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Bucks Saying Goodbye to Villanueva Tough, but the Right Choice

A couple of days ago, the Milwaukee Bucks announced that they were giving qualifying offers to point guard Ramon Sessions and forward Ersan Ilyasova, making them both restricted free agents.  This means that any team will be able to offer them contracts, but the Bucks can match them and retain the players.

What the offers to Session and Ilyasova also means is that power forward Charlie Villanueva, 24, becomes an unrestricted free agent and will not be returning to the Bucks next season.  Villanueva played three seasons for the Bucks where he averaged 13.5 points per game.

Last year, Villanueva took over the reigns, along with Richard Jefferson, when Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut went down with season-ending injuries.  Villanueva will draw many offers as a free agent, with Detroit and Cleveland being two possibilities.

Many Bucks fans did not understand why general manager John Hammond would trade Richard Jefferson for very little and then let Charlie Villanueva go despite drafting a point guard in the first round of the NBA draft.

First things first, the Bucks are retaining a player in Ramon Sessions that has become a triple-double threat every night if he is able to see the minutes.  He seems to be entering his prime right now, and while it might have made more sense to let him go, Sessions is a starting point guard in the NBA that comes at a fairly cheap price.

Speaking of price, Sessions was also going to be the cheaper of the two to re-sign.  While that can not be a deciding factor in who stays and who goes, it definitely is a factor.  Villanueva has two years on Sessions and has more than just half of a good season under his belt.  Also, with such a strong point guard class in this year’s draft, Sessions’ stock would have been down anyway.

In regards to the draft selection of Brandon Jennings, the Bucks were in a spot where they needed to obtain the best basketball player on their board and they believe they did just that. The Bucks are not one piece away from a championship, so selecting Jennings wasn’t a make or break deal.  Management believed he was the best player available.

Furthermore, today’s game allows for more than one point guard to be on the floor at a time.  If the Bucks really believe Jennings is going to be that good, they would have been foolish to pass on him.  Sessions and Jennings will form great depth in the Bucks backcourt along with Michael Redd and Charlie Bell.  The addition of Jodie Meeks, drafted in the second round, gives them a lot of scoring options that they lacked last year.

Another reason for letting Villanueva hit free agency was the acquisition of power forward Amir Johnson.  After the Jefferson trade to the Spurs, the Bucks sent Fabricio Oberto to the Pistons for the 6′9″ Johnson.  Drafted back in 2005 in the second round by the Pistons, Johnson has had trouble finding minutes on a deep Pistons team.

For the Bucks, Johnson will compete for the starting power forward position with second year forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.  If Johnson’s potential shines through, he will be a steal in the trade and make Bucks fans forget about Villanueva.

As hard as it was, the Bucks were better off letting Charlie Villanueva walk away instead of giving him an offer.  For as good of a guy he was off the court and the way he carried the team through rough portions of last year, the money wasn’t right and the Bucks felt he was dispensable enough to let go.

As for Richard Jefferson, it was also an economic decision that had to be made in order to keep Sessions.  In letting him go, a gaping hole was left at the small forward position that will be filled by Bruce Bowen and Joe Alexander.  While a move like this had to be done, it would have been nice to see some other moves made so that Sessions could be retained while keeping Jefferson as well.

Next year’s Bucks team could really go either way.  Losing two key players in Jefferson and Villanueva will undoubtedly hurt the unit, but new players will get a chance to prove themselves.  Johnson and Alexander will get the most minutes of their careers and Brandon Jennings can learn from Sessions in the backcourt.  It might not happen next year, but things are looking up for the Bucks’ future.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , | Leave a comment

Looking to Next Year: 2010 Mock NBA Lottery Draft

Who says it’s too early to start looking at next year’s NBA draft?

With the top prospects from last year selected on Thursday, draft experts have begun to put together their rankings for 2010.

Here is a mock draft for next year based on 1) who the lottery teams will be, 2) which teams will make the playoffs, and 3) who will declare for the draft.

**Note** Derrick Favors does not declare for the 2010 Draft in this mock…

Western Conference Playoff Teams (in order of record)

Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, and New Orleans Hornets

Eastern Conference Playoff Teams (in order of record)

Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers

NBA Lottery Mock Draft

1. Memphis Grizzlies: John Wall, PG, Kentucky

The Grizzlies are putting together a nice group of young players, but, with so much youth and an inconsistent coaching staff, they could struggle next year. If they select first overall, it will be very hard for them to pass on a talent like Wall.

As of right now, point guard John Wall is the consensus number one pick.

As of right now, point guard John Wall is the consensus number one pick.

I am a believer that Mike Conley can be the future point guard, but Wall is the best prospect in the draft.

With the No. 2, 3, and 5 positions taken care of for the Grizzlies, Wall is a logical choice. The 6′4″ guard will be playing on an excellent Kentucky team this year that has national title hopes that can only show off Wall’s talent even more.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ed Davis, C, North Carolina

Look for the T-Wolves to be a solid team a few years down the road, but, after trading two of their most proven players in Randy Foye and Mike Miller, the growing pains will be large this year.

With Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn entering the starting lineup, this will be a very young team that will need to gain chemistry over time. If they select in the two spot, Ed Davis is the sure pick.

Listed as a power forward, the 6′10″ sophomore plays much bigger than that and is an excellent shot blocker. He will gang up with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love in the frontcourt to form one of the best young trios in the game.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown

Much like the Grizzlies, the Thunder are putting all the pieces together the right way but still need more experience. In what looks to be the last piece of the puzzle, Greg Monroe joins a Thunder team with a ton of potential.

With Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and B.J. Mullens as a core, Monroe will be the finishing piece to one of the best young starting lineups in basketball.

Monroe is still very raw, but will add another year of college basketball seasoning before coming out next year.

4. Sacramento Kings: Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest

Aminu is another player who decided to pull his name from the draft this year and will gain some more experience because of it, just like Monroe.

His stock will either rise considerably, once he shows he can be the go-to guy without the likes of Jeff Teague and James Johnson, or it will drop if he fails to become the leader for the Demon Deacons.

If he is drafted to the Kings, he will join fellow small forwards Andres Nocioni and recent draft pick Omri Casspi. Aminu gives the Kings more of a finesse player than a bruiser and would be a great compliment.

5. Los Angeles Clippers: Willie Warren, PG, Oklahoma

Warren would have been a lottery pick last year but opted to go back to school for one more year. Without the Griffin brothers, on paper it would seem Warren will be in for a rough year.

However, a very solid recruiting class will give Warren a good supporting cast that should warrant him a top five selection. He will also meet up with his old teammate Blake Griffin as the heir apparent to Baron Davis.

6. New Jersey Nets: Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas

For some reason, I think the loss of Vince Carter is going to hurt the Nets more than most people believe. He was the glue that held the team together and was by far the most experienced veteran that played.

Cole Aldrich has a good chance to be a top seven pick in next year's draft.

Cole Aldrich has a good chance to be a top seven pick in next year's draft.

Now, Devin Harris is left to run the team and get them back to the playoffs. Power forward is now the biggest hole for the Nets, and a guy like Aldrich could fill the void.

While he is listed as a center, his game is set more for a power forward in the NBA. He tears down rebounds and has a solid mid-range game on offense. It would not be surprising to see him go earlier than this in next year’s draft.

7. Utah Jazz: Donatas Montiejunas, C, Lithuania

Montiejunas is projected to be a power forward in the NBA but will be able to play both positions. Utah received this pick from the New York Knicks and will take the best player available at this point. Like most foreign players in the draft, Montiejunas has a ton of upside but may slip on draft day. Still, the Jazz will soon need a replacement for Mehmet Okur and Montiejunas gives them a lot of versatility, much like Andrei Kirilenko.

8. Charlotte Bobcats: John Henson, PF, North Carolina

After selecting a Dukie (Gerald Henderson) in this year’s draft, Larry Brown and Michael Jordan go back to their roots and select the next great Tar Heel. The Bobcats are pretty much set all around at the starting positions, so going with the best player left on the board seems right for them.

Henson is the top rated freshman in this year’s high school class and has all the tools to be great. If he can put on muscle and become more polished, he could make an argument for the top spot in the draft next year.

9. Detroit Pistons: Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas

This is the year in which the Pistons go from constant playoff team to lottery.

With Rasheed Wallace likely to be moved via free agency, Detroit will take a hit and begin to rebuild. They have the core to do it with Rodney Stuckey, Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers, and the veterans Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.

However, Henry will be the best player on the board at this spot and become the replacement for Hamilton in the future. While he will play third fiddle to Sherron Collins and Aldrich, Henry’s potential is sky high which will make him a lottery pick.

10. Golden State Warriors: Solomon Alibi, C, Florida State

After drafting Stephen Curry with the seventh pick overall this year, the Warriors backcourt is pretty much set. Monta Ellis and Curry will join Stephen Jackson to form a high scoring, fast-paced break.

In the frontcourt, however, there is much more of a problem.

Andris Biedrins is the only sure thing and, unless a trade for Amar’e Stoudemire occurs, more talent will be needed there. Enter Alibi who is one of the lesser known prospects in this year’s crop thus far.

At 7′1″, he runs the floor extremely well and will give Golden State more options down low.

11. Washington Wizards: Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State

Obtaining Randy Foye and hopefully a healthy Gilbert Arenas will help the Wizards next year, but I believe their window of opportunity has already closed and that they are not deep enough as a team to sniff the playoffs.

To help the rebuilding mode, the Wizards go with Evan Turner out of Ohio State.

The handful of times that I watched him play, I couldn’t help but think he will be a very solid NBA player. He is very long for his size and goes to the hole with power and balance.

Because of his versatility (much like Caron Butler), he can play multiple positions, and if he can work on his jump shot, he will be just fine in the Association.

12. Toronto Raptors: Jarvis Varnado, PF, Mississippi State

With Chris Bosh almost certain to leave after this season, the frontcourt will have a huge hole that needs filling. Varnado is the best defensive player in the college game right now and is poised to make run in the NCAA Tournament this year.

He could be the annual player whose stock rises after an outstanding tournament (Tyreke Evans, anyone?), and he is worth the pick.

If he can develop a more consistent post game, he will be a lottery pick. If he does not, he will be a mid-first rounder.

13. Oklahoma City Thunder: Stanley Robinson, SF, Connecticut

The Oklahoma City Thunder have obtained this pick from the Phoenix Suns and go with Robinson here. With Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and A.J. Price all gone from the Final Four-bound Huskies, Robinson becomes the leader of the team and will enter the spotlight next season.

Devin Ebanks' athleticism is second to none in next year's draft class.

Devin Ebanks' athleticism is second to none in next year's draft class.

Much like Aminu, Robinson will be a make-or-break prospect this upcoming year. His defense and athleticism is outstanding but his lack of an offensive game might keep him out of the lottery.

14. Milwaukee Bucks: Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia

There may be a little bit of bias with this selection, having the Bucks as the ninth place team in the East, but if they stay healthy they will be in the playoff race all year.

