Friday, June 27, 2008

A Wild Night in New York

There were many surprises announced by both the commissioner and the deputy commissioner last night in New York at the NBA Draft. From Russell Westbrook going at #4 to Brook Lopez dropping to #10 and from Jason Thompson being chosen at #12 to DeAndre Jordan and Mario Chalmers having to wait until the second round to hear their names called. No one could have predicted such a thing for one of the deepest draft class's in recent memory. But it was also one of the youngest in recent memory as twelve freshmen were drafted last night.

No surprise was the fact that Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, and OJ Mayo went 1-2-3 to kick off the draft. Surprising at #4 was Russ Westbrook, the combo guard out of UCLA who was considered by many to be the best defensive guard in the draft. Another surprising selection in the top ten was Danilo Gallinari, whose dad roomed with Coach D'Antoni while Mr. Gallinari played professionally in Italy. However, D'Antoni claims that Danilo has the tools to become a great player in the League, and if you're a Knicks fan, you have to at least be happy with that.

I was also somewhat shocked to see Joe Alexander's and DJ Augustin's names off the board before Jerryd Bayless's and Anthony Randolph's. It was also surprising to see Brook Lopez fall to #10, where the Nets scooped up the second-best center in the draft. What a night for Nets fans! The two biggest winners of the draft has to be them and Portland, both of which were helped tremendously in their aspirations to reach the postseason. Another thing I don't get is why Sacramento didn't trade down a few picks, possibly with Phoenix. Jason Thompson, maybe the biggest surprise pick of the draft, would have still been available and the Suns would have been able to grab Brandon Rush, the one they've been showing the most interest in all along.

Let me know sound off on Roy Hibbert. This guy has bust written all over him and he will be just another benchwarming seven-footer in the NBA. Athleticism is so much more crucial in the League than in college, and Hibbert lacks in that department tremendously. Once he has to guard guys his own size or be guarded by guys as tall as him, he'll be ineffective and useless out on the court.

Next are the Suns. What the hell do they think they're doing? Grant Hill was someone I could live with. Shaq was pushing the envelope with me. Robin Lopez just puts me over the top. They are slowly but surely becoming a half-court walk-it-up team like the Spurs. Now I understand why they got rid of D'Antoni, but I don't understand the reason. They were in contention to win it almost every year so why change? I'm making a bold prediction: Phoenix won't make the playoffs next season.

There were two surprises, in my mind, at the end of the first round. One of them was Donte Greene, someone I had going in the mid-lottery. He dropped all the way down to 28, where has was drafted by the Grizzlies. The second surprise was JR Giddens going in the first round. I saw him as a great pick in the early to mid-second round, but why the first? Why gamble like that when you're the defending world champions? However, Boston redeemed themselves when they traded for Bill Walker, a phenomenal talent who has the potential to be great.

The second round saw seven foreign players drafted, which brings me to another point. Foreign players have the highest chance of being a bust (i.e. Darko Milicic) yet they also have the highest chance of being a steal (i.e. Manu Ginobili). My point? Wait until the second round to draft your European players. You never know; you may get lucky. Also, this shows how weak foreign scouting is even in this modern age.

The second round also featured four players that I could see easily going in the first round: Mario Chalmers at 34, DeAndre Jordan at 35, Chris Douglas-Roberts at 40, and Bill Walker at 47. Walker and CDR are the two that are most puzzling to me. Obviously, the scouts were scared away by the unorthodox methods and injury problems, respectively. However, I would think that at least one scout would see past that and see that one or both of these players has the chance to be a future all-star, if not a solid starter for years to come.

That concludes my breakdown of the deepest and yougest draft class I've ever seen. Good luck to them wherever they play next year whether it be overseas, in the NBA, or in the D-League. Also, a congrats goes out to Semih Erden of Turkey, who had the honor of being drafted last at pick #60.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Denis and GOAT's NBA Mock Draft

This was a post that I co-wrote on with Denis24. I hope you enjoy it.

Denis says:

1. Chicago Bulls select.....PG Derrick Rose

Rose is a terrific athlete and at 6-3, 196 lb., he has great size for a PG. What really hurt Michael Beasley though is that the Bulls just figured out today that Beasley is acctually listed at 6-7. Sure, many people argue that Miami won a title with Udonis Haslem as their starting power forward, but what the Heat had back then that they don't contain now is a healthy Shaq. With the association evolving into a guard-oriented league, Derrick Rose is the favorite at No. 1. Rose is also the safest selection because Rose's defense is much more developed then Beasley's. Beasley still doesn't have the leadership and intangibles that the #1 pick needs to have.

