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Kobe and the Lakers Will Win Tonight, Bring Home Another Title

Come on, it was destined to go seven games. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics will battle to become the newest NBA champion when they square off in Game 7 tonight. Every game of this series has felt like a Game 7 and there is no reason to believe tonight will be any different, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine the Lakers not pulling this one out when it’s all said and done.

After the Celtics took a commanding 3-2 lead following a Game 5 win, it was strange to see how calm the Lakers were and how the momentum, that should have been in Boston’s favor, was still even at best. With the Lakers going back home for the next game and a potential Game 7, many assumed the Lakers still had the advantage. One game later, that assumption is now fact.

A Game 6 blowout win for the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant’s 29 points and Pau Gasol’s near triple-double, has them feeling extremely confident as they prepare for the series finale at home. No one in the Western Conference had a better home record (34-7) than the Lakers this season, and they are 10-1 in the playoffs when playing at the Staples Center.

The personnel factor is also in the Lakers’ favor, as Boston’s Kendrick Perkins has been ruled out of tonight’s game after tearing knee ligaments early in Game 6, while LA’s Andrew Bynum is expected to play through a sore knee. Perkins hadn’t made much of a dent in the box score this series (averaging 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds), but his defensive impact in the paint was something the Celtics will not be able to replicate. The team that has won the rebounding stat is 6-0 in the series, meaning Boston could be in deep trouble.

The Celtics have been great this season, but it's hard to bet against Kobe Bryant in a Game 7 at home. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Instead, Doc Rivers and the Celtics will counter with a combination of Rasheed Wallace, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Shelden Williams. What was once considered to be an advantage for the Celtics in the series, their bench disappeared in Game 6 and will have to be expanded further tonight with the loss of Perkins. On the other hand, the Lakers bench combined for 25 points and stifling defense that contributed to the win. With the crowd behind them and the Celtics now being forced to jumble rotations up after 90+ games, the tides have turned in the bench department.

For as much as an NBA title would mean to each franchise, with the Lakers looking for back-to-back titles and the Celtics looking for title No. 18, there are also personal accomplishments and even legacies on the line. Phil Jackson looks for his 11th NBA title in the last 20 years (he’ll also receive a $2 million bonus from the Lakers) and Adam Morrison will attempt to bring home his second title in as many years. OK, that was a joke.

But when it’s all said and done, the spotlight will be on one player and one player only: Kobe Bryant. It’s near impossible for a player with four titles, an MVP trophy, and a Finals MVP to have his legacy determined by one game, and tonight will be no exception. Bryant and the Lakers had the most talented roster from top to bottom, but the Celtics are competing closely to be considered the league’s best unit. A loss by the Lakers won’t ruin __ incredible seasons from Bryant, but at the same time a win could make his legacy that much stronger.

With a win tonight, Bryant would rack up his fifth NBA title as well as his second NBA Finals MVP (which he might do even if the Lakers lose). It would put him that much closer in the debate over best ever and put him one more Finals closer to Michael Jordan. He hasn’t reached Jordan by any means just yet, but a win tonight puts him that much closer to one day doing so.

This game could go down to the wire, and each team will make their respective runs in the game, but it’s awfully hard to imagine Bryant walking off his home court as the Celtics celebrate an NBA title. He hasn’t been spectacular in the Finals and he’s got one heck of a supporting cast around him, but tonight’s game will be won or lost by Kobe Bryant. I won’t be betting against him when the lights go on.

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June 17, 2010 Posted by | Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals | , , , , , | 1 Comment

2010 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

Back in late June, I created the first version of my 2010 NBA Mock Draft.  It has been almost six months since my last mock and I felt that, fresh off a John Wall monster performance at Madison Square Garden, now would be the perfect time to put out another draft.  Draft order is based on current records.

1. New Jersey Nets (2-20): John Wall, PG, Kentucky

While it’s true the Nets’ best player is also a point guard in Devin Harris, Wall is way too good of a prospect to pass on here.  Kentucky head coach John Calipari dubbed John Wall the real deal, saying he was farther along in his progression than Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans were when he coached them at Memphis.  Simply put, Wall is the total package.  His jump shot is above average and his speed and athleticism combination remind me a lot of Ty Lawson.  Throw on the five inches that Wall has over Lawson and you have a perfect pro prospect.  Wall is a future All Star.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-19): Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Syracuse

Just as Wall performed outstanding at MSG, Johnson had a coming out party of his own in New York, scoring 25 points against North Carolina in the 2K Sports Coaches Classic.  A transfer from Iowa State, Johnson has the Orange out to an 8-0 start and a top ten ranking.  If you look above the rim, there’s a good chance you will find Johnson there.  He already has an NBA body and his athleticism screams top five pick.  His all-around game is still a work in progress but you wouldn’t know it based on his numbers this season as he is shooting 59 percent from the field and 53 percent from downtown.  The Timberwolves are set in the front court and drafted Johnny Flynn to manage the point guard duties for the future.  The versatile, lockdown defender in Johnson seems like a good fit here.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (5-17): Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech

Elton Brand’s time in Philadelphia is all but over and the Sixers could use a new post man on the inside.  Marreese Speights has proved that he will be a solid frontline player, but they need a presence in the lane that they thought Brand would be.  Favors has the most raw talent of any big man in the draft and, while the Sixers could use a shooting guard, Favors is too good of talent to pass on here.

4. Utah Jazz (from New York): Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown

Carlos Boozer is more than likely out of Utah next season and the power forward position will need to be addressed.  Paul Millsap should be a fine replacement in the mean time, but Monroe can add another dimension to the Jazz’s offense.  Much like Mehmet Okur, Monroe has range that extends out to the three point line and should work well with Deron Williams in Jerry Sloan’s offense.  The dubbed “project” from last season, Monroe has started to show some of that potential, averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds thus far with the Hoyas.

5. Golden State Warriors (7-14): Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina

Anthony Randolph is proving to be a solid contributor for the Warriors but they still need a post player outside of center Andris Biedrins.  At 6’10”, Davis runs the floor exceptionally well and is building an NBA frame that should make him a top five pick next season.  His impressive wingspan also makes him a solid defender, something the Warriors could use.  He is just tapping into his potential and could be a very impressive player for the Warriors.

While some might think Wesley Johnson going number two overall is a little high, make no mistake: he's the real deal. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

6. Indiana Pacers (6-13): Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State

The Pacers are in dire need of a shooting guard/small forward outside of Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones, and Turner certainly fits the bill.  A broken back will keep him out for the next two months but that should not affect his draft status.  Much like Granger, he fills the box score on a nightly basis (two triple-doubles this season) and can play multiple positions.  The status of Mike Dunleavy is in question and Granger plays more of  a forward role than anything, so Turner should be able to start at shooting guard right away.