However, falling just short means another lottery selection. For the second time in three years, they go with an athletic small forward Mountaineer.

Ebanks has all the potential in the world but is extremely raw in just about every aspect. It would surprise me to see him come out to the draft next year, but on potential alone he could be a lottery pick.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, NBA, NBA Draft | , , | 7 Comments

Projecting Next Year’s NBA Rookies

As this year’s group of rookies set out to begin their respective summer camps, it is never too early to project the rookies in regards to how they will fare next year.

Top Scorer: Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

What better place for the best scorer in the draft to go than the free-shooting Warriors?  In Don Nelson’s system, Curry is going to have a  lot of freedom to roam around the floor and find open looks.  Helping him out will be point guard Monta Ellis whose penetration in the lane will free up Curry.

While Curry’s natural position is at the point, Nelson’s system calls for athletic guards who can do it all.  His range is there and he proved this year that he can pass the ball as well as he can shoot.  With Jamal Crawford being traded to the Hawks before the draft, Curry should be a starter from day one.

The Warriors averaged 108.6 points last year, good for second in the league, and that average could very well go up next year with Curry in the lineup.  PROJECTION: 16.5 points

Top Rebounder: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers

A no-brainer here for the first overall pick in the draft as Griffin should have plenty of minutes to rack up the boards every night.  Center Hasheen Thabeet might be a close second but he does not project to play as many minutes as Griffin this year.

For the Clippers, Griffin will have to compete with Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby for boards, but the 6’10” power forward should have no problem ripping down missed shots.  Last year for the Sooners, Griffin averaged 14.4 rebounds per game to lead the nation.

Blake Griffin averaged 14.4 rebounds per game last year at Oklahoma.

Blake Griffin averaged 14.4 rebounds per game last year at Oklahoma.

While those numbers will obviously go down, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Griffin to average close to double-digit rebounds.  He has the size, athleticism, and instincts that attract him to the basketball on every possession.  PROJECTION: 8.6 rebounds

Top Passer: Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76er’s

Kind of a wildcard pick here and if Ricky Rubio is traded to the Knicks, then I would put him in this spot.  However, Holiday is put on a team where he is going to pick up huge minutes and be playing around good talent.

Projected as a lottery pick in almost every mock draft, a shoulder injury scared teams away that allowed the 76er’s scoop him up.  With Andre Miller leaving to free agency, the keys to the car are now given to Holiday with high expectations.

Last year, the 76er’s were in the top ten in field goal percentage so Holiday should have plenty of chances to pick up dimes.  If Elton Brand can stay healthy, he will join Andre Iguodala as the two main cogs for Holiday’s success.  Starting on a playoff team that shoots good percentages will lead to good things for Holiday.  With excellent court vision and a jump shot in the works, all signs lead to Holiday handing out a lot of assists this year.  PROJECTION: 5.9 assists

Top Teammates: Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves

This seems like an obvious choice here but there is still a chance that Rubio is traded elsewhere.  The Wolves’ front office clearly believed that the two can co-exist in the same backcourt and if this is true, they should form a fantastic duo.  Rubio has a very raw shot that needs work but has court vision unlike any other prospect in the draft.  His teammate Flynn is more of a scorer that looks for his shot more than passing lanes.

If the two are on the court at the same time, size will be a problem but it will be interesting to see how they work off of eachother.  Both have great speed, are tough as nails, and have played on the big stage.

If Flynn can improve his jump shot range just a bit more, he will become a legitimate scoring threat from outside that will, in turn, make Rubio that much better as well.

Top Defender: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Memphis Grizzlies

The best defender in college basketball last year will be the best rookie defender in the NBA next year as well.  One more time, the term of “altering shots” (that I first coined) is where Thabeet makes his money, and while it will not be the same in the much bigger NBA, 7’3″ is 7’3″ and Thabeet will get his fair share of blocks and boards.

He will need to gain some more weight and muscle if he wants to battle down low with the Dwight Howard’s and Shaquille O’Neal’s of the league, but for now he remains a long, athletic big man that will succeed on the defensive end of the floor.  PROJECTION: 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks

Best Backup: Eric Maynor, PG, Utah Jazz

The Jazz’s biggest need going into the draft was finding a backup for Deron Williams and they got their man.  Maynor has great experience and is one of the more NBA-ready point guards in the draft class that can see minutes right away.

Not only will he see the court, but he will learn from Williams that should improve his game even more.  Much like a rookie quarterback in the NFL, being able to sit back and learn as a backup point guard will slow down the game for a guy like Maynor.

Playing behind Deron Williams will do wonders for point guard Eric Maynor.

Playing behind Deron Williams will do wonders for point guard Eric Maynor.

A close second place in this category was Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets.  Much like Maynor, he will be joining a team with a veteran point guard and a team that can shoot the lights out.  Both have experience, good basketball IQ’s, and a mentor that should make them decent pros at worst.

Biggest Sleeper (first round): Toney Douglas, SG, Florida State

If Douglas can put everything together, he could become an excellent pro in Mike D’Antoni’s system.  Along side Chris Duhon, he will have a chance to start and see good minutes right away.

Douglas is a tad bit undersized at 6’2″ but makes up for it with his excellent shot and even better defense.  He runs the court exceptionally well which is always a plus for a fast-paced offense, with the outside range being an added bonus.

He slipped due to his size and age (23), but if he can overcome his lack of size and continue to work on his defense, he has the chance to start one day.

Biggest Sleeper (second round): DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs

For a guy that was projected to be a late lottery pick, it sounds weird to say that Blair is a sleeper.  While many know about him, I completely expect him to exceed expectations of a second rounder and become the next Anderson Varejao.

Jamie Dixon, Blair’s coach at the University of Pittsburgh, said he talked to all 30 teams to let them know Blair never missed a practice or game because of his knees, but clearly some teams still thought it was an issue that let him slip 36 slots.

I don’t think that his offensive game is good enough for him to ever start on a consistent basis, but his rebounding skills and brute strength is good enough for him to play big minutes off the bench.

Playing in San Antonio next to Tim Duncan can only help Blair’s success as well.  With the trade obtaining Richard Jefferson, the Spurs are contenders in the West once again and now have Blair to help the run.

Best Foreign Player Other Than Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings: Omri Casspi, PF, Sacramento Kings

It goes without saying that Rubio and Jennings are expected to outperform all other international players, but after that Casspi is next in line.  I’d be lying if I said I have ever seen him play outside of his draft clip after he was taken, but from what I hear he can be a good role player for the Kings.

When I saw his reel, I saw a more athletic player than Andres Nocioni who he has been compared to for a while.  He has the same tenacity and wreckless play that Nocioni has, but I liked his smooth shot a little more and felt like he played much longer as well.

Everything I hear says he should stay and play in the NBA this year and could have an impact right away.  The transition to the Association will be different, but a player of his talent should make it.

Biggest Difference Maker: Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks

This might be a bit of a homer statement, but I believe that is Jennings can step in right away and play to his tenth pick potential, the Bucks are a playoff team next year.  The Luke Ridnour experiment failed miserably and the selection of Jennings all but said goodbye to Ramon Sessions.  If Charlie Villanueva is re-signed, the Bucks should have a solid nucleus capable of winning 41 games, even without Richard Jefferson.

If Brandon Jennings pans out, he could be the final piece for the Bucks.

If Brandon Jennings pans out, he could be the final piece for the Bucks.

As for Jennings, he joins a solid group of veterans including Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, and should create messes for defenses.  He is a score-first point guard that plays very well in transition, two things the Bucks lacked last year.

Injuries riddled the Bucks last year but if they can stay healthy, the playoffs are not out of the question and Jennings will be a big reason why.

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers

Year in and year out, the Rookie of the Year comes from inside the top ten and this year will be no different.  Griffin was the one bright spot in a draft full of potential and will have the biggest impact on any team this year.  The Clippers are quickly putting together a solid core group with Griffin, Eric Gordon, and Al Thornton that could be very good in a few years.  Griffin should average around 15 points and 9 rebounds and be a highlight reel every time he steps on the court.

June 27, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, NBA, NBA Draft | , , , | Leave a comment

Milwaukee Bucks Draft Review

The 2009 NBA Draft has come and gone with many picks that came as surprises (Minnesota selecting four PG’s) and some picks that did not (Blake Griffin to the Clippers).  Staying in the Midwest, let’s break down the Bucks and what they did last night to improve their team.

Milwaukee Bucks

First Round, 10th Overall: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy

One of the biggest stories of this year’s draft was where Jennings would end up.  Having one of the biggest ceilings of any player in the draft made him an option as early as number four to the Sacramento Kings, but his decision to play in Europe instead of college, making him somewhat of an unknown, meant that there was a chance he slipped out of the lottery.

However, when the Bucks’ pick came around, Johnny Flynn, Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, and Stephen Curry had already been selected.  Jennings was the next highest ranked point guard in front of the likes of Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Jeff Teague.

Why I Liked the Pick: Jennings’ stats in Europe (5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists in 17 minutes) do not reflect the kind of player he is.  His senior year at the prestigious Oak Hill Academy, Jennings set a school record for total points and scoring average in a single season.  This is the same high school that has had Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Josh Smith, and Rajan Rando attend, among others.

The Bucks are hoping Brandon Jennings will be the next big star to come out of Oak Hill Academy.

The Bucks are hoping Brandon Jennings will be the next big star to come out of Oak Hill Academy.

His best asset is his ability to score, giving the Bucks a scoring point guard that they lacked last year.  With a 37 inch vertical, Jennings’ athleticism was second to none in the draft which should make up for his lack of size (6’2″, 165 pounds).  Another one of Jennings’ traits is his ability to push the basketball and find open teammates.

He is a playmaker on offense and gives the Bucks a threat at the position every night.  His lightning quick speed makes it near impossible to stay in front of him and he is an excellent finisher at the hoop.  With Rubio and Flynn off the board, the Bucks took the player with the next biggest upside and a player that could be the steal of the draft as he becomes more polished.

Why I Didn’t Like The Pick: Jennings is a bit of a showboater and a “me-first” player which is not going to fly in Milwaukee.  It’s true that in the NBA, one needs to have an ego to succeed and keep up with the rest of the crowd, but if Jennings comes in with too big of a head, he will be in for a very quick and large reality check.

With Jrue Holiday still on the board, taking Jennings might be a questionable call.  The freshman from UCLA slipped all the way to the 17th pick but easily could have been swiped up by the Bucks.  Like Jennings, Holiday has tremendous upside and more of an NBA frame to build on.

Jennings is also very raw and might take a few years to develop, especially if he can not come in and shoot the ball well.  He needs a more consistent jump shot and needs to make better decisions on the court.  He has been in the spotlight his whole career, so he should be able to make the jump fairly easily.

Defensively, he will need to bulk up a bit more in order to play night in and night out against what will usually be a much bigger point guard (in terms of weight).  His scouting report says that he is a defensive gambler which could be a good thing if he perfects it.

