basketball-generic

For the 6th straight year I was back in Portsmouth, VA for the 65th annual Portsmouth Invitational Basketball Tournament commonly known as the PIT. The Tournament takes place over 4 days and features the nations top 64 senior’s who play games in front of NBA scouts, GM’s, and a host of international coaches and scouts. Below I have given my All-Tournament team which as always is no reflection of what they did during the season as this was based solely on their play here this week.

My MVP for the tournament was Damyean Dotson, a 6’5″ guard from the University of Houston. He was one of the most consistent players all week and showed he could score the ball in a variety of ways. 

All-Tourney Team

PG- London Perrantes, G, 6’2″, UVA

Every year Virginia players seem to do very well at the PIT and it was no exception this year as London showed he was the best pure PG in attendance. He made great reads out of the PnR and made quick on time passes. He got the ball up court quickly and took care of the ball not turning it over. Could find himself making an NBA team as an un-drafted FA.

SG- Matt Jones, G, 6’5″, Duke

Matt was solid all week and showed he could not only knock down the NBA 3 but also score off the bounce. He played the passing lanes and was under control. Has great size for the off guard and could find himself  in the G-League this season.

F- JaCorey Wiliams, F, 6’8″, Middle Tenn. State

The C-USA POY showed a great motor and solid athleticism. He led the PIT in scoring with just over 20 ppg. Loved his length and ability to defend multiple positions.

F- Tyler Cavanaugh, F, 6’9″, George Washington

Stretch 4 man who can also score with his back to the basket. Very strong player. Grew more and more confident as the week went on and ended up finishing 2nd in scoring with over 19 ppg.

F- Jacob Wiley, F, 6’7″, Eastern Washington

Loved the way he competed and played both ends. Best energy in the tournament. Runs the floor like a deer and was all over the offensive boards. Always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

Honorable Mention

Erik McCree, 6’8″, F, LA Tech

Zach LeDay, 6’7″, F, VA Tech

Dallas Moore, 6’1″, G, North Florida

Jimmy Hall, 6’8″, F, Kent State

Derrick White, 6’5″, G, Colorado

Mikhail Prokhorov Nets

You’ve probably heard about the sit-down that NBA commissioner David Stern orchestrated between the New York Knicks owner James Dolan and the Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov:

One source maintained Prokhorov stokes the rivalry fires because he believes the feud “is great for both teams” and insisted it is “not at all personal” against Dolan, the Garden chairman and Cablevision CEO.

So basically, Prokhorov comes into the NBA, buys one of the worst franchises, moves it to the big city and starts picking a fight with the Knicks, who supposedly own New York? That makes sense for the Nets, who have long wanted a piece of the New York pie, but have always been on the outside looking in.

Of course, the Knicks responding to it just makes it effective. So, way to continue leading the Knicks into the abyss, Dolan.

By Marcus Shockley

New Orleans Hornets Chris Paul (R) drives on Los Angeles Lakers Derek Fisher during Game 5 of their NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game in Los Angeles, California April 26, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

              

Oh, there’s so much to talk about these days.

With the end of the lockout, you would think that the real NBA discussions wouldn’t begin until sometime after the first exhibition game tipped off; this is a sport, after all, and the primary focus is supposedly who wins and loses the games, but that’s never stopped the sports media from churning as much out of nothing as they possibly can.

One of the best formulas for creating sports stories out of thin air is what comedian Greg Proops once called the ‘What-If’ News, as in, ‘What IF Chris Paul joined the Knicks’ or ‘What IF the Celtics tried to trade Rajon Rondo?’. This, of course, is all speculation on what will happen many months from now, on the other side of a season, albeit shortened, but still rather lengthy. This is also ignoring the current free agent market that’s about to open, under the new CBA, because the current free agent market is rather dull, with the largest target possibly being Nene.

No, the discussion is lot more interesting when we talk about players like Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

With all of the first little bevy of rumors spilling out, we’ve heard already about the Nets trying to offer big deal to Howard, and how Deron Williams won’t sign an extension with them. Yesterday the rumor was that Chris Paul wanted to go to New York, but Paul rebuffed those rumors. Honestly, it’s far too early for any of this to have real credence, but there are some things that can be used as guidance on how this could shake out, and it starts on the West Coast.

