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El Miz

A car crash worth watching: New York Knicks Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Raymond Felton, SG J.R. Smith, SF Metta World Peace, PF Carmelo Anthony, C Tyson Chandler
Key Bench Players: SG Iman Shumpert, PF Andrea Bargnani, G Beno Udrih, PF/C Amar’e Stoudemire When Healthy, PG Pablo Prigioni, PF Kenyon Martin
Notable offseason additions: PF/C Andrea Bargnani, SG Tim Hardaway Jr., PG Beno Udrih
Notable offseason subtractions: PG Jason Kidd, SF Steve Novak
FACT OR FICTION #1: Andrea Bargnani will be a key contributor off the bench for the Knicks.
FACT. Most people derided this trade, because trolling the Knicks is “in” and the Knicks usually make bad trades. #ANALYSIS. This is just the world we live in, and as Knicks fans, you have to get used to it.
There was a time where Andrea Bargnani actually had some basketball skills. He was a 7 footer who could score from the block, shoot the 3, find the open man when the double-team came. He has averaged 40% from 3 for an entire season. He has averaged over 20 points per game for a season. There are not many 7 footers in the NBA with those line items on their resume. Yes, he is a rebounding zero. Yes, the most quotable commentary when you search “Bargnani defense” is “LOL”. Yes, he freaking stunk last year. But he is a big who can score, who is only 28, and who may just be salvageable.… Read more...

Will the Real Carmelo Please Stand Up? — New York Knickerbockers Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Raymond Felton, SG Ronnie Brewer, SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Amare Stoudemire, C Tyson Chandler

Key Bench Players: PG Jason Kidd, SG JR Smith, SG Iman Shumpert, SF Steve Novak, PF Kurt Thomas, C Marcus Camby, PG Pablo Prigioni

Notable offseason additions: PG Jason Kidd, SG Ronnie Brewer, PG Raymond Felton, PF Kurt Thomas, C Marcus Camby, PG Pablo Prigioni

Offseason subtractions: PG Jeremy Lin, #LINSANITY, SG Landry Fields, PF Josh Harrellson, all discernible team assets and cap room for the next 3 years

Well, that whole Linsanity thing was fun while it lasted.  The biggest Knick storyline of the offseason centered around undrafted free agent pop culture sensation Jeremy Lin.  The Knicks infamously told anyone who would listen that they would match any contract offered to their Chinese-American star (and restricted free agent).  Then, curiously, the Knicks changed course and essentially decided to spend the money bookmarked for Lin on former Knick point guard Raymond Felton and former Knick power forward Kurt Thomas.  This led to a truly comical (and yet another “only under a James Dolan led Knicks team would this happen” moment) chain of events at Las Vegas Summer League where Knicks GM Glen Grunwald was reported to be ducking Rockets GM Daryl Morey at like a deadbeat ducks the landlord when rent was due two weeks ago. He was not so subtly refusing to receive the Rockets qualified offer for Lin and postponing the franchise’s decision on Lin’s contract until the absolute last possible moment.  #sameoldknicks

Lin and Linsanity are gone, ending a stint with the team that, ten years from now, will literally feel like it was make believe.  Now, moreso than any time since the Knicks traded 3 starters and 5 players overally to acquire him, this team is Carmelo Anthony’s and Carmelo’s only.  This team is built around his strengths and, in order to thrive, Carmelo Anthony needs to thrive.

After the Lin debacle — and really, it was a debacle, whether you were for or against the Knicks bringing him back, the matter in which it was carried out was laughably unprofessional and silly — the next biggest story of the offseason featured Amare Stoudemire down at Hakeem Olajuwon’s ranch, working on post moves.  Stoudemire, having played his entire career in Mike D’Antoni’s offense as the “pick” man on the high pick and roll, never developed any semblance of a post game, although his jumper has become increasingly reliable.  Even though the Knicks are bringing back Raymond Felton, who quarterbacked the Knicks offense to remarkable efficiency over 54 games in 2010-11 (Felton averaged 17 points and 9 assists in his first go-round as a Knickerbocker; Stoudemire averaged 26 points per game on 51% shooting with Felton running the offense), the Knicks believe that Stoudemire needs to play like a more traditional power forward for the team to be successful in 2012-13.

