NBA Power Rankings (1-15)

Here’s a look at the Saving the Skyhook Power Rankings for the week:

1. Chicago Bulls

Last Week: Wizards (W), Nets (W), Pacers (L)

The Bulls continue to come on strong, led by MVP candidate Derrick Rose (24.9 PPG, 7.8 APG on the season). The Bulls have held their opponents under 85 points seven times in the month of march and have won eight of their last ten.

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Diesel Fuel: Would Shaq Work in Boston?

It’s the end of July, and the league’s oldest player, Shaquille O’Neal remains unsigned. Teams like Atlanta, San Antonio, and Miami have all been mentioned as potential suitors, but there’s still no offer on the table. Now, coming toward the end of the offseason, rumors are now starting to pick up that the Diesel might make his way to Beantown for one more ride with the Boston Celtics.

The first obstacle to signing Shaq, of course, is overcoming his demand for a high salary. After signing Jermaine O’Neal and others, the Celtics don’t have the cap room to offer him anything more than the veteran’s minimum in a straight-up deal. So either Ainge needs to work his magic to convince Shaq to take the money in exchange for a very good shot at another championship or he needs to devise a sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland. The issue with that? Any player signed and traded must have a contract of three or more years, which is a very long commitment to make to O’Neal. That said, the team has the cooperation of the retiring Rasheed Wallace to use his midlevel deal as a trade chip if they so choose.

Let’s say they overcome the issues and the Big Cactus joins the Green for one more campaign. Would the experiment work? Despite Shaq’s dwindling numbers compared to those of his prime, he has still been very effective on the court over the past few seasons in limited minutes. In fact, last year in Cleveland, Shaq’s per-40-minute averages were: 20.5 points, 11.3 boards, 2 blocks — and he still shot 57 percent. Furthermore, he’s still a force on defense who can match up with the Dwight Howards of the league. And his deficiencies guarding the pick and roll can be covered up by Jermaine, Kevin Garnett, and, when he comes back, Kendrick Perkins.

And Perk’s injury is another key factor for the Shaq signing. In Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers showed how crucial Perkins is to the Celtics, and he’ll still be out for quite some time. They did bring on Jermaine O’Neal, but after his addition (which effectively fills ‘Sheed’s void), they’re still down one rotation big man from the four they had last year so long as Perkins is out. Shaq completes that frontcourt with a skillset that’s pretty similar to Perkins, but Shaq is better on offense.

What about when Perkins comes back, though? Will Doc Rivers be able to get all of these guys minutes with Glen Davis in the picture, too? That remains to be seen. You know Garnett won’t mind giving up a few minutes here or there if it means the team will win, but the same can’t necessarily be said for the O’Neal pair. Shaq comes with plenty of baggage on the side, and his ego could be a problem. Even in Cleveland he started, so he’ll have to learn to give that up if he wants to play in Boston. Also, he likely won’t get as many touches as he did with LeBron — which was probably too many anyway. But considering the age of KG and the O’Neals, having an insurance policy in case of injury isn’t a bad idea.

This signing could be a difference-maker for the Celtics. They’ve just got to get the money straightened out with the Diesel, and he might be playing ball in New England come October.


Boston Must Rely on Ability to Forget

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204141 Boston Celtics

Source: Yardbarker.com

It all comes down to this: a monumental Game 7 in Southern California pitting the two sides of the greatest rivalry in the history of professional basketball — and things couldn’t appear worse for the Boston Celtics.

Momentum swings of this magnitude don’t come along very often, but the immediate evaporation of hope between a pivotal Game 5 than the Celtics took and the Lakers’ tactical thrashing of the Green on Tuesday night is absolutely palpable. Lakers fans were biting their lips; now they’re screaming their lungs out. It’s not a great site for Celtics fans.

But before the two teams suit up and take the court Thursday, looking on as Kobe Bryant ruthlessly salivates — looking for the kill and and tasting his fifth championship ring — Boston must come to grips with something: they can still do it. If they don’t have that positive attitude going in, they might as well sit the game out. Starting fresh and forgetting about the past is the only way to even conceive of taking this title. The Celtics forgot in 2008.

They forgot the years of being the laughingstock of the entire league. They forgot the times of inferior personnel, poor game execution, and ineffective coaching. They went in with the sentiment that it’s just another year. They brought on Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and they didn’t miss a beat. They were a powerhouse again, and they won the title.

