Strotty's Blog

All your Wisconsin sports news and more!

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

Lakers-Magic NBA Finals Preview: 6 Keys To Success

What, you thought I wasn’t going to write something about the Finals?  The Los Angeles Lakers host the Orlando Magic tonight in a best of seven series to determine NBA’s champion.  Most experts are picking the Lakers to take the series in six or seven games, but the arrival of Jameer Nelson has given some doubts about the Lakers rolling.  These five keys will be crucial in determining who stands last at the end of the series.

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

I almost finished the question with “can someone stop him?” before realizing that it’s near impossible to stop Superman.  In the playoffs, Howard is averaging 21.7 points and 15.4 rebounds and has a double-double in all but one game.  What’s even scarier is that his free throw percentage is up almost ten points to 65 percent, making it less than a guarantee for him to miss one when he is fouled.

Trying to stop Howard will be the combination of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum…good luck.  Bynum has failed miserably at giving the Lakers any solid minutes while in the lineup as he has averaged just 17 minutes in the playoffs this year.  He is more of a liability than a presence on offense and his defense has been less than stellar.

Can Andrew Bynum stop this sight from happening?

Can Andrew Bynum stop this sight from happening?

There is no room for error going up against Howard and if Gasol guards him, it will get ugly.  In game six against the Cavs, Howard took over the extra period and showed no signs of slowing down.  Both Gasol and Bynum will have to, in a sense, “take turns” with Howard trying to keep him away from the basket.

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

Everyone knows Orlando’s game runs on the three point shot and Los Angeles has had trouble stopping it this year.  Orlando made 12 threes in each of the games they played Los Angeles in the regular season.  The Lakers, like Cleveland, defend the three point shot very well but with Howard owning the paint, double teams might be necessary.

Because of that, whether or not the Lakers can close out on shooters will be huge.  This goes back to Bynum and Gasol being able to stop Howard by themselves.  In Orlando’s playoff wins this year, they have shot 39.2 percent from downtown, while in losses they have shot just 32 percent.

While one would expect percentages to be down in losses, the gap here is bigger than usual.  They shoot around the same amount of threes every game (24 in wins, 22 in losses), so it’s a matter of whether or not they go in.

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

Odom has had such an up-and-down season but has carried on through it all.  His hard work has paid off as he has been given the opportunity to play large minutes for Phil Jackson and has answered that call.  All of his numbers are up in the playoffs and it seems as though the Lakers go as Odom goes.

Mickael Pietrus could hold the key for the sharpshooting Magic.

Mickael Pietrus could hold the key for the sharpshooting Magic.

For Orlando, Mickael Pietrus is the reason Orlando has had so much success from beyond the arc.  Pietrus is 33-84 (39 percent) in the playoffs and played about as good of defense on LeBron James as humanly possible.  Coming off the bench, he will have the fun responsibility of guarding Kobe Bryant whenever he is in.

For Odom, he will more than likely be guarding Hedo Turkoglu and have to play solid defense as Turkoglu can do just about everything on the court.  The better performer of these two players just might determine the outcome of the series.

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

Everyone was amazed to hear that Jameer Nelson was going to be activated to the roster for the Finals, even after Magic officials said there was no chance he would play.  Now the question is what can he bring to the table?  In the two regular season meetings, the would have been All-Star averaged 27.5 points for the Magic and was the best performer Orlando threw out there.

However, why would you want to mess with a team that has just won the Eastern Conference and whose backcourt seems to be meshing as good as it has all year?  I’m all for Nelson gutting it out and trying to play (he will not play in Game one), but how will this affect Rafer Alston’s minutes and will it also throw off his rhythym?  Hopefully these questions are answered in a positive way for the Magic, but I am not as confident that this is the right move.

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

The Magic are 7-2 at home in the playoffs and the Lakers are 8-1 at the Staples Center, so the ability to steal a win on the road will be both tough but important.  With the NBA’s odd 2-3-2 format, the Magic will have a chance to take a huge advantage in the series if they can take games one or two.

However, unless they go out and dominate the series in five games, they will have to win the series in Los Angeles.  For the Lakers, winning games one and two would secure a return back to LA for a game six and potential game seven.  The stakes are greater and games at home, especially for the Magic, will be key.

Will Kobe finally win a trophy to call his own?

Will Kobe finally win a trophy to call his own?

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

While it’s true Mickael Pietrus did a good job guarding LeBron James, the King still went for 38 points per game and was pretty much unstoppable.  In guarding Kobe, Pietrus will have to always have a hand in his face and never let him get out of sight.  Kobe is not as quick as James is in getting to the hole but has a much better jump shot. With Howard sitting in the paint, Pietrus must make Kobe beat him off the dribble and hope for a pass.

