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Western Conference Playoffs: Race to the Eighth

Heading into tonight's games, there are five probable teams that can capture the eighth seed in the Western Conference. With so much focus on the top teams in the conference (Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks),

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No Respect: NBA All Star Snubs and Other Stories

With today being the day that All-Star starters are announced, I couldn’t think of a better time to announce my first annual All-Snub team. “What’s the All-Snub team,” you ask? Seeing as how I just made that term up about 38 seconds ago, I’ll tell you. Since today is the day they announce the starting fives of each team for the All-Star Game, which is being held at the star-studded Staples Center in Los Angeles this year, I feel like I should give it up for the guys who never get any respect. Now, I’m not saying these guys deserve to be All-Stars, but they deserve to have their names in the conversation at the very least.

How about Kevin Martin for example? While guard is a stacked position in the West, what with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Kobe Bryant at the position, Martin often gets over looked. Averaging the lowest minutes per game (31.3) since his sophomore season, Martin is putting up exceptional shooting numbers. He’s currently fourth in three pointers made, and first in free throws made. All this while averaging 23.5 points should not be overlooked.  What’s more shocking is that Vince Carter, at the last balloting update on January 13th, was ahead of him in votes. While he may not be having a good enough season to make the team, he should NOT be behind Vince Carter in voting. Continue Reading

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Grading Offseasons: Southwest Division

Sure, the NBA offseason isn’t over yet, but with the passing of Summer League and most of the key free agents signed, let’s grade each of the NBA teams’ progress this summer. To finish, here’s the Southwest Division.

Dallas Mavericks (55-27, Lost First Round): A-

Dallas once again succumbed to a Western Conference foe a little too early last season, falling to the Spurs in the first round. This summer, the priority for Mark Cuban was to re-sign Dirk Nowitzki, who stunningly opted out of his contract, and the team succeeded. Then they further bolstered their frontcourt by re-signing Brendan Haywood to start at center and parlaying Erick Dampier’s bloated expiring contract into Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca from Charlotte. The Mavericks will, once more, be contenders in the West, even as the roster gets yet another year older.

San Antonio Spurs (50-32, Lost Western Conference Semifinals): A

The Spurs’ window for capturing another title under the reign of Tim Duncan is quickly closing, but R.C. Buford did everything he could to make this year will be a full-scale assault. That started with keeping the big three together, and Manu Ginobili will stick around for another year. Richard Jefferson’s also coming back after opting out of his deal and not finding a bite on the open market — and he’s getting significantly less money, too. They’re also bringing 2007 first-round pick Tiago Splitter over to the NBA this year, and many believe he can be a standout big man from the get-go. Finally, they drafted James Anderson, who can fill minutes at the 3 right away.

Houston Rockets (42-40, Missed Playoffs): B

The Rockets suffered last season in the absence of Yao Ming, who will be back this year — no one’s sure if he’ll play up to his previous standard of greatness, though. Other than that, the Rockets re-signed Luis Scola, who had a great year last year, and Kyle Lowry, a defensive point guard who has the potential to improve. Throw in Patrick Patterson, who many believe is the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft, and Houston will almost definitely be in the playoff picture next Spring.

Memphis Grizzlies (40-42, Missed Playoffs): B-

Although I disagree with the negotiation strategy used by the Grizzlies to lure RFA Rudy Gay back to Memphis, I don’t deny that it was a completely necessary move for the development of the team. Not letting him get away was the best thing they could have done this summer. In addition, they brought in Xavier Henry, a plus shooter, via the draft, so they continue to stockpile the young talent. They might make the race for eight interesting, at least, come April.

New Orleans Hornets (37-45, Missed Playoffs): F

The Hornets had a bad year last season amid injuries to Chris Paul, and they didn’t do anything this summer to remedy the problem, leading to Paul’s distrust in the team and desire for a trade. Darren Collison might be the next big thing, but there won’t be anyone around to help him. The Hornets didn’t add any draft picks, and the only free agents they signed are basically negligible. If Paul decides to quit on this team next season, it could be a brutal campaign in New Orleans.

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2010 Awards

As the regular season winds down, I thought I’d give my take on each of the awards. While my selections won’t seem groundbreaking (in fact, I agree with the experts in most cases), I’d be remiss if I didn’t record a few words about our season’s finest individual performances.

LeBron James edges Dwight Howard for his second consecutive MVP award.

MVP — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

It really couldn’t go to anyone else. James obliterated the competition in most statistical manners, just narrowly missing out on the scoring title behind Kevin Durant. What’s more? He has led his Cavaliers to the best record in the league once again, and he has a great shot to come away with an NBA title under his belt in June.

Stan Van Gundy accentuated one quibble people have in his endorsement for Dwight Howard: MVP voters don’t take into account defensive value even remotely as close to as much as they do offensive value. While LeBron is certainly no slouch on the defensive end, Van Gundy has point in suggesting that Howard doesn’t get all the credit he deserves for his stellar combination of offensive and defensive prowess.

Runners Up: Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant

Rookie of the Year — Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

While Brandon Jennings made this race interesting at the beginning of the season, and Stephen Curry late, this award, too, had no significant competition in the eyes of fans. Evans led rookies in scoring, and proved he could be a serviceable point guard amid doubts about his leadership. While he has a long way to go in terms of becoming the distributor his team needs, he played the best ball of all rookies this year, bottom line.