7. Washington Wizards (7-13): Willie Warren, G, Oklahoma

The Wizards are closing in on a state of rebuilding with injuries and age plaguing them, so taking the best player available would be in their best interest.  Warren burst on to the scene last season as a freshman but was overshadowed by some guy named Blake Griffin.  Now in the spotlight, Warren has not disappointed for the Sooners, averaging over 18 points and five assists per game.  The best part of Warren’s game is his ability to shoot the ball and has the potential to play both guard positions.  His size could be an issue but he does an excellent job creating his own shot, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

8. Chicago Bulls (7-13): Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas

The season from hell can only get better for the Bulls in the Draft (assuming they fire Vinny Del Negro), and Henry should help ease the pain.  It should be a very interesting off-season for the Bulls, but assuming they can not land Dwyane Wade, Henry would be a great fit in Chicago.  The lefty freshman has played outstanding for Kansas thus far and would add a pure shooter to the Bulls lineup.  He needs to work on creating his own shot but all the talent is there for Henry to succeed at the next level.

9. Memphis Grizzles (9-12): Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia

The status of Rudy Gay going forward is in question and if he decides to leave town, the Grizzlies have very little depth at small forward.  Ebanks has literally been a mystery this season, playing in just three games this season, but has boatloads of potential.  He has a long ways to go, but many compare him to Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith.  He’ll need to gain some weight and become more of a basketball player than an athlete, but his skill set sets him up nicely for the future.

10. Sacramento Kings (9-12): Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas

The Kings seem to have a nice core in Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, and Jason Thompson, but outside of those three the depth of the team is really lacking.  Aldrich is the second Jayhawk to come off the board, and rightfully so.  An outstanding sophomore season put him into the national spotlight and he has all the tools to succeed in the NBA.  He is a great passing big man and shows soft touch in the paint.  Spencer Hawes and Thompson give the Kings a different, more finesse look and Aldrich would compliment them well.

11. Los Angeles Clippers (9-12): Donatas Motiejunas, C, Lithuania

Based solely on scouting reports, Motiejunas’s game is much like Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani.  He needs to add some weight and strength, but his speed and aggressiveness make him a very intriguing prospect that the Clippers could take a chance on.  Marcus Camby is a free agent next season and the Clips will have to replace him somehow.

Xavier Henry has one of the sweetest strokes in the NCAA. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

12. Toronto Raptors (10-14): Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky

Chris Bosh’s performance over the last two seasons has all but written his ticket out of Toronto next year when he becomes a free agent.  Taking his place will be Patrick Patterson, who is sure to garner some major looks as he takes Kentucky deep into the NCAA Tournament this season.  Alongside John Wall, the 6’8″ power forward has showed great potential and has been on NBA scout’s radar since he joined Wildcats.  He is undersized but his long wingspan and tough play will allow him to have success on the defensive end.

13. New Orleans Hornets (10-11): Solomon Alibi, C, Florida State

Don’t be surprised to see the Hornets in the playoffs by year’s end, but as it stands they are on the outside looking in.  They have plenty of money invested for the next couple of years so they might trade this pick, but for now Alibi looks like a fine fit.  Past Emeka Okafor, the Hornets have little at center as Hilton Armstrong has failed to live up to expectations.  Alibi is a polished post man with excellent size that can make contributions right away.

14. San Antonio Spurs (10-9): Avery Bradley, SG, Texas

As weird as it may seem to see the Spurs picking in the lottery, they currently sit a half a game out of the playoffs.  If they do end up picking here, Bradley could be the answer to free agent Manu Ginobili.  While there’s still a chance Ginobili re-signs, Aminu would be the best pick in this spot to replace him and great value as well.  With budding star George Hill ready to take over the shooting guard role, Aminu could learn behind the best as he becomes more of an all-around player.  He plays outstanding defense and could shoot up the draft board as the season goes along.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, College Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, New York Knicks | , , , , , | 10 Comments

Bulls-Knicks Talks: Thomas for Harrington Makes Sense on Both Sides

Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported tonight that there are “serious” talks happening between the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks that would send Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James to the Knicks in exchange for Al Harrington.  As trade talks begin to heat up around the NBA, the first real proposal of the season seems to make sense for both parties.

Thomas is currently recovering from a broken forearm that has kept him out of action for the last month and a half.  Since he was drafted by the Bulls in 2006, Thomas has been somewhat of a project that has improved every year, increasing his statistical performances in just about every category.  At just 23 years old he still has plenty of gas left in the tank but his high energy, athletic game could surely improve if he was put into a higher tempo offense.  His 6’10”, 225-pound body slots him at the power forward position, but in the Bulls half court offense he is undersized and can not be a full-time post player.

Al Harrington would provide offense this season and cap space next season for the Bulls. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

On the other hand, Harrington has done well for the Knicks, averaging over 20 points per game since he arrived in New York.  The 12-year veteran has exploded for two 40-point games this season and would surely add instant offense to a Bulls team that ranks 28th in the NBA, scoring just 91.4 points per game.  The bigger Harrington would take over the Bulls power forward spot and give Derrick Rose another offensive weapon to go along with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

From a money perspective, the Bulls would be wise to make this move as Harrington’s contract expires after this season.  General Manager John Paxson is clearly looking to the 2010 “Free Agent Sweepstakes”, where he and the Bulls are expected to make plays for free agents Chris Bosh and hometown hero Dwyane Wade.  With Harrington’s contract going off the books after the season, more cap space will be available for the Bulls to go after those free agents.  Letting go of Thomas would save the Bulls approximately $13 million.

The Knicks currently have the most cap space allotted for 2010 of any NBA team with players like Larry Hughes ($13.65 million), Darko Milicic ($7.5 million), Cuttino Mobley ($9.5 million), David Lee ($7 million), Chris Duhon ($6 million), and Nate Robinson ($4 million) all coming off the books after this season.  The Knicks have made it all but public that they will pursue LeBron James next summer, the clear prized possession of the free agent class.

However, one issue that has been talked about is that the Knicks will have to show James that they still have a foundation and that they will not sacrifice the rest of the team just so they have the money to offer him a maximum contract.  Adding Thomas to the Knicks, who is under contract until 2011, along with up-and-coming second year forward Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and rookies Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas would be a start in showing James that a young core of players are ready to succeed under the leadership of James if he comes to New York.

As it goes for the 2009 season, Harrington would improve the Bulls’ front court immediately alongside the fully improved Joakim Noah.  Last June, the Bulls drafted Wake Forest’s James Johnson and Taj Gibson from USC.  While Johnson is more of a project, just as Thomas was coming out of college, Gibson has established himself as a contributor and has the potential to start for the Bulls in 2010.  Despite being a fan favorite, the early emergence of Gibson makes Thomas expendable and also frees up the power forward position for Chris Bosh in 2010, presuming he decides on Chicago next summer.

December 4, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, LeBron James, NBA, New York Knicks | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bucks’ Brandon Jennings Looks Like the Real Deal

Before rookie Brandon Jennings was making headlines for the Milwaukee Bucks, he was making negative ones for himself leading up to the beginning of the 2009-10 NBA season.  Known by just about everyone because of his decision to skip college ball and play in Europe, Jennings had question marks all around him.  His upside was immense and GM’s knew that Jennings had the potential to be a franchise-changing player unlike the majority of the players in last year’s draft class.  However, they also knew his downside was investing money into a cancerous teammate who would repeat his lackluster performance in Rome.

Before Jennings could even step on the court he was back at it, firing his mouth away about then-teammate Ramon Sessions and Luke Ridnour.  On a radio show with rapper Joe Budden, he mentioned being upset with the Knicks passing on him and deeming himself the starter over Ridnour.  He also made headlines by calling out Ricky Rubio, saying he was “overrated” and not as good as Jennings after a workout with the Kings.