As it goes for Kobe, he says he has been waiting for this moment forever.  He finally has his team in the driver’s seat and he is the main part that makes the machine run.  He knows what is at stake for his team and that this is his last best chance to take home a title.  I have always said Kobe has never received enough credit for being such a good teammate, and he will need to rely on those teammates to beat a very balanced Magic team.

Everything runs through Bryant for the Lakers and the table is set for him to take over this series.  Will the Magic let him?

June 4, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals, Orlando Magic | , , | 1 Comment

2009 NBA Mock Draft Round Two 2.0

Round one of my mock draft can be found here.
This year’s draft is not very top heavy. There are many steals waiting to be selected the second round, so let’s get to it.

31. Sacramento Kings: DaJuan Summers, SF, Georgetown

After addressing their two most glaring holes at power forward and point guard, the Kings select Summers, who has great value. Summers is a player whose size may suit the pros better than it did in the college game. Considering how well he played for the Hoyas, he could be a very good player in the NBA.

NBA Comparison: Tim Thomas

32. Portland Trailblazers: Nick Calethes, PG, Florida

Calethes is a very interesting prospect as he learned the point guard role after Jai Lucas transferred to Texas last year. I have seen him play only a handful of times, but he’s very efficient and has great athleticism. He takes the ball strong to the hoop and also plays well in transition. His size, 6′5″, doesn’t hurt either.

NBA Comparison: Rajon Rondo

33. Washington Wizards: Omri Casspi, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv

I really believe that if Gilbert Arenas can stay healthy and Nick Young can step up to a bigger role next year, the Wizards are very close to a playoff berth. Depth in the front court can only help this projection, and Casspi gives it to Washington. He is reportedly a very efficient player who plays long and wide on defense. I have never seen him play and am simply going off of scouting reports.

NBA Comparison: Tayshaun Prince

34. Denver Nuggets: Jermaine Taylor, SG, Central Florida

The Nuggets do not have many needs, so they go with the best player left on the board. Going up against weaker talent, Taylor averaged 26.2 points per game last year and was even better at the recent Portsmouth Invitational.  He should fit in perfectly with the high-scoring Nuggets.

NBA Comparison: Jason Richardson

Tyler Hansbrough dominated at North Carolina, but will that translate to the NBA?

Tyler Hansbrough dominated at North Carolina, but will that translate to the NBA?

35. Memphis Grizzlies: Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina

Many have wondered how Hansbrough will do in the NBA. I am one of the few who believe he can make a big impact right away. Everyone knows his tenacity, toughness, and ability in college. I think it will transition. Memphis would be smart to take a flyer on him here.

NBA Comparison: Rasheed Wallace

36. Detroit Pistons: Toney Douglas, PG, Florida State

Much like Rodney Stuckey, Douglas is a combo guard who brings a lot to the table.  Despite Will Bynum’s surge toward the end of the year, Allen Iverson’s uncertainty leaves a lot of questions that Douglas will be able to answer. From what I saw of Douglas, he has the body of a point guard and the ability of a two guard.

NBA Comparison: Gilbert Arenas

37. San Antonio Spurs: Jeff Adrien, SF, Connecticut

Adrien is one of my favorite players in this draft. His toughness is unparalleled in this draft, and I am sure he will make it at the next level. Despite his height, Adrien has great leaping ability and great technique, which could make him a double-double machine in the pros.

NBA Comparison: David Lee

38. Portland Trailblazers: Sergio Llull, SG, Spain

Whoever Portland’s international scout is deserves a raise. They have hit on a ton of great international players. Llull, a combo guard, will add to that list. From what I have heard, he has the ability to play both guard positions and does a great job off the pick-and-roll.

NBA Comparison: Tony Parker

39. Detroit Pistons: Jonas Jerebko, SF, Spain

The Pistons are not going to have many roster spots open next year, so they take a flyer on Jerebko, whom they can have play overseas for a few years to develop his game. Again, I do not know international players very well, but he supposedly plays more like a power forward and could use some work offensively.

NBA Comparison: Kevin Durant

40. Charlotte Bobcats: Dante Cunningham, SF, Villanova

I got to see Cunningham play a lot last year and came away very impressed with the Big East’s Most Improved Player. His work in the post could use a bit of shaping up, but his ability to knock down 15-footers was probably better than most 6′8″ players in the nation not named Tyler Hansbrough. He will, however, need to get a little faster.

NBA Comparison: Jeff Green

41. Milwaukee Bucks: Dionte Christmas, SG, Temple

Christmas let me down in the NCAA Tournament. I had the Owls going to the Sweet 16 with wins over Arizona State and Syracuse. But he has a shot to be a pretty decent pro. Although he is still very raw in terms of fundamentals, his offensive game is one of the best in the country, and he has great size. The Bucks have a lot of depth after Michael Redd, but no one really warrants minutes other than Charlie Bell.

