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The NBA’s biggest surprises, halfway through the season–Part 2

Yesterday, we took a look at some of the biggest surprises for this half-NBA season, including the surprising mediocrity of the Charlotte Bobcats and Minnesota Timberwolves (but perhaps not in the same context) and just how terrible the Brooklyn Nets are. Peep the second half right here!
Portland’s excellence despite their defensive shortcomings
Under almost any metric you can interpret, the Portland Trail Blazers are the best offense in the NBA. Led by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, they can beat you in almost any fashion. They are willing and accurate three-point shooters, deadly from mid-range and potent in almost every rotation with guys like Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and now C.J. McCollum. The numbers are all there—they have the most offensively versatile starting five in the NBA and a very good bench behind them. In that sense, it’s no surprise they have the fifth best record in the NBA.
But defensively they’re not very good. They allow the 4th most points per game, coming in 22nd in defensive efficiency. They are the worst squad in the NBA at forcing turnovers and 22nd in opponent’s offensive rebounding numbers. Luckily, this team scores so well that they’re not often penalized for their defensive lapses. In many ways, they’re the lucky versions of the Minnesota Timberwolves—high scoring, efficient but with two closers at the end of games instead of Minny’s one. Portland could very well continue to thrive during the regular season, but I’m not sure how well they’ll fare during the playoffs with such mediocre to poor defensive scheme.
The completeness of Lance Stephenson
“Born Ready” Lance Stephenson was a Brooklyn, NY playground prospect, whose legend and skillset earned him a spot as one of the most highly recruited teenagers in the country. After spending one very mediocre season at the University of Cincinnati that was marred with rumors of him being difficult to coach, Stephenson made the jump to the NBA. Unsurprisingly, he was drafted 40th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers. His per game numbers in his first two NBA seasons were extremely uninspiring (just 54 total games played with averages of 2.6/1.3/1.2), especially for two decent, but unspectacular NBA squads. There was no doubt that he could be a very good pro defender, but it seemed that a player like Tony Allen was his comparative ceiling.… Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards get: C Marcin Gortat, PG Kendall Marshall, SG Shannon Brown, G/F Malcolm Lee
Phoenix Suns get: C Emeka Okafor, 2014 conditional first round pick
You know how you know the NBA season is back in full swing? When two teams likely to finish in the league’s bottom half are in the top of the news cycle for a trade in which just one of the five players will suit up come opening night.
The Washington Wizards continued to build towards their first playoff berth in over a half decade, while the Phoenix Suns continued to tear their team down in the hopes that a playoff berth is less than a half decade away. … Read more...

Can Dragic and Bledsoe work? Phoenix Suns Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Goran Dragic, SG Eric Bledsoe, SF Gerald Green, PF A Morris brother, C Alex Len
Key Bench Players: F The other Morris brother, F/C Channing Frye, C Emeka Okafor, G/F Gerald Green
Offseason Additions: Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe
Offseason Subtractions:  C Marcin Gortat, SF Jared Dudley, SG Shannon Brown, PG Kendall Marshall, PF Luis Scola, C Jermaine O’Neal, PF Michael Beasley, PG Sebastian Telfair
FACT OR FICTION: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will work as two starting point guards.
FICTION. And I think everyone knows that. Including the Phoenix Suns.
It seems like writing “the Phoenix Suns have invested their future in Dragic and Bledsoe” is the easiest and most natural discourse to write for this preview. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.… Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Caron Butler to the amazing, mysterious Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks get: SF Caron Butler
Phoenix Suns get: PG Ishmael Smith, C Slava Kravtsov
In a surprising late summer deal, the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns teamed up today to….oh, screw it.
At best, we’re talking about two teams that will combine for 48 wins this year. This trade is should be inconsequential in the long run, seeing as we’re talking about Suns team doomed to finish in the NBA’s bottom five next season, and a Bucks team that will, at best, try and scrap for the 8-seed next April. The only reason that this trade is in the news cycle is because it’s the end of August and no NBA player has had a felony charge alleged against him for…well, at least a couple of days. But you know what? Since this is MAMBINO, we’re going to take a look at this trade briefly even if no one including the state of Wisconsin cares, and then dive into a more puzzling, pressing issue.… Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Eric Bledsoe to Phoenix, Jared Dudley and JJ Redick to the Clippers