Bucks’ general manager John Hammond decided that the upside of Jennings was well worth the potential of failure and he selected him with the tenth overall pick in the draft.  His cockiness and swagger is something that, to an extent, all great basketball players need to have, and Hammond believed Jennings had that.

What Hammond most likely did not think Jennings had was the ability to average over 20 points per game in his first six games, racking up four wins for the Bucks.  In many ways, Jennings is looking like the savior that is going to save the Bucks.  Rumors have floated around that have the Bucks leaving Milwaukee, but Jennings could change all that.

His situation in Milwaukee this season is eerily similar to Derrick Rose’s last season in Chicago.  The Bulls had reached the playoffs in 2006 before winning just 33 games the next year.  When the Bulls defied lottery odds and were awarded the number one overall pick, they selected Rose and went on to win 41 games and make the playoffs.

In Chicago, Rose has seemingly rejuvenated the Bulls and made everyone around him better.  Joakim Noah is finally playing up to his potential that we all saw at Florida, Luol Deng is flourishing under Rose’s lead, and he has worked to mold rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson into role players this season.  The talent was there for the Bulls as seen by the three straight playoff appearances before 2007, but the team was growing old and John Paxson’s inability to trade for grade-A superstars had the Bulls wondering where the future would take them.

Knicks Bucks Basketball

Brandon Jennings has flourished with the Bucks and his confidence could not be any higher. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

In the same sense, Jennings has done the exact same thing in Milwaukee.  The Bucks made the playoffs during the 2005-2006 campaign with rookie Andrew Bogut, but three years of injuries and inconsistency had left the Bucks with nothing to show for the talent they had.  Now, Jennings has utilized Bogut as the big man that every good point guard needs, and vice versa.

Six games into his young career might be a little early to start crowning him the savior for the Bucks, but in basketball more than any other sport, early starts become trends.  The great ones usually start that way and do not fade as compared to baseball and football.

His skill set is very raw and at times he plays like the rookie that he is.  He doesn’t seem to have picked up on the logistics of the offense yet and many times he will create for himself.  But with a big man that can shoot the outside shot, the way he moves off screens has to be considered close to the top of the league, and his closing speed while going to the basket warrants a replay on most possessions.

One of his big question marks coming into his rookie campaign was defense.  However, six games in he is averaging over a steal per game and limited Chauncey Billups to 6-16 shooting, gave up just one point to Chris Duhon, and forced Derrick Rose to commit five turnovers. No one will be forgetting about Chris Paul any time soon but positive returns this early in the season are always good.

Just about every aspect of his game is raw right now, but that can be a good thing, too.  Sometimes just letting players go out and be athletes can bring success and it seems like head coach Scott Skiles is letting Jennings do that for the most part.  It’s been an unbelievable start for a guy who, a year ago, was living out of a suitcase and traveling on a bus to foreign places in Italy to average under six points per game.

He’s got a long way to go, but Brandon Jennings is looking like the real deal.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | 4 Comments

Three Quick Thoughts on Wisconsin Sports

1. Brandon Jennings is going to be one heck of a talent when he hones in all his skills

After only catching a couple of box scores to start the year, I was able to catch my first Milwaukee Bucks game of the season.  While they handed the game away after blowing an 18-point lead in the third quarter to the Chicago Bulls, one guy stood out amongst the rest.  Brandon Jennings.  Wow, this kid is going to be one special talent.  Because there are only a few I’ll start off with the negatives that include a little too much dribbling and some lazy defense that has him trailing off screens.

Now on to the fun stuff.  Jennings’ jab shot might not look pretty but he has shot lights out with it.  He works so well off the screen and his quickness makes it impossible to guard.  I’m going to throw out some big superlatives in the form of players in the NBA, but this is just what his game reminds me off.

His passes have a little bit of Steve Nash to them as he loves to fit the ball in tight spaces.  His drive to the lane reminds me of Chris Paul’s: a lot of dribbling and making something out of it at the end.  When it comes to his jumper, Allen Iverson comparisons are the first thing that comes to mind.  His size is small but his quickness is second to none, and I believe he is already one of the fastest players in the league.

He still acts like a rookie at times and gives the ball away at times, but let’s remember he has played three games in the NBA.  The good has outdone the bad tenfold, and for a rookie that’s more than you can ask for.  Look out for Jennings in about two or three years when he is able to hit the weight room, adjust to the offense more, and receive more coaching.  A spot in the “top five point guards club” might not be too far away.

2. The Packers defense needs to shut their mouth and go play football

Rarely do I ever step out of the Green Bay Packers’ corner, but for the life of me I can not figure out why three well-respected defensive players are freaking out.  Charles Woodson, Cullen Jenkins, and Aaron Kampman have all expressed displeasure with the 3-4 defense and feel “handcuffed” by it.

I realize it can be hard to enter a defense where one knows they are not going to be the focal point.  In Jenkins’ defense, he would be a stud at the 4-3 defensive end spot and would have many more sacks.  Same with Kampman.  But Jenkins’ job is to eat up linemen and let linebackers flow in, while Kampman now has some responsibility in pass coverage.

Look, neither are going to go the Pro Bowl even though both have the talent to do so.  But when everything is broken down, wins are the most important thing at the end of the day.  It’s an extremely humble thing to accept and easy for me to type it out here, but it’s true.

cullen

Cullen Jenkins needs to accept his role, whatever that may be, and just play football.

Everything is for the greater cause and in the 3-4 defense there are many spots on the field that are important but will not show up in the box score.  What will show up in the box score is the final score.  Those defenders need to realize that and shut their anger up.

If they think the defense is the problem and something better could be done, keep it in house and talk to defensive coordinator Dom Capers about it.  Don’t cry to the media about how coaches won’t let you loose.  That’s not who the Packers are.

3. The Brewers should not trade either Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder

Rumors have swirled, more about Fielder, that one of the Brewers’ 3-4 hitters could be on the move this off-season or in the near future.  I can’t believe I am hearing this and hope that it does not come true.  Fielder would be more acceptable a loss because he would garner more trade value and his contract is soon up, but the Brewers need to work on an extension.

Breaking the bank for a stud pitcher will be hard to do given the Brewers’ financial restraints, but moving one of your foundation pieces surely isn’t the answer.  Fielder is hitting the prime of career and Braun is right on the brink of it as well.  It’s the best 3-4 in baseball and kept the Brewers in countless games all year.

Unless they can get a top five pitcher in all of baseball in return, losing Braun or Fielder makes little sense right now.  In a year, if Fielder has signaled he will not re-sign then try to go get something.  But right now these two players are putting fans in the seats and handing out free baseballs to those in the outfield seats.

Sucks to think that J.J. Hardy more than likely could have been had for someone like Clay Buchholz.

November 4, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Basketball, Football, Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NFL | , , , | 2 Comments

What Chance Do Marquette’s “Big Three” Have at Making the Pros?

After the 2009 NBA Draft had been completed, 60 players from across the world had NBA teams to call homes after hearing their name called.  None of those 60 were Marquette Golden Eagles.

Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Dominic James all had their names planted in the Marquette basketball history book as McNeal led all players in scoring and games played, James finished second all time in assists, and Matthews had made more free throws than anyone else.