NBA Comparison: Manu Ginobili

42. Los Angeles Lakers: Derrick Brown, PF, Xavier

Brown is another intriguing prospect who plays very a very athletic type of game for his size. Although he does not have the size of a true power forward, as with Jeff Adrien, his physical play will warrant him minutes in the post. Whether Los Angeles has room for him on it roster is another question, but Brown should fare just fine.

NBA Comparison: Luis Scola

43. Miami Heat: Jerel McNeal, SG, Marquette

Yes! I can only hope McNeal will be suiting up next year next to his Marquette counterpart Dwyane Wade. Other than my wish coming true, this move makes sense.   Miami really lacked depth at shooting guard last year (among other spots), and I believe he can be a very good player in this league. His defense is outstanding, and if he can develop his dribble a little more, he can be a good role player.

NBA Comparison: Jason Terry

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

The Pistons round out their second-round draft picks with Pendergraph. He is a smart player who produced good numbers at Arizona State and is looking to gain a better jump shot to go with his back-to-the-basket skills. Whether he can obtain a roster spot with the Pistons will depend on how well he progresses, especially on defense.

NBA Comparison: Antonio McDyess

45. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jodie Meeks, SG, Kentucky

Minnesota has a bunch of picks in this draft, some of which will be traded. The Timberwolves will look to continue to find gems. No one denies Meeks’ shooting range, but the other aspects of his game are suspect. He does not do anything else extremely well.

NBA Comparison: Ben Gordon

46. Cleveland Cavaliers: A.J. Price, PG, Connecticut

Mo Williams was arguably the biggest off-season acquisition in the NBA this year and has paid huge dividends for the Cavs. However, with Delonte West playing more of a shooting-guard role this year, the Cavs could use another true point guard in the rotation. That is exactly what Price could provide.

NBA Comparison: Deron Williams

47. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nando De Colo, PG, Cholet

I really do not know a whole lot about De Colo other than he is the best remaining prospect. Minnesota has a ton of picks (five) and should go with the best player available. De Colo is a Randy Foye-type who can play both guard positions fairly well. His game is still very raw and will need to improve if he wants to make the final roster.

NBA Comparison: Brandon Roy

48. Phoenix Suns: Leo Lyons, PF, Missouri

Lyons had a great year followed by a great tournament and is extremely athletic for his size. The Suns will look to add depth behind Amar’e Stoudemire. Lyons is a great fit for the Suns’ up-tempo offense. Lyons’ toughness and strength may be a concern, but overall he looks to be a decent prospect.

NBA Comparison: Drew Gooden

49. Atlanta Hawks: Danny Green, SF, North Carolina

After addressing the center position in Round One, the Hawks get a great small forward here. Green has outstanding length, plays exceptional defense, and has improved his offensive game out to the perimeter. Whether he will be quick enough in the NBA remains to be seen, but he has all the tools.

NBA Comparison: Gerald Wallace

No NBA scouts will be denying Damion James's defense come June.

No NBA scouts will be denying Damion James’ defense come June.

50. Utah Jazz: Damion Jones, SF, Texas

Utah stays big in Round Two, opting to go with the versatile and athletic James. Although I can definitely see James going back to Texas for his senior year, he would be a good option as a big man for the Jazz. At the three position, the Jazz are not very big and could use a good post presence.

NBA Comparison: Ron Artest

51. San Antonio Spurs: Milan Macvan, C, KK Hemofarm

The Spurs are almost as good as the Trailblazers at finding international talent, and although I do not know a whole lot about Macvan, he would give the Spurs another good big man. The Spurs can probably let him play overseas for a few years and see how he progresses.

NBA Comparison: Pau Gasol

52. Indiana Pacers: Wesley Matthews, SF, Marquette

The second Golden Eagle goes off the board at No. 52. Matthews played great in the Portsmouth Invitational and showed some moves that may convince scouts he can succeed as a shooting guard. The size is there, but the quickness might not be.  Matthews developed an excellent outside shot this year that will also help his chances of being drafted.

NBA Comparison: Grant Hill

53. San Antonio Spurs: Alex Ruoff, SG, West Virginia

The Spurs find a lot of their talent in young players who are very smart. Ruoff fits this description perfectly. He may not have all the athletic tools, but he plays smart and is very efficient. With so much talent at the shooting-guard position, it may be hard for Ruoff to find a spot, but it won’t be because he didn’t try.

NBA Comparison: Kirk Hinrich

54. Charlotte Bobcats: Taj Gibson, PF, Southern Cal

The Bobcats finish out their balanced draft with the best player available. Gibson did not improve a whole lot while at Southern Cal, but his consistency shone through as he became a go-to option this year for the Trojans. The Bobcats should find a spot for him on the roster as Sean May experiment is all but over.