The Clippers get: SF Jared Dudley (pride of the Boston College Eagles) and SG JJ Redick
Phoenix Suns get: PG Eric Bledsoe, SF Caron Butler
Milwaukee Bucks get: Two second round picks
We live in a world where endless information is at your fingertips. Where scientists have the ability to clone other humans, but choose not to because of moral quandries. When people can realistically think about traveling to Mars. Mars!
We also live in a time where the Clippers are dangerously close to becoming championship contenders. A truly, truly wondrous moment in human history. Incredible, remarkable, disgusting. That’s how to mark today’s events.
After much speculation, the Clippers finally traded back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe, along with forward Caron Butler (and most importantly his $8 million dollar salary) in a deal with the Phoenix Suns. In return, the Clips received former Milwaukee Bucks guard JJ Redick (who will be sign and traded with a new, four year, $27 million dollar contract) and the finest professional basketball player ever to come out of The Heights, forward Jared Dudley. For their participation in getting Redick slightly more money by the S&T transaction, the Bucks will receive two 2nd round picks for their troubles.… Read more...

Bad NBA Contract of the Week: Michael Beasley

(In the vein of the highly esteemed David Shoemaker, AKA The Masked Man’s Deadspin column entitled “Dead Wrestler of the Week”, we here at MAMBINO are going to parse our way through the worst contracts the NBA has to offer. Part dedication to the great men who have swindled their way to big checks, part commemoration to GMs that should have been fired and part commentary on the ills of a capitalist society gone wrong, we’ll be here every week with a look at the L’s worst deals)
Contract: 3 years, $18 million
Signed by:
Phoenix Suns
Salary this season: $5.7 million
2013 Slash Line: 10.1/3.8/1.5 in 75 games
Expires: 2015
If not for a torn ACL, there’d be even money this year on Derrick Rose finishing as a top-5 MVP candidate. The point guard already has the cache of being the 1st overall pick in 2008, that year’s Rookie of the Year and the 2011 MVP award to go along with three All-Star berths and one All-NBA First Team nod. He’s been the best player on two number 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and—for a short time–arguably the best player at his position. When healthy and at the peak of his powers, Derrick Rose is one of the best six players in the NBA. There’s few who would question that.
But it wasn’t always a forgone conclusion. There was once a time where Derrick Rose wasn’t unquestionably the best. Where he would have been the second pick. And that was the debate leading up to the 2008 NBA Draft. Derrick Rose…or Michael Beasley?
The buzz that spring had been whether or not the former Memphis Tiger would be selected first over the former Kansas State Wildcat. Both finished as finalists for the John Wooden Players of the Year award, an honor that eventually went to Tyler Hansbrough of UNC. While Beasley finished as a first-team All-American, Rose had the most NCAA postseason success, taking his Tigers to the championship game only to lose to Mario Chalmers and the Kansas Jayhawks. It was obvious that Rose played a more important position in today’s NBA at point guard, but Beasley’s enticing combination of shooting and physicality drew several comparisons to Carmelo Anthony. Believe it or not, this all made for a hotly contested debate.Read more...

Life After Nash – Phoenix Suns Preview

Starting Five: PG Goran Dragic, SG Wesley Johnson, SF Michael Beasley, PF Luis Scola, C Marcin Gortat

Key Bench Players: PG Kendall Marshall, SG Shannon Brown, SF Jared Dudley, F Markieff Morris, F/C Channing Frye, C Jermaine O’Neal

Key Additions: PG Kendall Marshall (13th overall pick), SG Wesley Johnson, SF Michael Beasley, PF Luis Scola, C Jermaine O’Neal

Key Departures: PG Steve Nash, SG Michael Redd, SF Grant Hill, G/F Josh Childress, F Hakim Warrick, C Robin Lopez

On June 26, 1996, an upstart young point guard out of Santa Clara was drafted 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns. Syracuse’s John Wallace had just finished a stellar collegiate career by making a national television appearance in the NCAA title game, and was still on the board. Suns fans largely booed the decision to draft Nash, and Wallace was drafted by YOUR New York Knickerbockers. (And just how everything else turns out for a tortured fan base, Nash, the two-time MVP, is prime to make the most serious championship run of his career, and Wallace averaged less than 6 points a game during his two stints with the Bockers.)