Overall Breakdown: With Flynn and Jordan Hill off the board, Jennings was most likely at the top of the Bucks draft board.  It probably meant that Ramon Sessions has played his last game as a Milwaukee Buck, while management will likely begin negotiating with Charlie Villanueva.  Jennings has superstar potential if he can harness his ego, continue to work on his game, and become more consistent.  OVERALL GRADE: A-

Second Round, 41st Overall: Jodie Meeks, SG, Memphis

One of the group of players who was leaning towards pulling his name out of the draft before the deadline was Meeks.  With the number one recruiting class in the nation back at Kentucky, his senior year awaiting, and the chance to be a favorite for the National Championship, Meeks had many reasons to go back to school and see what could have been.

In the end, Meeks decided to stay in the draft and wound up on a rebuilding and improving Milwaukee Bucks squad.  With a potential future point guard already in the bag, the Bucks stayed in the backcourt and selected one of the purest shooters in the draft not named Stephen Curry.

Why I Liked The Pick: At number 41 overall, Meeks was excellent value for a Bucks team that was looking for the best player available and not neccesarily a need.  Last year, the Bucks ranked 18th in the league in bench scoring with 26.4 points per game and will likely get a boost with Meeks.

No one denies Jodie Meeks' ability to score.

No one denies Jodie Meeks' ability to score.

Despite being one-dimensional for the most part, that one dimension is the only thing Meeks will need to succeed in the NBA.  His long-range shooting was unbelievable this year as he averaged 23.8 points per game, good for eighth in all of college basketball.  Meeks is able to shoot from any spot on the floor and will give the Bucks an Eddie House-type player that can come off the bench and make up baskets.

Why I Didn’t Like The Pick: When looking at Meeks’ game, one could say that he is a poor man’s Michael Redd in the sense of other than scoring, he isn’t going to bring much on a given night.  With a guy like Chase Budinger still on the board who could potentially fill in as a replacement for Richard Jefferson, the pick seems questionable.

Charlie Bell will be back for the Bucks next year as a solid back-up shooting guard so the pick was hardly a need.

Overall Breakdown: Meeks was the best pure shooting guard left on the draft board and will be a scorer in the league.  I doubt he will ever be able to start just because he can’t do much other than shoot, but if he can be Eddie House for the Bucks, the pick will be worthwhile.  I just wonder if Budinger or Danny Green would have been a better decision.  OVERALL GRADE: B

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NBA Draft | , , | Leave a comment

Final Two Round NBA Mock Draft 4.0

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ricky Rubio, PG, DKV Joventut

4. Sacramento Kings: Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Tyreke Evans, PG, Memphis

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Harden, SG, Arizona State

7. Golden State Warriors: Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona

8. New York Knicks: Stephen Curry, G, Davidson

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan, SG, USC

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy

11. New Jersey Nets: Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina

12. Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke

13. Indiana Pacers: Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse

14. Phoenix Suns: Earl Clark, SF, Louisville

15. Detroit Pistons: Austin Daye, SF, Gonzaga

16. Chicago Bulls: Terrence Williams, SG, Louisville

17. Philadelphia 76’ers: Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth

18. Minnesota Timberwolves: B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State

19. Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague, PG, Wake Forest

20. Utah Jazz: DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh

21. New Orleans Hornets: Sam Young, SG, Pittsburgh

22. Portland Trailblazers: Omri Casspi, SF, Israel

23. Sacramento Kings: James Johnson, PF, Wake Forest

24. Dallas Mavericks: Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina

25. Oklahoma City Thunder: Chase Budinger, SF, Arizona

26. Chicago Bulls: Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina

27. Memphis Grizzlies: Derrick Brown, PF, Xavier

28. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonas Jerebko, SF, Italy

29. New York Knicks: Toney Douglas, PG, Florida State

30. Cleveland Cavaliers: Demarre Carroll, PF, Missouri

31. Sacramento Kings: Darren Collison, PG, UCLA

32. Washington Wizards: DaJuan Summers, PF, Georgetown

33. Portland Trailblazers: Victor Claver, PF, Spain

34. Denver Nuggets: Taj Gibson, PF, USC

35. Detroit Pistons: Jeff Pendergraph, PF, Arizona State

36. Memphis Grizzlies: Patty Mills, PG, St. Mary’s

37. San Antonio Spurs: Jerel McNeal, G, Marquette

38. Portland Trailblazers: Josh Heytvelt, PF, Gonzaga

39. Detroit Pistons: Jack McClinton, PG, Miami

40. Charlotte Bobcats: Danny Green, G/F, North Carolina

41. Milwaukee Bucks: John Brockman, PF, Washington

42. Los Angeles Lakers: Rodrgiue Beaubois, PG, France

43. Miami Heat: Jermaine Taylor, SG, Central Florida

44. Detroit Pistons: Ahmad Nivins, PF, St. Joseph’s

45. Minnesota Timberwolves: Christian Eyenga, SG, Congo

46. Phoenix Suns: A.J. Price, PG, Connecticut

47. Minnesota Timberwolves: Sergio Llull, PG, Spain

48. Phoenix Suns: Dante Cunningham, SF, Villanova

49. Atlanta Hawks: Vyacheslav Kravtsov, C, Ukraine

50. Utah Jazz: Leo Lyons, PF, Missouri

51. San Antonio Spurs: Wesley Matthews, SG, Marquette

52. Indiana Pacers: Jodie Meeks, SG, Kentucky

53. San Antonio Spurs: Goran Suton, C, Michigan State

54. Charlotte Bobcats: Patrick Beverly, PG, Ukraine

55. Portland Trailblazers: Dionte Christmas, SG, Temple

56. Dallas Mavericks: Tony Gaffney, PF, UMass

57. Phoenix Suns: Paul Harris, SF, Syracuse

58. Boston Celtics: Nando De Colo, SG, France

59. Los Angeles Lakers: Bryan Mullins, PG, So. Illinois

60. Miami Heat: Jeff Adrien, PF, Connecticut

June 25, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NBA Draft | , , , , | Leave a comment

Scoop Jackson, The Chicago Bulls Are Not That Close

As I read Scoop Jackson’s latest article on ESPN Chicago regarding how the Bulls could be sitting as the frontrunners for a championship, I couldn’t help but think he is way off on these presumptions.  You can read the article here, but let’s break down each of these steps.

1. Draft DeJuan Blair with the 16th pick.

It’s funny that the first step for the Bulls is the one I agree with the most.  Being a Big East guy myself, I have had the pleasure (minus the Marquette-Pitt game) of watching Blair for the last two years and have seen enough to know he is going to be a heck of a pro.

When I watch him play, I automatically think David Lee.  True, Lee is more athletic and taller than Blair.  However, the 6’7″ sophomore has a huge wingspan and is one of the strongest players in the draft.  He will make room for himself in the paint and should be a double digit rebounder in the pros.

The one thing I disagree with Scoop on is when he says “together, [Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and Blair] could create the best young, three-headed monster in the NBA.”  That’s a nice thought and to be honest, those three together are like earth, wind, and fire.  You’ve got the scrappy Noah, the athletic Thomas, and the brusier Blair.

However, having three guys who only do one thing well is not going to get you far.  Teams (Boston, anyone?) will continue to go inside on Thomas, bring Noah and Blair out to the elbow, and drive aggresively. Blair would be a great start but like I said, he doesn’t make automatically make them contenders.

2. Hire Charles Oakley as a special assistant to player development.

Once again, a nice thought if Blair is brought in, but how much good will it do?  Oakley was a pretty good pro who has a storied past in Chicago.  Knowing for being hot-headed at times, Oakley might make Blair into a legitimate enforcer and improve his game somewhat, but that’s about it.

My good friend Brian Bakal pointed out that this is not the equivelant to Kareem coming back to coach Andrew Bynum or Patrick Ewing making Dwight Howard into the next Shaquille O’Neal.

Blair will be a nice player in the league and has the potential to start in the future, but due to his lack of height and athleticism, his ceiling isn’t all that high.

Bringing in Oakley may prove to be a good decision, but I doubt it is in the blueprints for a championship.

3. Use the 26th pick in one of these three options:

Option One: Package No. 26 in a Ben Gordon sign-and-trade deal to be announced July 2.

Option Two: Package the pick in a Luol Deng deal that will be finalized by night’s end.

Option Three: Simply select Wayne Ellington with the 26th pick.

Options one and two come into play later, so let’s assume that they go with option number three.  Ellington may follow the long list of Tar Heel shooting guards to come into the league and do well, but it sure isn’t going to happen this year.  Most players picked at number 26 are not NBA-ready and Ellington is no exception.

Wayne Ellington might be a good player in the NBA, but will it happen next year?

Wayne Ellington might be a good player in the NBA, but will it happen next year?

He has a great jump shot with NBA range and his athleticism should allow for him to grow as a player.  However, he plays shaky defense and doesn’t do a whole lot other than shoot.  If he is going to be a good player, it isn’t going to happen this year.  Scoop’s article is based on the Bulls taking the crown in 2010, but  if Ellington is the pick, he won’t be a contributor this year.

4. Make an agreement with Gordon before Thursday to remain a Bull.

Numbers four and five for Scoop’s article go together and this is the one I disagree with.  In an earlier post, I talked about what the Bulls needed to do next year and Gordon was not in those plans.  It’s time to move away from Gordon and his one-dimensional game.  Especially if that includes getting into a bidding war with the Pistons and (supposedly) the Knicks.  Scoop mentions that the Bulls need to do this to have a “sense of stability about their starting lineup”, but I think they can afford to look elsewhere to find that.

5. Or make an arrangement with Gordon before draft day so that he agrees to a future sign-and-trade with Houston to get Tracy McGrady to replace him.

NOOOOOO!!!!!!  If Scoop is saying that the Bulls should swap out Gordon for McGrady, I’d buy a Gordon jersey to keep him in Chicago.  I started to compare Gordon to McGrady, all things considered, and decided that Gordon is still the better option to have.

First things first, McGrady is expected to miss the first month of the season with lingering knee issues, and once he is back who knows what the future holds.  Sure, McGrady brings the veteran leadership and the All-Star talent and the blah blah blah.  I’m not buying it and am one person who thinks the fact that McGrady has never gone past the first round in the playoffs is more on him than his teammates.

Great players make it happen and he just isn’t one of them.  Combine that with the past injury history, 30 years of age, and swapping out a better, younger Gordon (while saving no money), this looks like the wrong deal.

6. At 10:20 p.m. ET, John Paxson needs to put in a call to Steve Kerr.

I’ll save you the dialouge, but basically Scoop’s next move was to trade Luol Deng, Tim Thomas, and $3.5 million in cash to the Phoenix Suns for Shaquille O’Neal.

And the Suns are going to do this why….?

With teams that are potentially one piece away from being a title contender, the Bulls would have to really up their offer if they want the Suns to pull the trigger on this deal.

The picture says it all: Shaq is worth more than Luol Deng.

The picture says it all: Shaq is worth more than Luol Deng.