NBA Comparison: Leon Powe

55. Portland Trailblazers: Michael Washington, PF, Arkansas

The Trailblazers have four second-round picks, so to end it I will give them the best player available. That happens to be Washington. Playing for the Razorbacks last year, Washington filled up the stat sheet and was great on offense. Defensively, he is still a little out of control, but he has great size to go with his skills.

NBA Comparison: Al Horford

56. Portland Trailblazers: Greivis Vasquez, PG, Maryland

Another best-player-available selection, Vasquez has played in big time games and stepped up in a big way. He does a little bit of everything and may fly under the radar as a guy who can make a roster. Portland is filled with young guards, but you never know what will happen with injuries and trades.

NBA Comparison: Jason Kidd

57. Phoenix Suns: Josh Heytvelt, PF, Gonzaga

The Suns took Leo Lyons earlier in the round, but Heytvelt is too good of value to pass up here. Despite his great offensive game, his defensive struggles really concern me. Will he be good enough to defend centers in the NBA? If he is, he could form a very nice duo with Robin Lopez in the Suns’ front court. Having a platoon of Lyons and Heytvelt would give the Suns a little bit of everything.

NBA Comparison: Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Marquette's Dominic James will make some team looking for a great back-up point guard very happy.

Marquette’s Dominic James will make some team looking for a great backup point guard very happy.

58. Boston Celtics: Dominic James, PG, Marquette

Maybe I’m being a bit of a homer pick here, but I could see the Celtics going with a point guard, and James is the next best one. James has been through a ton in his career and has maintained a positive outlook. That will transition to the next level in the Celtics’ locker room. If James can improve his free-throw shooting and jump shooting, he can start in the NBA. His defense is that good.

NBA Comparison: Nate Robinson

59. Los Angeles Lakers: Lee Cummard, SG, BYU

Cummard will be a long shot to make the team with such a deep unit for the Lakers, but he has great size for a shooting guard with a nice jump shot. He will need to improve his defense, but if he can, he could be a nice end-of-the-bench guy.

NBA Comparison: Matt Carroll

60. Miami Heat: Robert Dozier, SF, Memphis

Dozier had a decent year at Memphis, but last year’s losses clearly exposed him. Miami can use all the depth it can get, and Dozier plays nice defense with good length in his arms. Mr. Irrelevant for the NBA actually has a pretty good shot to make the team if the Heat stay at this position.

NBA Comparison: Tyrus Thomas

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, NBA, NBA Draft, Orlando Magic | , , , | 1 Comment

2009 NBA Mock Draft Round One 2.0

This year’s draft class is one of the weaker in recent memory, but a lot of teams are one piece away and there are great role players in this year’s draft who have the experience to come in right away and see minutes.  Round two will be up tomorrow but for now, enjoy my 2009 NBA Mock Draft 2.0!

1. Sacramento Kings: Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma

Unlike the NFL, when you have the first overall seed in the draft you go with the best player nine out of ten times. Count this one as one of those nine times as the Kings grab the best player in the draft in Griffin to tag-team with Spencer Hawes in the front court. NBA Comparison: Amare Stoudemire

It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Blake Griffin will be selected first overall by whoever wins the NBA Lottery.

It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Blake Griffin will be selected first overall by whoever wins the NBA Lottery.

2. Washington Wizards: Ricky Rubio, PG, DKV Joventut

Ever since his Olympics performance against the United States, scouts have been drooling waiting for Rubio to declare for the draft.  Now that he has entered his name, the Wizards can start building around him to get back to the playoffs. Moving Gilbert Arenas to a Dwyane Wade-type shooting guard role will help both players out and make the Wizards that much better.  NBA Comparison: Rafer Alston

3. Los Angeles Clippers: Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona

Hill was one of the most improved players in the NCAA this year and will be rewarded for it in the draft.  Hill is an outstanding scorer and and even better shot blocker.  Hopefully Los Angeles can reverse their Lottery luck and start to build a core around Hill, Eric Gordon, and Deandre Jordan.  NBA Comparison: Al Jefferson

4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut

The Thunder are growing excellent young talent right now with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook, but there appears to be a gaping hole at the center position.  Thabeet was the best defensive player in the NCAA last year and if he can add a some muscle to his frame, he will be the next big shot blocker in the league.  NBA Comparison: Sam Dalembert

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy

A lot of people are underrating Jennings because of his decision to play internationally instead of going to Arizona, but do not deny Jennings’ talent for one second.  He excels on his jump shot and getting to the hoop, where he finishes with great power.  Minnesota can move Randy Foye to shooting guard to make room for Jennings.  NBA Comparison: Allen Iverson

6. Memphis Grizzlies: James Harden, SG, Arizona State

I am not a huge fan of Harden as I wonder how good he can be without having top end speed. Still, you can not overlook his outstanding ability on jump shots.  He needs to work on creating more offensively and he plays pretty good defense for his size.  His potential is huge and despite having O.J. Mayo, the Grizzlies believe in Mike Conley and will build on more depth in getting Harden.  NBA Comparison: Ben Gordon