The Lakers are one of the teams that really understands how to look to the future, and they have a long history of going out at the right time and putting together the next glamour team that will contend for, and usually win, a few NBA titles. The Lakers also have a solid track record of letting other NBA teams work almost as a farm system, taking risks, getting the bust draft picks, until the good players shake out and the Lakers move them to L.A.. Consider this: Wilt Chamberlain was traded to the Lakers only one year after winning the league MVP. Kareem Abdul Jabbar didn’t get drafted by the Lakers, but he retired there with the all time scoring record in his back pocket. Shaq did his young days alongside Penny Hardaway in Orlando before he teamed up with Kobe. If you want to know the big free agent moves that are about to happen, all you need to know is that the Lakers are about to transition away from Kobe into their next incarnation, and that whatever that team looks like will be one that will sell tickets and more than likely win some championships. Does that mean Chris Paul and Dwight Howard? Or Deron Williams?

What happens next summer will be driven by what the Lakers are going to do; not because everyone in the league is scared of the Lakers, but because most of the teams in the league are just bad at putting together deep, winning teams. The closest team right now that has a roster to be afraid of for the long term is Chicago, and with the Mavs and Spurs aging, the league is poised for new blood, such as the Bulls or maybe the Heat, to make a move.

The only problem is, the Lakers have seen this before. The Spurs and Mavs make good moves on their own as well, but they have a hard time competing with the deep pockets and glitz of L.A., so it’s tough to say where their long term prospects are. The Spurs draft really well but is there another Tim Duncan out there in the college ranks?

So even though I won’t be paying too much attention to all the made up and strategically ‘leaked’ free agent talk, I will be paying attention to what the Lakers do this offseason.

By Marcus Shockley

Phil Jackson
Photo: BridgetDS

It’s hard for most basketball fans to think of Phil Jackson as either the greatest pro basketball coach of all time or one of the two greatest, with the only other contender being Red Auerbach of the legendary Boston Celtics.

With 11 championship rings on his resume, it would seem easy to place him at the top of the list. But Phil has the dubious distinction with having coached not just one of the greatest players of all time, but three of them. Fans look at Phil’s rings and think that it might not be a valid argument that he actually ‘coached’ his way to those championships.

Of course, winning championships is a measure of success, but it’s not the only one. Fans also know that NBA coaches may be the least involved in the success of their teams, playing more babysitter than coach and having less influence on outcomes of games than possibly any other sport. So, where does all of that place Phil in the history of basketball?

It goes without saying that Phil Jackson is a Hall of Fame coach. Some have pointed out that Phil was able to win in Chicago and L.A. with teams that other coaches were not able to win with. This argument isn’t entirely accurate, but at the core of Phil’s success is obviously his ability to work with large ego players and manage them. Players who have worked with Phil say he does actually coach, something that can’t be said about the majority of head men sitting on benches in the NBA. So Jackson must be, at the very least, recognized for his ability to create group success.

The real problem that so many fans have with calling Phil Jackson the greatest coach is that coaches in the NBA and the work they do to get the most out of their talent pales in comparison to college basketball coaches and all football coaches. The harsh reality is that almost every college coach wishes that he had so much talent on his roster that his only problem is ‘getting them to play together’. Could Phil Jackson take a team like Butler or VCU to the Final Four or title game? We’ll never know.

This means that Phil Jackson can only be compared to other NBA coaches in historical terms.

However, if Phil is truly retired for good this time, the NBA has lost one of it’s best managers and a man who was able to sustain his success and consistency for longer than any other coach in NBA history. That, alone, is his legacy and what he should be remembered for.

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By James Blackburn

Derrick Rose Joakim Noah
Photo: Joshua Mellin

The NBA playoffs are finally here. The college basketball season has come and gone, and now basketball fans have one choice to get their basketball fix, the NBA playoffs. There are so many stories and the matchups are intriguing.

Here I am going to preview each playoff matchup; share my thoughts on who I believe will advance to the second round, and break down each team.

Eastern Conference

(1) Chicago vs. (8) Indiana

The Bulls enter the postseason as the overall number one seed with an NBA best 62-20 record. I saw the Bulls play a lot this season, and there is a reason they have the best record in the league. The Bulls have everything you want in a potential championship team. Mr. Do It Everything MVP candidate Derrick Rose leads the charge, and they have shooters in Korver and Bogans, a good rebounder in Noah, veteran leadership in Thomas, and post scoring in Boozer; they also have energy coming off their bench with Taj Gibson and a defensive minded coach who has been deep in the playoffs as a Boston Celtics assistant in Tom Thibodeau. This team is dangerous and they are hungry.

