Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Let the Free Agent Frenzy Begin

NBA Free Agency has officially begun. July 1st, 2010 marks the beginning of the greatest single free agent class any sport has ever seen. It has been hyped for years, LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, all top tier NBA talents, and their all free to sign with whatever team can afford them. Buckle up people, it's gonna be a wild ride.

The world is hoping, however, that the class lives up to all of the hype that surrounds it. Sports outlets have had relentless coverage of the 2010 free agent class for the last two years, and if more players decide to stay with their original teams than sign with different one's, this will be a very disappointing summer.

With so many big time players able to sign with any team, FTS is going to try and sort it all out. It starts and ends with LeBron, once he signs, the rest will fall into place. Expect big things.

1.LeBron James
Possible Destinations: Cleveland, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago, Dallas

Word has it that LeBron would like to play for a former NBA player as his coach. Cleveland announced the hiring of Byron Scott, New York has Mike D'antoni who played professionally overseas, New Jersey hired Avery Johnson and if LeBron is to go to Miami, Pat Riley will captain that ship. Like I said before, it all starts and ends with Lebron, once he signs everyone else will fall into place.

I have heard reports that, as of now, Cleveland has the upper hand because of the ties that LeBron has to the city. LeBron has already tried his luck in Cleveland to no avail, and I don't see them being able to add another marquee free agent to their squad.

Chicago has a roster that with LeBron and another big name player can compete for a championship right away. Chicago hired Tom Thibodeau as their coach, he is known as a hard nosed, defensive minded guy who expects a lot out his players; I don't see LeBron liking that coaching style. The Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has never paid the luxury tax, what makes you think he will now?

New York is a very intriguing option. The city gives LeBron the biggest stage to promote his game, as well as his personal image. Mike D'antoni is a players coach who runs a system that LeBron would thrive in. Again, the key will be the ability of NY lure another guy like a Bosh, Stoudemire or Boozer to pair with LeBron.

New Jersey is also another intriguing destination for LeBron. The Nets new owner Mikhail Prokhorov has very deep pockets, and he is not afraid of the luxury tax. New Jersey also has two players, Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, who are young, talented, and would be great compliments to LeBron. The Nets also have enough cap flexibility to sign a guy like Bosh, Stoudemire or Boozer to team with LeBron, which is a huge factor in the decision making process for LeBron. The Jay-Z factor also exists, we have all seen LeBron getting cozy with Jay-Z on the court after games, and with the rapper being a partial owner of the Nets and a move to Brooklyn in the works, this sounds like a nice place to play if you're LeBron James.

I don't see LeBron signing with Dallas, Mark Cuban just threw their name out there for his own amusement. A lot of things would have to happen for James to go to the Mavs, and I don't think LeBron wants to try and compete with Kobe on a regular basis on the west coast.

A ton of things would have to happen for LeBron to sign with Miami as well. There has been talk of a new "big 3" down in South Beach, but it is very unlikely that will happen. Miami would have to talk Toronto into a sign and trade of Bosh for Beasley, then they would have to convince LeBron, Wade and Bosh to each take 16 million, instead of max money. I don't think the ego's of those three players would allow that to happen, but if anyone can make it happen, it's Pat Riley.

Prediction: I think the decision for LeBron comes down to two teams, New York and New Jersey, and LeBron will sign with New Jersey, there are too many good things going on there to pass it up.

2. Dwayne Wade

Possible Destinations: Miami, Chicago,

To be honest, D-Wade is not going anywhere. His meeting with Chicago this morning was merely a ploy to disrupt the flow of the Bulls in the free agent market. Wade and Miami go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. Wade is Pat Riley's top recruiter and there is no way Riley let's Wade walk without a fight.

Prediction: D-Wade stays home in South Beach

3. Joe Johnson

Possible Destinations: Atlanta, New York, New Jersey

Reports have it that Atlanta has offered Johnson a six year deal worth 120 million. No way Johnson passes that up. He won't meet with any other teams and will accept that offer.

Prediction: Atlanta

4. Chris Bosh

Possible Destinations: Toronto, Miami, Chicago, Houston, New York, New Jersey

I think Bosh's time in Toronto has come to an end. Their attempt last season at putting together a serviceable roster by signing Hedo Turkoglu was an utter failure, and that was the straw the broke Toronto's back. Bosh will not be returning to Toronto.

Miami is a definite possibility for Bosh, but it would likely take a sign and trade to make it happen. I think Bosh likes the idea of playing alongside D-Wade in South Beach, but does pat Riley see Bosh as a max player? I don't think so.

Chicago presents another good option for Bosh. The Bulls are already a playoff team who could only get better by adding Chris Bosh. Their roster is very good and Bosh would be a perfect fit, allowing Joakim Noah to move the the 5 where he would be more comfortable. I doubt that the Bulls will get LeBron or Wade which will make them push even harder to get Bosh.

Houston is Bosh's hometown, and he has said that he would love to play in front of his friends and family. Houston has some decent pieces with Yao, Ariza and Aaron Brooks, but it seems like Bosh wants to team up with another superstar to form a tandem. Houston only has enough cap space to offer Bosh a little less than the max, so I think he ends up elsewhere.

New York seems like too big of a stage, without enough guaranteed big time pieces. Rumors are Bosh is making a documentary based on the free agent process, so maybe the Big Apple is the right place for him.

I haven't heard much talk about Bosh to New Jersey, but if LeBron goes there, like I predicted, and Miami can't get a sign and trade together to get Bosh, he may just go join Jay-Z and Prokhorov in New Jersey.