Deng is a fine player and has really rounded out his game over the last couple of years, crashing the boards and being more of a team player.  But as many league sources have explained, the Suns are not trying to get rid of Shaq to save money.

In this deal, Thomas is a nothing that would most likely be waived, meaning the deal is pretty much Shaq for Deng.  O’Neal still has a ton left in the tank and the Suns should expect a lot more in return for him.

I guess what that means is technically I agree with Scoop that if the Bulls can make this deal, they should.

7. Get everyone’s ring size if you can make this the Bulls’ 2009-10 roster:

PG: Derrick Rose

SG: Tracy McGrady/Ben Gordon

SF: John Salmons

PF: Tyrus Thomas

C: Shaquille O’Neal

Bench: Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, DeJuan Blair, Wayne Ellington, Brad Miller, Anthony Roberson, DeMarcus Nelson

Rose, Blair, Thomas, and Noah is an outstanding base to start building the franchise around.  The “Baby Bulls” title has to be lifted off some time, but they are still very young with a lot of talent close to blossoming.

To me, it is a question of whether that talent is ready to bloom or whether McGrady and O’Neal will just set the Bulls back two or three years.

Two things still stand out to me as big red flags on the team: Injuries and the lack of defense.

Blair’s knees have caused him to drop down some team’s big boards while others will avoid him completely. McGrady will miss the first month and his knees have been a question mark for a long time now.  O’Neal is up there in age and has to take games off at times in the season.

Defensively, the Bulls would be better off with McGrady, but still not good.  Last year, guards torched the Bulls all season due to the lack of defense shown by the frontcourt.

If Chicago wants to really improve things, go find a defensive stopper that will play on both ends, not just offensively.  Two guys that jump out right away are Terrence Williams or trading both picks for Gerald Henderson.

I applaud Scoop for the article and liked a lot of things that he had to say.  It definitely will get people thinking what the Bulls can do to get back to elite status.

However, some of the thinking is inconsistent as Blair and Ellington are more projects while McGrady and O’Neal would suggest a “win-now” mentality.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, NBA, NBA Draft | , , | 3 Comments

Packers Do The Right Thing and Pay Greg Jennings

Wednesday, the Green Bay Packers and wide receiver Greg Jennings announced a three-year contract extension that will make Jennings one of the highest paid wideouts in the game.  Let’s see how he got there….

The year was 2006 and the Green Bay Packers had just completed their first day of rookie camps. First year Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was asked how the Pack’s latter second round selection, Greg Jennings, had fared in the team’s camp. McCarthy simply replied, “Oh, we didn’t miss on that one”. The rest is history.

Coming out of college, Jennings entered the draft after breaking just about every receiving record for the Western Michigan Broncos.  He was projected as a second-to-third round pick behind the likes of Santonio Holmes, Chad Jackson, Derek Hagan, and Sinorice Moss.

His great route running and even better hands made him a perfect fit for the Packers’ West Coast Offense where he would later thrive.  The two knocks on Jennings going into the draft were his lack of size (just 5’11”) and his speed (4.42 forty at the combine).  Fast forward three years and you’ll find a guy that has as much game speed and quickness of anyone else in the league and a guy that can go up for a jumpball with the best cornerbacks in the league.

Like McCarthy said on that first day of camp, Jennings was everything but a miss.  In his first season, he caught 45 balls for 632 yards and three touchdowns.  In that season, he caught Brett Favre’s 400th touchdown and was named to the AP’s All-Rookie Team.  Over the next two years, Jennings would amass 133 catches, 2302 yards, and 21 touchdowns as one of the most productive receivers in the league.  In Dallas two years ago, he also caught Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown pass ever.

Maybe even more importantly than all that Jennings has done on the field, it has been his actions off the field that make his contract extension that much sweeter.  In a world full of Chad Johnson’s, T.O.’s, and wide receivers that care more about the box score than the standings, Jennings is truly a breath of fresh air.

The Packers accomplished their biggest off-season goal of re-signing Greg Jennings.

The Packers accomplished their biggest off-season goal of re-signing Greg Jennings.

Not once has he called out a quarterback, demanded the ball more, or showboated after showing.  On the contrary, the first thing Jennings does after a score is find his wide receiver counterparts and celebrate with them.

During interviews, Jennings sports a huge smile and talks about how exciting it is to play with Rodgers, get better, and watch his teammates get better as well. He is everything that you could ask for in a wide receiver.

It’s only a matter of time before veteran Donald Driver hangs his cleats up and passes the wide receiver torch to Jennings, but with the way he holds himself there should not be much of a drop off.  It is very easy to see the effect that Driver has had on Jennings.

In that same sense, Jennings will now focus his attention to breeding young receivers like Jordy Nelson and James Jones, making sure they play to their full potential and do it the right way.

The Packers now have the potential to create one of the best scoring tandems in team history with Rodgers and Jennings now signed for at least the next four years.

Jennings reminds me a lot of Larry Fitzgerald who doesn’t have the size of a Terrell Owens or the speed of a Chad Johnson.  Still, he puts in his time week in and week out, works his tail off, and most importantly has fun playing the game.

All these things combined equaled a big pay day for Jennings, and it could not have happened to a better guy.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Thanks For Everything, Dad

First of all Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and any other father figures in your life. It’s a day where we give out funny cards that we can find, buy them something nice and try not to annoy them while they watch the matinee baseball game and(hopefully) the end of the US Open.

But one thing that tends to go overlooked, in my case at least, is the thanks that we give our dads for opening us up to the world of sports. As I sit here at 19 years old, spitting out blogs and constantly checking ESPN.com for the latest updates, I do not want this thanks to go unnoticed anymore.

As a child, I can remember always having sports in my life. With a dad that was as passionate about sports as anyone I knew, and an athletic brother two years older than me, I had no other choice. I would always have some kind of ball in my hand and, any chance I could, would watch whatever game was on with my dad.

I can remember playing basketball out in my driveway, acting as both teams in the game and playing all the way to 100. When my dad got home, he was the first one to ask how the game went and if the team he liked more won.

Some of my favorite memories came from playing catch out in the street with my dad, where he would make grounders tough on me and fly balls even harder.

One specific memory I have of playing catch was when my dad drifted me over towards the fire hydrant to see if I would still go for the catch. Well, one bruised knee later and a few tears shed, I had caught the ball and the inning was over.

As for football in the street, when we weren’t playing catch he was punting the ball to me and having me work on my returning. One fateful day, for him, he told me that if I caught the next punt that I would get ice cream for a year in 2011.

He put as much muscle into it as any other punt as it headed for the bushes in front of our house, which at the time were taller than me. After a dive into the thorny bushes, that probably wasn’t worth the ice cream, I came out holding the football in what has become an awesome memory for me and my dad.

Rounding out the driveway sports was our awesome games of H.O.R.S.E or one-on-one matchups in basketball. I will go to my grave saying that Tim Duncan learned his trademark bank shot from my father, which usually gave him a quick “H-O” to nothing start in games.

When we would play against each other, I would always drive in on him and make contact to try to score my points. He taught me to never shy away from contact when going to the hoop because,more likely than not, it would draw a foul or the defender would get out of the way.

He explained how if I faded away from contact to try to get a clean shot off that I would never get any calls. Years later, I would lead my CYO team to a City Championship where I led the team in getting to the free throw line.

As a player, my dad was always my biggest fan and my biggest critic. Not to say that him being a critic was a bad thing, but he always told me what I could do better and how to do that.

As a father of myself and my three brothers, my dad has coached more baseball and basketball teams than he can probably count. Every year and every team that he coached, he acted as the third base coach for the team. Being small but fast, my dad perfected the art of the bunt for me and made it something I would do often at the plate.

As a travel baseball coach, my dad probably spent more time in car rides to Wisconsin for tournaments than he did driving to work. As a baseball player, my dad and I went to tournaments in Cooperstown, Disney World, and just about every Wisconsin town there is.

As I mentioned before, there was always a TV or radio on in my house with a game on. My dad, a die-hard fan of the Packers and Brewers, instilled the importance of loyalty to me. Being a Packers fan in the 80’s will do that to a man.

More importantly was the way that my dad involved me in sports trips to Wisconsin. He very easily could have brought a friend or co-worker to a Packers game, but instead took his sons and tailgated, bought us souvenirs in the pro shop, and an endless supply of hot chocolate for December Packers games. When the Green and Gold were out of town, Overtime Sports Bar and Grill was always the destination after church on Sunday.

As I moved into college at Marquette University, my dad still took me to Brewers games that were just a few minutes away from campus, and also picked me up on the way to Lambeau. It was then that my dad started a whole new “era” of helping me out in my love of sports.

When I started my blog online, I really did not expect it to grow into something as big as what it has. I have tried to post something every day instead of posting a couple of times on the Marquette basketball team once in a while. Just like he did in the driveway, in the third base coaching box, in section 125, row 25 at Lambeau Field, my dad was right there next to me as my biggest fan.

I could come to him with ideas, opinions, and statistics to see what he thought of them all. From there, I used those talks, sometimes arguments, that we had and turned them into blog posts that have been read by over 40,000 fans. None of what I post on my blog would be possible without 19 years of support from my biggest fan, my dad.

Last year, I sat in on Steve “Homer” True’s ESPN radio show in Milwaukee to get a feel for what a studio was like. I took away a lot from the experience, but the main thing he put in my head was that nothing I do in the sports world will be possible without passion.

Looking back on everything I have done in my life involving sports, I owe it all to my dad for giving me that passion to make me my best at everything I do and cheering me along the whole time.

He gives me a roof to sleep under, a chance to go to college and earn a degree, endless laughs on jokes, and the instruction manual on how to be an awesome dad.

But even more than all those things, the memories of sports I will have with my dad mean more to me than anything, and something I will keep with me forever. Thanks, dad.

June 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

My Take: The National League All Star Team to Date

The Starters

Catcher: Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants

Molina leads all catchers in the National League with ten home runs and 36 RBI’s and is one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He has commanded a great pitching staff to go along with his offensive numbers and has the Giants flying under the radar.

First Base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

This is about as big of a no-brainer as you can have here in taking Pujols. While there are other first basemen having great years, Pujols gets the job done everywhere and is putting up ridiculous numbers with 23 home runs and 58 runs driven in, all while batting .323.

Surprise, Surprise: Albert Pujols will be starting at first base for the NL All Stars.

Surprise, Surprise: Albert Pujols will be starting at first base for the NL All Stars.

Second Base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

Utley is also a pretty easy choice here at second base as no one can match his power numbers on offense (15 home runs) and amazing on-base percentage (.490). He does a little bit of everything on offense but has been a little shaky on defense this year with five errors.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

While the popularity contest is holding strong with Jimmy Rollins leading the votes here, Ramirez is putting together a great year that can not go unnoticed. I have seen him play two series against the Brewers this year and he has been unbeatable.

Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets

While his power numbers are down (just four home runs), Wright is batting .357 and has stolen a ridiculous 18 bases this year. He has been keeping the up-and-down Mets afloat so far and, in my book, slightly edges out Ryan Zimmerman for the starting nod.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Braun is quietly putting up outstanding numbers that have been overshadowed by Prince Fielder’s MVP-type first half. For the year, Braun has hit 14 home runs and 46 RBI’s while batting .318.

Outfield: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies

PED accusations or not, Ibanez has put up monster numbers and, despite going on the DL today, is a sure-fire starter in this year’s All-Star Game. The Phillies’ fans crazy voting numbers and Ibanez’s 21 home runs and 57 RBI’s are a pretty good combo to get a starting nod.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets

After Braun and Ibanez, the third spot in the outfield is up in the air. In the actual fan voting, Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino and even Manny Ramirez are keeping pace with Beltran, but it’s hard to argue against what Beltran has done this year. As always, the five tool center fielder is putting up great numbers and should start in the Midsummer Classic.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

Cain has been dominating this year with a 9-1 record and a 2.39 ERA. While his strikeout numbers aren’t great and he walks a fair amount of batters, he finds ways to get outs and win ballgames. In his starts this year, the Giants are 10-3.

Pitcher: Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers

Billingsley has struggled as of late but still continues to be the workhorse for the Dodgers pitching staff. He has posted a 9-3 record with an ERA under three and also struck out over a batter per inning.

Pitcher: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks

Haren might be the best pitcher with a 5-4 record on the planet, as he boasts a 2.20 ERA and has walked 13 batters in 90 innings. His WHIP stands at 0.81 (no one in the NL has a WHIP under 1.00) and in his four losses, his offense has scored two runs while Haren has given up seven.

Absolutely no one has stopped Matt Cain this year, making him the starting pitcher for the NL.

Absolutely no one has stopped Matt Cain this year, making him the starting pitcher for the NL.

Pitcher: Johan Santana, New York Mets

As bad as his last outing was against the Yankees, Santana is still a sure-fire all star this year. He has struck out 94 batters in just 82 innings while winning eight games already. I’ve mentioned this stat before, but in Santana’s first two losses, he gave up a combined zero earned runs.

Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

Gallardo has really stepped up his game this year and has become the ace of the first place Brewers. He sports a 7-3 record with a 2.93 ERA and opponents are batting just .193 against him, good for fourth in the National League. Command has been an issue as of late but he has also struck out 85 batters this year.

Relief Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets

K-Rod has been just as good this year as he was last year and, outside of the number of saves, one could argue he has been better. He has 17 saves on the year with just one blown and sports a 0.56 ERA in 32.1 innings.

Relief Pitcher: Heath Bell, San Diego Padres

When Trevor Hoffman bolted to Milwaukee in the off-season, the biggest question was how the Padres would replace the all-times saves leader. Well, Bell has been every bet as good as Hoffman was and earns his first All Star appearance because of it. He leads the NL with 18 saves and a 1.56 ERA.

Relief Pitcher: Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers

Despite missing the first month of the season with a rib injury, Hoffman is still at the top of the leaderboard with 17 saves and a 1.31 ERA. Despite being shaky as of late (a loss and a blown save in his last two appearances), Hoffman has walked just three batters in 20.1 innings and has blown just the one save.

The Back-Ups

Backup Catcher: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

McCann leads all National League catchers with a .325 batting average and has six homers on the year to go with 25 RBI’s. These numbers are even more impressive considering he has missed a decent amount of time with injury this year.

Backup First Baseman: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

An easy choice here as Fielder is as close to a starting nod over Pujols as anyone ever has been. He leads the Major Leagues with 64 RBI’s and is batting over .300 with 16 home runs. After Ibanez, Fielder is next in line in the MVP talks.

Backup Second Baseman: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

Phillips is enjoying a nice year just as long as he keeps his mouth closed (stated the Reds were better than the Brewers after being swept by them…) and is a solid choice as a reserve. He is batting .280 this year with ten home runs, 43 RBI’s and eight stolen bases.

Backup Shortstop: Miguel Tejada, Houston Astros

Where is this Miguel Tejada coming from? On the year, the 35-year-old veteran is batting .342 with six home runs and an NL shortstop-leading 37 RBI’s. His defense is down but his bat has all but mad up for it this year.

Backup Third Baseman: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

It would be an understatement to say Zimmerman is the bright spot on a rather dark season for the Nats. Zimmerman has hit 12 home runs this year and leads all third basemen with 42 RBI’s. Zimmerman will easily be the lone rep for Washington.

Backup Outfielder: Nate McClouth, Atlanta Braves

While he is not getting much love from the fan vote, McClouth is putting together an outstanding year. For some reason, the Pirates did not want his ten home runs, 36 RBI’s, nine stolen bases, and gold glove defense. The All-Star roster should suit him just fine this year.

Backup Outfielder: Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies

Say what you will about Coors Field, Hawpe is having a fantastic year and deserves to play in the All-Star Game. At .343, Hawpe leads the National League in batting and also has nine home runs and 47 RBI’s to go with it. His 23 doubles also lead the National League.

Everyone talks about Manny in LA's outfield, but Matt Kemp is putting together a great year.

Everyone talks about Manny in LA's outfield, but Matt Kemp is putting together a great year.

Backup Outfielder: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

Somewhat of a sleeper pick here, but I love Kemp’s game and believe that he is an All Star this year. He has put his whole repertoire in front of the national spotlight and the results have been eight home runs, 37 RBI’s, 16 stolen bases and a .316 batting average. Kemp ranks first or second in all of those categories for center fielders.

Reserves

Best of the Rest: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

Apologies to Adrian Gonzalez, but I give the nod to Howard in this case. Maybe it’s that he got hot too early in the voting or that he plays on the west coast, but I like Howard’s game more and think he deserves this spot. Howard has 19 home runs and 51 RBI’s on the year, so this selection isn’t terribly biased.

Best of the Rest: Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Every team must be represented in the All Star Game, and since Nate McClouth no longer sports the black and gold, Sanchez gets in as the lone representative. On the year, Sanchez is hitting his usual .314 with an on-base percentage of .355 with 36 runs scored.

Best of the Rest: Orlando Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers

While Hudson has cooled off somewhat, his statline this year has been very solid and has earned himself a spot on the roster. His .310 batting average to go along with a .388 on-base percentage has kept the Dodgers offense rolling without Manny Ramirez. He also sports a .987 fielding percentage, good for third in the NL.

Best of the Rest: Ted Lilly, Chicago Cubs

I have become a huge fan of the North Sider southpaw and he is deserving of an all-star spot this year. At 7-4, he has led one of the best rotations in baseball with a 2.94 ERA and just 20 walks in 85.2 innings.

Best of the Rest: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

Although he has been overshadowed by Cain’s dominating stuff this year, Lincecum has done more than hold his own with a 6-2 record and 112 strikeouts in 96 innings to lead the National League.

Adrian Gonzalez might make the All Star team, but is he really better than Ryan Howard?

Adrian Gonzalez might make the All Star team, but is he really better than Ryan Howard?

Best of the Rest: Jason Marquis, Colorado Rockies

Pitching in Colorado is never easy but Marquis has stepped up to the challenge and done an excellent job. While his numbers are better away from Coors Field, he still has eight wins on the year with an ERA under four.

Best of the Rest: Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins

Johnson might be one of the best pitchers that no one talks about, sporting a 6-1 record with an impressive 2.76 ERA. The Marlins are 11-3 when Johnson takes the hill, and the tall right hander owns a 2.02 ERA at home.

Best of the Rest: Jonathon Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

Broxton has been crazy good this year with a 6-0 record to go along with 16 saves. The flame thrower has struck out 53 batters in 33 innings, meaning that over half of his outs recorded come by strikeouts.

Fan Vote-In: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

Upton, May’s Player of the Month, has been very good this year on an average D-Backs squad. The 21-year-old is batting .308 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI’s and has scored 40 times on the year. He also has four triples and an on-base percentage close to .400 (.391).

Sorry!

Apologies To: Juan Pierre (LAD), Pablo Sandoval (SF), Shane Victorino (PHI), Adrian Gonzalez (SD), Zach Duke (PIT), Johnny Cueto (CIN), Adam Wainwright (STL), Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)

June 18, 2009 Posted by | All Star Game, Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Different Take: The Bucks Should Take a Power Forward

In an earlier article, I gave reasons why the Bucks needed to take Johnny Flynn.  I believe he will be one of the two best point guards to come out of this year’s draft and can help the Bucks right away.  He could be the missing piece to a veteran team not that far away from the playoffs and, if he is there at the number ten spot, I would love for the Bucks to nab him.

However, this draft is completely up in the air as to who will be taken and many teams in front of Milwaukee need a point guard as well, including Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Minnesota, and New York.  There is a chance Flynn, who has performed extremely well in workouts, will be gone when the Bucks pick, so there are other options they might look at.

Playing the devil’s advocate, I’d like to give reasons why the Bucks would be better off taking a power forward in this year’s draft over one of the many point guards expected to go in the lottery and first round.

If the Bucks were to pass on a point guard, it would need to be that there was a competent player on the roster that would allow the team to not worry about the position.  Enter Ramon Sessions.  The 23-year-old out of Nevada just completed his second season in the NBA, finishing with 12.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in 79 games.

The second half of the Bucks’ season saw Sessions enter the starting lineup as he started the team’s last 35 games.  For the year, he started 39 games and in those games saw almost all of his averages increase to 15.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 7.6 assists.

He showed that he is clearly ready to take on a starting role in the NBA and has formed a solid chemistry with the rest of the starting unit, something that is hard to come by for a young player.

The Bucks have two key free agents that need to be re-signed this year in Sessions and power forward Charlie Villanueva.  General manager Scott Hammond has already said signing both players looks to be out of the question and that one player will not be there next year.

From a financial standpoint, Sessions will be the cheaper of the two to sign at this point in both of the players’ careers.  Because of that and the potential that Sessions brings as a starting point guard for a long time, he needs to be re-signed over Villanueva this off-season.

If Sessions were to be brought back next year, there is a very good chance that Villanueva would pack his bags and find a new destination.  With this potential move, there would be a gaping hole at the power forward position that the Bucks would need to address via the draft.

Looking at the current roster, last year’s second round pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute showed a ton of promise for the future as he averaged 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds off the bench.  He proved that he can be a solid back-up for the team but, at 6’8″, probably is not big enough to play every day at power forward.

Other than Mbah a Moute, the Bucks’ roster features journeymen and deep bench players when it comes to power forward, meaning the four spot will surely be addressed on June 25th.

As much as the draft features a potential 11 first round point guards, the power forward position is plentiful as well and there are a few names that could be called when the Bucks pick in the ten spot.

Jordan Hill added a great post game on offense to his arsenal this year.

Jordan Hill added a great post game on offense to his arsenal this year.

The first option for the Bucks would be Jordan Hill, a 6’10” power forward from the University of Arizona.  Before the lottery, Hill was considered a top three pick by many over the likes of Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden, and in some people’s minds, Ricky Rubio.