7. Golden State Warriors: Tyreke Evans, PG, Memphis

Evans was one of my favorite players to watch this year, and for good reason.  He has great size for a point guard and uses it very well getting to the hoop.  He is also able to guard bigger players on the defenders, something Golden State has been known to give up on most nights.  Evans also improved his jump shot as the year went on and will develop it even further in Don Nelson’s system.  NBA Comparison: Dwyane Wade

8. New York Knicks: Jeff Teague, PG, Wake Forest

Teague is the definition of a combo guard as he has a knack for scoring baskets but also handles the point very well.  He should thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s run-n-gun offense because of it, and with the uncertainty of Nate Robinson and Chris Duhon next year, Teague makes a lot of sense here.  NBA Comparison: Gilbert Arenas

9. Toronto Raptors: Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke

Toronto really struggled to find a steady and consistent shooting guard this year, but Henderson should solve all thier problems.  Henderson is unbelievably athletic and a smart player who will benefit greatly from an up-tempo style that he was not able to see while playing for coach K.  NBA Comparison: Joe Johnson

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse

I don’t know if Flynn will end up going over Ty Lawson in the draft come June, but he should.  Not only did Flynn have a better statistical season (by a hair), but I believe that he is the next big thing to come and has more potential than Lawson.  Flynn plays much bigger than he really is and the Bucks could use a starting point guard on a team full of back-ups in Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions.  NBA Comparison: Tony Parker

11. New Jersey Nets: Earl Clark, SF, Louisville

Clark is one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft and one of my favorites.  I got to watch him quite a bit as he played in the Big East, and from what I can tell he has all the tools.  His size matched up with his athleticism is unlike any other player in the draft.  If he can focus on becoming a true forward (settles for too many jump shots), his outstanding defense and versatility will carry him far in the league.  NBA Comparison: Josh Smith

12. Charlotte Bobcats: Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina

Ellington’s permiter game is outstanding and he has pretty good size for a shooting guard.  Charlotte lacked a true two guard after the Jason Richardson trade, and it never hurts to have a little home-grown talent to bring some people to the stadium.  NBA Comparison: Richard Hamilton

13. Indiana Pacers: Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson

The value that Curry brings falling to number 13 is too hard to pass up.  Curry formed himself into a combo guard this year, taking over point guard responsbilities.  This will be a key asset for NBA scouts to see as last year he was more of a pure shooter that did not do anything else very well.  NBA Comparison: Mike Bibby

How fun would Ty Lawson be to watch playing in the Suns offense?

How fun would Ty Lawson be to watch playing in the Suns offense?

14. Phoenix Suns: Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina

Lawson will become the heir apparent to Steve Nash and he should thrive in the Suns up-tempo system, somewhat similar to what he played in at Chapel Hill.  Lawson lacks ideal size for a point guard but his combination of speed and strength should make him a very good player in the league.  NBA Comparison: Deron Williams

15. Detroit Pistons: Demar DeRozan, SF, Southern Cal

DeRozan has filled up many a Youtube videos with his athleticsm and speed to go with it, but the question is whether or not he can translate that into a solid basketball player.  At Southern Cal, DeRozan had an efficient year and, with so much potential on his side, Detroit should be able to turn him into a stud.  NBA Comparison: Josh Howard

16. Chicago Bulls: Terrance Williams, SG, Louisville

I do not expect the Bulls to re-sign Ben Gordon this off-season, leaving somewhat of a hole at the position.  Williams has the best intangibles and leadership qualities of anyone in the draft and plays excellent defense, which is something the Bulls could use more out of their guards. If Gordon is re-signed by the time of the draft, this pick could easily be Patrick Patterson.  NBA Comparison: Andre Iguodala

17. Philadelphia 76ers: Chase Budinger, SF, Arizona

Budinger has significantly increased his stock since coming out of high school with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, and has become a much better all around player because of it.  Philadelphia could use depth at the position but would also consider Flynn or Lawson if either of them were to fall this far.  NBA Comparison: Luol Deng

18. Minneosta Timberwolves:James Johnson, PF, Wake Forest

While Minnesota has entrenched their front court with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, Johnson is a project that can sit and wait in the wings for a few years becoming a full time player.  He flew under the radar all of last year because of Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu but his athleticism and strength are two great traits that could make him a stellar defender in the NBA.  NBA Comparison: Al Thornton

19. Atlanta Hawks: B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State

Mullens was the top prospect coming out of high school but did not have an unbelievable year at Ohio State. Still, he has a ton of potential that could very easily translate to the NBA game.  He is very raw but has good size and is fluid in the paint and is one of the few true centers that could go in the first round this year.  Atlanta could use some depth behind Zaza Pachulia and keep Al Horford at the power forward position. NBA Comparison: Sam Dalembert