Prediction: I think Bosh ends up in Miami

5. Carlos Boozer

Possible Destinations: Utah, Miami, Chicago, New York

Boozer will not return to Utah for two reasons: 1. He doesn't want to go back to Utah, 2. Utah has Paul Millsap, who if given big minutes, can produce just as well as Boozer. Utah undoubtedly appreciates the contributions that Boozer has made to their team, but it is time for these two to part ways.

Boozer lives in Miami in the offseason, and loves the idea of playing alongside D-Wade in South Beach. If Miami can't land the ultimate trio, look for Boozer to be their backup plan.

Chicago seems like the perfect fit for Boozer. There are very good pieces already in place, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, add Boozer to that squad and the Bulls are a force in the East. I think the Bulls miss out on the top four free agents this summer, and end up making a big push for Boozer.

New York is definitely too big of a market for Boozer. Carlos is a very low key, hard working guy who doesn't like to draw a lot of attention to himself, and he will have a tough time avoiding that in NY. If a bigger name free agent signs with the Knicks, and takes the spotlight off of C
Boozer, look for him to follow suit.

Prediction: Boozer to Chicago

6. Dirk Nowitzki

Possible Destinations: Dallas, New York

I think Dirk's decision to opt out of his contract to explore free agency was just that, an exploration. Dirk saw a bunch of other superstars getting the chance to weigh their options, and he wanted to do the same. At the end of the day, Dirk is a Maverick.

Prediction: Dirk returns to the Mavs

7. Amar'e Stoudemire

Possible Destinations: Phoenix, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland

Like Boozer in Utah, Stoudemire's time in Phoenix needs to come to an end. The Suns have tried tirelessly to trade Stoudemire, but never got a deal done. I think Amar'e has those scenario's in the back of his mind and will use them as motivation to leave.

New York is a good possibility for Amar'e. They have tons of cap space, enough for two max free agents, and the big market that Stoudemire is dying to play in. Look for Stoudemire to wait and see where LeBron and Wade sign, and if one of them makes NY home, so will Amar'e

I like New Jersey for Amar'e as well. Like NY, they have tons of cap space, and a new owner with very deep pockets. What sets NJ apart from NY is the talent that they already possess in Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. The move to Brooklyn in a couple of years adds some additional intrigue for potential free agents. Look for the LeBron, Amar'e combo that we wanted to see in Cleveland, happen in New Jersey.

Miami presents a good option for Stoudemire, but it seems like the Heat have their radar focused on LeBron and Bosh which may insult Amar'e a bit. There was a lot of talk during the last two trade deadlines about sending Amar'e to Miami, but I think the Heat get Bosh and Stoudemire goes elsewhere.

I don't see Amar'e in Chicago, it just doesn't seem like the right fit to me. With Chicago hiring Tom Thibodeau as their new coach, he will be looking for a bug guy who can play defense and who can rebound, two things that Amar'e struggles to do. Amar'e to Chicago is an oxymoron, they hire a defensive coach and bring in a guy who can't play defense, doesn't make sense.

Cleveland has been making a push to try and get LeBron back, and that's why they are throwing out names of guys who they are interested in speaking with, and that includes Amar'e. Unfortunately for the Cavs, if LeBron doesn't come back, then no one is coming.

Prediction: Amar'e teams up with LeBron in New Jersey

8. David Lee

Possible Destinations: New York, Chicago

David Lee is a perfect fit in NY, and I don't see him going anywhere. I think NY misses out on all of the top tier free agents because they don't have enough talent to surround two max free agents, and they just have bad luck.

Prediction: Lee stays in NY

9. Paul Pierce

Possible Destinations: Boston

Pierce did the same thing Nowitzki did, he just wanted to weigh his options and restructure his deal. Pierce and the Celtics already have the framework set on a deal, and it's come down to agreeing on terms. If Doc Rivers had not returned, the Celtics may have lost Pierce.

Prediciton: Pierce stays in Boston.

10. Ray Allen

Possible Destinations: Boston, New York

I think Allen will stay in Boston and make one more run at winning a second championship. Ray is comfortable in Boston, and comfortable with his roll on the team.

NY gives him an interesting option, though. They can offer him more money than Boston can, and they have a system that will greatly benefit his game. Ray would be the feature player on a not-so-great team, but money talks.

Prediction: Ray gives it one more go in Boston.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pitching Dominance Returns to the Driver's Seat

The Steroid Era in Major League Baseball was a decade long black spot in the history of our national pastime. From 1996 to 2006 we watched as players homerun, RBI, and slugging percentages sky rocketed; and we attributed these huge upswings to lesser pitching, better preparation from hitters, corked bats, and even juiced up baseballs. The Mitchell Report was released in 2007, it listed 104 players that tested positive for steroids, including big names such as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, and Roger Clemens, just to name a few.