Denis' pick: Derrick Rose

GOAT says:

I agree. Rose is the best pick the Bulls could make. I'm not so sure Beasley is big and strong enough to bang with the big guys of the NBA just yet, and that hurts his chances with Chicago, someone who is in need of a banger down low. However, you're completely right. The League is becoming more guard-oriented and Rose has a bright future in it.

GOAT's pick: Derrick Rose

Denis says:

2. Miami Heat select.....SF/PF Michael Beasley

You guessed it, Michael Beasley is the No. 2 selection here. He is a better athlete than people give him credit for. Along with his NBA ready body, he has the rebounding skills to make him one of the best in the NBA, even being 6-7, as was reported by the Chicago Bulls. He reminds many people of Carmelo Anthony, and that is what he will turn out to be in my opinion. His jumpshot is flawless, although he doesn't play like a 6-7 wing. His post skills are top-notch while he still is one of the quickest forwards in the draft. You will see him starting in the All-Star game in the future, I can guarentee it.

Denis' pick: Michael Beasley

GOAT says:

No argument from me here. He's the obvious choice with the second pick. You also have to love the fact that he's a lefty. It makes him difficult to guard as it is awkward for the defender to play the left hand. He's the perfect fit in Miami and should be great playing alongside Dwyane Wade.

GOAT's pick: Michael Beasley

Denis says:

3. Minnesota Timberwolves select..... C Brook Lopez

Yes, I'm going with the surprise pick here, Brook Lopez. I am not one of those people that are buying all the hype and jumping on the O.J. Mayo bandwagon. Mayo acctually averaged more turnovers (3.5) than assists (3.3), which is a major problem in my opinion. I don't understand if he is a shooting guard or point guard, so there are many questions with him. Lopez has great strength and post skills for a collegiant bigman, but what people don't give him enough credit for is his jump shot, which is ranked 9 out of 10 according to If you want to move Al Jefferson back to his natural position, drafting this stud center would really help. Lopez acctually registerd a rare triple-double against Mayo's USC team, with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 12 blocks. Don't be surprised if the T'Wolves trade this pick.

Denis' pick: Brook Lopez

Goat says:

I hate to keep agreeing with you, but Lopez is my pick here as well. The T'Wolves would absolutely love to give Jefferson a solid frontcourt mate, and Lopez is the perfect guy for them. Not only is he a great scorer, but he's also an underrated defender, ranking 8 out of 10 on Some are worried about his athleticism, or lack thereof. I wouldn't worry all that much. His post skills are top-notch and he is fundamentally sound. Denis, you better be disagreeing with me on the fourth pick.

GOAT's pick: Brook Lopez

Denis says:

4. Seattle SuperSonics select..... SG O.J. Mayo

Since both OJ Mayo and Jerryd Bayless are combo guards, I just have to take the best player here, and that is OJ Mayo. Mayo is such an explosive scorer that he can make plays from anywhere on the court. I just don't believe Bayless has the special swagger or leadership about him to carry a team like OJ Mayo does. Mayo's defensive ability and NBA range is what make him stand out in my mind to be the forth pick in this very talented draft. But what really impressed the scouts out there is his outstanding 41" vertical.

Denis' pick: OJ Mayo

GOAT says:

Here is where we disagree. I believe the Sonics will take Jerryd Bayless. Mayo has as many questions marks as a game of 20 Questions. His character is up in the air, and he has been criticized for being a ballhog at times. Seattle definitely does not want that problem. To top it all off, OJ averaged more turnovers than assists last season (3.5 TO to 3.3 AST). Bayless, on the other hand, is much more team-oriented and turns the ball over less while dishing out more assists. OJ may have the higher vertical, but Jerryd is just as good of an athlete as Mayo.

GOAT's pick: Jerryd Bayless

Denis says:

5. Memphis Grizzlies select..... PF Kevin Love

If Memphis makes this move, they will be getting a gifted bigman with an amazing basketball IQ. He can mix his game up greatly, playing anywhere from physical to finesse basketball. This is also a selection based on desperate need at the power forward position. They have Hakim Warrick, Brian Cardinal, Darko Milicic, and Jason Collins, which isn't very good from a talent perspective. Kevin Love would bring some needed help, which is a combination of his mid-range jump shot and his back-to-the-basket post moves.

