After Team USA's Win Over Puerto Rico

Team USA defeated Puerto Rico 117-78, pushing their record to 6-0 in the FIBA Americas Championship.

LeBron James led Team USA with 21 points on 8-10 shooting from the field and 3-5 on three-pointers. He also added four rebounds and four assists.

Michael Redd scored 15 points in a team-leading 20 minutes off the bench. He made only 1-8 three-pointers, but connected on 5-6 two-pointers for a respectable 6-14 from the field.

Five more observations:

  • If Kobe Bryant wasn’t satisfied with his teammates in Los Angeles before, how do you think he is going to feel after playing in the FIBA’s for Team USA? It’s sure going to be an adjustment going back to the Lakers after spending the summer enjoying Jason Kidd’s pinpoint passing, Dwight Howard’s dominance on the glass, no double teams, fastbreaking with LeBron James, playing twenty minutes per game, and winning by forty every night.
  • Puerto Rico somewhat effectively slowed down the pace in the first quarter, limiting transition opportunities and holding Team USA to 24 points. Team USA had no problem dictating the pace by the second quarter, when they outscored Puerto Rico 39-12. The opposition has been so overmatched thus far that we haven’t seen how Team USA responds in a competitive, slowed-down, half-court type of game. Granted, they force the opposition into shootouts thanks to their swarming, turnover-creating defense. And since they’ve had no trouble scoring in half-court sets when necessary, this shouldn’t be too much of a worry. Still, it should be interesting to see how Argentina tries to stop Team USA’s offensive onslaught on Thursday, August 30.
  • Amare Stoudemire, whom Bill Walton said is trying to add a three-point shot to his offensive arsenal, looked pretty good making one in the second quarter against Puerto Rico. Putting aside the fact that Stoudemire thinking he should spend time working on his three-point accuracy is mildly ridiculous, we should remember that the international three-point line is also a few feet closer than the NBA line.
  • What happened at the free-throw line against Puerto Rico? 11-23 is the stuff that kills gold medal hopes against serious competition. Team USA’s 72.2 percent from the line overall ranks in the middle of the FIBA’s pack. Interestingly, tonight’s opponent, Uruguay, is the only team in the field making and attempting more free-throws per game than Team USA.
  • After six games it's no longer too early to start surveying the FIBA Americas MVP field. Carmelo Anthony, averaging 21.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game might be the leading contender. Every minute on the floor he’s played authoritatively, dunking frequently and often rebounding his own misses. Other contenders include James, Bryant, Argentina’s Luis Scola, and Mexico’s Romel Beck.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Team USA Tops Mexico

Team USA improved to 5-0 after beating Mexico 127-100.

Carmelo Anthony again led the scoring barrage with 28 points. LeBron James added 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, two blocks and a steal in 21 minutes. James shot 6-7 from the field, 3-3 on three-pointers, and 4-4 from the line.

Michael Redd struggled for the first time in the FIBA’s. While he scored 15 points, Redd lost his outside touch, making only 1-6 three-pointers. Coach Mike Krzyzewski continued to show confidence in the Milwaukee Bucks star however. Redd's 21 minutes led all Team USA non-starters. And even on an off-night shooting, he again outplayed fellow backup guard Mike Miller, who shot 1-6 from the field and 0-4 on three-pointers in 15 minutes.

Team USA played out of sync offensively after a brilliant, 45-point first quarter outburst.

The usually poised Americans occasionally lacked court awareness and focus. Kobe Bryant continued his high-intensity play, but appeared flustered after missing a couple forced shots early and appealing to the referees for help to no avail. Bryant committed three turnovers. Redd, James, and Amare Stoudemire had two each against a Mexico team without one NBA player.

It was the first time this Team USA seemed to play overconfidently. They connected on their requisite highlight-reel plays, but too often made dangerous, lazy passes. Mexico was sharp, but Team USA would’ve been burned for more than their 12 turnovers against a better opponent.

Still, when you score 127 points and allow 100 in 40 minutes, offense isn’t the main problem. Defensively, Team USA looked very mediocre, proving to be vulnerable against Mexico’s pick-and-roll and three-point shooting. Even international defensive stalwart Bryant got crossed-over before fouling Mexico’s Romel Beck on a three-pointer, resulting in a four-point play. It’s not worth singling anyone out though, because this defensive breakdown was a team effort.