X Factor: Kyle Korver. The Pacers are going to pack their defense in to keep Rose out of the middle and also to stop Boozer from getting easy buckets. This is going to open up shooters like Korver. If Korver can consistently knock down open shots, this will make it a lot easier for Rose and Boozer to get easy shots.

The Pacers get another shot in the playoffs after missing the postseason entirely last year. The team made some smart trades and some beneficial decisions in the draft this past summer and these good moves are paying off with a playoff birth. The Pacers have a solid frontcourt whose goal will be to neutralize Chicago’s post players. Roy Hibbert is an excellent defender and rebounder and second year player Tyler Hansbrough has played well as of late. Danny Granger will have to carry the scoring load for this young team. TJ Ford and Collison will do what they can to try to keep Rose out of the middle.

X Factor: Mike Dunleavy. When and if Dunleavy plays well and scores, it will give the Pacers a much better chance to compete and possibly win a couple of games.

In the end, I believe Chicago will prove too much to handle for the Pacers. The Bulls will want to end the series quickly to get rest. The Pacers will be able to squeeze out one win at home, but this series won’t be too difficult for the Bulls.

Chicago wins series 4-1

(2) Miami vs. (7) Philadelphia

Miami enters the postseason riding the coattails of its 3 headed monster in Wade, James, and Bosh, trying to deliver on the first of many promised championships for the Heat. Miami has 2 of the best 5 players that are still playing in James and Wade. In order for the Heat to go deep this season, there role players much play well. The Heat are not very deep, but their starting 5 might be the best in basketball. If the Heat can play hard the entire game and not have any letdowns they should have an easy time of disposing the much less talented 76ers.

X Factor: Mario Chalmers. The PG out of Kansas has proved this season that he can be clutch and knock down shots. Chalmers saved the Heat several times this year, when the big 3 were not playing well.

No one expected the 76ers to be here before the season started. Doug Collins should be in the Coach of the Year discussions for what he has been able to get out of this team. Do not be surprised if the 76ers push the Heat and challenge them in a few games this series. The team is very athletic and has a lot of scoring options in Holiday, Iguodola, and a finally healthy Elton Brand. The Louis Williams injury will be the key, to see how he bounces back, but rookie Evan Turner is ready to make a big step in my opinion and Spencer Hawes has made some good contributions this season as well.

X Factor: Jrue Holiday. Very explosive guard who I fell in love with this summer watching him in Orlando during the NBA summer league games. Has the ability to put up over 20 points a game. Should be able to get what he wants against Miami, with no shot blocking down low.

The Heat are just too talented to lose in the first round. Philadelphia will be overmatched at every position on the floor (except for may be Elton Brand), and will have a hard time winning more than 1 game.

Heat advance winning the series 4-1

(3) Boston vs. (6) New York

This is a very intriguing matchup between two very talented teams. The Celtics will be relying on their experience and the Knicks will look to newly acquired Carmelo Anthony to hit big shots.

Shaq’s health will be the key factor in Boston’s chances to move on in the playoffs. Paul Pierce will be clutch, Ray Allen is one of the games most feared shooters, and Kevin Garnett is healthy and ready to go. Rajon Rondo on his good nights looks like the best PG in the NBA. Avery Bradley and Delonte West should be able to give adequate minutes to allow Rondo to get some rest. If Jeff Green can return to playing the kind of basketball he was when he was in OKC, the Celtics have a good chance to win this series.

X Factor: Jeff Green. Green was the number 2 option behind Durant last year in OKC. Green has proven he can be a consistent scoring threat with a versatile offensive game.

New York has the pieces in place to make a deep postseason run. It’s all going to come down to their defense and their depth. The Carmelo trade brought in Carmelo and Billups, but New York traded away several key pieces and depth. Stoudemire has been one of the best players in the league all season. Anthony brings offensive fire power and Billups brings playoff experience and ability to knock down clutch shots. But after their first 7 players, the talent really drops off.

X Factor: Toney Douglas. The guard from Florida State will be asked to carry the scoring load for the second unit.

Both teams are talented, but the Knicks are not deep enough and are defensively vulnerable. This series ultimately comes down to home court advantage. Boston wins a very hard fought and close series at home in game 7.

(4) Orlando vs. (5) Atlanta

Orlando is back in familiar territory in the playoffs but slipped to the 4 seed. They will have their hands full with a hungry Hawks team that is tired of losing early in the post season.