However, measurements were not on the “Big Three’s” list of attributes, and subsequently none of them were drafted.  McNeal was dubbed as more of a point guard because of his size (6’2″) and inability to consistently knock down outside shots, Matthews had played more of a small forward position in college and needed to shoot better to become a shooting guard, and point guard Dominic James’ foot injury slowed him down considerably in pre-draft workouts.

As much of a shock as it was to see the Big Three be shut out on draft day, all three have been presented the opportunity to make an NBA roster this fall.

Matthews played for the Kings in the Summer League but was picked up by the Jazz and was invited to their veteran’s camp.  Prior to the draft, Matthews saw his stock rise a fair amount with good workouts and a solid showing at the Portsmouth Invitational.

Wesley Matthews has an outside shot at making the Jazz roster this fall.

Wesley Matthews has an outside shot at making the Jazz roster this fall.

The 6’4″ guard has the best chance of the Big Three to make a squad this fall.  The Jazz have major question marks at the shooting guard and small forward position, and Matthews might be able to sneak on the roster.

Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko, Ronnie Brewer, and C.J. Miles are the only listed twos and threes as the Jazz have three point guards (Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, rookie Eric Maynor) and three centers (Mehmet Okur, Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko) on their current roster.

One roster move that could substantially help Matthews’ chance is whether or not veteran Matt Harpring decides to come back and play a 12th season for the Jazz as constant ankle and knee problems have slowed him down.  Indications right now are that Harpring will not play which opens up another forward spot for Matthews.

Matthews claims the Jazz have liked him from the start, and if a spot is open they might just take a chance with him and put him on the roster.

As much room as there is for Matthews on the Jazz roster, Jerel McNeal finds himself bunched together with a group of young guards in Los Angeles with the Clippers.  He has been asked to attend camp as well and finds himself in a position to make the team, but will have his work cut out for him.

The Clippers have stocked up on point guards in the last couple of years, adding veteran Baron Davis and Sebastian Telfair to join Mardy Collins.  At shooting guard, the Clippers have one of the game’s better young shooters in Eric Gordon to go along with recently traded-for Rasual Butler, and Ricky Davis who is listed at small forward, but plays a fair amount of shooting guard.

If McNeal is able to establish himself as a shooter that can also handle the point, he may garner a look.  Odds are that McNeal will make his way overseas for the next couple of years before trying to make his case in the Association.

Reports say that Dominic James’ foot injury is nearing 100 percent and that should help him as he makes his case to join the Milwaukee Bucks this season.  James looked to be in good position entering the Summer League with the Bucks, but he sprained his knee the day before the team was to leave for Las Vegas.

Now, he will go up against Brandon Jennings, veteran Luke Ridnour, and recently acquired Roko Ukic to try to make the roster.  Fellow point guard Salim Stoudamire was cut from the team after an average showing in the Summer League, so James has already one upped his chances.

The Bucks lack depth in the front court and are looking to add size at all costs, so they will probably not keep four point guards on the roster, but if outplays Ukic in preseason he may get a look.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles, NBA | , , , | 2 Comments

Ten Most Intruiging Matchups on the Milwaukee Bucks’ Schedule

The 2009-2010 NBA schedules were released last week, and the Milwaukee Bucks received their list of 82 opponents of the regular season. The team went over a semi-makeover this off-season, getting rid of veterans Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson and bringing in the young talent of Amir Johnson, Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks, and Hakim Warrick. Here’s a look at the ten most intriguing matchups that the Bucks will face this season in no particular order.

1. Saturday, October 31st – Detroit Pistons vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Charlie Villanueva will return to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee just two games into the season. Villanueva signed with the Pistons this offseason after not receiving a qualifying offer from the Bucks. Along with the additions of Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace, Villanueva and co. will look to spoil the Bucks’ home opener.

2. Friday, November 6th – Milwaukee Bucks vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Just a week after the season opener, the Bucks will travel north to play the new look Timberwolves. Heading into this year’s NBA Draft, the talent at point guard was the topic of conversation as five point guards were selected in the first ten picks.

Brandon Jennings and Johnny Flynn will match up against each other very early on.

Brandon Jennings and Johnny Flynn will match up against each other very early on.

Three of those point guards will match up when Brandon Jennings faces Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio. Jennings will have the chance to prove to the Wolves that they made a mistake in passing on him, while Rubio and Flynn will show Scott Skiles and the Bucks why the Wolves were right.

3. Saturday, December 26th – San Antonio Spurs vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The day after Christmas, the Bucks will get their second taste of a former player in a new uniform when Richard Jefferson and the Spurs come to town. Traded for Fabricio Oberto, Bruce Bowen, and Kurt Thomas, Jefferson has now made the Spurs contenders again as he joins Tim Duncan and Tony Parker this year.

Jefferson spent just one year in Milwaukee but quickly become a fan favorite and was greatly counted on when Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut went down with season-ending injuries.

4. Friday, December 18th – Milwaukee Bucks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Bucks will play the Cavs twice on the road (March 31st as well) in what should prove to be huge tests for the young Bucks team. Teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and the front-runner Cavaliers will look to bully the Bucks when they meet at “The Q”.

The Cavs lost just two times at home last year and should be up to more of the same with O’Neal in the lineup. The Bucks will also see an old friend in Mo Williams, who averaged almost 17 points per game against his former team last year.

5. Friday, March 12th – Utah Jazz vs. Milwaukee Bucks

You’re probably confused as to why this would be an interesting game, but Wesley Matthews was extended an offer to the Jazz’s veteran camp this summer and will have a chance to make the team this season.

Matthews, a four year player at Marquette University, was loved by many and called the Bradley Center home for every game played in Milwaukee.

You can bet that if Matthews makes the team there will be a huge fan base in attendance cheering him on. Just ten minutes away from campus, loads of people would come to the Bradley Center to cheer their man on.

6. Saturday, January 30th – Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Staying with the Marquette theme, former standout guard Dwyane Wade will visit the Bradley Center twice this year in his return to Milwaukee. In 2003, Wade led the Golden Eagles to their first Final Four appearance since winning the title in 1977, and has been a big supporter of Marquette ever since.

The matchup will be a tough one for the Bucks, who lost two of three games to the Heat last season. The game will also feature a pair of U.S.A. Redeem Team members in Michael Redd and Wade. Together, they helped Team U.S.A take home the gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

7. Friday, January 8th – Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Illinois-Wisconsin rivalry continues when the Bulls come to town to square off in the third of four match ups between the two teams this season. The Bulls took three of four games last season from the Bucks, but with the loss of Ben Gordon the future is up in the air. Scott Skiles will also match up against his former team, as he coached the Bulls from 2003 to 2007.

Scott Skiles would love to win the season series against the Bulls this year.

Scott Skiles would love to win the season series against the Bulls this year.

8. Wednesday, December 16th – Los Angeles Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks will get their shot at the defending champs at home when the Lakers come to town in mid-December. Last year, Kobe Bryant put up 30 points, eight rebounds, and four assists at the Bradley Center as the Lakers won 104-98.

Milwaukee will look to get their revenge and will hopefully have Michael Redd this time around. Last year, Redd missed both matchups against Los Angeles and Andrew Bogut missed one. If the Bucks are at full strength, an upset could be in the cards.