The recent spike in perfect games and no hitters in recent MLB seasons shows that the steroid era is officially over, and dominant pitching is returning to the forefront. Pitchers once again have the edge over hitters, and it shows:

No Hitters during Steroid Era:
Eric Milton - 9/11/99
Hideo Nomo - 4/4/01
Derek Lowe - 4/27/02
Al Leiter - 5/11/96
Hideo Nomo - 9/17/96
Kevin Brown - 6/10/97
Pittsburgh (combined) - 7/12/97
Jose Jimenez - 6/25/99
A.J. Burnett - 5/12/01
Bud Smith - 09/03/01
Kevin Millwood - 04/27/03
Astros ( combined) - 6/11/03
Annibal Sanchez - 9/6/06

No Hitters post Steroid Era:
Carlos Zambrano - 9/14/08
Johnathon Sanchez - 7/10/09
Ubaldo Jimenez - 4/17/2010
Edwin Jackson - 6/25/2010
Mark Buehrle - 4/18/2007
Justin Verlander - 6/27/07
Clay Buchholz- 9/1/07
Jon Lester - 5/19/08

Perfect Games during Steroid Era:
David Wells - 5/17/98
David Cone - 7/18/99
Randy Johnson - 5/18/04

Perfect Games post Steroid Era:
Mark Buehrle - 7/23/2009
Dallas Braden - 5/9/2010
Roy Halladay - 5/29/2010
*Armando Galarraga - 6/2/2010 (lost on a blown call by first base umpire Jim Joyce)

From 1996 to 2006 there were 13 no hitters thrown and from 2007 to 2010 there have already been eight. From 1996 to 2006 there have been three perfect games; and from 2007 to 2010 that total has already been matched and should have been surpassed. This stat shows me two things: 1. The pitchers who were able to be dominant throughout the Steroid Era deserve a ton of credit, 2. The Steroid Era is offcially over, and dominant pitching is becoming prevalent once again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

NBA Draft Report Card

This years' NBA draft wasn't nearly as strong as we would have liked, but there were a lot of valuable players there for the taking. I am going to give each team a grade based on their draft choices.

Washington Wizards: John Wall (1), Kevin Seraphin (17), Trevor Booker (23)
John Wall is a cant miss player. Clearly the top talent in this years draft, Wall is an extremely gifted athlete with a great feel for the game. If Wall could shoot the jumper at a more consistent rate, he could be an unstoppable force in D.C. for years to come
Trevor Booker is a high energy guy who brings grit and toughness on a nightly basis. Booker is an exceptional athlete with a great knack for rebounding, he terrorized the ACC with monstrous dunks and a never quit attitude. If Booker can develop a mid range jump shot, we're looking at a poor mans Paul Millsap.
Seraphin is your prototypical European player, he can do a little of everything. He is a good athlete and makes a concerted effort on the boards. Seraphin is extremely raw on offense, but if he can develop some sort of offensive identity he could be the next coming of Chris Bosh.
I think Washington could have used Gilbert Arenas as a nice piece to acquire some more first round picks and expiring contracts.
Grade: B+

Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner (2)
Turner embodies the term "complete player". He has a diverse skill set that allows him to effectively play three positions on the court. He was the top player this past year in college and could have been the top pick if it weren't for John Wall. Turner needs to develop a more consistent jumper and improve his lateral quickness in order to defend at the NBA level.
Grade: B

New Jersey Nets: Derrick Favors (3), Damion James (24)
Favors is a pretty raw player at both ends of the court but he has huge upside. Favors is an explosive athlete who attacks the basket with tenacity. He needs to tighten up his back to the basket game and develop a mid range jumper. Favors needs to have more commitment and desire on the defensive end in order to compete at the NBA level.
Damion James is a versatile forward with great athleticism. He can guard multiple positions, rebound at a high rate and run the floor with the best of 'em. James needs to develop an outside shot in order to maximize his potential.
Grade: B+

Minnesota Timberwolves: Wesley Johnson (4), Lazar Hayward (30), Nemanja Bjelica (35), Paulao Prestes (45), Hamady N'diaye (56)
I like Wesley Johnson's game a lot. He has a very versatile offensive game with the ability to shoot, attack the basket and find the open man. If Johnson is gonna succeed on the defensive end, he's gonna have to put on some muscle to handle the 3's and 4's in the NBA.
Lazar Hayward is the prototypical Marquette player, he is tough, fundamental and can shoot. Like Wesley Matthews before him, Hayward will bring great defensive intensity and dedication to playing team basketball,
Bjelica won't overwhelm anyone with his athleticism but he will with his ability to handle the ball. He will stay overseas for a year or two to develop his jumper and low post game. Best case scenario, he turns into a Toni Kukoc type player.
Prestes and N'diaye are both guys who are big, long and physical. Both of them will also be stashed away overseas for a few years.
Grade: B+

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins (5), Hassan Whiteside (33)
Cousins is a high risk, high reward player. He has shown flashes of greatness and flashes of not-so-greatness. His biggest problem is his lack of maturity. Cousins has the best footwork and low post game of any player in this years draft, but he needs to work on tightening up his body and his attitude in order to avoid being the second coming of Benoit Benjamin.
Whiteside is a very raw prospect, but he has the size and ability to become a serviceable center in the league. Whiteside has a good feel on the defensive end and has shown the ability to step out and hit a mid range jumper. If Sacramento develops him properly, he could be a Marcus Camby type player.
These two picks are extremely high risk, high reward for Sacramento. The Kings traded away Spencer Hawes for veteran center Sam Dalembert, which clogs the middle at Arco Arena, and could hamper the development of these two players.
Grade: C

Golden State Warriors: Epke Udoh (6)
The Warriors used their only pick in this years draft to take a player who is extremely raw. Udoh didn't crack ESPN Chad Ford's top 30 players, but after a good year at Baylor and a nice run in the NCAA tournament, Udoh shot up the draft boards. Udoh is very similar to former Warrior draft picks Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright, Golden State is hoping Udoh produces much more than those two players have so far in their careers.
Grade: D

Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe (7), TerrIco White (36)
The Pistons needed a big man more than any team in the draft, and they went out and got, in my opinion, the most skilled and versatile one the 2010 draft class had to offer. Monroe's game is very european in his ability to to face up, drive and pass. Monroe is a guy who is ready to contribute right now and the Pistons made a great pick.
Terrico White is a very gifted athlete who loves to attack the basket off the dribble. He has a decent jump shot and can defend the 1 or 2 position effectively. The only knock on White is his conditioning, but that's an easy fix.
Grade: A

LA Clippers: Al-Farouq Aminu (8), Eric Bledsoe (18), Willie Warren (54)
Aminu is a very gifted basketball player. He can attack the basket and also pull up and hit a jumper, but his real strength is his rebounding. Scouts aren't sure as to what position Aminu will play, either SF or PF, but he will succeed at whichever one the Clippers choose to play him at.
Bledsoe got stuck playing second fiddle to John Wall at Kentucky. What I see in Bledsoe is a very smart PG with a pure shot, he will be a great backup for Baron Davis.
Willie Warren was projected as a top 10 pick before the start of his sophomore season at Oklahoma. Injuries and questions about his drive and dedication doomed his draft stock, but Warren can play. He is a dynamic scorer and very athletic, great value at number 54 for the Clippers.
Grade: A

Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward (9), Jeremy Evans (55)
Utah got the guy they wanted in Hayward, a tough, versatile and fundamental forward who embodies everything that Jerry Sloan looks for in a player. Hayward has good size and length but needs to improve his athleticism to be an effective NBA defender. Hayward has huge upside and could be a very good player down the road.
Jeremy Evans is a guy who went under the radar coming out of South Florida, but Utah saw great size and athleticism and made Evans their second round choice.
Grade: B

Indiana Pacers: Paul George (10), Lance Stephenson (40), Magnum Rolle (51)
George is a high risk, high reward player. He went to Fresno State but never really dominated against the lesser competition. His talent is undeniable, but his attitude is what worries me. He has the skill set to be a good NBA player, but he reminds me a lot of of former
Pacer first round pick Jonathon Bender.
Stephenson had a lot of hype around him coming out of Lincoln High School in New York, but the lack of a consistent jump shot caused him to become a very one dimensional player at Cincinnati. Stephenson used his size and strength to get to the rim in college, but that won't work as effectively in the NBA. He can handle the ball and has great passing ability when he chooses to actually pass the ball. Stephenson desperately needs to develop a jumpshot.
Rolle is big, long and athletic, but is already 24 years old which means his development is limited.
There are two grades for the Pacers here, the first one for if these players develop and the other if they don't.
Grades: A/F

New Orleans Hornets: Craig Brackins (21), Quincy Pondexter (26)
I like Brackins offensive game a lot, he can hit outside shots at a decent rate, he can get to the rim off the dribble and he has a decent back to the basket game. I also like the way Brackins crashes the boards, he was a very effective rebounder in college. What I don't like is his desire on defense, he was a liability on that end of the court for Iowa State. He has the athletic ability to be a good defender, but it's all about desire with Brackins
Pondexter was a four year starter at Washington and he definitely benefited from staying all four years in college. Pondexter was more of a slasher and excelled when he drove the ball to the rim during the first few years at Washington. Pondexter has developed a decent mid range jumper, but he needs to extend his range to the three point line to be a good scorer in the NBA.
Grade: B-

Memphis Grizzlies: Xavier Henry (12), Greivis Vasquez (28)
Xavier Henry has a good feel for the game and an extremely smooth jump shot with good range. Henry isn't overly athletic, however, which will make it somewhat difficult to play and defend the small forward position in the NBA.
Vasquez brings a lot of passion and energy to the table. He has good ball handling skills and the ability to get to the rim or hit a jump shot. To me, Vasquez reminds me of Manu Ginobili with his knack for creating his own shot.
Grade: B+

Toronto Raptors: Ed Davis (13), Soloman Alabi (50)
Toronto used this pick as an attempt to replace Chris Bosh if he leaves via free agency. Davis is extremely long and has a good feel on defense. He is an above average hot blocker but he needs to develop some type offensive game whether it be back to the basket or face up. I also think he needs to add some muscle to be able to bang down low with the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.
Alabi fell very far in this years draft. I like this pick for Toronto because Alabi is 7'1 and very long. He has a good feel on the defensive end and is a very good shot blocker. There can only be positive growth with this pick
Grade: B+

Houston Rockets: Patrick Patterson (14)
Patterson is a guy who is ready to contribute right away. He plays tough defense and works the boards hard. He definitely needs to tighten up his offensive game. The Rockets are hoping Patterson turns into a Carl Landry type player.
Grade: C+

Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders (15), Darington Hobson (37), Jerome Jordan (44), Keith Gallon (47)
Sanders is tall, long and athletic. He is a very good defender and shot blocker which is what Milwaukee really needs. If he can develop some offense, Sanders could be a very effective player.
Hobson can definitely play the game, but his lack of athleticism begs the question, can he play in the NBA? If Hobson develops a three point shot the answer to that question is yes.
A lot of scouts were high on Jordan before his Senior year at Tulsa, but a bad year caused his draft stock to plummet. Jordan has great size and length and is a pretty decent athlete. Scott Skiles needs to work this guy into shape.
Keith Gallon is huge, both in a bad way and a good way. Gallon has a decent offensive game, and if he drops some pounds this pick would be a steal.
If these players can develop this is a fantastic draft for the Bucks. Two grades here as well.
Grades: A/D