The Magic have a revamped squad from last year’s team. They acquired Q. Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, and reacquired Hedo Turkoglu. The team has shooters and scorers. Dwight Howard has had a monster year and would like to go back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Ryan Anderson has done a good job of backing up Howard. Nelson and Jason Richardson will be heavily counted on this series.

X Factor: Jameer Nelson. The Magic really miss Nelson when he is injured. Lucky for Orlando he is healthy. Nelson has good chemistry with Howard and is a good set shooter as well.

Atlanta is a team that has the potential to beat Orlando in as little as 5 games. Joe Johnson is one of the best perimeter players in the league, Josh Smith is a defensive force and can finish on the break, Al Horford gets better every game and solid guard play from Hinrich, Teague, and Crawford has given the Hawks hope to advance. Consistency will be the issue. Will Johnson fall in love with the deep ball and not attack? Will Crawford force shots and turn the ball over? Will Josh Smith settle for jumpers and let his emotions get the best of him?

X-Factor: Al Horford. He will have his hands full against Howard. If Horford can keep Howard off the glass and play him with single coverage, this could change the entire outcome of the series.

The Hawks are tempting, but I still do not think they have the right mindset to advance. The Magic know how to win this time of the year and will get the job done.
Magic win the series 4-2.

Tim Duncan
Photo: WDPG Share

Western Conference

(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Memphis

San Antonio has once again proven all the haters wrong and is back as the number 1 seed with the best record in the West, despite the fact that they are “old” and “boring”.

The Spurs were fortunate this year not to lose any main guys any significant time to injury. Tim Duncan has taken a step backwards statistically but is still the engine that makes this team go. Tony Parker is the best PG in the league that everyone forgets about. He runs the Pick and Roll with Duncan to perfection and can hit the midrange jump shot as good as anyone. Manu Ginobili will miss the opening game because of a late season injury and his ability to bounce back strong is vital if the Spurs hope to win their 5th championship in the Duncan era. The Spurs know their key guys are getting older, but have done a nice job of adding younger, more athletic players, who have helped mightily this season. Richard Jefferson has become the player the Spurs envisioned when they singed him last year. George Hill is a good enough PG to start on some other NBA ball clubs. DeJuan Blair is making everyone look stupid for not picking him up earlier in the draft. Rookies James Anderson, Gary Neal, and Splitter have made solid contributions. This team is deeper than people think who have not seen them play much this year. This team has played together too long and is too experienced to lose in the first round.

X Factor: Richard Jefferson. When he is running the floor, attacking the rim, and hitting open 3’s, it really helps the Spurs. Simply put, when Jefferson plays well, the Spurs win.

After years of barely missing the opportunity to play past the middle of April, the Grizzlies did enough this year to make the playoffs. This team is not experienced but they boast a talented front court and good guard play. Zach Randolph is a double-double machine, the ‘other’ Gasol, Marc Gasol, is underated, and the acquisition of Leon Powe has made this group of post players one of the best in the NBA. OJ Mayo and Mike Conley make up a young and exciting backcourt that is full of energy and athleticism. Injuries to Rudy Gay and Jason Williams hurt this team’s chance of being able to really compete with the Spurs. Besides Randolph, the Grizzlies are going to have a tough time manufacturing points.

X Factor: Shane Battier. Good under the radar mid-season pick up. He is one of the best defenders in the NBA and his versatility and shot making ability will be badly needed this series.

Although some think that Memphis will pose a threat to San Antonio, I’m not one of them. I think San Antonio will tire after 3 games and Memphis will be able to get a win with Randolph having a career night, but other than that the Spurs win the other games handily and win the series in 5 games.

(2) Los Angeles vs. (7) New Orleans

With Coach Phil Jackson reportedly coaching his last year, the Lakers hope to send the coach out with his 4th 3-peat. Kobe Bryant is focused on winning his sixth title, the one that would put him in the same conversation with the G.O.A.T. himself, Michael Jordan.

Despite the fact the Lakers enter the postseason with a losing streak, the team is as dangerous as ever. The have the biggest and best frontcourt in the league with Paul Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. The team received good news when the x-rays on Bynum’s leg came back negative. Kobe Bryant enters Black Mamba mode this time of year and reminds everyone that he is still the best player in the world and Derek Fisher is back to hit those big shots and provide veteran leadership. Off season acquisition Matt Barnes will provide toughness and scoring along with Ron Artest who has played much better as of late. Shannon Brown and Steve Blake look to provide a spark with the second unit, which boast several players who could be starters with other teams. This team is good and is focused in on another title.