Like most 27-point wins, not everything went wrong. Despite Bryant’s rough game, he determinedly got to the free-throw line ten times, making nine. And on a cold outside shooting night for Team USA, they easily withstood Mexico’s 15 three-pointers, cruising to a victory that was never in doubt.

Jason Kidd showed again why he is the perfect Team USA court general, notching seven assists, three rebounds, three steals, and no turnovers in 19 minutes. Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard also were unstoppable in the post.

Four nearly flawless Team USA games made last night look questionable: Did they really figure out how to defend the pick-and-roll after the Greece debacle? Does this team have a problem keeping the pressure on for a full game after accumulating a big lead?

They can help answer some of those questions tonight against a Puerto Rico team rounding into form after a convincing win over Brazil.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Four Things Learned After Four Team USA Games

Team USA concluded group play 4-0 after rocking Brazil 113-76.

Here are four things we’ve learned after Team USA’s first four games:

  • 1. USA is to basketball what Brazil is to soccer, and then some.

The hyped Team USA/Brazil match of undefeated teams resulted in Team USA’s fourth consecutive blowout and a thoroughly humbling first loss for Brazil. Even though Brazil was considered a pre-tournament contender, the wise understood that given the personnel in this tournament, Team USA would win this game. Not many people thought Team USA would lead by 47 points entering the fourth quarter though.

On September 9, Brazil’s soccer team will face the United States in an exhibition match. Brazil is the unequaled world soccer power, with more World Cups won than any other nation. Its players, like Pele and Ronaldinho, are the supreme talents of past and present. Its soccer talent runs so deep that not one player on the solid United States soccer team would make Brazil’s roster, much less be a part of the starting eleven. The real beauty of Brazilian soccer is not only the results, but the flair and ease with which they demoralize their opponents. They lose on occasion, but it’s almost always an upset when they do.

Sound familiar if you flip the script, turning soccer into football, and Brazil into U.S.A. basketball? The fact is, despite recent disappointment, Team USA remains the singular basketball world superpower. Their talent level is unmatched, and when the right mix is found, they are virtually unbeatable. They are an even sturdier, prettier superpower than Brazilian soccer, with fewer teams capable of challenging them.

  • 2. Kobe can play team ball.

When Kobe Bryant was in his early twenties, leading the Lakers in assists and winning championships, life was all good in Los Angeles. Somewhere along the way, the sidekick grew up to the master (Shaq), at least in ability and ego, and the rest is history... or perhaps a current event in the NBA.

With LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and company at his side, Bryant has seemingly bought into the team concept now more than ever. Through four games with Team USA, Bryant has stood out as one of the most passionate and team-oriented, making it a habit to jump on the floor after loose balls, play squared-up and arms-up defense, and defer to open teammates on the offensive end.

He knows that these national teams are the greatest teams he’ll ever play on, and it’s refreshing to see that he’s genuinely excited by that fact. He also senses that while the degree to which he can succeed from here on out in the NBA on a team level depends largely on the puzzling pieces surrounding him, he doesn’t have that dilemma playing for Team USA. He knows that restoring basketball glory to the United States is firmly within his grasp, and he’s not going to let that opportunity slip away.

  • 3. Keep this group together, mostly.

I’ve had some different ideas about what Team USA should like look this summer and in Beijing 2008. I will say now, that even though it’s only been four games against less-than-stellar competition, this is a strong mix of players.

In fact, I spot eight virtual locks on this team for next summer’s Olympic team: Bryant, James, Anthony, Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire, Michael Redd, Dwight Howard, and Chauncey Billups. Two of Tayshaun Prince, Deron Williams, Mike Miller, and Tyson Chandler should probably be there as well, most likely the first two. That leaves room for only two guys not in currently Las Vegas, probably Dwyane Wade and a post player, like Chris Bosh.

  • 4. Everything looks golden, but...

The wonders of Argentina’s basketball system, rooted in rich talent and dynamic team/player familiarity, isn’t going to be enough this time around. If the Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, Walter Herrmann-led team couldn’t top Team USA while playing for a medal last summer, it would be a lot to ask for the Argentine’s to pull of a victory without the aforementioned stars.