Denis' pick: Kevin Love

GOAT says:

I agree that Love is the best choice here. Some people have said that OJ Mayo would be chosen here. However, the Grizzlies already have Mike Conley and Rudy Gay in the backcourt. Is there really a need for a player such as OJ? Take Love and have him play alongside Warrick. In a few years, they'll be very competitive in the ultra-tough Southwest.

GOAT's pick: Kevin Love

Denis says:

6. New York Knicks select..... PG/SG Jerryd Bayless

The Knicks have been praying that Bayless would fall to their laps at No. 6. Bayless may not be the playmaker they are looking for, but he sure is athletic and skilled, and that is what the Knicks are looking for. With Jamaal Crawford and Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt, this team could acctually be decent. But of course, nothing could change the Knicks, that's for sure. Bayless just might be the next Gilbert Arenas because his potential is so huge. I wouldn't be surprised to see his excellent floor speed make contributions in New York.

Denis' pick: Jerryd Bayless

GOAT says:

Mike D'Antoni will be taking OJ Mayo with this pick. I don't think Bayless will still be on the board by now, and Mayo gets the nod over Russell Westbrook. His defense and scoring abilities are top-notch, but has some room for improvement with his passing and leadership. We can only hope that the bright lights of NYC don't have him doing stuff he shouldn't be.

GOAT's pick: OJ Mayo

Denis says:

7. Los Angeles Clippers select..... SG Eric Gordon

With his talent still being available, the Clippers have to pick Eric Gordon. His combination of strength and athleticism is just outright amazing. His jumpshot seems so smooth when you watch him play. Defensively, he has the potential to be a lock-down defender in this league because ofthe physical tools he has. I know that they are weak at other positions, but if Maggette and Brand decide to depart from the team, that will clear some space up to go out and fill those wholes, and right now, Gordon is definately the right choice here.

Denis' pick: Eric Gordon

GOAT says:

Eric Gordon is the right pick for the Clippers. You're right on the money with him. He has the potential to be a very good defender along with being an accomplished scorer. Some are comparing him to Mitch Richmond, which I can understand with his kind of ability. He's quite small for a 2-guard though and may have to play some time at the point guard position. That's my only real concern with him.

GOAT's pick: Eric Gordon

Denis says:

8. Milwaukee Bucks select..... SF Anthony Randolph

Milwaukee would love to have Danilo Gallinari on their team, but reports have it that Galinari refuses to work out for the Bucks, leading to some speculation that he doesn't want to be the next Yi Jianlian. Both didn't want to come to the US and play in a city like Milwaukee. That may cause some problems in the future, but for now, Randolph is the safest and best pick. He's a long and lenghty wingman with tremendous upside. He is a very raw talent and could eventually turn into the next Lamar Odom or Tayshaun Prince. His overall talent, along with his untapped potential, can make him a really good starting small forward in this league some day.

Denis' pick: Anthony Randolph

GOAT says:

I, too, think Milwaukee will take Randolph with the ninth pick. He's pretty athletic and he plays bigger than he really is. His potential is through-the-roof, and Randolph has great size to play the 3. Some have Joe Alexander going at this position, but I believe he is overrated. He gets reckless and doesn't play fundamentally-sound all that much or all that well. On the flip side, if Randolph wants to make an impact at the next level, he needs to bulk up.

GOAT's pick: Anthony Randolph

Denis says:

9. Charlotte Bobcats select..... SF Danilo Gallinari

Their is no big man available with the talent to go this high on the board, so I wouldn'd be surprised if the 'Cats traded this pick in the situation. But if I'm forced to predict, it'd have to be the best player available, Danilo Gallinari. This player's an absolute stud. He has basketball in his blood and his intangibles are off the charts. Scouts love his jump shot, plus they believe he has point guard skills in an 6-8 body. We are hearing some Gerald Wallace rumors, and, let's face it, Adam Morrison is and forever will be, a total bust in the NBA.

Denis' pick: Danilo Gallinari

GOAT says:

I don't think Gallinari is what they're looking for. They already have Gerald Wallace and Adam Morrison and all that. Why add on? They need a big guy. DeAndre Jordan is the pick here. Some weren't expecting him to be chosen until later, but he's the best big guy left at this point. He has the potential to be the next Dwight Howard and features much athleticism and good size. I got to see him play at Madison Square Garden against Washington. He finished the game with 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks yet his presence in the lane seemed to deter penetration from the Huskies.