X Factor: Ron Artest. I could have also picked Odom, but I believe Artest is the one that is the key. If Artest can bite down and lock up the opposing teams best player, this will free up Bryant to focus his energy on offense and not tire him out. Artest does not have to score a lot of points and can’t get shot happy at the wrong times of big games.

The Hornets hope they can at least compete this series just so they can give their franchise player, Chris Paul reason to come back to the team, instead of going elsewhere. The have a difficult task, especially with their number two guy, David West, out with a torn ACL. The Hornets still have talent though. Chris Paul should be able to get into the lane at will against the slower Fisher guarding him. Emeka Okafor is good for 10 and 10 a night, but has always struggled with longer, taller players, like the Lakers have, ever since his days in Charlotte. Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack, and Carl Landry are good role players, and rookie Quincy Poindexter has been solid on occasion.

X Factor:Trevor Ariza. The Hornets will need Ariza to increase his scoring from just 11ppg from the regular season to replace David West out put if the Hornets have any hope to advance.

This series is one sided, especially with out a healthy David West able to suit up for the Hornets. The Lakers will sweep the Hornets in 4 games and will give Bynum plenty of time to rest before round 2.

(3)Dallas vs. (6) Portland

This is a very intriguing matchup as well. The Mavericks have been known to lose in the first round when they are the higher seed in the past few seasons, and the Blazers have been playing some good basketball ever since the trade to acquire Gerald Wallace.

The Mavericks have the pieces in place to make a final run to win a title, before Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd’s playing days are over. Dirk is one of the league’s hardest covers, Jason Kidd is still a triple-double threat and gets the ball to the open man as good as anyone, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion can score the ball, Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler bring toughness and shot blocking inside, Stevenson and Stojakovic can shoot the 3, and Jose Barea is a good playmaker to back up Kidd.

X Factor: DeShawn Stevenson. Coach Carlisle has talked about starting Stevenson this series against Portland. With the injury to Butler, Dallas will need Stevenson to not only score, but to guard Portland’s best player, Brandon Roy.

Portland has a chance to send the Mavs home in the first round again. The Blazers are led by LeMarcus Aldridge, who has one of the best low post games in the League. Brandon Roy is back from injury, and will undoubtedly step up his game now that the playoffs are here. Gerald Wallace has fit in nicely and is causing havoc on the defensive end and continues to attack the basket and draw fouls. Andre Miller has been consistent this season at PG, and Marcus Camby continues to do the little things and protect the paint with his shot blocking. Batum, Fernandez, and Matthews fill in the top 8.

X Factor: Brandon Roy. It was not that long ago that Roy was considered a top 10 talent, but injuries have hampered the guard out of Washington. If Roy can bounce back and return to the way he knows he can play, this could win them the series. He is clutch and his scoring is needed to take the burden off of Aldridge.

This is a tough series to pick, but I have to go with the Blazers. The Blazer have the momentum and the Mavericks are known to choke this time of the year. As Roy continues to get healthy the Blazers get more dangerous. So in my only upset of the first round, I have the Blazers winning 4 games to 3.

(4)Oklahoma City vs. (5) Denver

This is the series that I am looking forward to the most. These two teams are almost equal in all categories. Denver is number 1 in scoring in the NBA and the Thunder are number 5; the Nuggets give up 102.7 ppg and the Thunder give up 101.4 ppg. Both teams are young and might be the two deepest teams in the NBA, going at least 10 deep on both sides. In the end this series is going to be decided by the little things, free throws, coaching decisions, and loose balls.

The Thunder are back in the playoffs again after pushing the Lakers last season, but losing in the end. Kevin Durant is one of the smoothest scores in the league. Russell Westbrook has emerged as the Durant’s sidekick. He is the most explosive guard in the Western Conference and has the ability to take a game over. Mid-season pickups Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed were brought in to bring toughness, size, and experience to be able to better compete with the Lakers. Cook and Sefolosha bring shooting and defense, and the bench is deep and skilled with James Harden, Nate Robinson, Eric Maynor, and Serge Ibaka. Players like Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens also play a role.

X Factor: James Harden. He seems to get better every time he plays. In order for the Thunder to beat the Nuggets, he is going to have to have some big games.