Chicago Bulls: No picks
The Bulls traded away their picks along with Kirk Hinrich in order to clear enough cap space to sign two maximum free agents. I like that the Bulls used the 17th pick as trade bait, they don't want a project player or a rotation guy which tells me they want to win now.
Grade: A

OKC Thunder: Cole Aldrich (11), Tibor Pleiss (31), Ryan Reid (57)
Aldrich has the best offensive game out of any of the big men in this draft. The problem is he measured at 6'9, much smaller than originally thought. There are also questions about his ability to defend on the next level based on his size, but Aldrich can rebound and block shots at a good rate. I like this pick for the Thunder.
Pleiss is a true big man, he can block and defend very well but is very raw on offense. OKC will have Pleiss play overseas for a few years and hope he can develop into a good player.
Reid is a big, tough forward out of Florida State, he didn't have much impact on the Seminoles squad so I don't see him having much of an impact on the Thunders squad.

Boston Celtics: Avery Bradley (19), Luke Harangody (52)
Bradley was the top player coming out of high school and his one year at Texas showed that he can be a lockdown defender, but he needs to find an identity on offense. Bradley will do very well as a backup for Rajon Rondo and needs to pay close attention to how Rondo developed his offensive game. Great value pick here for the Celtics.
Harangody is a Danny Ainge type of player, he plays with extreme passion and energy, and leaves everything on the court. Harangody is a bit undersized to play the 4 in the NBA but he could make an impact off the bench, similar to what DeJuan Blair did this season for the Spurs.
Grade: A-

San Antonio Spurs: James Anderson (20), Ryan Richards (49)
James Anderson is a great value pick at 20th overall. He can score at ease with a great jumper and an uncanny ability to get to the line. Anderson is ready to contribute right away, another steal for the Spurs.
A lot of scouts were high on Richards before the draft last year but after a down year overseas, his draft stock took a terrible downfall. He is extremely young and raw with a ton of upside. He is big, at 7'0 230lbs and light on his feet. The Spurs are known for developing talent, and if they develop this guy, they would have another draft day steal in their pockets.

Portland Trailblazers: Luke Babbitt (16), Elliot Williams (22), Armon Johnson (34)
Portland traded Martell Webster in order to take Babbitt with the 16th pick. Babbitt is a Raef LaFrentz type player with a but more athleticism. His smooth jumper will spread the floor at the Rose Garden.
Elliot Williams is an athletic scoring guard with a very smooth jumper. Williams has yet to show any prowess on the defensive end. Portland will interchange Williams and Bayless to try and find their PG of the future.
Armon Johnson is one of the elite athletes of this draft. He is very physical and explosive but needs to develop a much more consistent jumper. I think Johnson has the toughness to really compete in the NBA
Grade: A-

Atlanta Hawks: Jordan Crawford (27), Pape Sy (53)
Jordan Crawford is famous for being the guy who dunked on LeBron James at his own camp. Jordan Crawford made a name for himself at Xavier as well for torching opposing defenses with his smooth offensive attack. He is compared to Jamal Crawford which makes this an interesting pick for Atlanta.
Sy is a big time stretch pick here. I don't think anyone besides Atlanta had him on their radar. I guess the Hawks are hoping to develop him into a Serge Ibaka. Don't like this pick.
Grade: C-

Dallas Mavericks: Dominique Jones (25)
Jones is an aggressive slashing player. He attacks the rim often and with authority. He will work perfectly in Dallas with their run and gun offense.
Dallas traded away picks for future consideration, which shows me they are insistent on signing Dirk Nowitzki.
Grade: B

Orlando Magic: Daniel Orton (29), Stanley Robinson (59)
Orton hardly played during his only season at Kentucky, but still decided to declare. He is big and long with a decent feel on offense. Orton is a good shot blocker but should have stayed at UK for one or two more years.
Robinson is probably the most explosive athlete in the draft, but his low basketball IQ and spotty offensive repertoire is a red flag for NBA teams.
Grade: D

Miami Heat: Dexter Pittman (32), Jarvis Varnado (41), Da'Sean Butler (42), Latavious Williams (48)
Miami is hoping Pittman can shed some weight and turn into a force in the paint. I like Pittman's offensive game, and I think if he does drop weight he can be a bigger Big Baby.
Varnado will be a serviceable backup center in the league. He reminds me of Marcus Camby with less skill on offense, I like this pick for the Heat.
Da'Sean Butler had that terrible injury in the NCAA Tournament and would have been a first round pick if he was healthy. Butler plays hard and has a very high basketball IQ. I like any player who has played under Bob Huggins because he brings discipline and toughness every night. If Butler can get healthy this pick will be a steal.
Latavious Williams is the first D-League player ever drafted. He is very athletic and tore up the D-League last year. He definitely has a chance to make the squad if Miami can sign two max free agents.
Grade: C

New York Knicks: Andy Rautins (38), Landry Fields (39)
Rautins, in my opinion, has the smoothest jumper in the draft. His range goes on for days and he can change the landscape of a game if he gets on a roll. Rautins will face the same struggles as J.J. Redick did in his first few years in the NBA, especially on defense.
Landry Fields can score, no doubt about it. The question I have is can he create his own shot at this level, he lacks the foot speed to be able to get past premier NBA defenders. I don't like this pick from the Knicks.
Grade: D-