And I’m pretty sure Brazil isn’t going to make up this much ground that fast.

But what isn’t discussed enough is that the these tournaments are decidedly upset-prone, meaning the best team won’t always win. We are accustomed to the marathon NBA Playoffs, that while sometimes are anti-climactic, always crowns the best team. The one-and-done format of international basketball is exciting, but much more kind to the hot-shooting underdog.

Team USA might not lose for quite a while, and won’t lose more than one game in Las Vegas and Beijing combined. But one untimely loss is all it takes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Team USA Trounces Venezuela

Team USA opened its FIBA Americas Championship schedule by defeating Venezuela 112-69.

Venezuela, ranked eighth out of ten teams in The Painted Area’s tournament preview, didn’t provide any sustained competition from the opening tip.
Michael Redd and Carmelo Anthony led the scoring with 17 points each.

Redd shot 7-12 from the field and 3-5 on three’s in 20 minutes off the bench. He also added three assists and two rebounds. He played the part of perfect ingredient off the bench, and continued performances like that will make him a prime contender to make next year’s Olympic team.

Jason Kidd set the tone in the first quarter, orchestrating Team USA’s poised offensive attack. He played a step ahead of everyone on the court, swiping the ball from an unsuspecting Venezuelan and delivering perfect no-look passes to Americans sometimes slow to react. Kidd’s superior court presence stood out, essentially putting the game out of Venezuela’s reach in the first five minutes.

Kobe Bryant’s much-anticipated debut for Team USA also went smoothly. Bryant lived up to his vows to play the team game first, dishing out a team-high five assists, along with 14 points, five rebounds, and three steals in just 16 minutes.

Sure, it was only Venezuela, but this version of Team USA reminded more of the classic Dream Teams than recent disappointments.

Up next is the Virgin Islands.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Preparing For Venezuela

SportsIllustrated.com’s Chris Mannix notes four keys to Team USA success in the FIBA Americas Championship.

His first key involves featuring Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd:
“Play your shooters

What do the numbers 31.4 and 36.9 have in common? They are the three-point shooting percentages of the U.S. teams in the '04 and '06 international competitions, respectively. This summer, however, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has two of the NBA's most dangerous three-point shooters in Michael Redd (career 39.2 percent) and Mike Miller (39.8 percent). Coach K also has a proven clutch shooter in Chauncey Billups, who also has the potential to extend or break a zone defense and open up the floor for the U.S. slashers.”
That brings up the discussion about what Team USA’s rotation should be. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has already indicated that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony will start throughout the tournament:
"I think the three guys you could say would start every game would be Carmelo, Kobe and LeBron," Krzyzewski said. "And then we would look at other people. The main thing is just so they can develop a feel of playing with one another."
Bryant and James are excellent, if not obvious picks to start. And since Team USA’s opponents aren’t going to have a lot of quality post players in this tournament, starting Anthony at power forward is reasonable.

My Team USA depth chart:

C- Amare Stoudemire
PF- Carmelo Anthony
SF- LeBron James
SG- Kobe Bryant
PG- Jason Kidd

6- Dwight Howard
7- Chauncey Billups
8- Michael Redd
9- Tyson Chandler
10- Deron Williams
11- Tayshaun Prince
12- Mike Miller

The trouble is that since this Team USA roster is so good, and the competition is so limited, it might not matter what the lineup looks like. That’s problematic because they won’t have such a luxury in 2008. Anthony could shine playing power forward this summer, but not next summer. Since it’s assumed Team USA will secure an Olympic spot, the real order of business this summer is to figure out who fits where next summer.

On another note, Team USA’s first opponent, Venezuela, is coming off a rough showing in the Stankovic Cup, where they went 0-5, including a loss to the U.S. D-League Ambassadors. Turns out, they didn’t take that particular defeat in stride:
“The Venezuela national team blamed the loss on the referees' poor judgments made at "the key moment" in the fourth period when the score gap was only five points.

"We would not lose the match if it was not for them (the referees)," said Gabriel Alejandro Ruda, coach of the Venezuela team.”
What is like being basketball referee right now? In any event, Team USA won’t be leaving any doubt about this game.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Redd, White, And Blue

USABasketball.com reports Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd is part of the 12-man roster that will represent Team USA in the upcoming FIBA Americas Championship.