The Nuggets were written off by everyone after trading away their star player Carmelo Anthony. The trade has made them deeper and better defensively. The Nuggets now go 11 deep, and there is no drop off skill wise from the first unit to the second unit. The Nuggets have a ton of scoring options and they could have a different leading scorer potentially every game this series. 8 players average double digits a game, and Kenyon Martin chips in 8.6 ppg, with the ability to score 20 when neeed. We will start with the guards. Raymond Felton is an All-Star caliber PG, who has led a team to the playoffs before. He can hit clutch shots and is a solid playmaker. Ty Lawson is one of the quickest players in the NBA with the ball in his hands. The Nuggets can play both guards together or bring one off the bench. JR Smith is the super athletic shooting guard who can light it up from deep. Aaron Afflalo rounds out the guard group. He is great defensively and also brings double digit scoring. The forward crop is extremely deep. Wilson Chandler and Gallinari, both brought in from the Knicks, are fitting in nicely and contributing. Al Harrington and Kenyon Martin, the veterans of the group, both bring size, solid scoring and rebounding. Gary Forbes, the rookie out of Massachusetts has been a pleasant surprise. This team is big as well, may be the biggest in the NBA. Nene has been healthy all season and is having a career year. Chris Anderson brings shot blocking and energy to the team, and rookie Mozgov from Russia and Kosta Koufos, both 7 footers bring size and defense.

X Factor: JR Smith. Smith has emerged as the go-to player since the departure of Anthony. If Smith can hit his 3’s and take good shots instead of forcing the issue, the Thunder will have no answer for him.

Every matchup is almost even. As much as I want to pick the Nuggets, I have to go with the team with the best player, and that is the Thunder with Durant. The Nuggets are deep, but so are the Thunder, and OKC has more experience with them playing LA last season. The Thunder advance in 7 hard fought games.

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As long as Denver has a consistent J.R. Smith, the Nuggets title hopes remain intact and a lot less farfetched than most would imagine.

By Andrew Macaluso

J.R. Smith Denver Nuggets
Billups may be gone, but Smith has found new life in the absence of Denver’s previous star lineup.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Swish.

At least that’s what everybody calls him these days. Equipped with out-of-this-world talent, unlimited ranged, a 44 inch vertical leap and a swagger that many can’t match, J.R. Smith can be your best friend or your worst nightmare.

He packs an offensive confidence that’s similar to a Kobe Bryant or a Carmelo Anthony, knowing he can shoot and make it from nearly anywhere on the court, so why all of the struggles throughout his career? Why all of the negative surroundings behind the 25-year-old former St. Benedicts Prep player? During the early stages of his career with Chris Paul and the Hornets, it’s easy to say that J.R. was more of a “wild-child” than a ball player. He could shoot the lights out of a gym but he didn’t do it with consistency, which often earned him early trips to the bench or a confrontation with the coaching staff.

Byron Scott couldn’t handle him, the Bulls didn’t even bother, so eventually he fell in the lap of George Karl and his Denver Nuggets where, if anything, he’s not only become a better and more matured player, but someone teams fear more than their starters.

Now in his fifth-year with the Nuggets, Smith’s maturity the last two years just might have been exactly what he needed in order to stay in a Denver uniform until the day he retires. He’s already stated that he wants to remain in Denver for the remainder of his career and team president Josh Kroenke has stated his pleasure of trying to get Smith a long-term deal once the season comes to an end. With the Carmelo to the Knicks deal finally over and done with, Denver has become arguably the most dangerous team in the League.

Amazingly, eight players have averaged double-digit scoring for the Nuggets since the trade, and the team’s offensive efficiency is still the best in the NBA. Yes, folks, the Nuggets are playing team organized basketball. And that makes them very scary.

You could say that Ty Lawson benefits the most from this trade because he now becomes the starter and has a reliable backup and All-Star caliber PG in Raymond Felton, but in my opinion, J.R. benefits the most from this trade. Playing behind an offensive player like ‘Melo for the last half a decade isn’t easy, in fact, it might be frustrating to some extent. Just because a player is making millions of dollars doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested in playing basketball anymore, and J.R. is definitely one of those guys who loves to be on the court with his teammates. And most of all he just wants to win.

But with Anthony now out of the picture, Smith no longer has to come in off the bench and rifle up shots just so he can get his points for the night before Karl would put Carmelo back in. ‘Til this day that’s the reason why I believe J.R. struggled with inconsistency off the bench most nights. Some nights he’ll come in and start off hot and end up finishing the game with 43 points and a two fistfuls of 3s, but knowing he’s become “the man” who can lead this team to an NBA title has made him that much more relaxed and comfortable with his role off the bench.

