The Washington Wizards are surging! Well, relatively speaking, of course.
As we get closer to the All-Star break, the Wizards have put together a nice little 10-7 stretch that has included wins over the Thunder, Nuggets, Bulls, Clippers, Knicks and Nets. Sure, they’ve lost a few games to subpar teams during that stretch, but they have finally get over the late game issues that prevented them from winning some of their close early season games.
Though their win against the Thunder did come without him, the main reason that the Wizards have been able to rattle off some impressive performances is the return of their star point guard John Wall.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…Columns | Tagged Bradley Beal, John Wall, Nene, Washington Wizards | Leave a comment
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After giving him a couple of 10-day contracts, the Miami Heat announced yesterday that they have signed center Chris Andersen for the remainder of the season, giving Miami a full 15 player roster with everybody on guaranteed contracts.
This may seem like an irrelevant addition for Miami, but I have a feeling that Andersen may end up playing a role for the Heat this season. Miami has struggled with the center position ever since the big three era began, and even though Erick Spoelstra has a place in his heart for Joel Anthony, Anthony’s offensive ineptitude and relatively poor rebounding make him a tough player to put on the floor.
While Andersen is also a limited offensive player, he’s much better than Anthony because his hands are made of skin rather than stone. Over his past handful of seasons in the NBA Andersen has been a very efficient offensive player, and his understanding of the game’s spacing on the offensive end has improved greatly. Andersen can’t really do anything but dunk, but he makes himself effective by contributing as a pick-and-roll threat, an offensive rebounding presence and a dangerous off-ball cutter. When Miami spreads the floor offensively, they can count on Andersen being able to use all of the interior space to establish offensive rebounding position or to feast on help defenders that have to cut off LeBron or Wade’s drives to the rim.
But who am I kidding? As long as Andersen actually catches the ball when it is passed to him, the Heat will be happy with him on offense. The real reason that the Heat are hanging on to Andersen is his defense.
During his last full season in the NBA – 2009-10 with the Nuggets – Andersen led the NBA in block percentage at 6.34%. While that may not be as high as some of the astronomical numbers that Sergee Ibaka and Larry Sanders are throwing up, it is still pretty impressive and a good indicator of Andersen’s ability to protect the rim. Andersen has also always been a solid rebounder, with his usual rebound rate being around 17%, while Joel Anthony’s usually sits around 11%.
To be more specific, it is Andersen’s mobility defensively that makes him a coveted piece for the Heat. The linchpin of Miami’s defensive scheme is the hard trapping that they do on pick-and-rolls and Andersen is capable of moving his feet laterally in order to get in sound defensive position to trap ball handlers while still being able to recover to his man on the roll and do an effective job rebounding.
Though he has only played a few games for the Heat, take a look at how well Andersen has handled his new role as an aggressive pick-and-roll defender so far.
Mobile bigs don’t grow on trees, and one with the defensive instincts of Andersen is even more rare. Oddly enough, Anthony possesses these qualities, but, to use an evaluation system coined by Bill Simmons, Andersen and Anthony both bring that to the table, and Andersen takes fewer things off for the Heat, which should make him a usual suspect in Spoelstra’s rotation for the remainder of the season.Posted in Columns | Tagged Chris Andersen, Miami Heat | Leave a comment
The San Antonio Spurs have the best offensive sets in the league and this has been the case ever seen Gregg Popovich decided to ditch his plodding Duncan-centric offense and started featuring Tony Parker more in a fast-paced and incredibly watchable display of basketball brilliance.
This is a play that the Spurs love to run that features a “snug” pick-and-roll between Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter. The pick-and-roll action between these two is deadly – Splitter is one of the best roll men in the league – but just in case the defense can bottle it up (which is rare), the Spurs have some sweet weakside action that can punish the defense even if they do everything right.
Tony Parker begins this play by backdown his man on either side of the floor and getting to about 15-18 feet from the hoop. Meanwhile, Tiago Splitter sets a backscreen for Manu Ginobili (or any of San Antonio’s other wings). Ginobili uses the screen to flash to the rim. If he is open, Parker can thread a pass to him for an easy lay-up. If he’s not Ginobili clears through the paint to the weakside.
After setting the backscreen for Ginobili, Splitter then goes over to Parker to run a snug pick-and-roll with him. Parker dribbles around the screen and to the top of the key. While this is taking place on the strongside, there is weakside action going on designed to get the original cutter an open look from three. Kawhi Leonard and Borris Diaw both step up to set an elevator screen for Ginobili. Once Parker is at the top of the key, he has a few options.