9. Wednesday, November 25th – Milwaukee Bucks vs. New Orleans Hornets

If Brandon Jennings doesn’t get his first “Welcome to the NBA” moment within the first month of the season, he sure will when he visits Chris Paul and the Hornets.

One of the best, if not the best, point guards in the game, Paul will match up on Brandon Jennings and use his elusive quickness, speed, and strength to give Jennings a lesson on how to play the point in the NBA.

10. Tuesday, January 26th – Milwaukee Bucks vs. Dallas Mavericks

Last season, the Bucks put up a commanding 133 points against the Mavs in Dallas, and will look to do so again when the two teams match up.

The other storyline in the game is the mystery of what the Bucks’ franchise would look like had they not traded away Dirk Nowitzki. Drafted ninth overall in the 1998 Draft out of Germany by the Bucks, he was then traded to the Mavericks for Tractor Traylor.

Every time the Bucks play the Mavericks, it has to sting a little bit knowing what they gave up in the All Star power forward.

August 9, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , , | Leave a comment

Milwaukee Bucks Sign Hakim Warrick, Make Three Other Moves

Friday was an extremely busy day for general manager John Hammond and the Milwaukee Bucks. Four moves made by the team made the 2009 season a little clearer.

The biggest move of the move day came when power forward Hakim Warrick agreed to a one-year deal with the Bucks, his agent Bill Duffy announced. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but the offer is expected to be more than $3 million.

The 27-year-old was the 19th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies and spent all four years with them. In those four years, Warrick has averaged 10.2 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field to go along with 4.3 rebounds and 0.4 blocks.

This past season, Warrick achieved career highs in steals and rebounds, and saw himself much improved on the defensive end of things. Playing primarily in a back-up role, he will now have the chance to compete for a starting spot and see many more minutes than his average of just under 25 last season.

For a team running short on cap space as well as depth in the frontcourt, Warrick is a good find for the Bucks and will have major contributions this season. As it is for a lot of players on the Bucks, more playing time will give a few players a chance to shine (Joe Alexander, Amir Johnson, Brandon Jennings, Warrick) and show that their potential can be made into something bigger and better.

Somewhat bigger numbers should be expected from Warrick, but do not expect him to come in and light up the world. His small frame and inability to score on offense has hindered his game his whole career, and neither should change when he suits up for Milwaukee.

Hakim Warrick should see extended minutes in Milwaukee this year.

Hakim Warrick should see extended minutes in Milwaukee this year.

My predictions for the 6′9″ power forward are, dependant on Amir Johnson, averages of 12 points and six rebounds per contest. While he is good for the occasional outburst (31 points in a game against the 76ers this year), he is more of a role player and will hopefully play second fiddle to Johnson.

Along with the addition of Ersan Ilyasova, the power forward position is seeing a bit of a logjam but minutes should be available at the small forward position, where Warrick is also capable of playing.

An after-effect of the signing of Warrick is that it more than likely ended the era of Ramon Sessions in Milwaukee. General manager John Hammond has worked his tail off to get his team both competitive and underneath the luxury tax line, and with the signing of Warrick, he sits less than $3 million away from it.

With Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour manning the point guard duties, it was almost a sure bet that Sessions would not be back. The Knicks and Clippers have showed plenty of interest in Sessions and would be willing to pay more than the Bucks would want to match.

However, is Sessions does not get a multi-year contract that he is satisfied with, reports say he might be willing to sign a one year deal with the Bucks.

Other moves the Bucks made on Friday included the release of 13-year veteran Bruce Bowen. Bowen, who has spent the last eight seasons as a defensive stopper with the San Antonio Spurs, was part of the deal that him, Fabricio Oberto, and Kurt Thomas to Milwaukee in exchange for Richard Jefferson.

Bowen was set to make $4 million this upcoming year, and releasing him before Saturday saves the Milwaukee Bucks $2 million of that.

The Bucks also requested waivers on point guard Salim Stoudamire. After looking for a change of scenery from the Atlanta Hawks, where he spent the last three seasons, he never made it to a regular season game while on the Bucks.

He struggled in the Summer League, fighting for minutes with rookie Brandon Jennings, who stole the show.

The last deal of the busy Friday the Bucks made was a trade involving veteran Malik Allen, who was traded to the Denver Nuggets for shooting guard Sonny Weems and power forward Walter Sharpe. Weems is expected to be waived in the near future and Sharpe is a youngster with some potential.

The moves once again show John Hammond’s determination to keep the roster young and rebuild while the talent and potential blossoms.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , , | 1 Comment

The Biggest Sports Rule Changes and How They Have Affected History

Everyone knows that the only constant in life is change.  This rule applies to life and it also applies to the sports world, and sometimes the rules make a huge difference on the history of the game.  In each major sport, a specific rule has changed the outcome of some of the most famous records, most famous games, and the history of some of the most famous players.

Baseball

Baseball, first played in the mid-1850’s in New York’s Metropolitan area, has changed drastically over the years.  The first rule that jumped out at me on the list was that in 1887, base on balls were recorded in the statbook at as a hit.  Making it an even weirder stat was the fact that five balls were needed to record a base on balls and four strikes were needed for a strike out.

If you look at the record book, the top two single-season leaders for hits, Pete Browning and Tip O’Neill, both came in 1877.  They each recorded 275 hits on the year with Browning drawing 55 walks and O’Neill drawing 50 of his own.  What is still impressive is that even if you take away the walks both drew in the season, their hits (225 and 220) would still rank in the top 100 of all-time for hits in a season.

Pete Browning had 275 hits in 1877 but walks also counted as hits.

Pete Browning had 275 hits in 1877 but walks also counted as hits that year.

The rule was changed after just one season and the walks were taken away from both players, but were later given back in 1999 by Major League Baseball.  Still, Browning and O’Neill are not recognized as the leaders on the list, but rather Ichiro Suzuki, who smacked 262 hits in 2004 to break George Sisler’s 84-year record.

On the single season hits list, nine of the top 100 players on that list accomplished their feat in 1887.

When looking at pitchers and their overall statistics, two rules jump out that might have changed the history books.  First, in 1893 the pitching distance was moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet, six inches.  Just think about that for a second.  Back when I played baseball for my town’s travel team, the fifth and sixth grade mounds were 48 feet away.

Looking back at the history book, 18 of the top 100 single-season ERA marks occurred before 1876.  Once again, the Major Leagues did away with counting stats in the official record book before 1876, but career marks included any outings before 1876.  That includes Jim Devlin who is fifth on the list, John Ward (7th), and Al Spalding (9th) amongst others.

Also, in 1917 the “spitball” and all other “freak pitches” were banned from the game of baseball because they gave pitchers way too big on an advantage.  Many more of those career leaders in ERA pitched before 1917, and while there might not be a direct correlation with the spitball, there is something to be said for it.

Not that Ricky Henderson would care, but maybe Ty Cobb (4th all time in steals) and Honus Wagner (10th) would remember that in 1920, ninth inning uncontested steals were discarded and fielder’s indifference was introduced.

While times were completely different back then and starters threw innings upon innings, wouldn’t it be interesting to know who would have closed and saved all of the 1927 Yankees’ games?  Or the 1906 Cubs, who finished with 116 wins?