Yes, he’s playing fewer minutes this season and taking less shots (9.8 from the previous 13.8), but he’s also become a better all-around player. He’s making up for the lack of rebounding at the small forward position now that ‘Melo is gone and he’s developed more willingness to pass the ball and try to get his teammates involved instead of being selfish. And the most exciting part, he’s defending, and extremely well I might add. J.R. is a big reason why the Nuggets are allowing only 97.0 points per game instead of the 107.9 previously given up when ‘Melo was in uniform.

The more these guys feed off each other, the better they will be.

With not only the best offensive team in the League, but the deepest bench as well, not many teams, if any, are going to be able to be able to figure out exactly how and who to stop on this Nuggets team. Any one is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, which makes it difficult for coaches to try and come up with a solid game plan.

And with the playoffs starting Apr. 17, whoever the Nuggets draw first (Thunder?) are going to have their hands full and could eventually get upset in the first round. But as long as Denver has J.R. Smith, he’ll do whatever he can and pull up from wherever he wants in order to make sure that his team gets a step closer to that golden ball.

Links:

http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=4298594

http://espn.go.com/nba/team/stats/_/name/den/denver-nuggets

http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/25/nuggets-talk-about-re-signing-j-r-smith-as-trade-deadline-passe/

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By Marcus Shockley

Dime magazine Blake Griffin Basketball Elite

So we’re featured in this month’s issue of Dime magazine’s Tangled Web feature, and there’s a lot of reasons to appreciate being featured in this issue. First, if you aren’t reading Dime magazine, honestly, are you even a basketball fan? Dime is one of the most respected and hardcore basketball publications in existence.

Secondly, the player who is featured on this month’s cover is none other than Blake Griffin, who we see as the NBA’s brightest rising star and have no shame in admitting it. In a league that’s full of players who don’t know how to win and think that getting on ESPN’s highlight list is the same thing as winning a title, Blake is the real deal; awesome, amazing and humble. Coincidence that we’re in the same issue? I think not. (Okay, throw ‘humble’ out the window)

Third, (and this is the most important), Dime magazine lists our scouting of players at all levels and offers praise for what we do and how we do it. That’s appreciated and we try hard to give accurate, objective scouting reports and steer clear from the rah-rah over hyped fawning that fills up so many other websites. Yeah, highlight reels are fun and cool (and we’ve done some) but the reality is that even players in the NBA still need to work on their game, and one of the best tools to be great at anything is objective feedback. That’s why we don’t just talk about how great Kyrie Irving is (which he is) or how Austin Rivers is the Next Great Superstar. You can get that anywhere. Here, it’s important to us to give you the real assessment.

Thanks to Dime for the shout out, pick up this months issue and thanks to the readers who have been with us on the ride so far. Trust me, we’ve got a lot planned and more coming, bigger and better in the future!

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By Marcus Shockley

Kobe Bryant
Flikr/Keith Allison

Most of the NBA teams are terrible at business. Wait, check that, most professional sports teams in all leagues are bad at business. Just as with corporations, sports teams are usually dysfunctional organizations that limp along from year to year barely surviving a plethora of bad decisions.

However, there are some sports teams that know what they are doing, and one of them is the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the years, the Lakers have been patient, drafted well and traded well. They’ve cut older vets loose at the right time and brought in young guys at the right time.

That’s why with the talk of a Carmelo trade to the Lakers, I find it interesting that the Lakers aren’t actually looking to shed someone else.

Kobe Bryant.

Kobe has now played more games in his career than Michael Jordan. Now, it’s true that Kobe entered the league younger than Jordan did, and Kobe does appear to have more in the tank at this point than Jordan did when he’d played this many games. But the reality is, even though Kobe has a lot of scoring left, it’s plain that the end is in sight within a few years.

That’s why now is the time for the Lakers to be looking to trade their superstar, while they can still get a maximum return. This isn’t the first time they would have done it; Shaq still had enough game left to bring a title to Miami before he became the Big Backup, but the Lakers cut him loose for the long term. It may be time for the Lakers to do the same with Kobe.

It won’t be a popular decision, but it would be a blockbuster trade that could set L.A. up for the next ten years. It might even involve multiple teams. I couldn’t tell you what the frenzy would result in or where Kobe would land. All I could say with relative certainty that he wouldn’t end up in Cleveland.