The Celtics forgot in the 2009 playoffs. Garnett, their rock, couldn’t play. They didn’t dwell on that. They didn’t sulk. They put it behind them and fought with toughness and grit to the very end. They may not have won the championship last year, but they nearly ousted the heavily favored Orlando Magic thanks to great bench play and a focused mind.

The Celtics forgot in 2010. No one expected anything of Boston by midseason. They weren’t playing with heart, passion, or inspiration the squad had become anonymous with. They were washed up. The days of their domination were over. They were nothing. They had no chance. They limped into the playoffs with a mere No. 4 seed. Then they forgot. They didn’t care what they did or didn’t do during the season. They made the corrections when the time was right, getting back to the core principles that made them winners in the first place. They shocked Cleveland. They shocked Orlando. And they were on the way to shocking L.A.

With an over-the-back foul and an awkward step it was all gone. Kendrick Perkins went crashing down to the floor with the weight of Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Larry Bird on his shoulders. It was a demoralizing moment. The key to an unforgiving defense and an unquestioned embracer of defense was gone, writing in pain the locker room. Boston took to heart the absence of their big man, and Kobe took advantage, surgically dismantling the champions in front of his eyes.

Now it’s Game 7, and the Celtics have two choices: fold and go home or put up a fight.

I’m betting they decide to forget.


NBA Today: June 16

  • Kendrick Perkins and Andrew Bynum, the two teams’ starting centers, both left Game 6 with knee injuries. Perkins is not expected to return for the final game.
  • The Knicks are getting desperate: they’ve asked Donald Trump, Chris Rock, and Spike Lee, among others, to help will LeBron to New York.

Disrupting Dwight Howard

It’s no secret that success for the Orlando Magic begins and ends with Dwight Howard. His impact on the offensive and defensive end is so crucial to the team’s culture of winning.

It’s also no secret that Howard often has his troubles coping in the paint on offense and in his personal-foul management on the defensive end. When he succumbs to these issues, the Magic tend to lose.

With the team down to the Boston Celtics 2-0 (and well on its way to a third loss to their Eastern Conference counterparts), D12 hasn’t yet had a good game. Looking back on his dominance in the first two playoff series against the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks (and the team’s according blowout wins), it is evident that the problem isn’t with Howard; instead, it is mostly because of the effort of the Celtics defense that the Orlando center has provided so little offensive production.

Looking at Howard’s role in his team’s offense, his post skills and scoring ability down low play only a small part in his effectiveness. His ability to draw double-teams and create open shots for his teammates is where his true value manifests itself. As a result, it stands to reason that opposing teams who can get by without doubling Howard are better off on the defensive end.

During the regular season, 18 of Orlando’s 20 losses came to teams who have centers capable of defending Howard in single coverage. That says something about his passing ability and the detriment of helping on him on defense.

In the playoffs, the Magic quickly dispatched the Bobcats in Round 1. Nazr Mohammed, the Bobcats’ starting center, isn’t exactly equipped to handle the load.

But in the second round, they squared off against the Hawks. Al Horford was one of the players I counted as someone who can counter Howard on his own. He definitely can. So why did they sweep the Hawks and now face a troubling deficit to the Celtics?

Well, both Atlanta and Boston have the resources to play single coverage on Superman. The Celtics, however, have a particular advantage. Whereas the Hawks must to resort to Zaza Pachulia to guard Howard when Horford is on the bench, the Celtics never lose a step; there’s always someone who can keep him in check.

Whether it is Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, or, to a lesser extent, Glen Davis, there’s always someone roaming to cause trouble for Howard. But the advantage doesn’t stop there. In addition to the depth of the front court on defense, each of these guys has his own particular niche in his game.

One minute, Howard’s facing Perkins, who relies primarily on his strength to deny Howard position and make him take more difficult shots. The next minute it’s Garnett, who takes advantage of exceptional finesse, timing, and positioning to protect his basket. Later, Howard might see a defensive matchup from Wallace, who tends to frustrate Howard and can affect his shots with his length.

The variation in the defensive styles that the Boston forwards use is undeniably frustrating to Howard, and it prevents him from getting into any reliable rhythm. And if there’s one thing that no one wants to see, it is Howard’s playing in rhythm.

Sure, Boston’s defense is immaculate overall. But at the core, at least in this series, is a deceptively inconspicuous front designed to limit the key cog in the Orlando offense. And that’s why they might not lose one this series to a team that previously hasn’t suffered a defeat in a month.

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Expectation Series: Part 3 (Most Disappointing Players)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

As much as that facial fracture must have hurt, Turkoglu's performance this season is what he should be drying his eyes about.

