Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Grades

Chad Ford has his draft grades, I have mine. There are a lot of ways to look at a team's prospects and its draft: fit, potential, NBA-readiness, etc. But I want to concentrate on something that others may not be - how much a team's draft reflects and magnifies its organization's overall strategy. Does it show a unified, coherent, top-down strategy or dysfunction somewhere along the chain of command? Let's go through in Chad's order:

Atlanta Hawks: C

I'm grading on a curve here with a B- as the passing grade. The Hawks are a full letter grade below that. In the past few years, the Hawks have shown a willingness to go against the grain, divesting themselves of high-priced talent such as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. They've decided to rebuild around a young core of Jeff Teague and Al Horford while maintaining the flexibility to move any and all players for a better team.

This draft doesn't fit that forward-thinking philosophy. Adreian Payne is a fine player who shoots well and rebounds his position, but the Hawks have a logjam at big forward with Horford coming back and Paul Milsap/Mike Scott/Pero Antic in the fold. How are they going to develop him if he gets no minutes? Payne is also 23 years old and limits that flexibility the Hawks have craved - they have maybe 2 years to decide yes/no on him before the clock starts ticking really loud. This organization has chosen to be patient but didn't continue that in this draft. Any one of the Jusuf Nurkic, James Young, Gary Harris, or Rodney Hood types that went after Payne would have been a better fit both in terms of need and organization strategy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2014 NBA Finals: What I Learned

I’m not going to bore you with a recap or an analysis of why the Spurs won. They obviously did because they were the better team and deserved to win. I will admit a dash of disappointment – watching the Spurs brand of basketball at its apex is exhilarating, couldn’t we have gotten a couple more games? I’m not going to talk about what I got right (Spurs need for another ball handler) and wrong (Heat shooters failing spectacularly). I wanted to share some of the things that I learned watching this series.

The Spurs’ Offense – If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Play Like This. The Spurs offense is so fun to watch. The ball flies around, from corner to corner, from one pick-and-roll into another, form dribble drives to shooters and back to the rim. Last year, the Spurs started figuring out the Heat defense, but Erik Spoelstra gamely made some lineup adjustments and Miami cranked up the pressure in Games 6 and 7. There was nowhere to hide this year. Guys rocketed of screens, made heady, quick decisions, and shot the ball with confidence. One of my favorite plays of the Finals was an innocuous Patty Mills leakout where, upon seeing no defenders back, Mills pulled up and canned a 3. Some coaches deride this kind of play – you can shoot 3’s any time, why not take it to the rim? But I enjoyed how decisive Mills was, how he was unafraid to take a three in this moment, and that open threes are what the Spurs’ offense is designed to generate in the first place – why not take the first one and push the pace?

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Quick Note About the French

No, not the French side that will be in Brazil. I'm talking Roland Garros, and specifically, a Spaniard at Roland Garros.

I've seen Rafael Nadal play a lot. I'm not able to catch every tournament, or even every match of the majors. But I try to tune in around the 3rd round or so at big tournaments and see how these guys are doing. The end can come terrifyingly quick for even the greatest of players, and I don't want to have missed any legendary matches while they're occurring.

So I'm no Rafa expert, but I do know his game a little. And it seems a little like a team from South Florida that's pretty good at basketball. Rafa is tennis' Miami Heat.

Flashback to the 2013 NBA Finals

I just wrote a post comparing the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs to their counterparts from last year's historic series. I thought it would be interesting to revisit my comments previewing that series, indicate where I was right or wrong, and how things have changed. Original thoughts in italics, new thoughts in orange.

Here's the one all of you have been waiting for. In fact, I've been waiting for it too because as of this writing I have no idea who will win this. First, let's get some logistical stuff out of the way:

The Heat have had 3 days off, the Spurs a week. Strangely I think this benefits both teams. The Heat don't need a long layoff, they need a light at the end of the tunnel. Dwyane Wade's knee is not going to feel better with a few extra days may actually have felt worse. I wouldn't be surprised if he had an arthroscopic procedure after the season to clean up bone spurs or something. On the other hand, the Spurs are a veteran team; I don't think the layoff affects them but will give Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, and Splitter extra R&R. I just can't imagine the Spurs coming out flat in Game 1. 

