Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mock Draft

Here's my guess.

  1. Toronto - Andrea Bargnani - All indications are that, at the very least, he will be a solid NBA player. At the very best, he's the next Dirk. You could do a lot worse.
  2. Chicago - Tyrus Thomas - A potential star at the 3/4 spot is worth a shot when you are given a gift pick like this.
  3. Charlotte - Rudy Gay - Closest thing to a potential superstar in the draft might take a couple years, but the patience should pay off.
  4. Portland - Adam Morrison - This is what the fans want, and the Blazers owe them one. He's worth taking a chance on at this point, and could be a solid piece to the puzzle.
  5. Atlanta - Brandon Roy - He would be a decent fit in Atlanta, but I think they take Roy and send him to Houston to fulfill their unusual promise to Shelden Williams.
  6. Minnesota - Randy Foye - With McCants out for the year possibly, the Wolves get a potential Gilbert Arenas-minus-the-crazy-type star to team up with KG.
  7. Boston - LaMarcus Aldridge - The big man they need falls into the Celtics laps. Hopefully he is more motivated than Mark Blount.
  8. Houston - Shelden Williams - If they ship him to Atlanta for Roy, the Rockets get a solid guard next to T-Mac and should be tough next year if everyone stays healthy.
  9. Golden State - Ronnie Brewer - When in doubt, keep adding super-athletic talent to the roster...
  10. Seattle - Cedric Simmons - ...or keep stockpiling unrefined talented young big men.
  11. Orlando - Rodney Carney - He would seem to be a perfect fit at the 2-guard, the one position Orlando really needs to fill.
  12. New Orleans - Patrick O'Bryant - Hard to pass on an athletic big man like this at this point.
  13. Philadelphia - Marcus Williams - Should be a reliable start to the rebuilding process alongside Iguodala if they dump Iverson.
  14. Utah - Saer Sene - Utah is very similar to Senegal. He will fit right in.
  15. New Orleans - Shawne Williams - Hard to pass on an athletic swingman like this at this point. (See a trend with the Hornets here...)
  16. Chicago - Thabo Sefolosha - The Swiss Mikael Pietrus could make up for Paxson missing out on the original in 2003.
  17. Indiana - Jordan Farmar - No offense to Tinsley, but a PG who can shoot a little bit might be nice to have.
  18. Washington - Kyle Lowry - Next to Gilbert, I think this could be a very scary backcourt.
  19. Sacramento - Oleksiy Pecherov - Sacramento loves big foreigners, don't they? So does Ron Artest.
  20. New York - Hilton Armstrong - Aside from a new roster, owner, coach, and GM, the Knicks biggest need is probably a shot-blocking big man.
  21. Phoenix - Shannon Brown - May lead the league in highlight-reel dunks in his first year if he gets the PT next to Nash.
  22. New Jersey - Rajon Rondo - They need a backup PG pretty bad. Jacque "Wild Thing" Vaughn will only get you so far in the NBA.
  23. New Jersey - Alexander Johnson - They also need an legitimate NBA PF or else Jason Collins might keep wandering on to the court during the game.
  24. Memphis - JJ Redick - I think Jerry West will finally stop the bleeding. JJ would be a good fit on the whitest team in the NBA.
  25. Cleveland - Daniel Gibson - They need a PG to give the ball to Lebron. Gibson could be a good choice if he learns how to pass.
  26. LA Lakers - Maurice Ager - Agaisnt Kobe's wishes, the Lakers take someone who likes scoring occasionally.
  27. Phoenix - PJ Tucker - Big man can do the dirty work for the Suns, and fits in with their whole height limit theme.
  28. Dallas - Marcus Vincius - Another big foreign dude to pair up with Desagana Diop at the Mavs' most meaningless position.
  29. New York - Guillermo Diaz - He's a combo guard with a score-first mentality. It would not be a Knicks draft without one of those.
  30. Portland - Quincy Douby - I bet this pick would lead to a ton of marijuana-related jokes around the league.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Soon, But Not Yet