Seattle Supersonics forwards Kevin Durant and Nick Collison were the two players cut.

The roster:

“Named to the USA Basketball Senior National Team were Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets); Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons); Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers); Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets); Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers); Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets); Mike Miller (Memphis Grizzlies); Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons); Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks); AmarĂ© Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns); and Deron Williams (Utah Jazz).”

Update: Bucks.com likes my headline, or great minds think alike. Or something. They now have a "Redd, White and Blue" headline.

Update #2: Same "Redd, White and Blue" headline in the Team USA NBA.com blog.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Team USA and Michael Redd

Team USA will have another training session August 15-20. It will help determine which of the 17 eligible players will make the 12-man roster for the upcoming FIBA Americas Championship.

A group of ten promising young Americans were chosen to help the senior team prepare.

In an earlier post, I made my picks for Team USA’s 12-man roster.

Included in my picks was Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd. He’s a sensible choice to back up Kobe Bryant given the importance of outside shooting in international competitions. His main competition appears to be Memphis Grizzlies guard and fellow sharpshooter Mike Miller. Some have argued Team USA wouldn’t mind bringing along both.

In a recent blog post, NBA.com’s Dave McMenamin chose Miller over Redd, based on Redd’s relatively poor performance in practice.

An excerpt of McMenamin’s response to a question regarding the Miller/Redd issue:
“The reason I went with Miller over Redd had very little to do with the intrasquad scrimmage at the end of the mini-camp and a lot to do with how both players performed on Friday and Saturday in practice. On Friday Redd looked out of shape and pulled himself from the fullcourt games to go shoot on a side hoop. Meanwhile, on both days, Miller was not only making shots from deep but finishing when he took it to the tin and showing very active hands on defense."
Sure, the July mini-camp/practice was three months before the start of the regular season. And Redd has the upcoming training session to redeem himself. But seeing the Bucks only star described as out of shape any time is a little disconcerting.

Looking past the FIBA’s, the out-of-shape comment brings up the old debate about whether international duty wears on players the following NBA season. This type of chatter commences whenever someone plays international ball in the summer and hits the slightest of a lull a couple months into the NBA’s regular season.

But is there reason to worry? Let’s examine how last summer’s Team USA followed up their bronze-winning effort:
  • Shane Battier: Played all 82 games, in consistent, Battier-like fashion.
  • Chris Bosh: Had career-year in leading Toronto Raptors to division title. Missed some time in the regular season due to knee injury suffered in a game versus the Chicago Bulls.
  • Elton Brand: Appeared in 80 very strong games. Proved this summer that offseason injuries happen in simple, daily workouts sometimes.
  • Kirk Hinrich: Also played 80 of 82 regular season games. Posted career-highs in points per game (16.6), field goal percentage (.448), three-point percentage (.415), and free-throw percentage (.835).
  • Dwight Howard: Played all 82 games. Stepped up with career-year.
  • LeBron James: Played 78 amazing regular season games... And had enough left over in the tank to play 20 more in the playoffs, including a dominant performance or two.
  • Antawn Jamison: Had another very good year, appearing in 70 games. Carried an overmatched and depleted Washington Wizards team admirably in the playoffs.
  • Joe Johnson: Started the season in strong fashion, averaging 27.8 point per game in the first month. Missed time toward the end of the season due to calf strain suffered March 5 versus the Miami Heat.
  • Brad Miller: Never the model of perfect health, Miller did play 63 games for the Sacramento Kings. Had a down year for his standards, but is on the way down in general.
  • Chris Paul: He missed time due to a severely sprained ankle. Still, he played 64 games in an impressive sophomore campaign.
  • Dwyane Wade: When healthy he was one of the league's brightest. But he played only 51 games thanks to shoulder and knee surgery. Came back for playoffs.

In all, that recapping-exercise doesn’t lend much support to the idea that playing international basketball in the summer before an NBA season produces adverse results.

I’d love to see Redd represent Team USA this summer. Helping restore some basketball glory to his country could give him the positive energy to jumpstart his season with the Bucks. If the likes of Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant aren’t too worried about playing, there shouldn’t be much of a problem. And the benefits of playing competitive games with such a great team outweigh the worry that he’ll suffer from playing a little too much offseason basketball.

