NBA teams finally got the opportunity the see potential draftees up close in personal this week with the kick off of draft work out season. The NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago and workouts earlier in the week in Vegas offered early insight into where players’ stocks are headed.
Chicago serves as the “official weigh-in” for the draft as players are measured without shoes and tested for their vertical leap, sprint speed and agility. In addition, the camp features some light full and half court skill drills as well as small-sided competition (3-on-3 and smaller).
It’s hard to impress a team that never sees you play, so the absence of players like Quincy Pondexter and Daniel Orton was a bit perplexing. However plenty of players showed up, and a few surprised attending scouts and GMs.
Here are five players who have already improved their draft status by virtue of their excellent performances in Chicago and Vegas.
5. Gordon Hayward
The only questions about Hayward going into the draft concern his athleticism. After a strong showing in Chicago, Gordon’s camp has to be feeling pretty good about how he measured up. While he still needs to gain strength, he showed some nice agility and explosiveness.
If Hayward can continue to show teams that he has the athleticism requisite for a good NBA career (after watching him rebound in the tournament it’s hard to think otherwise), he really is the total package. He understands team offense and defense, passes well, has a good handle for his size, shoots from three, and attacks the glass on both ends.
We know the Boston Celtics would have loved to snag him at 19, but look for him to move up to the Clippers-Indiana (8-10) range.
4. Lance Stephenson
New York’s all time leading scorer was
With the conference finals underway, it would be easy to discuss the matchups: “How will Phoenix handle the Laker bigs? Will Orlando be able to contain Rajon Rondo? How will Craig Sager’s socks match up with the pocket square and tie?” (Apologies to Keyshawn Johnson.) Such questions are important, but let’s focus on one aspect of the game that has undeniably aided two of the four teams in getting this far: the three pointer.
Both the Lakers and Celtics are playing great basketball. However, it’s been the play of the Magic and Suns during the first two rounds that has gotten people (meaning me) buzzing. It’s all in the way that they score. For Phoenix and Orlando, it’s quite simple: make threes, they win. Miss them and they lose.
When these two teams are rolling, they set up their shooters in very different ways. Orlando surrounds Dwight Howard with shooters at every position so that the moment he is double-teamed he simply kicks out for an open shot. Meanwhile, the Suns run three basic plays: the fast-break-take-whatever-shot-is-there, the pick and roll with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, or the drive and dish for a…you guessed it, three pointer.
Can't shoot threes? Here's how Stan feels about that.
Why is this important? In their 23 losses this year, Orlando shot 32.2% for three. In their 59 wins? 39.7%. When a team averages a league-high 27.3 three point attempts per game, those misses add up in the form of opponent possessions. Meanwhile the Suns, taking 21.6 per game show a greater disparity by posting 43.6% in 54 wins and 36.6% in 28 losses. Suddenly those 5-22 Game 1 performances (and losses) by both teams take on a whole new meaning. The appropriate expression to use here would be that they,
The “rest versus rust” argument is a tiresome one, but the Magic certainly looked rusty in Game One. That said, the difference between the defenses of the Hawks and the Celtics may have been a bigger factor in Game One than the Magic’s lengthy time off.
Either way, it took the Magic a while to start rolling, just look at their points by quarter: 14-18-26-30.
The Magic finally showed the firepower necessary to regain control of the series, but they will need to be firing on all cylinders to knock off a Celtics team that is deeper and better than almost anyone thought. (Sheed Sighting!)
The Magic fans don’t have to panic… yet. But it has to be disconcerting that the Celtics dominated for three quarters without really playing well themselves (10 first half turnovers).
Expect Van Gundy to make some key moves before Game 2, as he is one of the best in the business at preparing his team to win.
We can be sure he’ll have others, but here are 5 adjustments (besides resuscitating Rashard Lewis) that Van Gundy MUST make if the Magic are to get back to the NBA Finals
1. Bench Barnes, promote Redick
Barnes isn’t healthy and it was going to take his best effort to chase Ray Allen around screens. Redick did excellent work on Allen in last year’s playoffs because he has fantastic conditioning and is used to running around off screens on offense.
Allen killed the Magic in Game One, turning in a typically understated and devastating performance. His 25 efficient points came from all over, but Barnes foolishly lost him a few times in the half court.
The feisty UCLA product Barnes is an important part of Orlando’s squad because of his attitude as much as anything. He brings an edge
As a life-long NBA fan that recently lost his favorite team, the Seattle Supersonics, I have been looking for a new team to root for. When I moved to Atlanta last year, I was excited to become a Hawks fan. The Hawks were playing well and winning games, and had an exciting core of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford.
But when I began attending games, I noticed that something was different. Something was missing; that intangible energy, the pride, the thing that makes fans go crazy, hate the other team, live and die with every game. For some reason, this doesn’t exist in Atlanta.