We're getting pretty close. In fact, I thought this was the year. I thought this would be the year where the NBA finally made the switch from a league of hard-nosed halfcourt defenses and offenses built on working for high-quality shots to soft team defense and run-and-gun team shooting. Bill Simmons thought this was the year. Is there a more highly regarded, more widely read, sportswriter these days? Surely, if he believed the change was about to happen, we must be getting close. Just look at who has won the league's Most Valuable Player award the past two years. Was it a Jordanesque player who competed hard at the defensive end and attacked the basket on offense? No. It was a "team" guy (whatever that means). Steve Nash hasn't made a defensive stop since he was on the soccer field at Santa Clara. But that doesn't matter anymore. He led an offense that basketball fans love to watch. Lots of jump shots, few hard drives to the basket, and few tough defensive stands. Most of the teams in the NBA now look very similar to the Phoenix Suns. The Dallas Mavericks gunned their way through the Western Conference, and nearly to an NBA title. Pretty soon, the game that I grew up watching will no longer exist. Soon, Dirk, but not yet.

Soon Mark Cuban won't need to complain about officiating. Soon his superstar will be able to hide his defensive defficiencies in a league filled with zone defenses and flopping man-to-man defenders. Soon, but not yet.

It did my heart good to watch Alonzo Mourning play one last game. It made me smile to watch Dwyane Wade attack the basket with wreckless abandon while 5 opposing players searched hopelessly for a way to stop him. For one last night, I saw the game that I love played the way I love to see it played. A group of individuals, who undestood that they needed to play within the team concept, but who also realized that the team's success depended on each individual's ability to stay between his man and the basket. And when one player was beaten off the dribble, Shaq and Mourning were waiting at the rim to contest each shot. Not with the matador swipes that Dirk and the parade of new age players demonstate, but with the tenacity that basketball was once played. After a few blocked shots and hard fouls, Dallas stopped attacking the basket. They became exactly what the fans wanted. Exactly what Bill Simmons and Mark Cuban wanted. A team of jump shooters. After all, that's the most exciting way to play. 7-footers playing as if they are 6' 5. Point guards like Devin Harris and Jason Terry, who possess blazing first steps, content to settle for 20-foot jumpers. It's far more exciting than watching players post up or take defenders off the dribble.

Unfortunately for the Mavericks, once their jump shots stopped falling, their offense got stuck in first gear. No team has ever shot their way to an NBA championship. As legends like Bill Russell and Michael Jordan have reminded us over the years, defense wins championships. And, to take it one step further, efficient offenses win championships. The closer you get to the basket, the easier it is to score. Plain and simple.

I fear that I may have watched my kind of basketball for the final time. Players like Shaq and Mourning are a dying breed. Wade will always be in attack mode, refusing to settle for jump shots if there is even a remote chance that he can get into the paint. But will Dwyane Wade ever have the supporting cast that he had this year? Will he ever again play with a team that dedicates itelf to playing solid, consistent half court basketball? This Miami team may be together for another year or two, but probably not past that. For those fans who prefer watching the Suns and Mavericks, I am happy for you. You are about to get what you want. Even the Detroit Pistons, poster boys for hard-nosed basketball, found themselves settling for jump shots this year. We may never see a team like Miami again. Did they play a single team in the postseason that was not significantly quicker and more athletic than them? Did they play a single team that did not shoot the basketball better than them? I would answer "no" in both cases, but somehow, they still won an NBA championship.

The league has fallen in love with Dirk and Nash. It has fallen in love with the jump shot. And if that is what the fan base desires, then that is what the league should showcase. But as far as I am concerned, I would rather watch the tired, old Miami Heat any day of the week. I could have watched Rick Fox and Robert Horry feed the post in L.A. for 2 more decades. Sadly, those guys have ridden off into the sunset. Players like Horry, Shaq and Mourning may continue to play, but they are well past their prime, and no one else will step into the league and play their kind of basketball.

"Shoot. Shoot. Shoot." That is the league's new mantra. In my eyes, taking open jump shots as a result of good ball movement and an attempt at working for a shot closer to the basket is completely fine and even beautiful to watch. But 20-foot jump shots with plenty of time on the shotclock is a foreign concept to me. I just don't enjoy it.

I am not asking anyone to agree with me. I just figured that this was an appropriate time for me to say goodbye to the game I grew up watching. In the future, when Dirk Nowitzki hoists the MVP award at the end of the NBA Finals, I will be happy for him. But I won't enjoy watching it. As far as I'm concerned I hope "soon" means 20 years from now. Sadly, I think it's a lot closer than that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mark Cuban

I need to just say a couple things about Mark Cuban. Well, it's basically one thing, and it can be summed up this way: I think he's an idiot.