Furthermore, I stand by my choice that Redd should make the team.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Buck Sign Storey

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed guard/forward Awvee Storey.

“Awvee is a hard-nosed, aggressive player who brings depth to our roster at the guard and small forward positions,” said Bucks GM Larry Harris. “He’s an excellent athlete and a solid defender who will be a good addition to our team.”

Storey, who performed well in Summer League for the Bucks, has bounced around the basketball world, including brief stints with the New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards.

It’s difficult to see him ultimately fitting into the team’s active 12-man roster. If he does slide in, it’ll be a minimal role, focusing on giving energy, rebounding, and defense.

If history is any indication, Storey might serve as an intimidator of sorts, hopefully channeling the intimidation in a constructive manner.

Storey is most noted for his punch of teammate Martynas Andriuskevicius while in the NBDL.

He also was arrested along with Gilbert Arenas on charges of disobeying police.

NBA's Top 2007-08 Games

With the recent announcement of the 2007-08 NBA schedule, writers across the web have profiled some of the most intriguing games of the upcoming season.

I already highlighted five Milwaukee Bucks games. Not that any of us would be missing those.

Marty Burns picked ten compelling games for SportsIllustrated.com

The wild playoffs and busy offseason made for some easy choices. One juicy pick was the Dallas Mavericks at Golden St. Warriors playoff rematch on November 8. He also pinpointed Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota on February 8.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein went further, circling seemingly every date on the NBA calendar. Well, forty-two days by my count.

He even picked a Bucks game:

"Feb. 2: Houston at Milwaukee (NBA TV)

Yao Ming -- and the Chinese media armada -- goes to Brewtown to square off with The Big Yi . . . assuming Yi Jianlian is a Buck by then. (On Nov. 9 the Bucks are in Houston, incidentally, if Yi makes it to Milwaukee for the start of the season.)"

Still, a handful of games with interesting, perhaps more subtle story lines, went unmentioned. To avoid overlap, I’ve compiled a list of five games chosen by neither Burns nor Stein:

  • Wednesday, November 21 – Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies

These two franchises, born in 1995-96, are natural, mutual measuring sticks.

The Raptors got a quicker jump out of the gate, winning five more games behind Rookie of the Year point guard Damon Stoudamire.

The trend continues today, with the Raptors coming off a division title and the Grizzlies now the longest of shots for postseason play.

Nevertheless, there are intriguing parallels entering 2007-08. Both clubs are led by star, often overshadowed, power forwards in Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. In addition, this game should offer us the first NBA game pitting two of Spain’s finest guards. Juan Carlos Navarro is headed to Memphis and Jose Calderon is already a valuable component of the Raptors.

  • Tuesday, January 8 – New York Knicks at Chicago Bulls

The Knicks have remodeled yet again, but repeated recent failures haven’t lent much optimism that the latest mixture of talent, now starring Zach Randolph, will suddenly mesh. Talent resides in The Big Apple, but this game, the team’s third consecutive road game following daunting stops in San Antonio and Houston, could be the tipping point of the team’s yearling unraveling.

On the flipside, if the Knicks are rolling a couple months into the season, this classic big-city rivalry could be reborn on this night.

  • Sunday, March 30 – Washington Wizards at Los Angeles Lakers

In last year’s Staples Center showdown between two of the most entertaining players in the NBA, Gilbert Arenas out-Kobe’d Kobe Bryant 60-45 and a came away with a win.

Bryant partially returned the favor by winning both the individual competition 39-37 and the team game in the nation's capital a month and a half later.

Still, Bryant isn’t one to be outdone and Arenas got the better of him last year. Combine the personal rivalry with the fact both stars are coming off frustrating ends to their seasons and you can expect more scintillation.

  • Tuesday, April 8 – Utah Jazz at New Orleans Hornets

The Jazz visit New Orleans, where they called home from 1974-78.

Pete Maravich typified the virtuosity of Duke Ellington's jazz in his five magical years when the Jazz more naturally played in New Orleans.