If the Splitter’s man has come up to corral his dribble, he can hit Splitter on the baseline for the easy dunk. If the defense rotates over and covers Splitter, then the pass to Ginobili is there. If Ginobili is open but the defenses closes to him quickly, he can swing the ball to the corner for Kawhi Leonard, who settles back into that spot after setting his screen for Ginobili. And lastly, Parker can come around the screen and dribble towards the free throw line where he can unleash one of his patentend floaters. Essentially: if San Antonio runs this play, you best hope they miss.Posted in Columns | Tagged San Antonio Spurs | Leave a comment
After completing a 3-for-1 deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers last week that got them under the luxury tax threshold for this season, it was thought that the Memphis Grizzlies were content to move along with their current core, thus putting an end to any trade talks involving their high-usage forwards (Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph). But as it turns out, Memphis’ new ownership group wasn’t satisfied with their long-term financial picture after shedding the salaries of Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby, and decided to continue shopping Gay over the past week.
As a result, Gay has a new team to call his own: the Toronto Raptors. Finding a third team to help facilitate the salaries was the only thing keeping this deal from going down sooner, and once the Detroit Pistons stepped up as a suitor for point guard Jose Calderon, things starting falling into place.
Here is how the deal breaks down: Memphis is sending Gay and center Hamed Haddadi (likely to be waived) to the Raptors and Toronto is giving the Grizzlies promising young forward Ed Davis as well as Calderon. Calderon isn’t staying in Memphis, though, as the Grizzlies are re-routing him to the Pistons in exchange for forwards Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. When you put everything together, Memphis essentially dealt Gay, Speights, Ellington and Selby for Prince, Daye, Davis and Jon Leuer.
Gay’s name has been involved in trade whispers ever since the Grizzlies went on that competitive playoff run without him in the 2011 playoffs, and with harsher luxury-tax penalties impending, Memphis decided that it was best for the future of the team to cut ties with Gay and his massive salary. This move wasn’t 100% financially motivated, though. The Grizzlies have a brand new front office outlook with former ESPN writer and stats guru John Hollinger, and the numbers on Gay’s production this year are putrid.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s trade breakdown…Columns | Tagged Andrea Bargnani, Austin Daye, DeMar DeRozan, Detroit Pistons, Ed Davis, Hamed Haddadi, Jose Calderon, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies, Rudy Gay, Tayshaun Prince, Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors, Trades, Zach Randolph | Leave a comment
Sunday night NBA teams were notified that Maloofs and Chris Hansen’s Seattle group had agreed on a deal that would send the Sacramento Kings to Washington. The Kings franchise was valued at 525 million dollars, and Hansen’s group would purchase 65 percent of the franchise for 341 million. All that remains is for the deal to pass the NBA’s Board of Governors. What that means is that while a hurdle or two remain, things are starting to look really dicey for Kings fans.
The implications of this deal are vast and far reaching on a startling number of levels. It has been well documented how much the people of Sacramento want to keep their team through the efforts of movements like Here We Stay, and more recently, Here We Buy. Mayor Kevin Johnson has literally jumped through every hoop presented to him in his efforts to stop the team’s relocation, forming relationships with potential corporate sponsors, proposing arena deals, and even fighting to find some way to purchase the team locally.
It has also been well documented that fans of the now defunct Seattle Supersonics basically got jobbed in the deal that sent their team to Oklahoma City. The city of Seattle had just got though financing new stadiums and arenas for the Seahawks and Mariners when the owner Howard Schultz requested updates to Key Arena, home of the Sonics. When he was understandably rebuffed, he sold the team to Clay Bennett, who then moved them to OKC. Seattle fans were heartbroken at the loss.
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For better or worse, one of the things this season will be remembered for, at least in the short term, is the strange and fraught path that the Los Angeles Lakers are taking to…wherever the heck they might be going. The Lakers seem to have seen the hyper-dysfunctional and amazingly unpredictable season the Knicks had last year and thought to themselves “Oh, we can out-crazy that, easy.” You almost figure that the team hired M. Night Shyamalan to write the season’s script, and before the playoffs it will be revealed that Dwight Howard sees dead people and Kobe Bryant is an alien.
We have gone from crowning the team in the preseason to blaming injuries for lack of chemistry to giving out moral victories to saying moral victories aren’t good enough to saying that they will definitely not make the playoffs to saying the definitely will and everything in between. They restarted their season before beating the Cavs last Sunday and Milwaukee after that, and then lost to the Heat in a game that, frankly, made me feel better about them than either win. In that game they turned the ball over a ton, had some odd rotations at times, had Kobe looking ineffective for most of the game…and still in the end still made the Heat play some of their best basketball of the season in order to pull out the win.
In that Heat game we caught a glimpse of who we thought this team was in the offseason, a glimpse of the team that could still make an impact this year if they play their cards right. But make no mistake. This team is standing on the thinnest part of the razor’s edge in a hurricane while wearing no shoes. The margin for error is nearly nonexistent. Any more mistakes and they get to feel good about their moral victories at home while Houston or Portland play the first round of the playoffs.