I've been trying to hold it back, but after seeing one of the worst displays of sportsmanship the NBA, or any sport, has ever witnessed the other night, I just can't do it any more. There is nothing that bothers me more than someone blaming a loss on officiating. I don't care how successful he's been, or how he is supposedly a good owner and a smart businessman. He's like the teacher in high school who thinks he is like the "cool teacher" and thinks he is best friends with all his students. Cuban thinks he is the "cool owner". That last oint is actually somewhat irrelevant to my argument, but it has always bothered me.

Now, it's possible to be a good owner and an idiot at the same time, but lately Cuban has been walking a fine line where his idiocy negates the positive aspects of his ownership. On the positive side, Cuban has shown that spending money to build a winning team creates a winning environment, and subsequently brings in more money. He has treated the team as if he is the fan, because, let's face it, he is the fan, and as a result he has turned one of the NBA's lauhgingstocks of the 90's into one of it's most successful organizations.

However, as time has progressed, Cuban's lack of class and general idiocy continues to be exposed, and his image has transformed from the "fan's fan" into the "idiot fan who no one wants to sit next to." You know, every sporting event has one. He gets way too emotional, rides the refs mercilessly, complains about every call, and won't shut up or stop moping unless everything in the game goes his way. Let's face it, no one likes that guy, and no one wants to be associated with him. Now imagine if that guy was given free reign to join timeout huddles and go in the locker room after the game. Now you have Mark Cuban.

It's not too late for Mark Cuban, and while I don't expect a change, I hope for one. He was once a good owner who did represent his fans well. That was before he bought into all his own hype and started thriving on media attention and thinking that he was the answer to everything that was wrong with the NBA. It's sad to see, because just when the Mavericks organization should be enjoying one of its proudest moments, it has to be ruined by the man who helped get them there.

I hope the Heat win tonight, and Mark Cuban cries, and then Dirk kicks his ass.

The Suburban White Kid's Top 10 Rap Artists

This one is totally off topic, especially given the complete insanity that has taken hold of the sports world and my weekends over the past month or so, but I'm putting it up on request from one Mr. Dan Clarin.
So, from one white kid with a suburban upbringing who attended a 4-year college and now works as a financial consultant, here are who I personally consider, based on their overall contribution to the hip hop scene, the top 10 hip-hop artists/groups of all time.

10. The Roots - Probably the least recognized name on this list, and one of the most underrated hip hop groups of all-time. What separates The Roots from the rest is the "live band" format they use, which introduces elements to their music that other hip hop artists using beat machines can't replicate. Combine that with Black Thought, perhaps one of the best MC's of all time, and you have one of rap's best live performers, and what I think is it's most overlooked artist.

9. Eminem - There's something to be said for being the first successful white hip-hop artist in a genre that has been dominated by African-Americans. On top of that, his rapping ability may be overlooked a little bit with all the other controversy and whatnot surrounding him, but when it comes down to it, his skills on the mic should rank up there with the best of them.

8. Outkast - While they flew under the radar for much of the beginning of their career, Outkast's musical evolution has produced some of the most innovative and unique musical stylings in the history of not just hip hop, but all music. Known for combining catchy rhymes and hooks and not just settling for your standard repeated beats, Outkast is one of the most critically acclaimed hip hop groups of all time, and rightfully so.

7. Public Enemy - While they never gained the mainstream popularity of other artists on this list, Public Enemy were really the first hip hop artists to use rap to make political statements, and in doing so, paved the way for future rappers to use their music as a political forum. What allowed them to do this though, was their innovative music, which expanded upon the rock-hip hop fusion that Run DMC had introduced before them.

6. Kanye West - Taking a cue from both Dr. Dre and 2Pac, Kanye is trying to bring the music and the message back to mainstream hip hop. While pushing the envelope further on his production efforts, Kanye is also trying to deliver more than just empty words on his albums, something which hip hop has seemingly lacked in recent years as it became more prevalent on the pop charts. He's still young, inexperienced, and will always be a subpar rapper, but if he continues to revolutionize hip-hop at his current pace, who knows how high he could end up on this list.

5. Dr. Dre - With NWA, Dre was one of the first to help bring hip hop into the national spotlight and expand the market to a growing number of suburban fans, strangely enough, by glamorizing the gangsta lifestyle of the inner cities. Then, he made an even bigger contribution in his solo career by being the first to really put a stronger emphasis on the production side of hip hop. His lyrical skills are not great, but no one has had more of an impact over a longer period of time than Dr. Dre.