Consider this: four years from now, Kobe might not even be in the league. That’s how fast a player’s career can go from superstar to Allen Iverson. And for Kobe, that time is approaching. Each year…actually, each month…that the Lakers hold on to him, he gets closer to that reality. Sure, he might play another five, six years, but the truth is, that’s not likely. Next year, he’ll be worth less than this year. The year after that? Less.

So before the Lakers make a big trade between Carmelo and some other supporting player, I think they should be looking at a major shakeup.

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By James Blackburn

Derrick Rose
Flikr/Keith Allison

Bulls Win 92-79
Box Score

Game Recap/Thoughts

  • The Bulls missed a lot of easy baskets in the first half, when they really had an opportunity to stretch the lead.
  • The Bulls played poor transition defense early in the 2nd quarter. They became lazy and complacent, allowing Cleveland to get back into the game.
  • The Cavs are a very scrappy and hard working team.
  • The second unit for the Cavs seems more active on D and run more than the starters.
  • Turnovers and bad shots plague the Cavs. They struggle to defend the post and the paint. They have no shot blocker when Ryan Hollins is out of the game.
  • The Cavs are a decent defensive team in general, they just really struggle offensively.
  • The Cavs lost because they settled into bad habits at the end of the game, shooting contested shots and the inability to defend the paint or the pick and roll, with Hollins out.

Scouting Reports

Cavs

Antawn Jamison (37 min, 12-22 FG, 4-7 3pt, 11 reb, 5 assist, 31 TP)

Strengths- Good shooter from midrange and 3. Does it all on the court- fills up the stat sheet. Versatile scorer who can create his own shot, pull up, or get to the rim. Good rebounder. A very tough cover with what he can do offensively. Good size.

Weaknesses- Struggled defending Carlos Boozer in the post. He allowed Boozer to get too deep post position. Fades to his left when he shoots 3’s, leading to an inconsistent long ball.

Overall- After LeBron James left Cleveland for the sunny beaches of Miami, Jamison has been given the load to carry the offense for this young Cavs team. In his 12th year out of Chapel Hill, Jamison has been a consistent 20-10 guy in the league for years. Jamison’s play this season has been one of the few bright spots for a struggling Cavs team.

JJ Hickson (33 min, 5-19 FG, 20 reb, 1 blk, 13 TP)

Strengths- Excellent rebounder. Very active on offensive boards. Uses athleticism and boxes out and gobble up rebounds and keep the ball alive. Above average athletically. Had a nice block on Rose early in the game. Showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to rim. Takes in at people- takes it strong to basket.

Weaknesses- Needs to continue to work on constancy on jumper. Takes some possessions off on defense. Likes to turn over right shoulder for turn around jumper, but showed the ability to turn over either shoulder effectively. Lacks a go to post move.

Overview- Has really improved since his days at NC State. His offense used to be a dunk or nothing, and this was his case in his early years with Cleveland. The Cavs organization is very high on Hickson, and one can see why with his 20 rebounds tonight. Needs to continue to work on being more of an offensive threat, but has time to grow.

Ryan Hollins (17 min, 1-4 FG, 4-4 FT, 4 reb, 1 blk, 6 TP)

Strengths- Very long and athletic. Good defensive player. Talks on defense and directs traffic on the defensive end. Very active player who hustles and plays hard every minute on the floor. Good shot blocker who influenced a lot of shots tonight. Good rebounder who really crashes the boards. Sets good wide screens. Good team player- great attitude and good body language through out game.

Weaknesses- Needs to get stronger in the upper body. At times he over hedges on the screen and roll and this allows screener to slip screen. Still very raw offensively- dunk or nothing. Brings the ball down too low allowing guards to strip the ball.

Overview- Intriguing player. Very hard worker who competes on every play. A player who you want to see succeed because he works so hard. Had some success last year playing for Minnesota. Hollins, who is entering his 4th year, out of UCLA, would be a great role player for a playoff team like the Spurs or Celtics.

Bulls

Kyle Korver (26 min, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3pt, 3 reb, 2 assist, 2 blk, 11 TP)

Strengths- One of the top 3 shooters in the NBA. Very quick release- can shoot off the screen and with his feet set. Good passer and an underrated defender and rebounder. Has quick hands on defense. Does not try to do too much- knows his role.

Weaknesses- needs to improve ball handling- looks down when he dribbles.

Overview- Another solid game for Korver who has had a productive year so far with Chicago after spending most of his career in Utah. One of the most respected and feared shooters in the NBA.

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