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The NBA’s Western Conference has long been considered the stronger of the two conferences, and this continues to be true today. “They wouldn’t even make the playoffs if they were in the West” is a slight that often gets thrown at lower-seeded Eastern teams, and with good reason. The interesting thing about the West is that while it is definitely the better of the two conferences, it has also been horridly predictable for the majority of the last fifteen years.
Before the Oklahoma City Thunder upset the status quo by winning the Western Conference Finals last year, three teams had won the west for the previous 13 years. Those teams were the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Dallas Mavericks, something you could probably have guessed if you were paying attention to the league for the last decade. These teams always found themselves in the top half of seeding and did a good job of being a head and shoulders above the other teams.
But this season a funny thing has started to happen. These “old guard” teams have either taken a step back, or looked to be falling off the map entirely, with younger teams rising up to take their place. The Lakers and Mavericks have had offseason plans fall apart during the actual season, and the Spurs, while still being a great basketball team, do appear to be a little less dominant than they once were, though you may (and I do) write this off as Gregg Popovich biding his time until it is time strike in the playoffs.
Make no mistake, though, the blood does seem to have started circulating in the West, with the Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies and even the (GASP!) Warriors rising to the challenge left by their void. The question this poses, however, is difficult one to answer: Which of these teams are actually ready to start a stranglehold of their own on the West?
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Another month of NBA ball in the books, so naturally it is time for another installment of the Power Rankings. How far has James Harden catapaulted the Rockets? How far have the leaden corpses of Dwight and Pau sunk the Lakers? Is my bias for Miami still showing? I know you are all bursting for the answers to these questions, and I am not here to disappoint. You will find all these answers and more below. So without further ado, let’s get it going!
1. Oklahoma City Thunder 26-8 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 3
Oh yeah, we were silly thinking that Harden’s departure would mean much for the Thunder. His replacement, Kevin Martin, is a possible Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Serge Ibaka is playing the best ball of his career, exceeding his averages from last year in every category you want from Serge. Russell Westbrook is still a human wrecking ball with passing abilities. And Kevin Durant? Well, he is annihilating the entire league with a near flawless all-around game. I love Lebron James, but even I have to give Iceberg Slim the MVP thus far.
2. Los Angeles Clippers 27-8 Last 10: 8-2 Last Month: 7
Whatever Chris Paul’s dreams were when he signed with the Clippers, you have to wonder if it would ever look so possible that he may actually lead the Clips to title. I’ll be honest, the only reason I still have the Thunder ahead of the Clippers is because I think the playoff experience that the Thunder have is invaluable. But all of the veterans the Clippers picked up have some playoff experience themselves, and with Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill coming back, it is clear that their experience may swing some critical playoff games the Clippers’ way.
3. San Antonio Spurs 27-10 Last 10: 8-2 Last Month: 6
So Pop continues to do whatever he wants, and as we all knew would happen, the Spurs are again one of the best teams in the league. You guys may get tired of hearing me call them the Black Death Machine, but I can’t stop doing it until it becomes appropriate. Tony Parker is something of a fringe MVP candidate, but you almost can’t give it to him because his team plays at such a level where you know the team would get along without him. That is the genius of Gregg Popovich, and the secret to the never-ending success of the San Antonio Spurs.
4. Miami Heat 23-9 Last 10: 7-3 Last Month: 1
I’ll be honest with you, the only reason I have the Heat this high is that we know what they are capable of, and Lebron James could still win the MVP without surprising anyone. Are they a great team? Yes. Are they going to be ridiculously dangerous in the playoffs? Yes. On the flip side, their defense is still nowhere near where it was last year, and they are losing to bad teams more often than they should. I won’t say that I am concerned about the Heat, but they do seem to be suffering a championship hangover, and will need to step it up or lose any chance of defending the throne.
Hit the jump for the rest of Jordan’s power rankings…Columns | Leave a comment
Last year, the lockout had us all so starved for professional basketball that we didn’t care how sloppy the games were. Career highs in turnovers? Who cares? Horrible field goal percentages? Phooey! This? Okay, well that was pretty bad. But still, basketball was back after its short hiatus, and in the end we were all treated to one of the most exciting NBA Finals in recent memory.
So far, this year has been even better. Players have reminded us why preseason exists, with a tremendously high level of play straight out of the gate. And while some things haven’t changed (the Heat are still scary good, Kobe scores in bunches, the Washington Wizards still exist), there have been numerous surprises. I mean, how many of you had Golden State out playing the Lakers?
Today, we recognize those who have made their mark in the first quarter of the season. All of your standard awards will be given out, with a few surprises mixed in. Naturally, I expect a lot to change between now and next summer, but in the meantime let’s take a look at the best of the best so far this season.Columns | Leave a comment