4. Jay-Z - Likely hip hop's biggest "crossover" pop star of all time, yet all while maintaining his lofty standing in the hip hop community, Jay-Z came on the scene right before the deaths of Biggie and 2Pac, and was the king of rap for the next 10 years or so. While his skills on the mic are undisputed as one of the best of all time, Jay-Z's biggest impact might actually end up being on the business end, with his clothing lines and shoe deals and various other ventures which have helped establish hip hop's place in mainstream corporate America.

3. Run DMC - The innovators of modern hip hop, Run DMC were the first rappers to really bring hip hop into the mainstream spotlight. Their tricks seem simple now, but a lot of the stuff they were doing at the time had never been done before, and is still being copied today.

2. Biggie Smalls - Not only did the Notorious BIG have perhaps the best aliases in the history of rap, but very few question that he was the best lyricist and smoothest rapper that hip hop has ever seen. The original drug dealer turned rapper, Biggie may have at times lacked the impact of 2Pac's message, but still had plenty of great stories to tell.

1. 2Pac - Ask any person on the street who the most famous hip hop artist of all-time is, and 9 times out of 10, 2Pac will be the first name mentioned. Considered by a vast majority to be the most influential and important hip hop artist of all time, 2Pac was not only a very strong rapper, but had a very strong message that resonated not only with those that could relate to him, but to those that hadn't necessarily experienced all that he rapped about. Sad to say, but like many others who suffer a similar fate, his early death probably helped cement his legacy.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Phil the Tank...and a few other thoughts

posted by David Mandel

Watching what transpired on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot Yesterday was like watching that famous scene in Old School where Frank returns to Frank the Tank. “I’ll do one!” Frank insists. Well, we all know what happened to him; one became several and next thing you know we can see Frank’s bum on Main Street and he’s searching for the nearest fried chicken establishment.

Can’t you just see a couple fans urging, “Come on Phil…You can hit that 200 yard cut 2-iron over the first tree and under the second!” New Phil saying to himself, “Nah, chip out and make par or bogey,” then finally Old Phil going, “Alright, I’ll do one! I’ll do one,” then “Once it hits your lips it’s so good” and following one tree-ball with another impossible mile-high offline travesty landing in a fried egg in the bunker, followed by what was in actuality a pretty good out from there and then a terrible effort at chipping in. Next thing we knew Phil was at KFC with no trophy, no dignity and saying “Man, I am an idiot!”

We can dissect Phil’s decision- making for years, and undoubtedly we will, but just like Van de Velde in ’99, blame here rests on the caddy, or as he likes to be called “Bones.” In ’99, Van de Velde’s caddy probably put on the worst exhibition of human performance at any craft in history of the world. The fact that VdV had to make only a triple bogey and his caddy couldn’t have handed him the 6-iron a few times is inexplicable. Same goes for Bones yesterday. Phil and Bones have got to be thinking they can beat Ogilvy in a playoff, so chip out, try to get up and down, and if not, play Monday. To Phil’s defense, he’s probably got a lot going through his head at that point. For Bones to allow him to hit the first, second, and third shots on 18 is just inexcusable.

For the golf fan today, it’s kind of difficult to even know who to feel bad for today. Phil will be at the center of attention, no question. But you gotta feel for Monty. He won’t be in that position ever again. And from where he was in the fairway on 18, par was a formality, birdie a distinct possibility. Rightfully, he felt like he had to make his bomb putt on 18 to tie Phil. If only he had known that two-putting would have gotten him into a playoff, he could have lagged and tapped in. What if? What if? What if Jim Furyk hadn’t taken 46 looks at his 4-footer on 18 and just gone about his normal routine? What if Padraig Harrington had coasted in with 1-over in his last 3 rather than 3-over? What if Ryuji Imada hadn’t hit the worst drive in the history of the sport on 16? What if Vijay had tried?

In the end though, Geoff Ogilvy was there to end the day as one of the most under-the-radar champions in golf’s history. And look out for him, cause he’s got the game and the poise to do this more than once.

* * * * *

On to other thoughts…

Yankee Stadium has got to be one of the worst stadiums in all of sports. I had the “privilege” of attending a Red Sox game there two weeks ago, and was left with nothing but bad impressions. It was my 5th trip to “The Stadium,” and all of the previous bad experiences came to a head.