Which is certainly a curious thought — why, the Knicks already have a lethal post scorer who goes by the name of Carmelo Anthony.  Anthony did his best work last year when Stoudemire went down in March and Anthony slid into the 4, averaging 30 points and 7 rebounds per game and winning Player of the Month honors as the Knicks went 16-4.  For the season, all advanced metrics indicate Anthony is an elite power forward and a middling small forward.  The eye test indicates Anthony likes to bang with the bigs and loathes chasing around quicker players around the perimeter.… Read more...

An Offseason of Hits & Misses — Toronto Raptors Preview

Starting Five: PG Kyle Lowry, SG DeMar DeRozan, SF Landry Fields, PF Andrea Bargnani, C Jonas Valanciunas

Key Bench Players: PG Jose Calderon, SF Linas Kleiza, PF Ed Davis, C Amir Johnson, SG Terrence Ross

Notable offseason additions: PG Kyle Lowry, C Jonas Valanciunas (5th overall pick in 2011 draft), SF Landry Fields, SG Terrence Ross (8th overall pick in 2012 draft), PG John Lucas III

Offseason subtractions: G Jerryd Bayless, F James Johnson

Oh, what could have been. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo came out swinging this offseason, setting his sights on Canada’s prodigial and 2-time MVP Steve Nash.  According to the always fantastic Marc Stein, Colangelo called Nash’s agent at 12:01 AM when free agency opened to sell Nash on returning to Canada.  Later, a 7-man Raptors contingent flew to New York, where Nash maintains an off-season residence, and pitched him on why he should suit up for the Raptors come November 2012.  Nash then met with officials from the New York Knicks, and later the Los Angeles Lakers.

Then, puzzlingly, the Raptors signed former Knick Landry Fields to a “poison pill” offer sheet, paying Fields $8.5 million in his final year.  The assumption that many, myself included, have made from that offer was that Colangelo, nervous that the Knicks would include SG Landry Fields in a sign-and-trade with Phoenix, Nash’s old team, made Fields a Godfather offer to come to Toronto, blocking the Knicks from pulling off the sign-and-trade for Nash. Well, that sort of worked; the Knicks did not get Nash…but neither did the Raptors, as the chance to play in La La Land with Kobe outweighed running the pick-and-roll with Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto.  Colangelo was left with an overpaid Landry Fields.

Well, Colangelo was able to turn the offseason around by acquiring PG Kyle Lowry, and he may turn out to be a better fit for this team than Steve Nash ever was.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?  It’s obvious that the speedy facilitator and deadly scorer in Lowry will help the Toronto offense, but it’s his presence instead of the sieve that is Jose Calderon that will really help the tema. The Raptors turned into a defensive-minded team under first-year head coach Dwane Casey, who was the d-coordinator for the world champion Dallas Mavericks back in 2010.  In just one year, the Toronto moved up from 30th in the league in defensive efficiency (the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions) to 12th in 2012. Lowry is tough all-around player who should thrive in a defensive system pressuring the other point guard.  He had a break-out year last year (pre-All Star break per game averages of 16 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) until a strange sequence of injuries derailed him in March.

The Raptors also will welcome Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, the 5th big in the 2011 draft who played in Europe last year.  Many had opined that Valanciunas, if he came out this year, would have been picked second overall.  The Raptors may have a steal with a a big who moves well, should thrive in the pick and roll, and help them in a big way on the glass.

Look, this Raptors team is young and talented.  Their starting 5 is good and will be better if Bargnani and DeRozan improve off of last year’s campaigns.  Ed Davis, Terrence Ross and the aforementioned Valanciunas are all very intriguing prospects that should have the freedom to grow and improve with a new point guard who will get them easier shots, especially in transition. Calderon, Linas Kleiza and Landry FiRead more...