2014 NBA Playoffs: Finals Top 10

This is the series I wanted. I wanted Game 7 in San Antonio, with the River Walk, with Spurs fans urging their team to finish something 24 months in the making. After it became apparent that neither the Thunder nor the Pacers have any semblance of the depth required to compete with this Spurs team, I wanted the Heat just like Tim Duncan did. They can elevate the Spurs to a higher level with their athleticism, intelligence and depth. Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich (possibly two coaches with the most miss-spelled names) took turns throwing haymakers at the other until neither had anything left for an epic Game 7. Both coaches drew deep from the well: lineup switches, ice cold guys getting hot of the benches, on the fly scheme and offense changes. And the players. Records fell. Young guys like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green proved they were ready for the Finals. Old vets like Shane Battier and Mike Miller showed they had something left. And the stars were stars. It was brutal and beautiful series all at once.

This is my Twitter feed in the waning moments of that exhilarating Game 7:

2014 NBA Finals: 2 Games In

What well-played basketball. After 2013's magnificent spectacle, anything less would be a disappointment, and this has not been disappointing. Both teams are better. Miami have improved its spacing with Bosh and Lewis in the starting lineup and has a healthy Dwyane. San Antonio have a savvy Boris Diaw making plays all over the floor, spry-looking guards, and a fired-up Duncan. I wanted to examine how these year-over-year differences change the complexion of the teams and the series:

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Donald Sterling Problem

The NBA has a problem. Many think that their problem is Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Or perhaps their problem is with Shelly Sterling, Donald’s wife who has emerged as a feisty, combative wildcard. Maybe their problem is about race relations given that a high percentage of players and fans are black, and yet blacks are under-represented in the upper echelons of coaching, management, league leadership, and ownership. My contention is that none of these are truly the heart of the issue, none are the reason why this situation has made America so uncomfortable with race.

About Race

Donald Sterling's problem is NOT that he is racist. It is that he is despicable.

Let’s tackle that last part, the part about race, first. My comments on race may sound controversial, so hang on:

Donald Sterling’s problem is NOT that he is racist.

Donald Sterling’s problem is that he is despicable.

And those are two different things.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: 2nd Round

I know it's 3 games into the Conference Finals. I wanted to get this up earlier but have been working on a Donald Sterling piece that has taken a lot of thought and introspection. But these games keep coming and I can't keep falling behind. After a dramatic 1st round, the 2nd round had its work cut out and wasn't nearly as exciting. It did reveal something about each of the winners and losers, however.

Monday, May 5, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: 1st Round

Let me echo this statement that had been ad infinitum, because the significance of it is special: this was the best first round, EVER. We thought that the pall tanking, injuries, and even scandal have cast on the league this year may negatively affect the product or our ability/willingness to connect with that product. We were wrong. Game 7s. Buzzer-beating game winners. Over times. Best round ever. I'll try to recap some key points in each series and throw up some 2nd round predictions, too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: The Not-Quite Preview

I had a chance on Thursday to put up a post previewing the NBA playoffs... and then went to the driving range for my first bucket of the year. But I did have thoughts about each of these series! Originals are in italics, reflections on this weekend's games following:


Indiana Pacers - Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks lack of interior scoring will hurt against a Pacers defense that will regain some of its footing in a focused, playoff atmosphere. Atlanta have nobody to check Hibbert inside and will have a tough time stopping penetration by Stephenson and George. Indiana though is playing poorly enough that a random Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, or Paul Milsap scoring bonanza will give them trouble. Pacers in 6.
For some reason I thought a different Indiana team would show than the one that did Saturday night. For an anachronistic team that prides itself on defense and interior play, Indiana's lack of either was egregious. Each Hawks pass looked a few steps faster than the Pacers defenders making the defense bend in all sorts of convoluted ways. On offense, David West and Roy Hibbert were complete non-factors. The broader issue is that these do not seem like problems of scheme; rather, it's the players' inability to execute at a high level. How much these Pacers need a guy like Tyler Hansborough to inject their bench with much-needed athleticism and energy. The other problem? The Hawks won that game handily and it was no fluke - all their shots were good ones. Maybe the extra days of rest between games will benefit Indy's energy level after a grueling season as the top dog in the East, but that rest benefits Atlanta, too.