20. Utah Jazz: DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh

If Carlos Boozer is not back for the Jazz, which I do not expect him to be, depth at power forward will be a major concern.  Paul Millsap proved that he is more than capable of starting, but behind him there is little talent on a team that runs on having depth.  NBA Comparison: Paul Millsap

21. New Orleans Hornets: Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU

The Hornets are really lacking at the shooting guard position and Thornton is a project that could stem into something very positive if he continues to work on his game.  He does a great job coming off of screens in offensive sets and even has a decent post game that he can use in the NBA.  NBA Comparison: Ray Allen

22. Dallas Mavericks: Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky

Other than Brandon Bass, the Mavs do not have very man post-up forwards, and that is exactly what Patterson is.  Injuries plagued him but when he is playing good basketball, he is a top-10 pick.  He averages close to three offensive rebounds per game and works very hard in the post to fight for rebounds despite still being a very raw player.  He could easily be the steal of this draft.  NBA Comparison: Al Horford

Jrue Holiday would benefit from another year with Ben Howland at UCLA...just ask Darren Collison.

Jrue Holiday would benefit from another year with Ben Howland at UCLA...just ask Darren Collison.

23. Sacarmento Kings: Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA

After addressing the power forward position, the Kings pick up a big-time project in Holiday.  He has the potential to be a starting point guard in the Association but will really need to polish up.  He struggled late in the season but gives good versatility as a combo guard.  I would not be surprised at all to see Holiday come back to the Bruins for another year of work in college.  NBA Comparison: Rodney Stuckey

24. Portland Trailblazers: Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh

Young is one of the most polished players in the draft that can come in right away and get minutes.  He will be coming to a team in the Blazers that has some of the best young talent in the league, so player that can see the floor from day one will be important.  Young plays great defense and really improved his jump shot this year.  NBA Comparison: Brandon Rush

25. Oklahoma City Thunder: Eric Maynor, PG, VCU

Despite having standout rookie Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have shaky depth at the point guard position.  Maynor benefited greatly from the NCAA Tournament and was one of the most well-recognized names in March.  He is a veteran player and a great leader that can translate to the young Thunder team.  NBA Comparison: Nate Robinson

26. Chicago Bulls: Austin Daye, PF, Gonzaga

Daye is a very interesting prospect that, like most Bulls forwards, will be a project in the making.  The one difference is that Daye is an outstanding defender and very strong in the post.  Too many times this year the Bulls were “out-physicaled” and it cost them points in the paint.  Daye also has a nice mid-range game on offense.  NBA Comparison: Jared Jeffries

27. Memphis Grizzlies: Patrick Mills, PG, Saint Mary’s

Mike Conley showed flashes of starting capability, but just in case he is not the answer for the Grizzles, Mills will be a very good pickup with good value.  Mills takes too many outside shots right now and will need to work on that, especially if he keeps missing them, but over time could prove to be a solid option at the point.  NBA Comparison: Rafer Alston

Gani Lawal has tremendous athleticism, but will it translate to the NBA?

Gani Lawal has tremendous athleticism, but will it translate to the NBA?

28. Minnesota Timberwolves: Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech

With three selections in the first round, Minnesota will likely not have three huge needs to address, so they will either go with the player with the most potential or simply the best player on the draft board.  Lawal’s potential is through the roof as he plays above the rim on most possessions and has thunderous dunks in most games he plays in.  While he is still raw and not mechanically sound, he could be a star.  NBA Comparison: Jason Maxiell

29. Los Angeles Lakers: Darren Collison, PG, UCLA

Just like they did with Jordan Farmar, the Lakers go back to a UCLA point guard and get a great floor leader in Collison.  Staying for his senior year hurt his draft stock but he still produces at a high level and had three Final Four appearances, showing he knows how to win.  Derek Fisher will be 36 and has stopped producing for the Lakers, while Farmar is strictly a backup.  NBA Comparison: Chris Duhon

30. Cleveland Cavaliers: Tyler Smith, SF, Tennessee

The Cavs are in good hands with LeBron James, but injuries to Wally Szczerbiak and J.J. Hickson this year really exposed the Cavs lack of a bench at the forward position.  Smith is definitely a project and there is a good chance he will return for his senior year, but regardless of when he comes out, he has the athleticism to make it in the pros, if only as a great defender.  NBA Comparison: Tyrus Thomas

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, NBA, NBA Draft, Orlando Magic | , , , | 5 Comments

Why the Magic, not the Cavaliers, are the Team to Beat in the East

It seems as though every sports writer and their grandmother have put the Cleveland Cavaliers into the NBA Finals to face the Los Angeles Lakers.  The West has a few people torn, but the general consensus is that the Lakers will come out on top.  Whether or not the Denver Nuggets will give them a series remains to be seen, but back in the East there is a team that has a very good shot at giving LeBron and the Cavs a run for their money: The Orlando Magic.