How Good is Andre Iguodala? – Denver Nuggets Preview

Starting Five: PG Ty Lawson, SG Andre Iguodala, SF Danilo Gallinari, PF Kenneth Faried, C Javale McGee

Key Bench Players: PG Andre Miller, SF Wilson Chandler, C Kostas Koufas, C Timofey Mozgov, F Anthony Randolph

Notable offseason additions: SG Andre Igoudala, SG Evan Fournier (1st round draft pick), F Quincy Miller (2nd round draft pick), F Anthony Randolph

Offseason subtractions: SG Arron Afflalo, F Al Harrington, SG Rudy Fernandez, F Chris “Birdman” Anderson (via the Amnesty)

The biggest move of the NBA offseason saw C Dwight Howard finally relocate from Disney World to Disney Land.  A little talked about wrinkle in that trade was that the Denver Nuggets sent out forgettable players F Al Harrington and G Arron Afflalo (and I love you Al, will never forget the 21/5 you dropped in D’Antoni’s first year in the Mecca) and got back Olympian and NBA All-Star Andre Igoudala.  Hash tag NOT BAD!

No need to delve into how a team can send out a good but overpaid 2-guard and a forward who loves nothing more than to chuck 3’s and get back one of the 12 best Americans in the world, a 6’6″ perimeter beast who can defend any shooting guard or small forward and can run the offense too.  This is the NBA we live in and have grown accustomed to.  What we will delve into is what is the ceiling for this Nuggets squad, just two years after trading “franchise player” Carmelo Anthony (yeah, it’s in quotes for a reason), the Nuggets look poised to be a helluva lot better than Melo’s new team, the hapless New York Knickerbockers.

In last year’s playoffs, a young Denver team had the Lakers on the brink of elimination in round 1, leading 3-2 before ultimately losing in 7 games.  “Little Engine that Could” Ty Lawson pushes the team at a breakneck pace, and he may be the fastest guy in the League with the ball in his hands.  Last year’s rookie sensation Kenneth Faried, nicknamed the “Manimal” because of his freakish athletic ability, plays as hard and as hungry as anybody in the League.  The fastest guy and the hardest worker, on the same squad.  But wait, there’s more.

Is this the year tantalizing Italian Danillo Gallinari puts together an All-Star campaign?  The 6’10” small forward who Mike D’Antoni once labeled “the best shooter I’ve ever seen” put up a solid 17 and 5 last year before hurting his ankle.  Gallo will be 24 years old this season, but already has been in the NBA for four years and has solid career averages of 14 points and 5 rebounds.  Will the other former Knick small forward Wilson Chandler finally stay healthy?  He was a non-factor after returning from China last season due to injury, but when healthy Chandler is a defensive menace who flies under the radar.

We haven’t even got to the Bigs yet, and if we’re talking about the Denver Bigs we have to start with Pierre.  Who is Pierre?  Apparently, it’s the name of JaVale McGee’s alter ego.  In one sentence, that sums up JaVale McGee.  Talented big who is prone to immaturity and goofiness, does McGee have the focus to contribute over an entier season?  Is Russian Timofey Mozgov anything other than the guy Blake dunked on?  How about Anthony Randolph, the uber-talented 7-footer who oh-so-badly wants to play point guard and “do his thing”.

A lot of questions surround the young’uns on this squad, but the fact remains: this is a young team with some blue-chip prospects and a whole lot of tale… Read more...

Waiting for Ricky — Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview

Starting Five:  PG Luke Ridnour, SG Brandon Roy, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Kevin Love, C Nikola Pekovic

Key Bench Players:  PG Ricky Rubio (out until December-January), F Derrick Williams, SF Chase Budinger, G J.J. Barea, G Alexey Shved, C Greg Stiemsma, PF Louis Amundson

Notable Offseason Additions: SG Brandon Roy, SF Andrei Kirilenko, SF Chase Budinger, G Alexey Shved, C Greg Stiemsma

Offseason Losses:  SF Michael Beasley, C Brad Miller, SG Wayne Ellington, F Anthony Randolph

The Minnesota T’Wolves were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA last year.  A team most considered to be bound for the Lottery were actually a .500 team thanks largely to a new coach and the emergence of two players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

A 6-foot-10-inch power forward brute, Love blossomed in his fourth season as a legitimate MVP candidate, a consistent 26 point/13 rebound low-post beast who had added a lethal step-back 3 to his offensive repertoire.  Love also spent the Lockout playing beach volleyball and eating a “Zen diet,” which helped him lost 25 pounds, enabling a previously plodding forward to move around on the court with much more ease and addressing what had been one of his major weaknesses: conditioning. 