Let’s start with simple things. They don’t sell salted peanuts. Honestly, who wants unsalted peanuts? It’s like ordering flat soda. Next, they don’t sell beer in the bleachers. At all other stadiums I’ve been to, if you want to get rowdy, have some beverages and feel a real ballpark atmosphere, the bleachers is where to sit. If you’re looking for a more family-style atmosphere, you sit elsewhere. The Stadium has it all backwards. Old hags and 15-year old obnoxious girls out past their bedtimes sit in the bleachers.

The security detail at Yankee Stadium is literally downright absurd. Prior to the game, I was threatened with ejection because I had my feet on the bleacher in front of me. Several others were similarly threatened. One patron was tossed for what I could deem was “displaying Red Sox hat to other patrons.” One member was tossed for starting a solo “Let’s Go Red Sox” chant. Several others dismissed for what I could only tell was “attempting to have fun.” At this point any fan that surrounded me that I caught smiling, laughing or using an outdoor voice, I warned that they would soon be ejected if they didn’t stop. If people are obnoxious, drunk, violent or otherwise disruptive, by all means, kick them out. But for god sakes it’s a baseball game, not a library.

And this doesn’t even begin to speak of the craphole the stadium is. No handles on the water fountains. Not enough urinals or stalls producing ridiculous bathroom lines. No seat backs on bleacher seats. The only stadium I’ve been to that’s worse is RFK in Washington. And that’s barely. Oh, and it’s also a football stadium.

By the way, the Red Sox won the game 9-3, so that didn’t taint this experience.

* * * * *

In my recent softball game, I was called out on a homerun for getting a high-5 from the 3rd base coach. “Touching the runner” was the call. This was grounds for one of my better mouthing off sessions of all-time. I don’t know why people don’t take more pride in their jobs. The base umpires in our league talk on cell phones during the game. They shun the traditional “letters-to-knees” strike zone in favor of a more “shins-to-plate” zone and as Jeffrey Tinker is so fond of saying, they let the rules control them. If the ball is 300-feet away and I’m rounding 3rd, unless Ichiro is playing left, I’m not gonna get thrown out. It’s even likely I’ll score without a throw. So don’t make that call.

* * * * *

How upset must the NHL league office have been when the Hurricanes and Oilers qualified for the Stanley Cup Finals? In a league floundering as is, they really needed like a Rangers-Red Wings final. Game 3 on NBC produced the network’s lowest-rated Saturday night ever! Under a million people watched!!! That is unbelievable!!! The finals of a (formerly) major sporting event drew under a million people. I could have turned off my TV and significantly altered the Nielsen ratings! Unreal. This opens the debate now for what (if anything) is the 4th major sport these days. I’m interested to hear my colleagues’ opinions on this. I would nominate golf, poker, car racing as the other three candidates.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hats Off To Detroit

I have been asking myself the same question for the past three years. What will it take for the Eastern Conference to prevent the Pistons from reaching the NBA Finals? After last year's conference finals, I wanted to believe that a healthy Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal would have been enough. But how could I be sure? Detroit won 12 more games than Miami in the regular season. The Heat were an awful 2-12 against Division leaders! Pat Riley's offseason moves seemed to make the team worse instead of better. Surely, we were headed for another Miami loss in the conference finals.

As it turns out, Miami needed not only healthy superstars, but also healthy contributions from a few role players to eliminate the Big Bad Pistons.

The Heat have not won anything yet. Their quest will not be complete unless they win an NBA Championship. But thus far, I have been quite impressed with their playoff run. I questioned Pat Riley's off season acquisitions, but they paid huge dividends last night. With Wade feeling a bit under the weather, Jason Williams came up big, scoring 21 points on 10 for 12 shooting and dishing out 6 assists! Was this the same Jason Williams who could not cut it in Sacramento and Memphis? And what about Antoine Walker? The man who could not deliver the goods in Boston made 3 of his 5 three point attempts last night. "Employee Number 8"has graciously accepted his role as the team's third option in the offense. While most former all-stars could never relegate themselves to such a role, Walker has flourished. Isn't it ironic that Walker may win his first NBA title, only after he took his own words to heart. "I'm Employee Number 8." Yes you are, Antoine. And from the moment you started toeing the company line, the Miami Heat have been contenders.