From 1936 to 1943, a span of eight years, the New York Yankees won 799 games.  In that span, Johnny Murphy “finished” 219 games for the Yankees.  He only started 12 games for the Yankees in those eight years so he was clearly the go-to guy for the Bronx Bombers.

Unfortunately for Murphy, the Yankees had 77, 82, 91, 87, 76, 75, 88, and 83 complete games in that span.  For a guy coming out of the bullpen whose teams won 1259 games over his 13 year career (average of almost 97 wins per season), it stinks that the save was not around.

Football

The biggest change to the rules of football, which really has happened in every sport, is probably the number of games in each season.  However, when the NFL went from 12 games to 14 games in 1960 and to 16 games in 1977.  Two or even four extra games every year did wonders for players playing in that era and made some stats somewhat tainted.

Take the NFL’s rushing records, which to many are the most historic and valued of any in the game today.  The current leader, Emmitt Smith, rushed for 18,355 yards over the course of 226 games and 15 seasons.  That leaves Smith with an average of 81.2 yards per game played in.

Walter Payton, regarded by most as the game’s greatest rusher of all time, rushed for 16,726 yards over the course of 190 games and 13 years.  This means Payton rushed for 88.03 yards in each of his games, on average.

Barry Sanders is third on the all-time list with 15,269 yards in 153 games over ten years, leaving him with an average of 99.79 yards per game.  Sanders left the game earlier than most had wanted him to, but injury forced him out of the game as he did not want to end up with life-lasting pains.

As good as all three of those rushers were, they all played in 16-game seasons (with the exception of Payton’s first three years in the league).  Now let’s take a look at Jim Brown, running back for the Cleveland Browns.

He played just nine years in the league, with his first four being 12 game seasons.  The last five were 14 game seasons and overall, the Syracuse alum rushed for 12,312 yards in 118 games.  That gives him an average of 104.33 yards per game over the course of his career.  Let’s say Brown was able to play all 16-game seasons during his career.  That would give him an extra 26 games during his career and, when multiplied by his yards per game, gives him an extra 2,712 yards in his career.

That total would give him 15,024 yards for his career, right behind Barry Sanders for fourth all-time instead of eighth, where he stands now.  Remember also that Brown retired when he was 29 years old, the same age that Barry Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards and the same age Payton rushed for 1421 yards.  Emmitt Smith would rush for over 1,300 yards when he was 29 and would play six years after that age.

While the style of the game meant that players did not play as long as they do now, the games played sure had a lot to do with it.

Basketball

By far, the two biggest changes to the NBA in the league’s history have been the shot clock and the three point line.

Starting in 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock that saw a huge jump in points scored per game.  George Mikan and Bob Cousy are two players who can be found partially in the “pre-shot clock era” and had their points per game affected because of it.

While the NBA itself was affected greatly by the introduction of the shot clock, the three point line affected player’s stats much more.

Beginning in 1979, the NBA put in a stripe that, when shot behind and made, would count for three points.  The introduction of the three point line was the cause of much higher scoring games and, in return, more scoring records that were broken.

John Havlicek ranks 14th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list but never once played in an NBA game with a three point line.  As a 6’5″ guard/forward with a solid jump shot, it’s a good bet he would have shot up the charts if some of his baskets were worth three points.

Imagine what kind of numbers Bob Cousy would have put up with a three-point line.

Imagine what kind of numbers Bob Cousy would have put up with a three-point line.

Because it was the introduction to a completely new rule that some people had never seen before, it is hard to project what players would have done with the three point line.  Pistol Pete Maravich set the record of 3,667 points at Lousiana State in just three years to become the leading scorer in college basketball history.  He did this all without the three point line as well.

Also, in 1944, the three second violation was introduced that said no player could be in the paint for more than three seconds at a time.  Twenty years later, Wilt Chamberlain was dominating posts inside like no one else had, so the lane was extended from 12 feet to 16 feet.

Can you imagine Wilt Chamberlain, for the first eight years of his career, in a lane that was two feet smaller on each side?  It’s a good thing for defending players that he did not come into the league before the three second lane violation was introduced.

What Does it All Mean?

It’s hard to call any of the records or numbers used in examples as tainted or not as legitimate as another in a different era.  The game has changed drastically and with it comes rule changes.  Just about every rule change on any list you look at in major sports has made the game better in the long run.

In baseball, unrealistic numbers were being put up by pitchers and it was simply too hard for batters to keep up.  While pitchers still continue to out-do hitters as a whole, the playing field has been evened since the mound was lowered and the rubber was moved back.

In football, instant replay has changed the game around compeltely.  No longer do referees have the final say on calls and are considered infallible.

Games have been added to the schedule that have changed records because, simply put, more games could be played.  16 game seasons and more wildcard teams have added more importantce to the regular season and elongated the greatest game on earth.

In basketball, the game has been changed completely to make it more exciting and to see numbers go up.  The shot clock was probably the biggest rule change of any sport that made the game more strategic and more difficult.  Only the best shooters and quickest players would survive.

The three point line evened the playing field so that teams could make a comeback when trailing late in a game.

Rules will continue to come and go and records will continue to be broken.  It will be interesting to see an article written on the same thing 40 years from now.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Basketball, Football, MLB, NBA, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Grading The Milwaukee Bucks: Summer League Edition

With the games completed and recapped, it is now time to grade out the 2009 Milwaukee Bucks roster.  It was an important summer for the young squad that needed a lot of questions answered during the five-game span in Las Vegas.  Let’s see how it all went down.

Jodie Meeks, SG: Drafted in the second round, 41st overall, Meeks was expected to fight for a roster spot behind shooting guards Michael Redd and Charlie Bell.

In order to do this, he was going to have to shoot lights out and show he was capable of playing defense at an NBA level despite his slightly undersized frame at 6’4″.  Well, After five games in the Summer League, it is looking more and more like Meeks was a huge steal in the draft and should have no problem making the roster.

During the five games, Meeks averaged a team-high 19 points while shooting a blistering 55.7 percent from the field.  The junior from Kentucky showed a complete range of shooting as just eight of his 39 field goals were from behind the arc.  Known for being a pure shooter in college, scouts wondered whether or not he could contribute in other areas of the game.

Defensively, Meeks had a steal in all five games and, from what I saw, did not look overmatched at all.  He only averaged 2.2 rebounds per game, but that number did not need to be any higher than that.

Originally, I thought Meeks could be the second coming of Eddie House for the Bucks, but not I believe Meeks could be something special to come out of this draft.  He reminds me a lot of Michael Redd who was also a pure shooter in college selected in the second round.  In fact, Meeks (41st) and Redd (43rd) were taken by the Bucks in almost the exact same spot.

For whatever the Summer League is worth, which admittedly lacks on the defense, Meeks proved he is here to stay.  GRADE: A

Brandon Jennings, PG: Despite Meeks’ hot shooting, most eyes were on the 10th selection in this year’s NBA draft.  Many wondered how Jennings would play in his first “American basketball” game in over a year.  After struggling in Europe in his only year there, Jennings showed that he is fully capable of playing and succeeding in the NBA.

After a shaky first game, Jennings ended the summer averaging 14.6 points and 8.2 assists.  He looked blazing fast in the games as one scout said he “was the fastest player on the court, with or without the ball”.  He showed glimpses of Steve Nash on his passing ability, Deron Williams on his range from deep, Chris Paul with his ability to get to the lane and finish with a floater, and a little bit of Allen Iverson in his pick-pocketing abilities playing on the ball.