As a junior, Hill took his game to a completely different level while averaging 18.3 points and 11 rebounds to go with 1.7 blocks.  Known as a defensive stopper his first two years, he rounded out his game and led the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 appearance in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

For whatever reason, Hill’s name has slid slightly down the draft boards as pre-draft workouts and combines have taken place.  Some believe there is chance he is still taken as high as fourth by the Sacramento Kings, while others think he can drop all the way down to the Bucks.

Hill struggled somewhat during one-on-one drills in a few pre-draft camps and finished dead last at the combine with a lane agility test of 12.23 seconds.  However, his feel for the game and blue-collar approach has made him a very likeable player and one that can play in the Association for quite some time.

Names like Tyreke Evans, Stephon Curry, and DeMar DeRozan have all been seeming to jump past Hill these days and it is now a mystery as to where he might go.  It could be the less-than-stellar performances at the workouts or that Hill isn’t the flashiest player in this year’s draft, but if he is available at pick ten, the Bucks would be wise to make him their power forward of the future.

With so many teams taking a look at Hill, it would be no surprise to see him selected before the Bucks pick, but there are other players out there worthy of the tenth pick.

The next best option would be Earl Clark, a 6’10” junior from Lousiville.  While he does not possess the build of a true power forward, his height and skills allow for him to be a tweener at the position. Much like a Lamar Odom or Charlie Villanueva, Clark can play both positions and play both very well.  Prior to last year, Clark was a consensus top-five pick that was ready to carry Lousiville deep into the NCAA Tournament.

While Clark was on the Big East Champion Cardinals that took the title of the number one overall seed in the tournament, his year was somewhat of a letdown.  He averaged 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds but only shot 45.7 percent from the field and did not use his size as much as scouts would have liked him to.

Still, he is one of the rare players whose body might suit him better in the pros than the college game.  He has all the potential to be a great player in the league if he puts the time in, and while he is not the traditonal power forward, the Bucks may take a stab at him at number ten.

DeJuan Blair has all the potential in the world, but can he stay healthy?

DeJuan Blair has all the potential in the world, but can he stay healthy?

Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair has looked very good in pre-draft workouts and has caught the eye of a few teams in the lottery.  However, there are many concerns about his knees being able to hold up in the pros that have scared off a few teams.  While he stands just 6’8″, Blair is as tough as they come and uses that to offset his lack of size at power forward.

Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina’s all-time scoring leader, has also seen his stock rise over the last month and is another potential pick for the Bucks.  As much as the label comes with him, Hansbrough brings more energy to the game than anyone else in the draft.  The athleticism is there and he measured out bigger than most thought, making him an option at power forward.

James Johnson, another undersized power forward from Wake Forest, has loads of potential but has not shown it in workouts thus far.  His stock has fallen considerably and would be a huge reach for the Bucks, especially because his name has not been linked to Milwaukee once.

At the end of the day, there is a good chance that the Bucks pull the trigger on a point guard.  This is one of the deepest drafts for point guards in recent memory and there are potential gems everywhere.  However, if Rubio, Evans, Curry, Flynn, and even Holiday are all taken, it could potentially cause the Bucks to change their direction that they take in the draft.  In eight days, it will all be figured out.  For now, we can only wait.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NBA Draft | , | 1 Comment

Each Team’s Flaws in the National League Central

As of today, the National League Central is the closest division in all of baseball as all six teams are within four and a half games of first place. Leading the way are the Milwaukee Brewers with a 35-29 record followed by the Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, Pirates, and finally the Astros. As we are about a third of the way into the season, each team in the division has a flaw that will need to be fixed if they are to have a shot at winning the division.

Milwaukee Brewers, 35-29, First Place

Flaw: Starting Pitching

What’s Wrong: Yovani Gallardo has pitched very well this year and has picked up the slack that the rest of the rotation has failed to do. With a 6-3 record, the 24-year-old has the best record on the staff and has been dubbed the team’s ace.

However, after Gallardo things become extremely foggy as to who will step up for the Brewers. The rest of the rotation (including the recently demoted Manny Parra) has a 16-18 record with a 5.42 ERA. As a whole, the rotation ranks 22nd in innings pitched and 23rd in ERA. While some of the blame for the fluctuated stats can be blamed on Parra, the starters have not been good at all as of late.

Dave Bush started the year off very well and looked like a number two pitcher the Brewers could rely on, but recently has struggled mightily and not given the innings expected of him.

The Brewers’ bullpen ranks third in ERA and if it were not for their lights out performance this year, the Brewers would be a .500 team at best. Also, their offense continues to be led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, who leads the National League in RBI.

How To Fix It: The Brewers sent Parra to AAA Nashville last week and, with two off days in the near future, will not need a fifth starter until June 27th. It is not clear whether or not he will rejoin the team when his turn in the rotation comes around, but he is just the beginning of the problem.

Trade rumors have been swirling all over the place involving J.J. Hardy or Corey Hart going to the American League for pitching, but that is more than likely not going to be the case. As for the starters on the team, they need to start throwing strikes and pitching longer. Their starters rank fourth in the league in walks allowed and, as said above, are not pitching late into ballgames.

Jeff Suppan will be key for the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch.

Jeff Suppan will be key for the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch.

Jeff Suppan has settled down after a rough start and Braden Looper is slowly becoming more consistent. It is almost a matter of time before the bullpen can not keep covering up the below-average starting pitching.

Seth McClung might be asked to move to the rotation when a fifth starter is needed, and last year he fared decently in his new role. With no option in the minors (other than Parra), it will be very interesting to see which route general manager Doug Melvin takes to fixing the fifth spot in the rotation.

Can It Be Fixed?: Fortunately, the woes of the starting rotation look like they can be fixed. Gallardo continues to impress and give the Brewers a great chance of winning every five days.

The rest of the rotation will need to continue to throw strikes and not give up free passes, something that every starter (OK, maybe not Parra) is capable of doing. If a trade were to occur, it would almost certainly fix the problems for the rotation, but Milwaukee’s top offense might suffer.

St. Louis Cardinals, 34-30, Second Place

Flaw: Offense outside of Albert Pujols

What’s Wrong: For as many years as slugger Albert Pujols has been in the majors, he has been one of the top hitters in the game. Many argue he is the best and I would be one in his corner on that argument. This year has been no different, as the 29-year-old has a .324 batting average, 22 home runs, 57 RBI, 50 runs scored, and an OPS of 1.131, all leading the team.

Manager Tony LaRussa has never had to worry about the third spot in his lineup, but the rest of the order has been an issue this year. As a team, the Cardinals rank 22nd in batting average with a .254 mark. Not counting Pujols, they have one everyday player hitting over .280 and just two players that have hit more than four home runs.

Even with Pujols in the lineup, the Cardinals’ offense has been average at best this year.

How To Fix It: From an offensive standpoint, no team in the league has been hit harder with injury than the Cardinals. Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel, two of St. Louis’ best hitters, have both missed significant time with injuries and the offense has clearly struggled because of it. Both have since returned to action but still do not seem fully comfortable in the lineup just yet.

In other spots, Troy Glaus has yet to play this year recovering from shoulder surgery and Khalil Greene has done nothing while battling anxiety-related problems. The Cardinals need to fix this problem by getting and staying healthy because, as good as their rookies have been filling in, the offense (and no offense for that matter) can not survive with all these injuries.

Pujols will continue to hit like he always has but the rest of the lineup will need to step up. This also means being more selective at the plate, as the Cardinals rank 22nd in walks and 21st in on-base percentage.

Can It Be Fixed?: Last year’s Cardinals team was pretty much the same and ranked 12th in runs scored, so the ability to score runs is there. Ankiel and Ludwick need to start hitting and get the Cardinals back to last year’s form.

As good as the Cards’ pitching has been, the lack of support from the offense has kept them from pulling away in the division. Glaus, who hit 27 home runs and drove in 99 runs last year, could be the X-factor in the lineup when he eventually comes back.

Cincinnati Reds, 31-31, Third Place

Flaw: Hitting for average

What’s Wrong: On paper, the Reds have a very good ballclub and were the darkhorse to contend for the NL Central this year. However, very little of that potential has carried over and the Reds stand at .500, a place that they should be very happy to be at. Their pitching has been outstanding this year as they hold a 3.89 team ERA, but the offense has struggled mightily.

As a rookie, Jay Bruce enjoyed a fantastic season hitting 21 home runs and driving in 52 in just 108 games last year. This year, the story has been much different as Bruce is batting just .213 with an on-base percentage of .298. While he has 15 home runs already, the Reds were expecting him to be more than an Adam Dunn replica (Bruce has 49 strikeouts in 60 games).

Paul Janish and Ryan Hanigan are the only position players batting above .275, but neither have an on-base percentage over .400. If the pitching falters even just a hair in games, the Reds have a tough time staying in ballgames.

How To Fix It: The main problem for the Reds has been the loss of second-year first baseman Joey Votto. On the year, Votto is hitting .357 with 45 hits in just 32 games. However, he has missed the last 15 games for the Reds while he battles stress-related problems.

Because of the seriousness of his condition, there is no timetable for his return and the Reds have moved on without him for now. At the time of his injury, he led the National League in hitting and was a huge key to the Reds’ success. Without him, their offense has struggled mightily and will continue to do so until he comes back.

The Reds have to hope that Jay Bruce can turn things around and that leadoff man Willy Taveras, who is mired in an 0-32 slump, can begin to hit again and help a pitching staff that has carried the team thus far.

Once Votto comes back, the lineup should be manageable and the number in the hit column should increase.

Can It Be Fixed?: Unlike the first two teams, it doesn’t seem like the Reds are ever going to hit for average. They place in a big-time hitter’s ballpark, so power numbers will always be up.

Unfortunately, for a team batting .243 on the year, it doesn’t matter how many home runs they hit. If the pitching continues to be stellar, they might be able to stay in the NL Central race, but I am not counting on it.

Chicago Cubs, 30-30, Fourth Place

Flaw: Offense

What’s Wrong: Heading into the year, the Cubs were the sure-fire frontrunners to win the NL Central. Not only did they score more runs than anyone in the National League, but they were also bringing in a big bat in Milton Bradley that was only going to add to the offense.

The North Siders are wondering where Alfonso Soriano's bat has gone.

The North Siders are wondering where Alfonso Soriano's bat has gone.

Fast forward two and a half months and the Cubs’ hitting coach has been fired, the Cubs rank 26th in batting average, 28th in runs scored, 21st in slugging, and 8th in strikeouts. Not exactly what fans pictured entering the year to say the least. The Cubs’ starting pitching has been as good as anyone’s over the last month but the offense has failed to give them any help.

The Cubs have a 2.08 team ERA in the month of June and their record is 5-6…something is wrong with that. No starter on the Cubs has a batting average over .285 and Derrek Lee leads the team with 27 RBI.