While Love’s trimmed-down physique was a revelation, the T’Wolves became must-see TV thanks to a rookie, wunderkind Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.  Rubio had been touted since age 15 as a Spanish Pistol Pete, a tall guard with floppy hair and an absolute wizard with the ball.  Most American fans saw him for the first time in the 2008 Olympics, when, as a baby-faced 17-year old, he more than held his own in the Gold Medal Game in the 2008 Olympics. 

Drafted in 5th overall in 2009, Minnesota fans had to wait two long years as Rubio played out his contract in Spain.  Rubio’s first two games were ho-hum, but he was frontpage news by the third game of the season with his 12-point, 12-assist, 6-rebound effort against the Miami Heat in a narrow 103-101 loss.  In January, Rubio averaged 12-points, 9-assists, 5-rebounds, and over 2-steals per game, and pleasing fans across the country with the complete package of passes: no look, through the legs, line drives through the defense.  In February, Rubio’s numbers dropped slightly, to 10-points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and over 2-steals per game, but the Wolves kept fighting and were winning as much as they were losing, with the other players embracing Rubio’s willingness to share the ball and hit the open man.  Minnesota was Must See TV for any hoop head.

On March 7th Minnesota were 21-19, in the playoff hunt and looked like a young team finding its footing and poised to have a strong finish to the season.  Then, late in 4th quarter, Rubio’s knee buckled and he went down in a heap, taking the T’Wolves playoff chances with him.  It was a torn ACL for Rubio, and he is scheduled to return sometime in December or January.  The Wolves went 5-20 the rest of the way, and to add insult to injury, owed their first-round pick (10th overall) to the New Orleans Hornets.

The T’Wolves biggest area of weakness last year was the perimeter, with Minnesota getting almost no production out of the shooting guard and small forward position.  GM David Kahn addressed that this offseason, acquiring Chase Budinger from Houston for a first-round pick, signing former Blazer Brandon Roy and former Utah Jazz swingman Andrei Kirilenko, as well as Russian guard Alexey Shved.
Former Blazer guard Brandon Roy briefly retired from the professional basketball due to a nagging knee injury, and will attempt a comeback this year.  Early report

Linsanity? Or Morey’s Insanity? — Houston Rockets Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Jeremy Lin, SG Kevin Martin, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Royce White, C Omer Asik

Key Bench Players: SG Jeremy Lamb, SF Carlos Delfino, F Terence Jones, F Marcus Morris, F Patrick Patterson, PG Shaun Livinston, PF Donatas Montiejunas, PG Toney Douglas, C Jon Brockman

Notable offseason additions: PG Jeremy Lin, C Omer Asik, SG Jeremy Lamb (12th overall pick), F Royce White (16th overall pick), F Terence Jones (18th overall pick), PG Toney Douglas, SF Carlos Delfino

Offseason subtractions:  PF Luis Scola, SF Chase Budinger, PG Kyle Lowry, C Samuel Dalembert, SG Courtney Lee, C Marcus Camby, PG Goran Dragic

What a strange offseason.  Really, there is no other way to put it.  Starting with the trade of former starter Chase Budinger for a draft pick, the Rockets made a series of moves that were presumably designed to entice the Orlando Magic to trade star C Dwight Howard to H-Town.  Unfortunately for Houston GM Daryl Morey (and Rockets fans), the Magic decided to ship D-12 out to Los Angeles instead.  Perhaps no team was more effected by this than the Rockets, given the overhaul the roster went through just to be in a position to land Howard.