Brandon Jennings showed a lot of promise this week in Las Vegas.

Brandon Jennings showed a lot of promise this week in Las Vegas.

Jennings will have to shoot better in the regular season (37.9 percent) but in a shot-happy summer league, that number is not completely accurate.  His turnovers were also up at 4.2 per game but his passing abilities were not questioned during the week.

He is still raw and will need some work, but after a week it looks like the Bucks made nicely on their gamble of Jennings.  GRADE: B+

Joe Alexander, SF: Many believe that general manager John Hammond decided to trade Richard Jefferson to 1) save money and 2) put in on Joe Alexander to become a starting small forward in the NBA.

Over the week, Alexander showed flashes of talent but also played out of control at times.  What this means is he might be a year or two from completely breaking out but will need to harness his athleticism and turn it into a basketball player.

Alexander averaged 16.6 points and 6.4 rebounds to go along with 1.4 assists and 1.4 blocks per contest.  The number that jumps out to me is the rebounding display that Alexander put on.  In the games I watched, he positioned himself well and was aggressive on the glass.

He shot just 39.7 percent from the floor but went to the basket strong, averaging 7.6 free throws per game. He also turned the ball over just five times in the 160 minutes he played.  GRADE: B

Amir Johnson, PF: Everyone in Milwaukee and their grandmothers are expecting a breakout season for Amir Johnson this year, but last week was not a good start.

Johnson really had just one game that could be considered a plus, occurring against the Bulls when he went for 17 points and eight rebounds.

Fouls were a problem for Johnson all week, however.  In the four games he played in, he racked up eight, six, six, and seven fouls in each of the contests.  It looks as though he will need to add more strength to survive in the NBA post.

Offensively, he shot 60 percent from the field and averaged 10.5 points per game.  He is smooth and finesse down low and can really get up as seen in the alley-oop dunks thrown from Jennings.  He reminds me a lot of a Tyrus Thomas that will play more in the post.

Johnson had his highs and lows during the week, but much more will be expected out of him over the course of the season.  GRADE: B-

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F

I was very excited going into the summer to see if Mbah a Moute could build on his fantastic 2008 campaign.  Unfortuantely, he struggled to find his rhythm over the week and did not improve much.  For the week, he averaged 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds but failed to stand out amongst everyone else.

It seems as though we can expect much of the same from Mbah a Moute next year, which isn’t neccesarily a bad thing but just not a better thing.  GRADE: C

Will McDonald, C

Outside of the starting five for the Bucks, no one else made much of a splash.  McDonald was the “best of the rest”, averaging 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in an average of 16 minutes in the three games he appeared him.  He is a longshot to make the team but had a decent week.  GRADE: D

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | Leave a comment

Recapping the Milwaukee Bucks Summer League

Following draft night on June 25th, Bucks’ general manager John Hammond must have been excited about the upcoming year.  After trading last year’s most consistent starter in Richard Jefferson and letting fan favorite and starting power forward Charlie Villanueva walk away, it was clear the team was moving in a different and younger direction.

The additions of Amir Johnson as well as Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks through the draft gave the front office a positive attitude heading into the future.  Throw in Joe Alexander, an athletic forward who showed promise and a lot of athleticism at time last year, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from last year’s draft class, and this was a team worth getting excited about.

A week and five summer games later, Hammond must be feeling A LOT more excited.

The Bucks finished up their Summer League mini-season Thursday with a last second loss to the Toronto Raptors.  It marked the fifth game in Las Vegas for the Bucks who finished a very respectable four and one on the trip.  Here’s an entire recap of the week that was.

Game One: Bucks 65, Mavs 59

Both the Bucks and Mavs showed a good amount of rust in the first game for each team, with the Bucks pulling away down the stretch.  Jodie Meeks and Joe Alexander led the Bucks with 14 points apiece and Brandon Jennings put in ten points of his own.

Both teams matched up fairly evenly the whole game, but the big difference was at the charity stripe where the Mavs shot just 56.5 percent (13-23) compared to the Bucks 75 percent (18-24).

Game Two: Bucks 80, Cavaliers 69

The two teams stayed neck and neck in the first half before the Bucks went on a 25-3 run in the third quarter to pull away from the Cavs in the second Summer League game.  The star of the night was Brandon Jennings who had 23 points and eight assists to go along with five steals on the night.

The Bucks played arguably their most efficient game of the summer, turning the ball over just ten times compared to 23 Cavalier turnovers.  Joe Alexander struggled from the field for the second straight game while Jodie Meeks shot lights out for 16 points, including eight in the decisive third quarter.

Game Three: Bucks 91, Kings 86

Joe Alexander finally broke out of his shooting slump to score 24 points on eight-of-13 shooting while adding a team-high seven rebounds and Brandon Jennings showed off an array of talent that led to 13 points, 14 assists, and seven steals.

Jennings, the tenth overall pick in the NBA draft, improved his statline for the third straight game as he seems get more and more comfortable with the NBA game flow.   It was the best game offensively for the Bucks who won their third straight game of the summer.

Jodie Meeks continued his tear with 20 points on eight of 12 shooting.

The Bucks matched up against two familiar faces in Marquette’s Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal.  Matthews poured in 14 points while McNeal added two of his own.

Game Four: Bucks 87, Bulls 72

The Bucks won their fourth consecutive game of the Summer League in their most spread out fashion as four players scored in double figures.  Amir Johnson posted his best line of the week with 17 points and eight rebounds against some pretty stout talent in James Johnson and Taj Gibson.

Brandon Jennings posted 14 points and nine assists against the border rivals and Jodie Meeks went for 16 points.

The Bucks led for the majority of the game which allowed reserve Will McDonald to log 18 minutes of his own.  He made the most of it, scoring nine points and hauling in five assists.

Game Five: Raptors 84, Bucks 83

The Bucks were one shot by Quincy Douby away from ending the Summer League with a perfect 5-0 record, but fell to the Raptors in the league finale.

Jodie Meeks stayed red hot this summer, scoring 29 points on 12-23 shooting, including four from downtown.  Joe Alexander finished up nicely, scoring 14 points on 7-14 shooting for the Bucks.

Brandon Jennings struggled to take care of the ball as he committed eight turnovers, but finished the game with 13 points and seven assists.

Meeks was awarded first team All-Summer League honors after his performance in the game and wowed many Bucks’ front office personell.

Tomorrow player breakdowns can be found right here.

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | Leave a comment

Dunked On or Not, LeBron James and Nike Right to Take Tapes

Last week, Xavier’s redshirt sophomore Jordan Crawford was participating in an after-practice scrimmage at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio.  Crawford, formerly of Indiana, had an outstanding week of drills and games that NBA scouts alike were able to watch and take note of.  The highlight of his week really came when he supposedly dunked on LeBron James who had tried to block Crawford on the flush.

The dunk occurred 20 minutes into the two-hour scrimmage, and after the dunk, the players continued playing their game as usual.  The dunk came to light when it was revealed that Nike officials had confiscated two different tapes of the dunk and the rest of the scrimmage.