GOAT's pick: DeAndre Jordan

Denis says:

10. New Jersey Nets select..... SF/PF Joe Alexander

I know you might be surprised to see DJ Augustine and Russell Westbrook still on the board, but that just isn't what the Nets are looking for. Joe Alexander is their man here, even though I know you will disagree. His winner's mentality and untapped potential combine to give him one of the biggest upsides in the draft. His athleticism is just amazing, and you never know what move he will make on the perimeter, which makes him so unpredictable. Some people are really bashing him, but after the performances he put up in the Big East Tournament and March Madness, I don't see how he doesn't go at least in the top 15, if not top 10.

Denis' pick: Joe Alexander

GOAT says:

You bet I'm disagreeing. I'll take Donte Greene from Syracuse with this pick. I'm not so sure he'll get chosen here as much as I am sure that he's the better of the two players. He's just as athletic as Alexander yet features a much better jump shot. Greene, just like your pick, has much potential and is a very good penetrator. Last season, Greene, with much less experience than Alexander had at WVU, averaged one point and one rebound more while averaging the same amount of assists, steals, and blocks.

GOAT's pick: Donte Greene

Denis says:

11. Indiana Pacers select..... PG/SG Russell Westbrook

If DJ Augustine and Russell Westbrook are still available, the Pacers would probably select Westbrook because of his quickness and athleticism, while playing the combo guard position. The problem with him is his heighth at SG, but his lenghth makes up for that. He really gets to the lane effortlessly, and he is a real gym rat. Indiana needs to replace Jamaal Tinsley, who is on his way out of Indiana.

Denis' pick: Russell Westbrook

GOAT says:

Yeah, it's pretty obvious that Tinsley's days are numbered in a Pacers uniform so they're looking to pick up a guard, and Russell Westbrook will be that guard. You forgot to mention the outstanding defense he plays and is considered by many to be the best defensive guard in the draft. Although bulking up and getting stronger would help him against the bigger point guards in the NBA. Russ will be able to play the 1 no problem; he's an underrated ball-handler and passer, and he's exactly what Indiana needs and wants.

GOAT's pick: Russell Westbrook

Denis says:

12. Sacramento Kings select..... C Roy Hibbert

This might be a very questionable selection here, but Roy Hibbert is the best available big man, and that is what they need. He's a center with great size and strength around the basket. He has soft hands to go along with his excellent post moves. The only question I have with Hibbert is his quickness and athleticism. He will immidiately become one of the best half-court defenders on the Kings roster.

Denis' pick: Roy Hibbert

GOAT says:

Key word is half-court. He'll be playing in the Western Conference where they get up and down the floor, and he won't be able to keep up. Ron Artest may be on his way out of Sacramento, and that's the exact reason why they'll be taking Joe Alexander with this pick. He's one of the most athletic people in the entire draft class, and truly plays above the rim when he drives. If he wants to succeed though, he must work on his fundmentals and his jump shot.

GOAT's pick: Joe Alexander

Denis says:

13. Portland Trailblazers select..... PG DJ Augustin

DJ Augustin is one of the only true point guards in this year's draft. He is the kind of guy that looks for his teammates first, and that's why he averaged 6.7 ppg. His quickness with the ball and leadership ability is what intrigues Portland the most. I don't believe in Steve Blake and Jarret Jack being solid starting point guards, while Sergio Rodriguez is entering his first year in the league. The Blazers also aquired the 27th selection, where they can go with either Ante Tomic or Nicolas Batum. The Blazers also had trade talks with the Nets about Richard Jefferson, the Suns about Leandro Barbosa, and the Grizzlies about a deal that would package the No. 13 pick and the expiring contract of Raef LaFrentz to Memphis for No. 5, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins. We'll just have to wait and see.....

Denis' pick: DJ Augustin

GOAT says:

I agree with their taking Augustin at #13. The only weakness I really see in Portland's starting lineup is at point guard, and what they need is a true point guard. DJ Augustin will facilitate and make those around him better. In two years, the Blazers will be an obvious pick to make the playoffs because of this guy even though they're in the ultra-tough Western Conference. For the record though, I think Tomic isn't worth a first-round selection and Batum will be off the board by then.

GOAT's pick: DJ Augustin

Denis says:

14. Golden State Warriors select..... C Kosta Koufos

Koufos has been rising in most people's draft boards, and for one reason: he's playing more physical. He's a very skilled bigman to say the least. He can score the basketball from both inside and out, reminding some people of Utah's Mehmet Okur. Defensively, he will be able to handle the big and talented centers in the West. Don't be surprised to see Robin Lopez go here if the Anderson Varejao trade rumors don't pan out, because both Varejao and Lopez are hustle players, but as of right now, Koufos' offensive skills and Biedrins' defensive and rebounding ability are a perfect complement for each other.