In addition to Budinger getting dealt, PF Luis Scola was amnestied, PG Kyle Lowry was traded to Toronto for a “guaranteed lottery” pick, and PG Goran Dragic signed with Phoenix after Houston failed to match his offer sheet.  A handful of other, lesser trades were made, with the end result being a complete mish-mash of a roster.  We could spend a whole blog post dissecting all of the players Houston sent packing, but why do that when this is a preview for the coming season?

The obvious starting point for Houston is international sensation Jeremy Lin.  If you’re reading this post, you know about Lin — the “long story-short” is an undrafted and twice-waived guard from Harvard started getting playing time for the New York Knicks, improbably turned the season around and saved the coach’s job (albeit temporarily), and was a household name by the end of a Disney movie-esque two week run.  For reasons typically associated with James Dolan, the comically inept owner, the Knicks let Lin, a marketing sensation at least and a pretty damn good guard at best, walk for nothing.

Who is the real Jeremy Lin?  Is he really a guy who can average 18 points and 8 assists over an entire 82 game season?  Is he really just a Harvard-educated J.J. Barea?  We will find out this season, as the Rockets will hand the keys to the offense over to Lin.  If Lin can really play at an elite level, the Rockets may not be half bad.  My personal take, having watched Lin first at Harvard and then during the Linsanity craze, is that he can play but not at an All-NBA level.  Something in the neighborhood of his Knicks averages (18 points, 8 assists, lots of turnovers) will be the production the Rockets get this year, which will put them somewhere between their Best Case and Absolute Apocalypse scenarios listed below.

Almost every other player on this roster is in a similar situation to Lin — definite potential, but nothing proven over an 82-game season in the NBA just yet.  It would be impossible to assess this group as an actual unit since almost nobody on the roster has played together.  Instead, let’s just look  individually at the players who will get the most minutes and see what we have.

The other big free agent acquisition was former Bull Omer Asik.  Asik is a 7-footer who can defend the rim and rebound, but has never been asked to play big minutes (last yeaRead more...

Same Old Spurs (emphasis on "Old") — San Antonio Spurs Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Tony Parker, SG Manu Ginobili, SF Stephen Jackson, PF Boris Diaw, C Tim Duncan 

Key Bench Players: SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Tiago Splitter, SG Danny Green, F Matt Bonner, G Nando de Colo, SG Gary Neal, PG Patty Mills, G Cory Joseph

Key Additions: G Nando de Colo 

Key Departures: SG James Anderson

New NBA season on the horizon, same ol’ Spurs.  Gregg Popovich still patrols the sideline, Tony Parker still runs the offense, Manu Ginobili still provides unlimited #SWAG in the 4th quarter, and Tim Duncan still mans the paint, quarterbacks the D, and goes glass at least once a game.  This is essentially the same Spurs team as last season’s team, only one year older.  

This is not to say that being the same team as last year is a bad thing.  Last year’s team won a league-high 50 games, was the #1 seed in the West, steamrolled through the first two rounds in the playoffs, and gave Pop some nasty in taking the first two games in the Conference Semi’s, until the Thunder simply found another gear and the Spurs could not keep up.

So what can we expect if the Spurs in 2012 are going to be a lot like the Spurs in 2011.  Well, we can assume they will monitor the minutes of Duncan (36 years old) and Ginobili (35 years old) even more so than last year.  They’ll shoot a lot of 3’s and score a lot of points, and a crew of unheralded bench reserves (Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, de Colo, et al.) will alternate as the hot hand from distance.  Tony Parker will have more freedom to attack, while  Kawhi Leonard will continue to develop into one of the better two-way players in the NBA.  Steven Jackson and Boris Diaw will become more comfortable in the Spurs system.  The Spurs will win a lot of regular season games.