According to the Nike officials, the reason they took the tapes had nothing to do with the facial that LeBron received via the 20-year-old.  The officials were quoted as saying:

“Unfortunately, for the first time in four years, two journalists did not respect our ‘no videotaping’ policy at an after-hours pick-up game Monday evening following the LeBron James Skills Academy.”

Ryan Miller, one of the journalists that was filming the game, claims that Nike never told him about the policy and he felt he had done nothing wrong.  Whether Miller was confused by what Nike had told him or whether he was told something incorrect, the fact remains that no videotaping is allowed after the practices.

Jordan Crawford might have dunked on LBJ, but rules are rules when it comes to videotaping.

Jordan Crawford might have dunked on LBJ, but rules are rules when it comes to videotaping.

It isn’t like Nike made up the rule after the dunk had occurred so that the tapes had to be taken away.  Think about it: have you ever seen footage of college players and pro players taking part in a scrimmage?  The Academy has been running for four years and no one ever misunderstood the rules or filmed during practice.

I’m not going to be blind in knowing that there’s a chance LeBron tried to save his behind by not letting the tape get out.  Can you imagine how many views that footage would get on Youtube?  However, from a legal standpoint, LeBron and Nike were also trying to save their behinds because Miller and the other camera man were breaking the rules.

Rules are rules and unfortuantely Miller broke them and was reprimanded for it.  It just so happened that LeBron was dunked on during the rule breaking. In an era of Youtube, Twitter, and cell phones with video capability, recruiting violations can happen anywhere and at any time.  With high school prospects in attendance, videotaping was taken very seriously by Nike and they acted on it.

Had this happened during a time when filming was allowed, there’s a great chance (can’t be positive) that LeBron would have gotten a chuckle out of it when he saw it air everywhere on ESPN.

The other problem I have with how this is all being handled is when LBJ is compared to MJ in this situation.  Everywhere I have read and people I have talked to tell me that there is no way Jordan would have let something like this happen.  That he would have taken his poster dunk like a man and wouldn’t have tried to hide like LeBron did.

I realize that wearing number 23 and number nine in the Olympics and just about EVERYTHING else has LeBron compared to Jordan, but there’s no way these two players can be compared in this stance.  As was mentioned before, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and any other form of communication has made it possible for everything to be reported.

Had this happened to Jordan in 1990 in a gym in Akron, Ohio, it might have made the back page of the Akron Beacson Journal sports section.

Does a guy like LeBron really need to save his ego and rep?  Did he think that when people saw this dunk they would put their Cavs jerseys on eBay in exchange for a number 55 Xavier jersey?  I don’t think so.

July 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, LeBron James, NBA | , , | 2 Comments

The Five Most Important Milwaukee Bucks Players This Summer

The Milwaukee Bucks currently stand at 1-0 in this year’s Summer League after a 65-59 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.  Second round pick Jodie Meeks led the way for the Bucks with 14 points on six-of-nine shooting while second year player Joe Alexander added 14 points of his own and seven rebounds.  It was a good start for the Bucks, who will need a big summer out of a few players to get ready for their semi-makeover this upcoming season.

With Richard Jefferson being dealt to the Spurs and Charlie Villanueva bolting to the Pistons this offseason, a few young players must step up and show that they are worthy of receiving the minutes left by Jefferson and Villanueva.  Along with the voids that need to be filled, depth at point guard and power forward will be very important next year, and the summer should give the Bucks a better grasp of where they stand.

Let’s take a look at the five players that need to prove they belong this summer.

1. Brandon Jennings, PG, First Round Pick in 2009

Not only does the 19-year-old Jennings need to prove that he was the right selection for the Bucks at number ten, but he must also prove that his game transitions over to the NBA.  Last year, Jennings skipped out on the University of Arizona to play in Italy where his stats dropped but his upside remained.

This summer, Jennings will have starting point guard duties and need to prove he can handle the reigns of leading a team.  Head coach Scott Skiles puts a lot of trust in his point guards, meaning Jennings will need to make good on this responsibility if he wants to see the court in the upcoming season.

In his first game, Jennings scored ten points in 25 minutes on three-of-12 shooting to go along with three rebounds, three assists, and two steals.  He turned the ball over just two times and nailed a three pointer in the contest.  In his first actual game on American soil in about two years, all of his points came in the second half as he seemed to calm down throughout the game.

The Bucks are hoping Jennings will shoot out of the gates like Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook did last year and prove himself to be an All Star in the making this summer.

2. Joe Alexander, SF, First Round Pick in 2008

In his rookie year, Alexander was buried in the depth chart that saw him log just over 12 minutes a game where he averaged 4.7 points and 1.9 rebounds.  Drafted based on his freak athleticism and upside, Alexander will get a chance to shine this summer and find a spot in the Bucks’ rotation and potentially starting lineup.

Part of the reason John Hammond felt comfortable enough trading Jefferson this offseason was because he believed Alexander can be the small forward of the future.  He has no problem getting to the rim and has an above average jump shot, but he needs to use his size better and add muscle to his frame.

If the first Summer League game was a sign of things to come, Alexander had seven rebounds in the contest including five on the offensive end.  Despite going 4-18 in the contest, it showed that Alexander is gaining confidence in his shot as well as getting to the rim as he seen by his seven free throw attempts.

3. Amir Johnson, PF, Acquired via trade this off-season

The acquisition of Johnson was easily John Hammond’s biggest dice roll this year.  Many experts believe that he will thrive in a new setting and seeing consistent minutes, away from the bench role he saw for three years in Detroit, but his first game in the Summer League was anything but a breakout performance.

Johnson started at center for the Bucks, logging 21 minutes while totaling four points, four rebounds, seven turnovers and seven personal fouls.  It was hardly a good start for the 22-year-old California native, who has the potential to be the next Josh Smith on defense if he can harness his potential.

The best part about Johnson is that he is still young and will have many opportunities to get better on a Bucks team that lacks depth and needs a power forward to step up and start.  His full potential is probably two or three years away, but the Bucks could really benefit from him making improvements this summer.

4. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F, Second Round Pick in 2008

Of all the returning players coming to the Bucks next year, Mbah a Moute tops the list as the one I am most excited about.  As a second round pick last year, he was not expected to be much more than a practice body that could provide good minutes off the bench if needed.  However, he proved to be much more than that, playing in all 82 games while starting 51 of them.

This season, he will look to improve on last year’s success and fight for the starting small forward position.  Despite being a tweener at both forward positions, Mbah a Moute showed that he is capable of playing multiple positions and roles on the team.  As he works on a better post game and adds muscle to his frame, he has the potential to be a double-double threat every night.

5. Salim Stoudemire, PG, signed this off-season

Call this my major sleeper pick, but I believe Stoudamire still has a whole lot of potential in him and can make the Bucks roseter this year and have an impact.  His rookie season was the best of his three year career, but battling the likes of Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby for playing time isn’t the best way to show off your skills.

In the first Summer League game, Stoudamire played 13 minutes and contributed six points with a rebound, assist, and two steals.  While it was nothing spectacular, the point guard position will be a big time mystery heading into the season and Stoudamire can make his case for minutes this summer.

Ramon Sessions and Jennings will head the depth chart and Luke Ridnour will see decent minutes as well, but if Stoudamire can prove his point in the summer, he will find a spot on the Bucks roster.

July 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , , | Leave a comment

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