I felt “it” at Sonics games in the mid 90s. I felt “it” at Warrior games in the 2000s. I have spoken to other fans that have felt “it” at other NBA games, but “it” just seems to be missing from the “Highlight Factory.” I’ve been to 10 games in Atlanta over the past few years and I’ve never felt that energy, that excitement. This led me to an unfortunate conclusion:
Atlanta just isn’t a basketball town.
To me, this just doesn’t make any sense; how can Atlanta not be a basketball town? The city of Atlanta is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. One would think that a population of over 5 million could sustain a pro basketball team.
Of all the games I’ve attended, the only one that looked close to being sold out this season was the Lakers game. And most of the fans only went to cheer Kobe. I’ve been to two games against Atlanta’s conference rivals, the generally disliked Boston Celtics, and the arena was barely 75% full.
But it’s not just about attendance numbers, for which Atlanta ranked 18th overall, barely beating the Wizards
As the Cavaliers head coach, Mike Brown has won an average of 54 games per year. In the last two seasons, the Cavs have won 66 and 61 games, respectively. He was at the helm when Cleveland reached the finals in 2007, and has a career 60% winning percentage in the playoffs.
But if Cleveland ever wants to win a title, they need to get Brown out of town, and fast.
It’s too simplistic to say that Brown’s success is due solely to his having the best player in the NBA for the past four years. LeBron is awesome, but he can’t guard everyone and Brown’s Cleveland clubs have consistently been at the top of the league in defensive field goal percentage and points allowed.
Brown is, in fact, an excellent defensive coach. He absorbed Greg Popovich’s defensive rotation schemes and has implemented them to great effect in Cleveland. After Cleveland fires him, he’ll make a strong defensive assistant (a la Tom Thibideau) somewhere in the league.
"Oh, OK… ya, I'll just show myself out…"
It’s true Cleveland has been lit up a couple times in the playoffs, but Boston is far too skilled on the offensive end to expect any team to lock up Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett for a whole series.
I might quibble with some of Brown’s match ups, but basically they don’t have the personnel to stay in front of Rondo, which causes a ripple effect throughout the team’s defensive structure and opens up shots for other Celtics.
But this is also one area in which Mike Brown struggles mightily as a coach. He is one of the worst coaches in the league when it comes to making adjustments. He coaches one way, and has no ability to alter his thinking to produce
Like many, I was confident the Magic would beat the Hawks in four or five games. Although Dwight Howard’s inability to move around on the court without tossing someone into the stands was chink in the armor exposed in Round One, you just got the feeling the Hawks played right into Orlando’s hands.
Of course, I didn’t predict that the Magic would spank the Hawks hard enough to leave a handprint four times in a row. But maybe I should have.
For those of us not from Orlando, this turned out to be one of the most unwatchable playoff series ever. Except for three quarters in Game Two and the second quarter of Game Four, the Hawks played with less heart than any playoff team I’ve ever seen. So on aggregate one game’s worth of effort. Eesh.
Kudos to Jamal Crawford for playing well after Game One in his first trip to the playoffs and to Al Horford for gamely attempting to handle Dwight “I’m secretly not a good guy” Howard. Unfortunately for the fans, it was enough. Not even close.
Here’s five reasons we should have seen this coming…
1. Mike “No, this is just my normal facial expression” Woodson
Most people saw this matchup as a major mismatch, but it isn’t as though Atlanta is talentless. It’s conceivable that by trapping and pressing all over the court, the Hawks could have disrupted the Magic’s offense, pushed the games to a favorable tempo and made Howard less of a half court factor.
You couldn’t play Bibby at all doing this, but something was needed to shake things up. Maybe such a drastic maneuver could have turned the series in the Hawks’ favor (OK, maybe not, but humor me).
It's not a good sign when Woodson is making
With the recent announcement of NBA awards, I have been thinking about player rankings. There are so many metrics! We’re all familiar with the stats per game metrics, assist to turnover ratio, +/-. These metrics are simple- there are plenty more complicated stats like PER, true shooting percentage, usage rate, value added, etc. These metrics aren’t always clear, but they give us a variety of ways to try and quantify a player’s value to a team. My dream job is to be a basketball color commentator, so I set out to rank commentators in my first Commentator Power Rankings column. How will I evaluate commentators in a fair and balanced way? I propose a new metric with which we can judge a commentators value to a broadcast:
Commentator Efficiency Rating:
[ (interesting insights) x (catch phrases) ] annoying factor + number of made up words used + former player?
For non math-majors, things on the top of the fraction make a commentator better, the higher the stuff on the bottom, the lower the CER will be. Now let’s get down to business- here is my commentator power rankings for 2010:
473. Steven A. Smith I think this one is self-explanatory. But to be fair, Steven set the record for lowest CER ever with a -7,434,233,128,894,478,954,341,125.