LA Lakers: Devin Ebanks (43), Derrick Caracter (58)
The Lakers are hoping Ebanks turns into a hybrid of Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith. Ebanks is a great defender but needs to strengthen his offense.
Caracter has shown he can play the game, but the question is, does he WANT to play, big attitude problem with this guy.
Like the Ebanks pick, not so high on Caracter.
Grade: C+

Phoenix Suns: Gani Lawal (46), Dwayne Collins (60)
Gani Lawal is a good pick here. He can defend in the paint and has a decent offensive game. He needs to trim down a little to be able to run the break with Steve Nash.
Mr. Irrelevant this year is Dwayne Collins. Collins is extremely explosive and attacks the rim every opportunity he can get. His athleticism gives him a good chance to actually make the Suns roster.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

NBA Finals: Game 3 Adjustments

In Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Lakers left Ray Allen wide open, and guess what? He made three's. Eight of 'em. Breaking the existing record for most three point makes in an NBA Finals game, previously held by himself, Scottie Pippen and Kenny Smith at 7. People act surprised by the hot shooting of Ray Allen in Game 2, have we all forgotten that Allen is one of the best pure shooters the game of basketball has ever seen? Well, the Lakers sure did.

Once Allen drilled his first long range jumper, Fisher should have been on him like fly's on (you all can finish that one). Why were the Lakers helping off Ray Allen on Kendrick Perkins you ask? I don't know either. I'd rather have Perkins shoot a wide open, point-blank 10 footer, then give Allen an uncontested three. Why were the Lakers losing Ray Allen in transition? Just a complete lack of focus. A guy who is THAT hot, especially Allen, should be denied the ball at all costs. The Lakers allowed him to get easy catches in rhythm, and failed to close out in time to contest the shot.

Despite Allen's seven three's and 27 first half points, the Lakers trailed by just six points at the half. To start the second half, the Lakers came out with a different alertness on the defensive end, especially against Allen. Fisher was able to bust through screens like he always does, and do an effective job of running Ray Allen off the three-point line. The Lakers held Allen to just five second half points, as Allen finished with 32. With all of Los Angeles focusing on Jesus Shuttlesworth, Rajon Rondo was left with a ton of opportunities to create, and he did just that. Rondo finished with a triple double, 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, and the majority of his damage was done in the fourth quarter, the time that the Black Mamba usually strikes.

Kobe Bryant, however, was non-existent in the fourth quarter, due in part to foul trouble (on some absolutely terrible calls). Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were also ghosts throughout the pivotal final 12 minutes. Ron Artest was embarrassing offensively, going just 1-10 from the field, but to Artest's credit, he did a dazzling job on Ru-Paul Pierce on the defensive end, holding Pierce to 10 points on 2-11 shooting.

The key to a Laker victory in Game 3 is Lamar Odom, as always. In the first two games of this series, Odom has more fouls - 10, than points - 9, and he has only grabbed 8 rebounds. We Laker fans know how frustrating Lamar can be, one night he looks like the best all-around player in basketball, and the next night he looks like a Clipper. The Lakers need an engaged game from Lamar on both ends of the floor to have any chance of winning Game 3 in Boston tonight.

I hear a lot of talk about how Phil Jackson should put Kobe Bryant exclusively on Ray Allen for Game 3, but I think that would be a bad move. In game one, Fisher did a pretty decent job on Allen. Allen was in foul trouble, but that was because Kobe was attacking Allen on the other end. Putting Kobe on Allen may have some effects on his ability on the offensive end, putting Kobe on Rondo allows Kobe to play to his defensive strength as a help defender, while getting some rest at the same time. Fisher is one of the best in the NBA at running through screens and drawing offensive fouls on the Celtic bigs, if Kobe is moved to Allen, it takes away Fishers greatest strength on defense.

On offense, I would like to see a lot more mid screen and role with Kobe and Pau. In Game 1, Kobe and Pau were extremely effective with the pinch-post screen and role. When Kobe comes off the Gasol screen, he commands a double team, which allows Gasol to dive hard to the front of the rim. With Kobe's great shooting and passing, the Celtic defense has to pick their poison, give Kobe a wide open 15 footer, or give Gasol the dunk. Also, if Kobe drops the ball into Gasol, Andrew Bynum's defender has to come help which gives Pau Gasol the opening to dish the ball off to Bynum for an easy two.

Defense wins, PERIOD. Play defense, Lakers, you will win.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

2010 NBA Finals Breakdown

The much anticipated match up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics tips off tonight in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Five Tool Sports is here to give you complete team breakdowns, position by position breakdowns and a prediction as to who will be raising the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the series.

First we'll take a look at how both clubs arrived in the Finals

Boston Celtics:
First Round: Defeated the Heat 4-1
Second Round: Defeated the Cavs 4-2
Conference Finals: Defeated the Magic 4-2

Los Angeles Lakers:
First Round: Defeated the Thunder 4-2
Second Round: Swept the Jazz 4-0
Conference Finals: Defeated the Suns 4-2

Styles of Play:
The 2010 Celtics are not the same, consistent team that we witnessed during their last title run in 2008. A combination of injuries, old age and a little bit of locker room tension caused the Celtics to sputter a little down the stretch in the regular season. In their last 35 games, Boston had a record of 19-16, with bad losses to Milwaukee, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston and New York. Veteran teams, however, don't allow the regular season dictate how they approach the postseason, they view the playoffs as a clean slate.