So far I’ve reviewed the bests and the worsts of the alarming teams from this season. But it’s important, too, that I take a look at the individual productions that have crippled team’s performances. While these teams have had marginal success despite unsatisfactory efforts by key players, their underperformance may play an appreciable role come playoff time. With that, here’s my top-five disappointing players.

No. 5 — Ron Artest

Ron Artest has experienced a significant reduction in his offensive output. In fact, he has lost six points off his per-game scoring average. That said, he’s also taking six fewer shots a game. And, to be honest, it’s reasonable. Going from the second offensive option in Houston behind Yao Ming (excluding Tracy McGrady, who missed most of the season with injuries) to the fourth (or fifth, if you prioritize Lamar Odom off the bench) option on a stacked Lakers team is a legitimate justification for putting up fewer shots. However, his offense isn’t the problem.

Artest has long been known as one of the premiere perimeter defenders in entire league. Unfortunately, his effort on that end of the ball has not been there as much this season, and he’s starting to lose his reputation. Opposing small forwards are no longer wetting their pants in anticipation of being matched up with Ron Artest. Chalk it up to his age or just his unwillingness to play as hard as part of a much more talented roster than he’s ever seen, but he’s not doing what Mitch Kupchak brought him in to do. Perhaps keeping Trevor Ariza would have been the better play for L.A. At least they haven’t had to deal with any of his attitudinal issues, though.

No. 4 — Richard Jefferson

When I wrote about the Spurs a few days ago, I mentioned that the acquisition of Jefferson hadn’t really panned out for the team as they expected. He has lost over seven points a game compared to last year in Milwaukee. While he, too, experienced a downgrade in offensive priority, his case is more troubling than Artest’s. He isn’t known as a defensive standout, so it is his responsibility to get on the scoreboard to help his team win. With the various injuries San Antonio has had, it is imperative that RJ increase his offensive output for the playoffs to keep them alive.

No. 3 — Josh Howard

What an awful year for a player that was well above average in the league. Howard is scoring nearly six fewer points a game this season, and he is shooting only 40 percent from the field and a staggeringly low 27 percent from long range; this inability to score has led to nearly a five-point drop in PER from last year. His failure to contribute on the hard wood coupled with his off-the-court issues and attitude problems led to his midseason ouster from Dallas to the Wizards in exchange for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Now he is stuck on the Wizards, and they’re going nowhere fast. He has a potential out with an $11.8 million team option for 2010-2011, and I have to assume Washington will not exercise it given his horrid play this season. Let’s hope he can reestablish his name somewhere else next season for a lower sum of money he actually deserves.

No. 2 — Rasheed Wallace

If you want to talk about a bad influence, look no further. Well, actually, you should look further. Go read Bill Simmons’s column on the infectious Wallace and how badly he has hindered the Celtics this season. The big man who was supposed to be the boost to get the Celtics one more ring in the Big Three era has utterly failed to do so. Sheed is scoring only nine points a game on 40 percent shooting and ghastly 28 percent from three-point territory. The one bright spot? Coach Doc Rivers has realized he should only play the guy about 20 minutes a game to avoid total annihilation. But Sheed’s parasitic effect goes beyond his horrible shot selection and lack of scoring. He’s completely unathletic at this point, limiting his once stellar defense. He’s incredibly insubordinate. He can’t control his temper, which may cost the Celtics valuable points off leads from technical free throws in the playoffs. Rasheed Wallace has done exactly the opposite of what the team brought him in to do. And to think: I wanted Doc to start him over Kendrick Perkins at center before the season started.

No. 1 — Hedo Turkoglu

Hedo Turkoglu trumps the rest because of the way he will siphon the Raptors’ money for the next four (maybe five) seasons undeservedly so. He is guaranteed $41 million over the next four years, and he as a $12 million player option for a fifth year in Toronto. Quite frankly, that money would be better spent researching ways to bring Wilt Chamberlain back from the dead and forcing him to play for the team. It’s evident Hedo turned on his game in his final years in Orlando to net a good contract, and now that he is financially secure, he doesn’t give a damn anymore. He has lost five points off his per-game scoring rate from an also-subpar 2009-2010 season, and he no longer hits big shots at the end of games — his trademark quality in the playoffs in Orlando, where they had no other big-shot guy. It goes to show how a a tapped crop of free agents like the one prior to this season can really screw teams over when they have to overpay players like Turkoglu to hope to be competitive.

Look back tomorrow for the five most positive individual surprises of the season.

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