But before we move on to the NBA Finals, it would be silly not to mention how impressive the Detroit Pistons have been over the past 4 seasons. Four trips to the conference finals and 2 appearances in the NBA Finals is a tremendous accomplishment. In an age of free agency and ultra-sensitive egos, Detroit demonstrated what it means to be a true team. They won as a team, and they lost as a team. Even in defeat, they had kind words for one another and for their opponent. While several players reportedly criticized Flip Saunders early in the series, each player that was interviewed last night came to Saunders' defense. There was no finger pointing or leaving the court before the game actually ended. The same qualities that helped Detroit win conference championships in years past will help them rebuild and return even stronger next season.

Each member of Detroit's team will have to face questions about what went wrong. How could 64 regular season victories not translate into post season success? What was different this year? I don't think the defeat had anything to do with Detroit at all. For the past 4 years, they have won games by scoring in the 70s and 80s. This year, with Wade and Shaq firing on all cylinders, and Miami's supporting cast rising to the occassion, Detroit simply could not keep pace. Every analyst in the country was asking what was wrong with Detroit's offense. It is amazing how quickly they forget. Detroit's offense didn't change. 75 to 85 points was good enough for them to win lots of playoff games in the past. In fact, that kind of deliberate pace helped them defeat Cleveland in this year's semi-finals. Detroit has always hung their hats on Chauncey Billups, Teyshaun Prince and Ben Wallace playing all-star caliber defense. Unfortunately for Billups and Prince, Wade is far too quick to be defended one-on-one. And despite the fact that Ben Wallace is one of the hardest working players in the NBA, there is nothing he can do to keep a healthy Shaquille O'Neal from getting position five feet from the rim. Tim Legler, Greg Anthony and Stephen A. Smith had the exact same conversation on six different occassions throughout the series. They couldn't understand why Detroit was unable to slow down Wade. Quite Frankly, you cannot double team someone 20 feet from the basket when one of his teammates has his defender sealed off 5 feet from the basket. Basketball is a simple game. You have to stay between your man and the basket. If one of the opposing players spends the majority of his time right in front of the rim, and if you cannot move him away from the rim, your team is in trouble. Ben Wallace may or may not be the NBA's best defensive player, but he is a man with tremendous pride and tremendous strength. The past 6 games, Ben learned that sometimes you simply run into someone who is a little better.

Detroit will be back. Some of the faces may change, but they will be back. They will be determined and filled with the same pride that has carried them for the past 4 years. I would even venture to guess that we will see these Pistons win another NBA Championship before RIP and the boys go their separate ways. In fact, I sincerely hope they return. The sporting world needs to be reminded what an actual TEAM looks like.

As for Miami, I am still not sure what to make of this team. After an undisciplined effort in Game 5, they played like a true team in Game 6, and showed the world that they are pretty tough to beat when they play the game at their pace.

Is there one more ring waiting for Shaq? We will find out soon. But in the meantime, the Western Conference Champion should listen carefully to some advice that a wise old man told me when I was a little boy.

"Basketball is a simple game. You just have to stay between your man and the basket."

Friday, June 02, 2006

Franchise Players

Just for the heck of it, the top 10 (or so) guys I would take if I was starting franchises in baseball and basketball for an indefinite period of time:

NBA
1. LeBron James, Age 21
2a. Dwyane Wade, 24
2b. Dirk Nowitzki, 27
3. Kobe Bryant, 27
4. Paul Pierce, 28
5. Chris Paul, 21
6. Tracy McGrady, 27
7. Gilbert Arenas, 24
8. Dwight Howard, 20
9. Elton Brand, 27
10. Carmelo Anthony, 22
Wild Card: Amare Stoudemire
Too Old: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal
On the Fringe: Vince Carter, Steve Nash, Yao Ming

MLB (age not as important)
Hitters
1. Albert Pujols
2. Alex Rodriguez
3. Miguel Cabrera
4. Vladimir Guerrero
5. Derrek Lee
6. David Wright
7. Jason Bay
8. Chase Utley
9. Carl Crawford
10. Travis Hafner
On the fringe: David Ortiz, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Howard, Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter
Getting too old: Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, Ichiro
Pitchers
1. Johan Santana
2. Jake Peavy
3. Roy Oswalt
4. Roy Halladay
5. Mark Buehrle
6. Brandon Webb
Too old: Pedro Martinez