Runners Up: Stephen Curry, Darren Collison

Defensive Player of the Year — Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

I mentioned the insufficient appreciation of Howard’s defensive game above. In truth, he is more dominant on the defensive end than LeBron is on the offensive side of the ball. He lead the league in blocks, first of all, but that stat alone does not even come close to encompassing his effect on opponents’ offenses. His length and athleticism allow him to disrupt big men’s shots with ease and grab nearly every rebound within a 20-foot radius. Moreover, his mere presence on the floor dissuades guards from taking the ball to the hoop who fear the almighty swat.

Runners Up: Gerald Wallace, Thabo Sefolosha

Most Improved Player — Aaron Brooks, Houston Rockets

The quick, crafty point guard went from opportunistic shooter to dynamic show runner quite adeptly this season. In the absence of Yao Ming, he added eight-and-a-half (Yes, you read that right.) points and over two assists to his per-game rates while shooting nearly 40 percent on the long ball. Hopefully he can continue the solid play next year when Yao returns from his foot injury.

Runners Up: Andrew Bogut, Russell Westbrook

Sixth Man — Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks

Manu Ginobili made a strong push for this award with his strong March, but I hesitate to give him this award because he could be starting in San Antonio’s lineup anway. Crawford, on the other hand, takes advantage of his second-fiddle shooting-guard role behind Joe Johnson by providing an incredible spark off the bench for his team. He increased his per-40-minute scoring by nearly three points, his true-shooting percentage by over three, and his PER by over three in significantly fewer minutes than he played last season. In eclipsing 1400 points on the season, Crawford became the first player since Ricky Pierce in 1991 to reach that plateau off the bench.

Runners Up: Manu Ginobili, Carl Landry

Coach of the Year — Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder

Scott Brooks wins for a simple reason: He got a troupe of incredibly young and frighteningly talented players to believe in the prospect of a team. There’s no selfishness in that locker room. They all enjoy being part of a team, and it has resulted in the franchise’s first playoff appearance since moving from Seattle. No other coach has accomplished what Brooks has.

Runners Up: Larry Brown, Scott Skiles

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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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Expectation Series: Part 2 (Most Surprising Teams)

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.

Andrew Bogut propelled the Bucks to unfathomable heights this season.

Amid the plenitude of disappointment around the league, there have been, too, a variety of teams that have exceeded expectations and put together notable campaigns in 2009-2010. Here I’ll run down the five most significant positive surprises.

No. 5 — Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have shown they can play competitively against any team in the West, and come playoff time, opponents are going to fear the accompanying lightning. While Kevin Durant was a very solid player last year, very few could have anticipated he would make this transition to elite status this season. In conjunction with the quality play of Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and James Harden, Oklahoma City is a great team. It’s just that no one thought it would click so soon chalk that up to coach Scott Brooks.

No. 4 — Houston Rockets

The news that Yao Ming would miss the entire season recovering from foot surgery was troubling around the entire league,  but it was especially so for the Rockets and their fans. Then, Tracy McGrady displayed his trademark attitude problems, and basically all hope was lost. Nevertheless, the Rockets stood strong. Benefiting from strong performances from Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, and most-improved candidate Aaron Brooks, the Rockets managed to play over .500 for the first half of the season. The midseason trade that sent McGrady and Landry away was a setback for the team, and it won’t make the playoffs this year. However, they accomplished what they did in the absence of their star center.

No. 3 — Memphis Grizzlies

Talk about attitude problems. Everyone wrote off the Grizzlies in fear of a tempest of a locker-room catastrophe led by Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson. AI shows inklings of trouble at the beginning of the season, but management was smart enough to quickly get him what he wanted and shipped him out of town. Meanwhile, Zach Randolph put up all-star-caliber numbers and was a model citizen for the very young team. Playing alongside center Marc Gasol in the post, Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo on the wing, and Mike Conley at the point, Randolph has led the team to a very respectable season. While Memphis, like Houston, will not make the playoffs, they exceeded the horribly low cellar-dweller preseason expectations.

No. 2 — Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats don’t have much to work with on their roster, as Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace serve as the primary focal points of the offense. Still, they’re going to make the postseason this year. Wallace has been playing out of his mind, racking up over 12 boards a game, and he’s a candidate for defensive player of the year. Most importantly, though, the Bobcats have systematically dismantled opposition on their home floor, going 30-9 there. That’s the fourth-best home record in the Eastern Conference. Attribute it to the experience of coach Larry Brown and the willingness of the players to get this franchise somewhere it has never been in the short history of  its existence.

No. 1 — Milwaukee Bucks

What a tragedy it was that Andrew Bogut had to brutally injure his arm last week, as he’ll be missing the rest of the season. And the Bucks will be missing him. Milwaukee, which surged behind rookie Brandon Jennings’s strong play for the first half of the season, and John Salmons’s for the second half, had Bogut as a constant producer since November. He really turned it on in the second half when Salmons the sparkplug showed up, and accordingly the Bucks’ second-half record has been rather absurd. They’ll be in the playoffs even without Bogut, but a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks looks a lot less promising without the team’s menacing center.

Come back tomorrow for the season’s most disappointing individual players.

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NBA Today: March 29

  • The day after I write about Vince Carter’s importance to a successful Orlando playoff run, he leaves the team’s game with a sprained toe.
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