To put that in perspective, Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder had 31 RBI in the month of May. Simply put, the team is not hitting and until they do, they will struggle as a team.

How To Fix It: Like Cincinnati, the Cubs are also missing their best hitter in Aramis Ramirez. When he was injured May 8th against the Brewers, he had a team-high .364 batting average with four home runs and 16 RBI’s in 18 games. He is expected to miss time up until the All-Star Break and a week or two after that, but the Cubs desperately need him back.

Leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano has seen his batting average drop to .229, Kosuke Fukudome’s is down to .266, and Geovany Soto, last year’s Rookie of the Year, is batting just .223.

There really is no remedy or something that the Cubs can be doing to improve their hitting other than putting the ball in play. Soriano will come around soon enough and Lee has heated up in a big way to keep the offense alive.

Fukudome should see his numbers stay around where they are right now and as for Soto, the sophomore slump has hit him extremely hard.

The Cubs proved that they are not deep enough to survive an injury like Ramirez’s and until he comes back, the offense will struggle. When he comes back, hopefully the protection he gives to hitters in front of him will pay off.

Can They Fix It?: The Cubs offense is not getting any younger and it seems like their offense’s window of opportunity is closing faster than general manager Jim Hendry expected it to. Slumps will happen over the course of a 162 game season but there might be reason to worry in Chicago if this constant struggle continues.

A re-evaluation will be necessary when Ramirez comes back, because the offense is completely different with him in it.

Pittsburgh Pirates, 30-33, Fifth Place

Flaw: Batting for Power

What’s Wrong: Most of the time, a team that whose main problem is hitting for power would not seem like a huge deal. However, with the Pirates it is a definite problem and one that needs to be addressed.

On the year, the Pirates have hit just 36 home runs as a team and are slugging .392 as a team. They actually rank 15th in the league in extra-base hits, but power is still an issue. Adam LaRoche leads the team with eight home runs and only one other player, Freddy Sanchez, has hit more than five homers.

The Pirates also recently traded away their best power hitter in Nate McLouth who has nine home runs on the year. While it seems that the Pirates are below average in just about every category, their inability to hit the long ball makes it very hard for them to come back in games when they trail.

They rank 11th in the majors in batting average but just 18th in runs scored.

How To Fix It: For a team that is having trouble hitting for power, trading away your team leader in home runs was an interesting start. As always, the Pittsburgh front office explained how they were trying to build a championship team and not a .500 team.

Nate McLouth was the Pirates' best option for power.

Nate McLouth was the Pirates' best option for power.

After a while, fans get tired of hearing this because nothing ever pans out for the Pirates. A way to fix this power outage would be to make a trade at the deadline that would provide a big bat in the middle of the lineup, but it seems like there is no way that happens.

It’s hard to think of the last time the Pirates were buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline.

Can They Fix It?: Pittsburgh ranked 21st in home runs last year with 153 round trippers, but that was also including McClouth’s 26 homers.

Last year’s rank does indicate that there is room to believe this team can start hitting for more power, but the question is whether or not that will be enough to compete in the NL Central. There are more flaws here than just power that also need to addressed.

Houston Astros, 29-32, Sixth Place

Flaw: Age

What’s Wrong: The Houston Astros, at 30.4 years old, have the oldest team in the major league. While it might be confusing to see this as a flaw, it’s more of a problem than a flaw.

Year in and year out, the Astros have a great team on paper with a lineup that includes Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, and Hunter Pence. Even Michael Bourn has done an excellent job this year and stepped up into a lineup that should produce. In the rotation, Roy Oswalt is always a reliable starter and Wandy Rodriguez has finally broken through as a top lefty in the game.

However, the pitching staff ranks 23rd in innings pitched and, outside of Michael Bourn, they have stolen just 21 bases.

How Do They Fix It: It’s impossible to fix being the oldest team in the league without trading for younger players, but that is what the Astros have been rumored to be doing. Tejada has been rumored to a few teams including the Cardinals, who have some of the best young players with a ton of potential.

The ‘Stros need some youth and rejuvenation to their team that they clearly are not getting with their current lineup. Until they do that, they will always be in the mix but run out of gas at the end of the year.

An old team will do that to you and that is exactly where the Astros stand.

Can They Fix It?: The Astros realize that, despite being just 4.5 games out of first place, they probably are not contenders in the NL Central this year.

Because of that, they are looking to get younger by putting Tejada on the trading block in return for some youngsters. If they can hit on a few draft picks and develop some young pitchers, the outlook is bright for them.

As for this year, Tejada has been their best hitter so getting younger will come with a price in that sense. Still, depending on who they get back it might give them that energy that they need to make a push.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | Leave a comment

Lakers-Magic: Six Keys To Success Revisited

Before the start of the 2009 NBA Finals, six keys were brought to the table as the things that either the Magic or the Lakers would need to do in order to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the series.  Let’s take a look at how each of these keys played out in the five games that took place.

1. Will Dwight Howard take over the series or can someone slow him down?

The 6’11” manchild averaged 15.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game in the series and overall played pretty well.  However, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum did enough to make sure that he did not take over the series. It became evident as the games went on that Howard does not have very many moves in his arsenal down low.  Also, the Lakers did a good job of denying Howard the ball, which on occasion, led to offensive fouls.

Defensively, Howard really played exceptionally well.  He averaged 2.6 blocks per game including a nine-swat performance in game four and shutdown the Lakers frontcourt pretty well.  Pau Gasol got his expected averages of 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds, but outside of him the Lakers were quiet in the paint.  It seemed that only Kobe was able to get in the lane and do any damage.  Unfortuantely, that was enough.

Overall, Howard had an excellent series but, outside of Game 4 on defense, he never took over a game like he did against Cleveland.  The Lakers took this key and it proved to be big for the Lakers.

2. Can the Lakers step up their three point defense or will the Magic shoot freely?

In what would prove to be the biggest key to the series (as it had been for the Magic the whole playoffs), the Lakers stepped up big and did not allow the Magic to beat them from beyond the arc.

Mickael Pietrus struggled all series to get shots off.

Mickael Pietrus struggled all series to get shots off.

For the series, the Magic were 38 of 115 from downtown, good for a 33 percent average.  That percentage and the 7.6 threes they made per game were both down from their season averages (10 3pg, 38.1 percent) and playoff averages (8.4 3pg, 36 percent).  They shot the same amount of threes as their playoff average at 23 per game but they did not fall.

While it was evident the Magic were trying to work the ball into Howard, the transition game never got going and because of it, the Lakers took this key as well.

3. Can Orlando find their “X-Factor” to cancel out Lamar Odom?

No, they could not.  Odom, while his numbers were not huge, played a key role in the Lakers bringing home the title.  As did Trevor Ariza, who single-handedly brought the Lakers back in game four, scoring 11 of the Lakers’ 13 points during a key run.  Odom shot 54 percent from the field and put in 13.2 points per game while grabbing almost eight rebounds.  Foul trouble cost him some minutes but overall Odom was huge.

Ariza played solid in Orlando after having two terrible games in the Staples Center.  He played his usual fantasitc defense and was a spark in the Lakers’ lineup.

The problem was that the Magic were looking for a player to cancel out these two role players and could not get it done.  In the preview, we mentioned Mickael Pietrus as an X-factor type guy that could have a big impact on the series.

It was interesting to note that in Pietrus’ only real good game of the series, game three, the Magic won.  Outside of that game, the France native never got anything going and struggled much of the series to find his shot.  He only shot 12 threes in the entire series.

4. Can Jameer Nelson give the Magic good minutes or will he just mess with the chemistry?

I really thought this was going to be one of the biggest factors going into the series and it is up for debate on whether or not it actually mattered.  In no game did Nelson receive more minutes than starter Rafer Alston, but after game one Alston said that Nelson being in the game threw him off.  While some saw it as an excuse for Alston’s two for nine shooting slump, I fully believed him.

Kobe Bryant deserved to win it all this year, and that is exactly what he did.

Kobe Bryant deserved to win it all this year, and that is exactly what he did.

Coincidentally, the only the game the Magic won in this series, Alston played the most minutes of any game and Nelson played the least.  It’s one thing for a player to be out for some of the playoffs and come back and try to mesh with the team.

Nelson, however, had missed over half the season and tried to play with a team that had already decided Alston was their guy.  The two are similar in style of play but it didn’t matter as Nelson looked lost on the court at times, and Alston was clearly frusterated.

I believe that Nelson did more harm than good in the series and that game four would have been different had Alston received more minutes.  Head coach Stan Van Gundy said Nelson was part of a unit in that game that had played well and that is why he stuck with Nelson over Alton for the fourth quarter and overtime.

I am sure Van Gundy would have liked the extra two inches Alston would have given him playing defense on Derek Fisher as time ran down and Fisher made the game-tying three.

5. Which team will take advantage of the home court advantage first?

The Lakers did an excellent job of taking games one and two of the series to make it near impossible for the Magic to come back in the series.  Who knows what would have been different had Courtney Lee made the last-second shot in game two?

It was hard to imagine Orlando taking either one of the first two games but they definitely had their shots to tie the series back up playing at home.  Kobe and the Lakers proved to be just too much as they would end up hoisting the trophy in Orlando.

6. Will Kobe Bryant make this his series or will the Magic make someone else beat them?

As much as the Magic tried not to let Kobe beat them, there is still a reason he is the best player on the planet and hoisted the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award at the end of the series.  Double teams came.  They hacked him in the paint and wrapped him up whenever possible.

None of it mattered.

As much as I wanted to make this a key to the series, it was hard for me to believe that Kobe was not going to take over the series and do everything he possibly could to win it all.  He did so, averaged 34.2 points per game, 7.8 assists!, and 5.6 rebounds.

There was nobody in the gym that could stop him or even slow him down.  As much as I hate that Pau Gasol has a ring, I am unbelievably happy that Kobe finally has a ring to fully call his own.


June 15, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals, Orlando Magic | , , | Leave a comment

MLB Power Rankings: Sunday June 14th

Just feeling a quick blog tonight after coming out of my state of shock that Trevor Hoffman is indeed human.  Here’s my current power rankings for the MLB as of tonight with a sentence on each squad.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (42-22): Unbelievably, this team has not missed a step after losing slugger Manny Ramirez and is easily the best team in baseball right now.

2. Boston Red Sox (38-25): Their dominance over the Yankees has pushed them into first place in the AL East and David Ortiz is slowly coming around.

3. New York Yankees (36-27): Mark Tiexiera and C.C. Sabathia are finally making good on the huge contracts they signed last off-season.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (36-25): Raul Ibanez has been fantastic and their 23-9 record away from home is unbelievable.

5. Texas Rangers (35-27): Nelson Cruz has been fantastic this year and the Rangers are more than staying alive without Josh Hamilton…so far.

6. Detroit Tigers (34-29): Edwin Jackson looks like the real deal and the Tigers are atop the competitive AL Central.

7. St. Louis Cardinals (34-30): When their rotation is pitching well, they are the best team in the NL Central.

8. Milwaukee Brewers (34-29): Their current rotation is not going to do enough damage to win the division and the bullpen is starting to come back down to earth.