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Limitations of Statistics

Michael, I appreciate your take on the Chicago Bulls. I am unsure what direction John Paxson will take. There are several players available in the draft who I would not be disappointed to see wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey in the fall. There are also several free agents who could be good role players and there a few trade scenarios that would make sense for the Bulls. However, I don't believe that Kevin Garnett is one of those good scenarios. The Win Shares theory about KG, which calls him the most valuable/best player in the NBA for the last several years running was no doubt created by some person or people that are much smarter than me. However, individual statistics in what is the quintessential team game can only take us so far in identifying a player's worth. Although there are many good statistics to describe what a player does on a nightly basis, designing an equation with those stats on one side and team wins on the other side is a dicey proposition. All of these statistics are relative to the player's surroundings. Take any player in the league and put him on a different team and his numbers would most certainly change, some more than others. What I take away from the win shares formula is not necessarily that KG is the best player in the NBA at winning games, but that he is perhaps the best player at winning games relative to the other players on his team. He puts up very solid, efficient, all around stats, and no one else on his team really does that, so that is going to inherently give him a high percentage of his team's win shares. But using that number to compare him to a player on a different team is a questionable exercise, just as judging a player by his fantasy stats is not always the best idea.

Most people that follow basketball to any reasonable extent can tell that Kevin Garnett is a very productive player. However, there are a lot of other very good players as well, and attempting to definitively answer who is the best is a exercise in futility. Just like it is not fair to judge him solely on his lack of team success, it is not fair to other great players to use KG's relative individual efficiency as the only measuring stick.

Overall, while a fantastic player and intense competitor, KG has a lot of miles on his body and I feel the Bulls would have to mortgage too much of their future to acquire him.

Christmas in June

- Posted by Chris Kenna

It's June, my friends, which means my favorite time of the year is back. Baseball's starting to get rolling into the heart of the season. The NBA Playoffs are heading into the homestretch. Hockey is being broadcast on High-Definition television. Chicagoland sushi buffets are offering all-you-can-eat (or more-than-you-should-eat) for just $12.95 (okay, this one is unrelated, but just fresh in my head after a recent nearly disastrous outing.) The trees are full of leaves. The birds are chirping. The polar ice caps are thawing. But most importantly, Chad Ford has returned from his Hawaiian hiatus and is working feverishly to bring me the latest updates on all the goings-on in the world of the upcoming NBA Draft.

That's right, the NBA Draft is just 25 days away, and I can't wait. I know, I know. The general consensus is that there are no surefire "franchise-changing" superstars at the top of the draft, but that does very little to deter my excitement. As far as I can tell, those types of drafts happen maybe once every 5-6 years. However, while I don't recall great pre-draft excitement over guys like Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, or, dare I say it, former #3 overall pick, Michael Jordan...I think all of those guys turned out to be what you might consider "franchise-changing" superstars.

As demonstrated by Michael Granieri, this is probably one of the most unpredictable drafts we have seen in years. Given that I have seen 100 different mock drafts with 100 different possible results, and seen Sam Smith and various media figures predict a million different trades for any and every NBA player, I hate to speculate on just how this draft is going to shake out, at least at this point. However, I have formed some pretty strong opinions on some of the players being considered at the top end of the draft, and I will not hesitate to share those opinions now. Hopefully, we can all look back at this in 5 years, and laugh at the absurdity of my non-scientific findings. These are strictly opinions, and are not based on extensive knowledge, but on extensive reading of NBA Draft articles, extensive watching of NCAA Tournament basketball, and extensive speculation in its purest form.

As far as I see it, there are 6 players in contention for the top pick. With that in mind, I present them in the order of how I think they will rank as NBA players 5 years down the road. Let's go 6 to 1, how about?

6. Adam Morrison - I think he will be a serviceable NBA player, that's just not what you're looking for at the very top of the draft. He scored extremely well in college, but I think a lot of his scoring prowess will be negated by superior athleticism, quickness and size at the NBA level. I can't see him being much more than a liability at the defensive end either. A Wally Szczerbiak type career is not totally out of the question, but I think that's his high-end.

5. Brandon Roy - Another serviceable NBA player who is enjoying the typical pre-draft overhype of the 4-year fundamentally sound college vet. I can't help but think of Shane Battier every time hear the name Brandon Roy. I think he may be a slightly greater contributor at the NBA level than Battier, but not much. Not bad, but certainly not the stud that everyone seems to be making him out to be.