Nash never flourished in his first couple years as professional point guard, playing behind the likes of Kevin Johnson, Sam Cassell, and Jason Kidd. So Phoenix traded him to Dallas in 1998 for this incredible pile of dog crap:

Bubba Wells
Pat Garrity
Martin Muursepp
a first round pick

Good get. Nash blossomed as Dallas’ starting floor general, breaking out in the 2000-01 campaign with 15.6 points and 7.3 assists per game. He was directly responsible for Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley’s maturation, and the Mavericks played postseason basketball for the first time in a decade. But when it came time for Nash to get paid, owner Mark Cuban chose to build around the young Nowitzki, leaving Nash to come back to Phoenix.

The fans would treat him far better the second time around.

Nash’s accolades in Phoenix from 2004 speak for themselves:

  • Two MVP awards (and also becoming just the third point guard to win that trophy)
  • Career high in points (18.8) and rebounds (a whopping 4.2) in 2006
  • Winning the assists title in FIVE different seasons, including a career high (11.6) in 2007, not to be outdone by an absolutely absurd 13.3 assists per game in the ’07 playoffs
  • Recording a field goal percentage above 50% in EVERY season except one, when he slacked off and shot a lackadaisical 49.2%

When the game allowed point guards to flourish by calling fouls on overly aggressive perimeter defenders, Nash was surely the game’s biggest benefactor. In an older game, his less-than-elite lateral quickness might not have allowed him to develop passing lanes for his teammates. But Canada’s best athlete without a hockey stick was responsible for Mike D’Antoni’s huge Knicks contract, Amar’e Stoudemire’s huge Knicks contract, and oh crap I need to stop writing.

When the Suns fell out of the NBA contender pool, Nash never demanded a trade like Carmelo Anthony. He never sulked to the point of stealing his owner’s money like Vince Carter. He continued to play at an extremely high level, showing no mercy for Father Time or for his own ring-less fingers. The fans appreciated this. Nash became the face of Phoenix without getting to the Finals like Charles Barkley did, and without a signature iconic moment that Kevin Johnson had:

Nash made everybody around him better. He made his teammates so good that “making everybody around him better” has become such a cliche when talking aboRead more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Steve Nash to YOUR…Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers get: PG Steve Nash, 3 years, $27 million (absorbed through their $9 million dollar trade exception from the Lamar Odom deal)

Phoenix Suns get: 2013 & 2015 first round draft picks, 2013 & 2014 second round draft picks

In a completely shocking turn of events, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Steve Nash from Phoenix tonight for a bevy of draft picks. For months Nash had been saying not only that it would be difficult to play for his playoff rival Lakers, but made serious overtures towards playing for the New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets. In fact, I wrote off an acquisition of Nash as a pipe dream in a free agency column for Silver Screen & Roll. However, after a phone call with Kobe Bryant, Phoenix’s ex-point guard changed his tune, coming to LA in search of his first ring in a city where his addition would mean they won a chip. And indeed it would.

As for the trade itself…the Lakers just got Steve F’n Nash. Even at age 38, he’s in peak physical condition, showing zero signs of wear and tear considering the minutes and intense playoff battles he’s waged over the past eight years in the desert. For years, the Lakers have lacked a pass-first point guard who was able to make the other players around him better. The triangle offense was the most efficient distributor for open shots. With Phil Jackson and that system gone, we’ve all seen the results of how the lack of a passer affects the Lakers offense – despite the speedy Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant and one of the best passing bigs in the league in Pau Gasol, the Show very rarely was able to get an easy shot and ranked amongst the worst in the league in transition buckets. Mike Brown’s bread and butter was throwing the ball to Kobe, Pau or Bynum in the post, and hoping that their immense skills could simply overwhelm an opposing defense, rather than use ball movement to get open looks.

With Nash in the fold, this all changes. The Lakers get arguably their second-best point guard ever, next to the irrespressible Magic Johnson. Fast-break baskets, once at a premium, will now be available in gobs. LA will finally be able to run the floor with a team general whose execution is one of the greatest ever. Players like Josh McRoberts, Matt Barnes (Nash’s teammate in 2008), Steve Blake and Andrew Bynum should see their statistic spike up like Kobe rising to the rack in 2004, while Pau Gasol could average a nightly triple-double with a passing savant like Nash on his side.