This present-day game will showcase a couple of wondrous court wizards that would make Pistol Pete proud. Picked third and fourth in the 2005 NBA Draft respectively, Deron Williams and Chris Paul make this a must-see.

  • Wednesday, April 16 – New Jersey Nets at Boston Celtics

It’s difficult to forecast which final regular season games will matter, but something tells me that in the suddenly crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture these two teams could be playing for important seeding down to the wire.

Just in case, check out the first three times they meet, starting Saturday, November 10. Both teams are well-known for their star trios, and lack of depth. But while the Celtics are the chic pick in the East, the return of Nenad Krstic and addition of Jamaal Magloire indicates the Nets might have the more support to surround their Big Three.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Gauging Charlie Bell

As a restricted free agent, the Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to match any offer to guard Charlie Bell. And all indications are they will do just that. Still, it’s being reported that teams are showing interest, putting the onus on the Bucks.
"He had a great year," Agent Mark Bartelstein said. "He happens to be restricted. We are determining what will be our best options for his long-term interests.”
The Boston Celtics were said to be one possible suitor for Bell, but not after they signed guards Eddie House and Jackie Manuel.

Retaining Bell is a key for the Bucks because as encouraging as the offseason retooling has been, they need Bell’s valuable minutes at both guard positions coming off the bench. Management knows this, and I’m confident Bell will remain in Milwaukee as a result.

Another quote from Bartelstein:
"He's proven he's a terrific player in this league. Worst case, he's one of the best third guards in the NBA. And he certainly has not shown he can't be a starter."
Naturally, agents have more than a little bias when it comes to the players they represent. But is there some truth to Bartelstein’s remarks? While Bell only really arrived last season, he has played admirably the last two years and is still on the way up. Without getting into the starter-material part of the comment, and limiting it to Eastern Conference third guards, let’s briefly consider a few other intriguing backup guards heading into the 2007-08 campaign.

Last year with the Toronto Raptors, Jose Calderon truly stepped up, teaming with T.J. Ford to form an excellent two-headed point guard attack that the team rode to a division title. Just 25 years old and still improving, Calderon is easily one of the top third guards in the league, and one of the few in the conference I’d clearly pick over Bell.

Veteran Washington Wizards guard Antonio Daniels hasn’t quite lived up to his fourth overall selection in the 1997 draft but is a heady performer who routinely ranks among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. In fact, he had the best ratio in the NBA last season. Also, watch for rookie teammate Nick Young to earn minutes and contribute sooner rather than later.

The Indiana Pacers have a couple of able backups in Marquis Daniels and Fond du Lac native Travis Diener, but Bell is superior to both as things stand.

The Miami Heat recently signed guard Smush Parker, a comparable player to Bell. I’d give Bell the edge.

Others up-and-coming types worth keeping an eye on this year include New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson, Philadelphia 76ers guard Louis Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson, Chicago Bulls guard Thabo Sefolosha, and New Jersey Nets guard Marcus Williams.

I’m not going to tackle the entire league in this discussion, as my player rankings will give more light to this debate. And it didn’t take this little roster-crunching exercise to know that Bell is a real piece of the Bucks’ puzzle. But it does show that even agents possess, at least occassionally, the ability to refrain from complete hyperbole when describing their clients. More importantly it reaffirms the importance of Bell staying in Milwaukee.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Celtics Nearing Trade For Garnett

The Boston Celtics are close to acquiring Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves according to SportsIllustrated.com.

Apparent centerpieces of the trade are Garnett, Al Jefferson, and Gerald Green.

Boston and the Minnesota Timberwolves are still haggling over the pieces that will accompany Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff and Gerald Green to Minnesota, with the Celtics trying to hold onto second-year point guard Rajon Rondo and keep him out of the trade.”

If this trade occurs the Celtics become instant and serious contenders in the Eastern Conference behind the trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Garnett.

This could also mean a hit to the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff chances. One must consider the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and New Jersey Nets as pretty steady playoff choices right now. If you add the Garnett-Celtics to the list that makes six out of eight possible spots difficult to break into. And that's without mentioning strong contenders like the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Orlando Magic.

The Bucks have legitimate postseason aspirations, but they'll need to tread what appears to be an increasingly crowded East playoff path.