4. Lamarcus Aldridge - I think Lamarcus will end up somewhere better than Channing Frye and worse than Chris Bosh. Take that for what it is.

3. Tyrus Thomas - Tyrus is hard to project. Anyone who saw him play in the tournament knows that he's got all the potential in the world, but there are two things that worry me about him. First, injuries are a concern for a kid who missed his entire freshman year, and several games as a soph. Second, I once thought that Tyson Chandler, Stromile Swift, and Darius Miles also had all the potential in the world. I think he'll end up as a better NBA player than those guys, it's just a question of how much. If he continues to develop, he could be a young Shawn Kemp.

2. Andrea Bargnani - In the great tradition of "Next Dirks" comes Andrea Bargnani, straight out of Italy. I must qualify this by admitting I haven't seen him play at all, but something tells me this one might actually make an attempt to live up to the hype. Unlike with some of the past international phenoms, GM's are getting more and more hesitant to take foreign players without seeing them play first. So, if the rave reviews I've been reading about from NBA GM's who have seen him play are any indication, this kid might be one of two potential superstars in the draft.

1. Rudy Gay - If you're asking me, this is the one guy I have seen play who I think has a legitimate shot to become a superstar. The only knock on Rudy at this point is that he has not shown the ability to take over games, but I don't think that is a huge knock considering that he is just 19 years old and has been playing on a UConn team loaded with NBA talent for the past 2 years. Look at the stats of Grant Hill, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, etc. at age 19 in similar situations. Some guys are just better NBA players than college players. I think a lot of teams could end up regretting passing on this guy one day.

Also keep an eye out for a couple Villanova guards who I think may end up as 2 of the best players to come out of this draft: SG Randy Foye and PG Kyle Lowry.

You heard it here first...unless I'm wrong, then you never heard it, and I will come back and delete this post as quickly as possible.

Bulls at Crossroads

Bulls at Crossroads

All the experts keep touting the bulls as one of the best young teams in the East, and really, that's all they are right now -- one of the best young teams in the East. This is the most important offseason for the Chicago Bulls in the Post Jordan Era. The big question, which will be answered this summer, is does John Paxon want to construct a title contending team or keep on building an exciting young ball club. I have the utmost faith in John Paxon as a GM but the fate of the bulls does not rest entirely in his hands. Therefore, I am going to break down some plausible scenarios.

1) The bulls keep their #2 and #16 pick and draft two more young players. With the #2 they will either take a poor man's Chris Bosh in LaMarcus Aldridge or a motorized Stromile Swift. The only consensus seems to be that none are franchise changers which is what one ideally likes to acquire with such a high draft pick. With the #16 pick I could see the bulls nabbing a Ronnie Brewer, Mardy Collins type player -- a productive big guard who can step in and contribute. I'm confident Pax will make the best choice with each pick (he usually has in his short tenure) but are more young players what the Bulls really need?

2) The bulls package the draft picks with either Deng or Gordon for KG or JO. I would not want to acquire Jermaine O'Neal if I were the Bulls due to his recent injury history but KG is a very intriguing option. Check out this link for a better description of his value http://gladwell.typepad.com/gladwellcom/. I think this is the optimal offseason move for the Bulls but it takes two to tango and I don't see how a rational GM/owner would want to trade a superior (althletically and financially) bball player for a couple good role players. Luckily, Kevin McHale is the GM of the Twolves. Also, one can hope that KG starts up the trade demands in the near future.

3) Sign a free agent. The only free agent that makes sense to me is also the most difficult one to sign -- Ben Wallace. The Bulls would have the best defensive front court with Wallace, Tyson and Noc (personal fave) but would also get a combined 5 points/game out of Wallace and Chandler; however, with a defense that menacing, I doubt it would matter. It will be interesting to see how the Heat Pistons series unfolds and how Joe Dumars handles the delicate balance between winning now and future flexibility. The other possible free agents -- Joe Vanilla Gorilla Pryzbilla, Nazr Mohammed, and Al Harrington aren't great investments in my mind. I would much rather wait for the 2007 free agent class which is loaded with the likes of the 2003 draft class, Dirk, Vinsanity, Rashard Lewis, and Mike Bibby.

In any case this will be a very interesting offseason for The Chicago Bulls. I hope the pieces fall in place for John Paxon to make the Bulls a title contender once again.