The Celtics deploy an attack that is mainly focused on the defensive end of the floor. Rajon Rondo emerged this year as one of the best perimeter defenders and sneakiest steal men in the league. Ray Allen uses his veteran savvy and knowledge to cut off angles and hold his own in Tom Thibodeau's amazing defensive schemes. Kevin Garnett, when healthy, is an All-World defensive force whose intensity and ability to "show and recover" on the screen and role is unmatched. Kendrick Perkins is a load in the paint and isn't afraid to do the "dirty work" in the low post, whether that be taking a hard foul, or controlling the defensive boards. The only defensive liability Boston has is Paul Pierce. Luckily for the Celtics, Pierce will be checking the offensively challenged Ron Artest, who seems to have already forgotten that he was a pretty good scorer in the league for most of his career. The Celtics have held their opponents to an average of 91.4 points per game on only 43% from the field.

Boston is renowned for their defense, but their offense is nothing to look past. The Celtics rely on Point Guard Rajon Rondo to orchestrate a balanced offensive attack to wear down their opponents, the Celtics have four players who are averaging between 15 and 19 points per game in the playoffs.. If Rondo is getting penetration, he has the capability to finish in traffic, or kick the ball out to Pierce or Allen for an open jumper. If Rondo can't get deep in the paint off the dribble, Doc Rivers will send Kevin Garnett or Perkins to the top of the key to play the pick and roll game. If neither of those options are creating good offensive possessions, the Celtics will iso Paul Pierce on either wing, and he will look to get to his sweet spot and sink the fade-away jumper from the elbow. Like Pierce on the defensive end, Perkins is the weak link for Boston on the offenisve end. Perkins high field goal percentage in the regular season has not carried over to the post-season, as he is shooting 49% from the field, compared to 60% in the regular season. Perkins is also a candidate for "Hack-a-Perk" because of his horrendous free throw shooting at 58%.

The Celtics will win the series if...they stick to what has gotten them to this point. Defense, rebouding and a balanced scoring attack.

Throughout this post-season, the Lakers have shown us that they can outscore anybody, and they can lock down defensively, but they haven't been consistently doing BOTH of those things. Against the Suns, the Lakers, as a team, averaged 113 points points per game something we haven't seen since the Showtime era. In that same series, the purple and gold proved that they could clamp down on defense as well, holding Phoenix to 40 points combined in the second and third quarters of the decisive game six.

The success of the Laker defense is on the defensive glass. If Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom are rebounding the ball like they can and should, the Lakers are a tough squad to beat. Another key for the Lakers is containing Paul Pierce, a task that will be given to the ever so defensive minded Ron Artest. In the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers had Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Walton guarding Boston's most gifted offensive weapon, and Pierce torched both of them to the tune of 22 points per game. Look for Phil Jackson to give Kobe Bryant some big minutes checking Rajon Rondo, similar to what he did with Kobe against Russell Westbrook in the first round against the OKC Thunder. Rondo is a questionable jump shooter at best, and the Lakers will be content to live and die with a Rondo jumper.

The Lakers offense is like a freight train, once it gets rolling, it's very tough to stop. If every part of the engine is on point, it is a flawless thing of beauty, and it's gonna have to be against the suffocating defense of the Boston Celtics. The last time these two teams met in the Finals, "weird Kobe" as Skip Bayless likes to call him, reared his ugly head and doomed the Lakers for that series. Kobe turns into "weird Kobe" when he stops trusting his teammates and proceeds to jack up unneccessary shots outside the flow of the offense. Kobe Bryant needs to have faith that hsi running mates will make shots, or make plays, which will free him up to do more of the intangibles that are needed to win NBA Championships.

I expect to see a lot of Kobe and Pau in the pinch post throughout this series. Pau Gasol's great hands and great passing skills make him a perfect fit in the triangle offense, and the two years he has had to learn the ins and outs of the offense make him much more dangerous than he was in 2008. I also expect to see Kobe in the mid post against Ray Allen, much like he did when he first broke his finger in the regular season. Having Kobe at that spot on the court opens up the high-low game with Gasol and Bynum, and allows Artest and Fisher to spread the court with long range jumpers.

The Lakers will win the series if...they WANT it more. It's all about heart and focus for the Lakers. They have the talent, they need to put it together consistently.

Position by Position Breakdown:

PG: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher
Rondo is obviously the better Point Guard out of the two, he is one of the best passers and defenders in the league; but that being said, don't sleep on D-Fish, he has contained three of the best at the position throughout this post-season run in Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Steve Nash. The Battle of the PG goes to Rondo, but don't be surprised if Fisher comes up bigger in clutch situations.

SG: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant
If it was Kobe vs. Jesus Shuttlesworth, I might have given the edge to JS. Sorry Ray, your acting days are over, this one goes to KB24.

SF: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest
If Artest can find a way to expose Pierce's weaknesses on the defensive end, I would give the edge here to Ron-Ron, but I don't think Ron will have much of an impact on offense, so this battle will go to Pierce.

PF: Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol
According to Phil Jackson, this is the key match up. I agree. I think Gasol ends the talk of him being soft and has a good series, while Garnett continues to be mediocre as he has been since his injuries. I give the Edge to Gasol.

C: Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum
I don't expect a lot from Bynum on either end of the floor because of the persistent pain in his knee. Reports are that the fluid they drained out just yesterday has already returned, and no progress has been made. The edge here goes to Perkins because of his great defense and rebounding.