Perhaps more importantly, the team will be completely reinvigorated with this movement. Along with Kobe, Chris Paul and Kevin Garnett, there are only a few players in the league that when the game is on the line in the fourth, an intensity washes over their faces; one that screams “we are NOT losing this effing game”. Steve Nash is one of them. The Lakers have looked lazy and listless after their liberating win over the Celtics in 2010, and needed a severe jolt of energy. This might just be it. I’ve said time and time again that LA certainly has the pieces for another title, but needed someone – a coaching staff, a player, something – to bring it out of them. Nash is more than just that. He might be the key to #17.

Now, for the downside. Unfortunately, they’re plentiful.

Despite the trade for a Hall of Fame point guard, those are a lot of future draft picks. Yes, they’ll probably be in the late-twenties, but as we’ve seen with a much more judicious luxury tax, assets like draft selectio… Read more...

If I were GM…of the Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns went from the Western Conference Finals to under .500 in a year. A lot of their regression has been pretty well covered – they essentially switched Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson for Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat and this old, fat slow guy who kind of resembled Tracy McGrady’s cousin. It’s not hard to see why they got worse. Let’s take a look at their payroll going forward:

Steve Nash: 11.7 million
Childress: 6 million
Gortat: 6.8 million
Mickael Pietrus: 5.3 million (player option)
Channing Frye: 5.6 million
Warrick: 4.3 million
Jared Dudley: 4.2 million
Aaron Brooks: 2.9 million
Robin Lopez: 2.8 million
Gani Lawal: 788,000
Garret Siler: 788,000
$48.39 million = about 9 million in cap space.

Vince Carter 17.3 million
Grant Hill: 3.3 million
Some other bums: 500,000

1). It’s time
Trade Steve Nash. He’s 37 years old and a future Hall of Famer. It’s time to trade him.

I’m not just saying this because I like Nash and I want a better future for him, although that’s part of it. I’m saying it because they just don’t have the leeway to build another team around him. I’ve heard Nash in some interviews, saying “I don’t want to be traded. I want to stay right here…look at us two years ago after we missed the playoffs. We came right back the next year and went to the Western Conference finals”. And I believe that. They were totally out of the playoffs, but then they got Jason Richardson, made a couple more moves and pushed the Lakers to a tough (but never really in doubt, in my opinion) 6 games last season. However, at this point, I just don’t see that type of move there for them and more importantly, it’s not like they are building around Nash-Hill-Stoudemire. They are building around Nash-Dudley-Gortat. And maybe even more importantly, there is going to be a lockout this season, which may spell the end of Grant Hill’s star-crossed NBA career and add another year onto Steve Nash’s body. It’s time to trade him.

In a perfect world, they would trade him for a couple of draft picks, a decent point guard prospect and a big man. Dallas (Beaubois, Jason Terry and Mahinmi?), New York (Toney Douglas, Landry Fields and Chauncey?), Orlando (Jameer, Brandon Bass?) Portland (Nic Batum, Oden?) and the Clippers (Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe?) might all be potential destinations.

2). I’d kindly ask Alvin Gentry to ask his players to start playing defense
With Nash and his defensive shortcomings gone, I would kindly ask coach Alvin Gentry to try and get his guys to play defense. And by “kindly ask” I mean “do it or be fired”.

Jared Dudley, Robin Lopez, Pietrus and Gortat (all rotation players) can all be good defensive players – they just play in a system that doesn’t demand that from them. I think the switch could be thrown easily.

3). Resign Vince Carter at all costs
Obviously not. Don’t be stupid. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

4) With the number 14 pick, draft for talent, not need
Because the Suns have every need imaginable. They are somewhat set at the center position with the rotation of Gortat, Sideshow Lopez, Warrick and Channing Frye, but they lack a true power forward, shooting guard, and if they trade Nash, a point.

5). Brace your fans for a rebuilding process
Obviously owner Robert Sarver isn’t big on spending money. In the last several years he’s … Read more...