The Magic did not have any of the big storylines on the year like the Heat did with Dwyane Wade’s MVP-type season, or the Celtics did with Kevin Garnett’s injury, or the Cavs did with the can-do-no-wrong LeBron James.

Sure, Dwight Howard was a key contributor to the team this year as he picked up Defensive Player of the Year honors, but the award seemed to come and go this year unlike last year when Garnett won it.  Maybe it was the “under the radar” mentality that the Magic had despite winning 59 games, or maybe it was Dwight Howard’s big smile during every game.

Don't let the smile fool you: Dwight Howard is all business when he steps on the court.

Don't let the smile fool you: Dwight Howard is all business when he steps on the court.

It might have even been that they were not flashy at all this year.  Whatever the reason, the Magic are here to stay and are going to do some serious damage in the playoffs.

In the first round, the Magic overcame a few hiccups to take four of the last five games, including three straight, against a talented but injured Sixers team.  They did not look like world beaters in the first three games of the series.

Their defense was struggling and the Sixers had the swagger of a team looking to knock off Howard’s third-seeded squad, especially after two buzzer beating shots to take wins in the first three games of the series.

However, the thing to note was that even in the two losses, both games were close because of Orlando’s capability to step up and play critical defense when necessary.

In the second round, the Magic will match up against the most tired second seed in NBA history.  After seven overtimes and one of the most exciting (not best) playoff series of all time, many wonder what, if anything, the Boston Celtics have left in the tank.

Whatever they have left, they might want to get some more as they go up against six feet, 11 inches, and 265 pounds of rested, hungry Dwight Howard starting Monday.  I am going to make the prediction right now that the Magic and the Cavaliers will advance in their respective matchups, and that is where the fun starts.

Is it just me, or do the Orlando Magic have a striking resemblance to last year’s Boston Celtics?  Wait, hear me out!  They are not last year’s Celtics because they do not have potentially three Hall of Famers and are not the favorites in the whole league to win it all.  What they do have is the Defensive Player of the Year in Howard, who was arguably more efficient this year than Garnett was last year as he led the league in rebounds and blocks.

For a comparison’s sake, let’s call Rashard Lewis this year’s Ray Allen.  Lewis was stuck in Seattle forever, not only being hurt by the fact that he played for the Sonics but also because he played second fiddle to Ray Allen.

Say what you will about position differences, but in the end Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen's stats are very similar.

Say what you will about position differences, but in the end Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen's stats are very similar.

If you go back and look, Lewis’s stats this year are almost identical to Allen’s last year.  Despite Lewis playing more of a forward position (an added bonus), he is more than capable of playing shooting guard on the Magic and is the sharpshooter that does a little bit of everything.

Hedo Turkoglu, aside from percentages, matches up even better with Paul Pierce from last year and plays the same style of basketball that Pierce does.  While the leadership qualities might not be there for Turkoglu, the stats and performance are.

In Rafer Alston, you have a shoot-first point guard who takes care of the ball extremely well.  While Rajan Rondo was much more of a pass first point guard last year, the roles that each player had on their teams were more of the court general, making sure things were running smoothly as the “big three” took games over.

If anything, Alston is more valuable because he does what Rondo does and adds a few more points over the course of a game.  His field goal percentage, always a point of scrutiny for Alston, jumped over four points with Orlando while his attempts went down.  That’s always a good combination for a point guard.

Because of matchup combinations, Courtney Lee matches up with Kendrick Perkins as we round out the starters.  However, the more I think about it, the two of them matching up makes a whole lot of sense.

Lee is a rookie that has given big minutes, 25 per game, and produced with about eight points per game.  Last year Perkins was also the young gun on the team, in his fourth year seeing decent minutes and first year starting.  He averaged 24 minutes and poured seven points per game.  The similarities between the two are striking.

As we all know, one of the biggest reasons that the Celtics were able to take home last year’s crown was because of bench play.  James Posey was the unheralded star off the bench in the playoffs for the Celtics, and Mickael Pietrus is the closest thing to him.

While Posey was much more efficient last year, Pietrus offers versatility off the bench and is really capable of playing three positions on the court.  Also, being on Golden State really hurt Pietrus’s stock on defense but was one of the main reasons that he received minutes in Golden State.

As J.J. Redick proved in game six, he is more than ready to take on the role of Eddie House this year.  Despite the attention that House got last year, he only averaged 2.4 points per game and made less than one three-pointer in the playoffs.

Redick did not play in two of Orlando’s first round games, but had to start in game six due to Courtney Lee’s injury.  He finished the game with 15 points and drained five threes.  There is no reason why Redick can not come off the bench when a big shot is needed or Orlando is looking for shots.

Like any championship team, Orlando's bench will have to do more than just cheer if they want to be playing in June.