Friday, July 27, 2007

2007 Team USA: More Than One Right Answer

Team USA will participate in the FIBA Americas Championship, held from August 22 to September 2.

Team USA will play, in order, Venezuela, U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, and Brazil in group play. A final showdown with Argentina is probable, assuming both powers can escape the single-elimination tournament that follows group play.

Team USA brought 17 players for training from July 20 to July 22.
“Members of the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team expected to participate in the July 20-22 training include: Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets); Shane Battier (Houston Rockets); Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons); Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors); Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers); Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets); Kevin Durant (Seattle SuperSonics); Kirk Hinrich (Chicago Bulls); Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers); Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets); Mike Miller (Memphis Grizzlies); Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons); Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks); J.J. Redick (Orlando Magic); AmarĂ© Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns); and Deron Williams (Utah Jazz).”
The roster must be trimmed to 12 for the actual tournament. With the options available, cuts won’t be easy. This is a very good group, with Redick being the only player that clearly doesn’t belong.

The players squared off in a scrimmage on July 22. Team Blue topped Team White 105-104 after Bryant’s game-winning shot with six seconds remaining.

Bryant’s presence is huge in light of the many recent disappointments of Team USA. Having Kidd, 28-0 all-time for Team USA run the show is also of paramount importance. Not all choices are so obvious though. Here’s one shot at what the 2007 version should look like:

C- Dwight Howard/Tyson Chandler
PF- Chris Bosh/Amare Stoudemire
SF- LeBron James/Tayshaun Prince/Kevin Durant
SG- Kobe Bryant/Michael Redd
PG- Jason Kidd/Chauncey Billups/Deron Williams

Cuts: Carmelo Anthony/Kirk Hinrich/Mike Miller/Shane Battier/J.J. Redick

The important thing to remember here is that there is more than one right answer for Team USA. With recent failures, it may seem like there aren’t any right answers. This is a very different group however, and great options are plentiful.

The glaring omission from the above team is Anthony, who was named 2006 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year.

I like Anthony, and would be confident about the team’s chances if he played a prominent role. Just like I’d have no huge qualms if Hinrich or Miller made the team. Again, there are multiple roster combinations that should bring the same result: victory.

I know Anthony is going to make the team. ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan told me as much:
“Alex (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): What are the chances Carmelo Anthony does not make the 12-man team? I know he's talented, and played well last year. But I like LeBron/Kobe/Kidd to start, and he shouldn't be coming off the bench. Plus, looking ahead to 2008 with Wade and company back in the mix, he probably won't be a good fit.

SportsNation Chris Sheridan: (12:10 PM ET ) He was by far, and I mean BY FAR, the best player on the 2006 team. He's a lock for 2008.
And when I make my player rankings here before the regular season, he will be ahead some of the guys on my roster. But the whole idea behind the new Team USA is to put together the best team. And here’s why I believe I did that:

Howard and Chandler are givens at center for now. With Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and others out of the mix for this competition, they are the only viable options. And good ones they are. Howard shot 9-9 from the field in the recent scrimmage and Chandler gives the team a strong defensive presence and shot-blocking ability.

I prefer the more natural power forwards in Bosh and Stoudemire rather than having Anthony take up a spot here. There are only four real post players in the group, so they all need to be there.

Next is a crowded small forward position. James is the best fit alongside Kidd and Bryant to start. Prince is a defensive stopper and an excellent team player; exactly the attributes necessary for coming off the bench on a team like this. Finally, Durant is a great pick for a few reasons. First, he’s good enough to play. This isn’t the case of bringing along someone that’s not ready at the expense of someone that is. And Durant, as a rookie, won’t expect big minutes, meaning he won’t be a threat to team-cohesiveness. Finally, it would be a great learning experience for a player that is likely to play a integral role for Team USA over the next decade.

Bryant obviously starts at shooting guard. Redd is the pick to back him up over Miller because he is a more dynamic offensive force and superior overall player.

Kidd already has taken a leadership role, putting his undefeated record on the line. Billups is another ultra-steady court general. Williams gets the nod over Hinrich because he is more likely to step up as a serious option for the 2008 Olympics.

There is more than one right answer for Team USA in 2007. But it’s important to examine the options carefully, because it will be a lot easier to slip up once the competition improves so greatly in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.