|Posted on March 3, 2012 at 5:10 PM|
9. The lockout, which led to a compressed schedule, has had a huge impact on the way this season is being played out. For at least the first 20 games of the year, teams were really out of sync, shooting low percentages (only three teams over 46% right now), and players were out of shape. Some of these out-of-sync teams are not just bad, they’re really bad. Teams like Charlotte and Washington are simply noncompetitive, losing by an average of 14 and nine points a night, respectively, and shooting below 43% from the field and 31% on threes. Their players don’t even know if they’re on offense or defense, pass the ball to the other team, and miss free throws by five feet.
8. Dwight Howard has been the center of an absurd number of trade rumors. It’s really unfair to Howard that he has to play every game not knowing whether or not he’s going to be playing with the Magic the next day. Considering the fact that he’s playing with a weak supporting cast and unsure if he’s going to get traded or not, he’s having a fantastic season as he always does. He grabs 34% of all available defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor, the Magic’s opponents average six fewer points per 100 possessions with Howard playing than when he’s on the bench, and Orlando surprisingly has the seventh best record in the league, so he has to be one of the top-5 MVP candidates this season.
However, there is a good chance he will be traded. Where? Here are the two most logical possibilities:
- Boston Celtics - I’ve heard the Celtics are trying to trade Rajon Rondo, but why not trade older Paul Pierce and acquire the best center in the league to run the pick-and-roll with Rondo?
- Chicago Bulls – Howard would make a great defensive Bulls team one of the greatest defensive teams ever and also give them offensive from the center position (which they are not getting from Joakim Noah).
7. There is now a Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers rivalry, after decades of the Lakers being vastly superior. The Lakers, with Derek Fisher as their starting point guard and Metta World Peace as their starting small forward, are getting old, and becoming too reliant on Kobe Bryant. (Quick tangent: I’m happy that announcers this season have actually been calling Ron Artest “World Peace,” leading to great quotations such as, “World Peace not being very peaceful,” after Artest elbowed Chris Paul). The Clippers on the other hand, may just be the most fun team to watch in the league.
6. There were two key contract extensions made by Minnesota and Oklahoma City. The Timberwolves kept superstar Kevin Love for four more years, securing the Kevin Love-Ricky Rubio duo which is close to leading the team to the playoffs this season. The Thunder locked in Russell Westbrook until 2016, keeping the superb Westbrook-Durant combination intact for the next five years. Unlike many stars who are leaving small-market teams to go to big-market teams in free agency, these two players have given two small-market teams bright futures (as long as Westbrook stops those 20-foot contested jumpers).
5. The quality of the NBA’s point guards is outstanding. Out of the 30 starting points guards in the league, two are superstars (Chris Paul, Derrick Rose), four are fabulous all-stars (Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook), five are improving, young players who narrowly missed the All-Star Game (Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry, Kyle Lowry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday), four are rookies with potential all-star futures (Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker), three are extremely talented, young players with some flaws (John Wall, Jeremy Lin, Tyreke Evans), two are smart veterans still getting it done in their old age (Steve Nash, Jason Kidd). That means a whopping 20/30 starting point guards are above average starters, and the majority of them haven’t even hit their prime yet! However, a player that is past his prime, but still performing, is Steve Nash. As always, even at age 38, his shooting percentages rank among the best in the league (54% from the field, 40% from threes, 86% from the foul line) and he is leading the league in assists. To see a player as skilled and classy as Steve Nash stuck with a general manager who has screwed up and a rebuilding team that’s several games out of the playoffs is sad, because Nash deserves better. Even though he’s not asking for a trade, it’s only fair that Nash should get one last shot at a championship before he retires (especially after being robbed of one in 2007 against the Spurs), so what potential destinations would suit him best?
- New York Knicks – I know Jeremy Lin is the undisputed starter, but the Knicks still could use a smart veteran leader who can come off the bench and throw lobs to Tyson Chandler, get Carmelo the ball in the right places, and run the pick-and-roll with Stoudemire. Also, a reunion with Amare and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni would give them chemistry right off the bat.