Battle of the Benches:
Honestly, if you take a second and look at it, it's truly a match up of Glen Davis and Tony Allen vs. Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar. Every analyst and expert is saying that Tony Allen will come in and work some sort of magic against Kobe on defense, not buying it. I think Lamar will make Glen Davis look like a big baby, and Farmar will be open for a lot of three's that he will take and make. I give the edge to the Lakers.

Prediciton: Lakers over Celtics 4-2

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Celtics vs. Lakers: The Ultimate Rivalry

This is a rivalry that needs no introduction. Celtics vs. Lakers, round 12. In baseball, we have the Yankees and Redsox, in football we have the Bears and Packers and in Hockey, we have the rivalries of the original six franchises, but none of the preceding bring quite the excitement that the Celtics and Lakers bring to the world of basketball.

During the 1960's, it was Bill Russell and Bob Cousy pitted against Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. When one looks back at those battles, he or she may pose the question, "what rivalry?" based on the fact that the Celtics owned the 60's, winning eight consecutive championships, trumping the Lakers in six of those eight. This is where the hatred began, watching Russell and Cousy celebrate with tears of joy, but more so when watching the arrogant Auerbach light up his famous cigar and give that shrewd smirk as he left he floor. The '60's were owned by the Boston Celtics, but since then, these two storied franchises have split the four NBA Finals match ups.

The hate may have began with Cousy and Russel vs. West and Baylor, but accelerant was thrown onto the fire in the 1980's. It started with Magic and Bird, and ended with Mchale and Rambis. It became very evident during this decade that these two teams, cities and fan bases deeply despised one another. The Magic, Bird rivalry started in college, when Magic's Michigan State team defeated Bird's little known Indiana State team in the 1979 NCAA Championship game. Boston drafted Bird in '78 and the Lakers drafted Magic in 1979, conveniently rekindling the bad blood between the two players, and eventually between the two franchises.

The year was 1984, and it was the first time the Lakers and Celtics had met in the Finals since 1969. Magic Johnson had already cemented his legacy in the NBA, winning two titles in his first three years. Bird took home his first NBA Championship in 1981, but his competitive nature fueled his desire to dethrone Magic and the Lakers in the 1984 Finals, Bird and the Celtics did just that. Boston defeated the Lakers in a hard fought seven game series that featured 10 future hall-of-famers (8 players and 2 coaches). Larry Bird raised both the Championship trophy and the Finals MVP award that year, and the Lakers, Celtics rivalry was officially renewed.

The collective basketball world didn't have to wait long to write another chapter in this storied rivalry, as the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals the very next year. The 1985 NBA Finals took on a different look, however, the series format changed from 2-2-1-1-1 to 2-3-2 after Celtic legend Red Auerbach convinced Commissioner David Stern that less cross-country traveling would provide for a more exciting and competitive series.

Of course, the series headlined round 3 of the Magic vs. Bird rivalry, but the man with the famous Sky-Hook would take the series on his shoulders. The Lakers won the series in six games, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated In those victories, averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocks per game. Abdul-Jabbar took home the Finals MVP award, and this marked the first time the Lakers had defeated the Celtics in the NBA Finals in franchise history (this was the ninth match up between the two franchises in the NBA Finals).

The Lakers failed to meet the Celtics in the 1986 finals, as they were ousted by the Houston Rockets In the Western Conference Finals; but the two teams were at it again in 1987. The Lakers won the series in six games, with the defining moment coming in game four when Magic Johnson hit a game winning running baby sky-hook over three Celtic defenders in Boston Garden. That shot proved to be a dagger in the hearts of everyone who called themselves a Celtic, as the Lakers went on to easily win game six.

Magic's baby hook seemed to have sent the Celtic franchise into a tailspin for the next 21 years, as the Celtics failed to return to the NBA Finals until 2008. While Boston was reeling, the Lakers were flourishing, reaching the Finals nine times from 1987-2009, winning the title in five out of the nine appearances.

In 2008, the stars aligned and the Lakers and Celtics were once again pitted against each other on the biggest stage that basketball had to offer. In the summer of 2007, Boston acquired two future Hall-Of-Famers, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, in two very suspect trades. Garnett and Allen teamed with current Celtic star to form a very formidable trio dubbed as the " Big 3". The Celtics went onto a 66-16 record in the regular season and secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston's road through the Eastern Conference Playoffs was a difficult one, but the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987.

The Lakers were not expected to do much when it came to the 2007-2008 NBA Season. They were coming off of a five game beating at the hands of the Suns in the 2007 playoffs, and didn't make any big changes in their roster during the off season. That would change, however, when the Lakers orchestrated one of the most suspect trades in the history of the NBA when they acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis for a pack of gum and some pocket change (Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol, and 2008 and 2010 first round picks). The acquisition of Gasol put the Lakers over the top. They finished with a 57-25 record, Including a 22-5 mark with Gasol in the starting lineup. The Lakers breezed through the first three rounds of the playoffs to set up a much awaited match up with the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics man handled the Lakers in the finals that year, winning the decisive sixth game with a 131-92 thrashing of the Lakers. The 39 point margin of victory was the largest ever in a clinching game in the NBA Finals.

So, here we are again, on the eve of yet another Lakers, Celtics NBA Finals match up. Only two years removed from the last battle, another chapter is about to be written. So many questions remain unanswered, but in a matter of hours, days and weeks the world will get the answers to the questions they so desperately need. Will Ron Artest make the difference? Can Rondo perform at the same level? Is kobe too old to impose his will? Do the "Big 3" have one more run in them? Will Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom show up? Expect the unexpected in the 12th meeting of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.