Like any championship team, Orlando's bench will have to do more than just cheer if they want to be playing in June.

Tony Battie is capable of giving the team good minutes, just like P.J. Brown did last year and the veteran Anthony Johnson has given the Magic quality and efficient minutes, just like Sam Cassell did last year.

While Marcin Gorat is hardly equal to Leon Powe and Glen Davis, he is still going to give good minutes for the Magic, as seen with his double-double in game six when Dwight Howard was suspended for his elbow on Sam Dalembert.

It’s true that Orlando is not nearly as deep as Boston was last year, but then again no team in the East is.  Not even the Cavaliers.  While you can make the argument that some of the comparisons are reaches and that Boston’s talent was better last year, the stats and situations do not lie and it is possible that Orlando makes the run Boston did last year.

Standing in Orlando’s way of an Eastern Conference Championship, barring a miraculous upset from Miami or Atlanta, will be the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Breaking down this potential matchup only gives me more confidence that Orlando will be standing tall at the end of the series.

Yes, I am writing this piece based on more than the fact that the Magic have defeated the Cavaliers twice this year against just one loss.  In the first game, Jameer Nelson was still running the show for the Magic and J.J. Hickson was getting decent minutes for the Cavs, with the Magic running away with the game in the second half led by Dwight Howard’s 22 points and 18 rebounds.

In the second matchup, the Magic went into the Quicken Loans Arena and hung with the best home team in the league until the final minute, when King James took the game over to take the 97-93 win.  Rafer Alston had been successfully traded after Jameer Nelson’s season ending injury took place, and starred in the game with 23 points to go with four rebounds and four assists.

In the finale of the season series, the Magic led by as much as 40 points as they coasted to an easy 116-87 victory, having seven players in double figures for the game.

In these three games, we saw that the Magic are able to, at the very least, hang with the Cavaliers on any given night.  More importantly, their play on the road shone brightly in Cleveland in a game that it took the eventual number one seed down to the final minute.

From a regular season standpoint, the Magic looked great in their games against Cleveland and were as competitive as any other team in the league, but an even stronger sign to Orlando’s potential success against Cleveland lies in the man-to-man matchups in the series.

First off, no one on the Cavaliers, or the NBA for that matter, can match the brute strength of Dwight Howard.  His size and quickness just add to his arsenal of lethal attacks that he puts on defenses every night.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao will get the daunting task of matching up with Howard, but how they will stop him remains to be seen.  In three games this year, Howard has averaged 18.3 points and 14.7 rebounds to go along with 3.7 blocks.  His field goal percentage against Cleveland was higher than his season average and his turnovers were down.

Howard will have his way with the Cavaliers defense and get most any shot he wants. Everyone talks about Cleveland’s stellar defense, but as it has been all year, Orlando seems to go unmentioned.  LeBron James lives on driving to the hoop and finishing a one-on-one matchup at the rim or dishing off to an open teammate if help comes.

Dwight Howard has averaged almost four blocks per game in the three meetings against the Cavaliers this year.

Dwight Howard has averaged almost four blocks per game in the three meetings against the Cavaliers this year.

James will face the toughest matchup of the playoffs if he is matched up with Howard, and by not needing much help defense, Howard is more than up to the task of taking on James.  James is going to get his points, rebounds, assists, and Sportscenter Top 10 dunks.

Any team that tries to stop him will get beaten by Mo Williams or Delonte West as they watch LeBron, with three defenders on him, laugh at his wide open teammates shooting threes.  Howard can contain James and make sure someone else beats them, but not without a fight.

While Hedo Turkoglu will give up strength to most power forwards in the NBA, Anderson Varejao averaged just a little over nine points per game in the three meetings.  Because Cleveland’s forwards outside of James are not big scorers, Turkoglu’s matchup problems mean less than they would against other teams.

Rafer Alston is by no means an All-Defensive player, but he has stepped up his play on defense since joining the Magic, as most teammates of Dwight Howard could attest to.  Shutting down Mo Williams is second on the list to containing LeBron James and Alston will have to take on that task.

Having Courtney Lee back from injury might be the single most important ingredient, but thankfully due to the NBA’s ridiculous playoff system, the Magic would not play the Cavaliers for about two weeks.  That should be plenty of time for him to get healthy, but they will need it because while Lee is a great perimeter defender, his replacement Redick is a liability on defense.

While it remains to be seen whether someone can knock out the current Beasts of the East, the Magic are the most prepared team to take the job.  While getting past the Celtics will be no easy task, defeating the Cavaliers in a seven game series means that you would have to win a game on the road.

Only one other team (not counting Philadelphia) has done that: the Los Angeles Lakers.  It should be an interesting series and hopefully the games can continue to be as exciting as they were in round one.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, LeBron James, NBA, NBA Finals, Orlando Magic | , , , | 3 Comments