30. Bruce Bowen
Just look at this:
Bow Tie = Low CER
29. Ric Bucher
Sideline reporting is hard: there is nothing that we can learn from the sideline of a basketball game that the crew at half-court couldn’t tell us. Ric does ok, but, is it just me or is it possible Ric is a robot? And his orange hue is shocking…
28. Mike Tirico Stick to the Masters Mike…Not horrible, but
As the political climate in Arizona heats up over the recent immigration laws signed into being by Arizona governor Jan Brewer, the Suns have announced that they will wear “Los Suns” jerseys in tonights playoff game as a show of solidarity with Arizona’s Hispanic community.
High profile members of the Phoenix Suns organization, including GM Steve Kerr, Steve Nash, and Amar’e Stoudemire, have expressed dismay over the new laws, which may allow police officers to question anyone who appears to be an illegal alien. The law does not set clear provisions for how the appearance of illegality would be judged, beyond stating that officers need “reasonable suspicion” to make “reasonable attempts… to determine the immigration status.”
The provisions demand subjectivity on the part of Arizona police officers (as do most laws), and has led some to worry that it will allow officers to question anyone who looks Hispanic.
The fear, as stated by executive director of the NBA Players Association, Billy Hunter, is that “any attempts to encourage, tolerate or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection.” Whether or not you agree with this, you have to agree that the Suns and the NBA’s notion of solidarity is a bit weird.
I have no problem with the organization deciding to take a political stand if it feels that its customers, the fans, are being wrongly mistreated, profiled, or discriminated against. I have a big problem with “Los Suns.”
In the words of Amar’e, the Suns want to “let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100%.” Well then why not make their jerseys 100% Spanish? Los Suns is like an institutionalization of Chad Ochocinco’s sadly inaccurate attempt to say “85” in Spanglish.
“Los Soles” not only sounds cooler than Los Suns,
What a barn burner! The Magic eeked this one out by 43 points as the Hawks, despite a energetic and determined effort, simply didn’t have enough firepower to pull this one out.
Ok…maybe it was a TAD more one sided than that.
The Magic are emerging as the playoff’s most focused and prepared team, and proved it again last night by neutering the helpless Hawks in front of twenty thousand people in Orlando.
The Hawks players, meanwhile, decided to fire Mike Woodson by shooting nothing but contested two point jump shots and allowing only two Hawks to touch the ball per possession.
In Game One we learned that the only way Atlanta is getting momentum going in this series is if Howard’s deltoids explode and Atlanta shoots the lights out for an entire game.
Here are five more things we learned about this Eastern Conference Semifinal series:
1. Stan Van Gundy’s mustache would outcoach Mike Woodson
No 43 point loss is ever ALL the losing coach’s fault, but it showed how uninspired this Hawks team is.
Offensively, there isn’t much coach Woodson can do to erase 90 games’ worth of bad habits. In the first quarter Atlanta came out and moved the ball well from side to side, set hard screens and loosened up the Magic defense for open looks.
From the second quarter on, it was basically AAU ball with one guy attacking and four guys standing around. This allowed the Magic defenders to stare at the ball and see what was coming. That’s just not going to cut it against a team as well coached as the Magic. They rotate exquisitely and every defender knows his responsibility.
Believe it or not, this is one of the top 3 coaches in the NBA
See, Woodson can get hisguys to
Despite Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash’s excellent performances last night, the fact remains that Deron Williams is simply the best point guard alive.
Before you start writing angry Chris Paul rants in the comment section, let me say Paul is my favorite point guard and that I think, if he returns healthy, he will regain his throne. But after the way he played at the end of this season, coming back from multiple leg injuries (including a very worrisome knee surgery), he has to prove he can still play his stratospheric level.
What makes Williams so special today, and what separates him from every other elite point guard in the game, is that he can excel in any style of play and against any defender.
In the full court, Williams’s devastating combination of size, speed, and control make him an absolute nightmare. His signature move, a full speed crossover he stole from Jason Kidd, allows him to get his broad shoulders past his defender and then use his strength to finish at the rim or draw a foul.
While Williams may look like a runaway train barreling down on defenders tied to the track, he always has his head up and rarely makes the wrong decision. His combination of physicality, control, and awareness, while moving at breakneck speed, is outstanding.
Besides LeBron and Durant, there isn’t a more difficult player to stop once he gets a head of steam. When Paul’s explosiveness returns, he may have something to say about this. As for Nash and Rondo, they are primarily distributors in transition because they lack the strength and explosiveness to finish as consistently as Williams. Check out this dunk and tell me you disagree.
In the half court, Williams benefits from a Utah offensive system that caters