9. San Francisco Giants (34-28): If it weren’t for the Dodgers, we would be talking about the Giants much more.

10. Tampa Bay Rays (34-31): Evan Longoria is keeping the Rays alive but they need to start playing better in close games.

June 14, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time For Manny Parra To Go Down

I don’t know how many proverbial straws Milwaukee Brewers’ starting pitcher Manny Parra is working with, but hopefully this is his last one in Ken Macha’s eyes.

After finishing just 1.2 innings Saturday giving up six earned runs on six hits while walking three and striking out none, Parra has used just about every excuse he could possibly give for his recent struggles. He is the first pitcher in the MLB to reach eight losses and has not won a decision since May 17th.

In his last five starts, Parra is 0-3 with a 13.29 ERA and has worked into the sixth inning just one time in that span.

Parra seemed to find his groove in the middle of the year as he won three straight decisions on three quality starts. However, Parra has been downright terrible ever since and there seems to be no end in sight.

It was fitting the opposing starter in today’s game, Jose Contreras, was also struggling at the beginning of the year before being demoted to AAA for a month. Since he rejoined the White Sox, he has pitched 16 straight shutout innings and won both of his contests.

It seems about time the Brewers do the same with Parra who needs desperately to find his command if he is ever going to succeed in the majors.

One of the reasons the Brewers have been so hesitant to move Parra down is because they feel they do not have a better or more reasonable replacement for the 27-year-old left hander.

While general manager Doug Melvin has shot down any rumors that he is talking to team’s about potential deals for a front-line pitcher in exchange for J.J. Hardy or Corey Hart, many believe he is indeed doing so.

Names that have been thrown around in potential deals are Boston’s Brad Penny, Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, and even San Diego’s Jake Peavy.

This is not Manny Being Manny.....

This is not Manny Being Manny.....

In house, the Brewers have a couple potential options they can use if Parra were to be sent down to the minors. The most realistic possibility is relief pitcher Seth McClung moving into the rotation.

Last year, McClung started 12 games for the Brew Crew going 4-4 with a 4.24 ERA. While his numbers were better as a reliever last year and he is enjoying one of his best seasons as a pitcher, his name might be called to the rotation soon.

The next option would be Mark DiFelice who has never started a game in his major league career. He is capable of going multiple innings in relief appearances and, if he prepared for it, could probably convert to a half decent starter.

Recent call-up Chris Smith is in the same boat as DiFelice in that he has never started a game, but would be capable of pitching good innings. Mike Burns was also called up for a couple weeks ago and made good appearances, once after Parra exited a game.

Smith and Burns would more than likely be short-term solutions, but both would be better options than the struggling Parra.

There is currently no one in AAA Nashville that would be a logical choice to come up to The Show, 26-year-old right hander Tim Dillard would be the best option. Currently 7-3 with a 4.23 ERA, he has handled the starter’s role before and would give the Brewers good innings, something they desperately need.

Parra may stay in the rotation and try to work out his kinks on the run, but the Brewers are really starting to play with fire by sending him out every fifth day. It is killing the bullpen and taking the Brewers out of ballgames. Their offense is good, but not that good.

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , | Leave a comment

State of the Brewers’ Rotation: History Says No Playoffs

We have all heard the old adage that defense wins championships. In baseball, this same saying holds true but in terms of pitching, not actual defense.

This year, the Milwaukee Brewers have struggled with starting pitching and, despite being in first place, could be in trouble down the stretch. 59 games into the season, the Brewers’ starting pitchers have averaged 5.7 innings per start, which ranks in the lower half of the major leagues this year.

The ace by process of elimination, Yovani Gallardo, has been holding down the fort for the Brewers’ pitching staff. Coming into the year, the 23-year-old was expected to make fans forget about last year’s dominant one-two punch of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets.

While he has put up excellent numbers, no one has forgotten CC. Taking a critical approach, Gallardo throws almost 17 pitches per inning meaning that he is closing in on the century mark in just the sixth inning.

With such a young arm, pitch counts are going to be taken largely into consideration and he has come out on certain occasions (at Atlanta, vs. St. Louis) because of it. Still, he has been the best starter this year and averages 6.5 innings per start, best on the team.

The one thing people need to realize is that he is not an ace just yet, but rather a very solid number two starter. The fact that he has been thrown into the “ace” role is something he will have to deal with as he tries to push the Brewers toward the second season.

Yovani Gallardo has had a great year, but will he be able to carry the load of the whole pitching staff?

Yovani Gallardo has had a great year, but will he be able to carry the load of the whole pitching staff?

Ranking right behind Gallardo this year has been free-agent pickup Braden Looper. Regarded by most as a back of the rotation starter, Looper has picked up five wins on the year and has not missed a start.

Consistency has been an issue for Looper as he started the year 2-0, then fell to 2-2, then won two more games before splitting his last two decisions.

One never knows what they are going to get out of Looper, and he has been far from stellar all year long. With a struggling rotation, Looper is being called on more by his team and will have to manage to give good innings the whole year.

As of right now, he is averaging 5.66 innings per start and has pitched six innings or more in five of his last six starts. With a bullpen that is showing signs of tiring, the righty will need to continue the long outings.

After Looper comes the workhorse Dave Bush. Like the Brewers this year, Bush stumbled out of the gate before catching fire in the middle of the year, and is now coming back down to earth.

He had a five game stretch in the middle of the year where he walked just five batters in 32 innings, but in his last four starts (0-3), he has averaged over three free passes per game.

He has given the Brewers good innings with 6.22 per start, and saved Ken Macha’s rear with his continued start in Florida after being hit with a line drive in the first.

Jeff Suppan has not been talked about very much this season but has put together an average year. He sits at 4-4 on the year with an ERA of 4.66, which is right around the Brewers’ starting pitcher’s average. The one issue with Suppan, like the rest of the staff, is that he can not pitch deep into ball games.

At age 34, “Soup” is running on a lot of innings and just can not give the same kind of work he used to. Since he did it three times in April, he has pitched six innings or more just two times. While efficient, his starts fail to do much if the bullpen has to pitch more than three innings when he takes the hill.

Last and probably least, Manny Parra has been a perfect model of false hope. It seems that every start begins so well before he has the “blow-up” inning where nothing seems to go right. When you look at Parra, he looks like a big league pitcher and even has good stuff that he throws.

But for some reason, he can not seem to put it all together and has given the Brew Crew just 5.25 innings per start. It does not look like Parra will be moved down despite having a minor league option because there is really no other option. Relievers Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva are both excelling in the bullpen and there is no need to switch that up.

So what, you ask, is the big deal with the starting pitching and now many innings they eat up? Well, the Brewers and their starting pitching are on pace to pitch 936.2 innings this year which would rank them 20th in the major leagues. Their team ERA for starters currently stands at 4.59, which ranks 19th among everyone.

Over the last five years, the average number of innings for a starting pitching unit on a playoff team is 971.2 innings. In 2008, six of the top ten teams in innings pitched made the playoffs. In 2007, four teams in the top ten made the second season. In 2006, three teams did, in 2005 six did, and in 2004 four teams did.

If the Brewers were to finish the season ranked 20th in the league in innings pitched and make the playoffs, they would be just the fourth team to do so in the last five years. Last year, seven of the eight playoff teams had more than 936.2 innings (Brewers’ pace) pitched from their starters.

Only the Dodgers, with 927.2, had less. The Dodgers also had the worst record of any playoff team at 84-78. That Manny guy probably made it easy on the pitchers as well.

In 2007, the New York Yankees finished 22nd in innings pitched but also led the league with 968 runs scored on offense that all but offset their average pitching.

In 2006, the New York Mets finished 23rd with 918.2 innings pitched but also had the second best team ERA in the bullpen and were seventh in the league in runs scored. The Dodgers also finished 21st in innings but were tenth in the league in runs scored.

In 2005, San Diego finished 23rd in innings pitched but finished just 82-80 in one of the weakest divisions of all-time in the NL West.

In 2004, the Houston Astros finished 23rd in pitching but made the outstanding deal to obtain Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline. Beltran would go on to hit 23 home runs in 90 games with the Astros and added 11 home runs in the 2004 NL playoffs.

As seen, the four teams in the last five years that have made the second season with below “average” playoff pitching have all had special circumstances that have made up for the starters. All the other 36 teams relied on heavy-inning starts from their rotation and made the second season because of it.

Simply put, the Brewers are going to need better and longer starts from their starting pitchers if they want to have a chance at reaching the post-season. One of the reasons teams that have their pitchers go deeper in games have so much success is because the bullpen is rested.

While the Brewers rank 15th in innings pitched from the bullpen, 11 of the 14 teams in front of Milwaukee are at or below .500.

The teams above .500 that have had more innings from the bullpen (Philadelphia, New York AL, Los Angeles NL) are all in the top seven in runs scored AND have had a significant injury/change to a starter (Yankees with Chien-Ming Wang, Dodgers with Eric Milton, Phillies changing their fifth man in the rotation).

With the Brewers, they have played all the cards in their hand and have still not seen results. They are one of three teams left in the major leagues that have used the same five pitchers in all their starts this year.

There are no excuses for Brewers pitching and why they are not able to go deep into ballgames other than maybe they just aren’t that good.

As for the bullpen, they currently sit at third in the league with a 3.31 ERA and also lead the league in saves with 20. However, with the number of innings they are pitching due to the starting pitching, production is likely to decrease as the arms become more and more tired. To rely on a bullpen that is already showing signs of tiring is extremely risky.

Their bullpen ERA has been up in June and over the last four games has been over five. It’s safe to say that the bullpen is struggling because of the innings they have to throw game in and game out.

While the Mets struggled with starting pitching and relied on a great bullpen and still made it to the playoffs, the starting unit featured an ace in Tom Glavine and two 15 game winners.

Seth McClung is having a career year.  Will it hold up?

Seth McClung is having a career year. Will it hold up?

Are we to believe that a guy like Seth McClung, with a 5.31 career ERA, is going to keep a sub-3.00 mark? Or that Todd Coffey, who has never had an ERA under 3.50 in his career, will keep his 2.76 pace?

He has already showed signs of tiredness with two straight outings giving up runs. Maybe they can live like the Mets did three years ago and have a fantastic bullpen all year that keeps the team in close games. I’m not betting on it.

There’s a chance the Brewers make the playoffs even if their starting pitching does not improve, but they are making it a whole lot harder on themselves by doing so. The bullpen pitches just over three innings per game, which puts their bullpen right at the five-year average of bullpen innings for NL playoff teams (490.3 average).

The question is whether the bullpen can keep things rolling while the starters hang on for dear life. However, based on numbers it looks like a starting rotation that can pitch late into a ballgame and save the bullpen are the rotations that pitch in October. Jake Peavy averages 6.28 innings per start. Just sayin’…

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , | Leave a comment