- Los Angeles Lakers – Nash would take a lot of the offensive load off Kobe Bryant, who has never played with a great point guard, and is stuck with Derek Fisher and Steve Blake this season. The Lakers could package Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes, and two picks for Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat. This would keep the Nash-Gortat duo intact as well as maintaining the Lakers’ inside dominance to go along with superb three-point shooting from their guards.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – This is easily the most intriguing scenario. The Thunder could reinvent Nash into a starting shooting guard (just how Chauncey Billups thrived at shooting guard for the Clippers this year) since Nash is a lights-out shooter, and start him alongside Russell Westbrook. With this lineup they could basically say, “We’re going to fastbreak after every opponents’ miss, score every time, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Westbrook would have to guard the opponents’ shooting guards, but Nash could thrive in a role where his main assignment is to spread the floor and knock down threes, leaving the lane open for Kevin Durant and Westbrook to penetrate.
4. There are four teams with no top-tier players (Philadelphia, Indiana, San Antonio, Houston) that are surprisingly winning. These teams all have depth, which is a must-have in this year’s brutal schedule, and they have smart, coachable players.
3. Lebron James is having possibly the greatest statistical season of the 21st century. Averaging 28 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals, while shooting 55% from the field and 42% on threes, he literally “does it all.” The most impressive of those numbers is the 55%, because no perimeter player has ever shot that efficiently on as many attempts as James is taking.
At the beginning of last season, the Heat were still Dwyane Wade’s team; but now, there is no question that Lebron is not only the most valuable player to his team, but the most valuable player in the league. Even though the Heat have the second best record in the NBA, the team has been outscored with James on the bench. In addition, Lebron scores 26% of Miami’s total field goals, and when he is on the floor, he assists on 35% of their field goals.
I feel like Lebron is on a mission this year to prove all doubters wrong. He improved his game over the off-season by developing a post-up game and improving his three-point shooting. It’s also going to help that Miami’s roster is vastly superior to the one they had last year. First, Mario Chalmers is much improved from last season, shooting 51% from the floor (and 3/5 of his shots are three pointers!). Secondly, the additions of Norris Cole and Shane Battier as well as Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller getting healthy have increased the quality of their second-unit significantly. I don’t see any team except the Thunder beating the Heat in a 7-game series.
Also, about James passing on the last play of the game against the Jazz, I’m completely fine with that. Why does everything he does have to be wrong? If he had shot while being double-teamed and missed, imagine how much he would have been criticized then! That play last night really reminded me of a play where Michael Jordan passed up the game-winning shot of the NBA finals to Steve Kerr, who knocked it down to win the championship. If there is a designed play to pass to an open guy, and you are double-teamed, the smart play is to give up the ball. Period.
2. Linsanity. You all know what this is, I assume. It’s obvious that he’s benefitted from (a) an easy schedule, (b) a team in desperate need of a point guard, (c) easy alley-oop targets such as Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire. However, the way he turned Jared Jeffries into an offensive threat is a remarkable feat that cannot be taken away from him. But, in order for the Knicks to contend, Lin needs to (a) keep his dribble when he drives into the paint, so that he keeps his options open, (b) pass the ball quicker when Stoudemire or Chandler comes off a screen, (c) start playing defense.
1. Injuries will decide this season’s outcome. Whether or not you like it, it’s true. Let’s count the number of top-50 players who have missed a significant number of games because of an injury: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, Al Horford, Andrew Bogut, Anderson Varejao, Kyrie Irving, Brook Lopez, Manu Ginobili, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, Zach Randolph, Eric Gordon, Danilo Gallinari. That’s 15 important players! Teams whose stars aren’t suffering injury problems are at a huge advantage, and while that is always the case, this season in particular, only a few teams have been completely injury free. It’s also a shame for fans that come to the arenas expecting to see the big stars, but find them sitting on the bench.
Please comment and tell me what you think. I picked Lebron James for MVP, but you can vote yourself on the right sidebar!
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