“Key additions” is a misnomer for this preview, as the only “new” player on the roster is 25 year-old Frenchman Nando de Colo, a 6’5″ shooting guard who played for Valencia in the Spanish ACB League last season.  De Colo was underwhelming in the Olympics, looking like a competent guard who is above-average in most facets of the game but may not have one “NBA skill” that defines him. In the small Olympic sample, de Colo looked like just a decent athlete, a good but not superb ballhandler, a good shooter but not a sniper by any means.  The lack of an NBA skill may mute de Colo’s overall effectiveness in year one.  Regardless, the Spurs could use some fresh legs, and de Colo should receive some backcourt minutes behind fellow Frenchman Tony Parker, Ginobili, Gary Neal, and Danny Green.

With the Lakers and Clippers both adding reinforcements and the Thunder improving from within, the lack of more “Key additions” could be a telling theme for the Spurs as they are passed in the Conference hierarchy.  The most important players on the roster — guys like Ginobili and Duncan and Parker, and even Jackson and Diaw — these are players who are what they are, players in or past their prime who will not play beyond the level they have been at for the past few years.  Given that, the Spurs desperately need their young guns to improve.  

Kawhi Leonard is a 6’7, 225 lb. wing who will be 21 this season.  8 points and 5 rebounds was a nice line as a rookie, but Leonard needs to come into camp with a more consistent jumper and a more refined offensive game in order to progress into something more.  6’11” big Tiago Splitter will be 27 this season; is he anything more than the 9 point/5 rebound guy he was last yeRead more...

Thanks for everything, Jim – Thoughts on the UConn Coaching Legend’s Retirement

For a Long Island kid who fell in love with the game as a 9 year old on a Saturday night in March at Madison Square Garden way back in 1996, Jim Calhoun’s retirement hits home somewhere in that sentimental zone. You know, that “kick in the gut that you’re no longer a kid” zone, that “your youth is past” zone, when the actors who played such a huge part in your memories are moving on or even gone forever.

That first game of basketball I saw, an Iverson vs. Allen instant classic that went down to the last shot (“Junkyard Dog” Jerome Williams pulling a Charles Smith), was Calhoun’s second Big East Championship (despite Dickie V’s proclamation) and really my first dip into the mania of fandom. As an Iverson fan, I was devastated.

I’m not a kid anymore, no, but still and always since a diehard hoops fan, weaned on those Long Island Rail Road trips in the ’90s and ’00s to the Garden for an evening (or an afternoon!) of basketball under the bright lights of the Garden, the Mecca, the World’s Most Famous Arena.  Even when the Knicks fell off in the 00’s with the Layden years and the Isiah years, we (I use that word for all New Yorkers) still had the Big East Tourney come to town for that great week in March. Every year or so it seemed, the Huskies were a team to be reckoned with.

Like that ’96 game, the UCONN fans always have the strongest and most vocal presence at the Big East Tournament – take it from a guy who has been to at least a game in 9 of the last 12 Big East Tournaments, and 6 Championship games.  The UCONN folks always rallied for their team, lead by that stocky guy in the sweatshirt who would lead the crowd in the “U-C-O-N-N UCONN! UCONN! UCONN!” chants.

UCONN basketball and their fans were such a fixture in those tournaments, and of course Calhoun IS UCONN basketball.  Thus, the Big East Tourney being encoded in my basketball DNA, I for one am sad to see him go. Calhoun won five more Big East chips, made four Final Fours, and won the Big Dance three times. From that Rip Hamilton team (and my man Khalid El-Amin, giving hope to short, pudgy kids everywhere!) to the Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon years (Gordon was a true stone cold assassin back in the day, a guy whose hand I shook on Draft Night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden while hanging with his crew from Mount Vernon), to the truly amazing run through the Big East and NCAAs the Huskies took just two years ago with Kemba Walker, the UCONN Huskies have been, if not the preeminent, one of the premiere college basketball teams in the country.  

A long list of NBA players and classic college names from Yore (Taliek Brown, anyone?)  have passed through a tiny state school in Storrs, Connecticut for no reason other than the fact that Jim Calhoun was the head coach.  Facing health problems and a postseason ban, Calhoun announced today he was stepping down, closing a remarkably successful chapter of entertaining basketball that I grew up on.  I don’t know what is next for UCONN, but thank you for the great teams and the great memories, Jim.… Read more...