Denis' pick: Kosta Koufos

GOAT says:

Golden State doesn't really have any glaring weakness that they need to address in the draft. They finished the season above .500 and are set pretty well down low with Biedrins and Al Harrington. I say they take the best available in Danilo Gallinari. He's a good scorer who possesses a good jump shot and all the right intangibles. Gallinari could step in right away and make a difference in games. He's also a pretty good passer for a forward.

GOAT's pick: Danilo Gallinari

Rest of the Draft:

Denis says:

15. Phoenix Suns: SG/SF Brandon Rush
16. Philadelphia: PF/C Robin Lopez
17. Toronto: PG Mario Chalmers (If in fact the Jermaine O'neal deal goes down)
18. Washington: PF Darrell Arthur
19. Cleveland: PF Jason Thompson
20. Denver Nuggets: PF/C Marreese Speights
21. New Jersey: C DeAndre Jordan
22. Orlando: C JaVale McGee
23. Utah Jazz: PF/C Alexis Ajinca
24. Seattle: PF/C Serge Ibaka
25. Houston: SF Donte Greene
26. San Antonio: SF/PF Ryan Anderson
27. Portland: SG/SF Nicolas Batum
28. Memphis: PF JJ Hickson
29. Detroit: SG Chris Douglas-Roberts
30. Boston: SG Courtney Lee

GOAT says:

15. Phoenix: Brandon Rush
16. Philadelphia: Nicolas Batum
17. Toronto: Roy Hibbert (O'Neal was never all that reliable)
18. Washington: Darrell Arthur
19. Cleveland: Chris Douglas-Roberts
20. Denver: Marreese Speights
21. New Jersey: Robin Lopez
22. Orlando: Jason Thompson
23. Utah: JaVale McGee
24. Seattle: Ryan Anderson
25. Houston: Alexis Ajinca
26. San Antonio: Omer Asik
27. Portland: JJ Hickson
28. Memphis: Mario Chalmers
29. Detroit: Courtney Lee
30. Boston: Bill Walker

Watch the 2008 NBA Draft June 26th, 2008, on ESPN at 7 p.m.-12 a.m. ET

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Enigma of the Arizona Wildcats

I'm what most would consider a basketball nerd. Today, I was scanning through the's 2009 mock draft when I noticed that there was one team whose name I kept seeing very early in the draft. That team was Arizona. It struck me as somewhat odd since I hadn't heard much about them among next year's contenders. The nerd in me forced itself to research this team. Turns out, not one expert has them ranked in the Top 25 of next season. Here are the three Arizona Wildcats that are all projected to go in the top 17 of next year's draft.

Brandon Jennings, 6-1, PG, Freshman: He appears to be a sure lottery pick while many have him in their top 5. Trust me when I say this, he is the best point guard the NBA draft will have since Chris Paul. He is a Kenny Anderson clone who can score in bunches while making everyone around him better. If he improves his defense, he will be able to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor with his quickness and speed.

Chase Budinger, 6-7, SG, Junior: Many compare this player to Grant Hill. Budinger is a freak athlete who is NBA-ready yet still shows much potential. You also can't forget that he has a 40-inch vertical which he uses to his advantage when he attacks the basket. Last season, Chase averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 38% from long range.

Jordan Hill, 6-10, PF, Junior: Another fantastic athlete that has the size to bang in the post. His wingspan allows him to play bigger than he really is as well. The only knock on him is his hustle and effort, which, at times, can be lackadaisical. Nonetheless, he is a great pick in the top 20 of next year's draft. As a sophomore last year, Hill averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks while shooting 68% from the field.

With two top ten picks in the backcourt, it leaves you to wonder how a team like Arizona could not be mentioned with next year's elite. Of course, Hill and Budinger were there last year with Jerryd Bayless. Somehow, someway, they managed to play lousy, going an average 19-15. What would make this year any different?

For one, Lute Olson will be back on the sidelines in Tuscon after a year-long hiatus from coaching. Also, they have a solid recruiting class. Joining the superstar Jennings will be Jeff Withey, a center ranked as the #35 overall recruit in the 2008 class. Jennings should make up for the void Bayless left when he forewent his last three years of eligibility to enter his name in the NBA Draft. The Oak Hill star will add a playmaking ability that was missing in Bayless's repertoire. Withey should also get some solid minutes on a team that lacked a true center last year.

Nic Wise, who played almost thirty minutes per game as a sophomore, will be returning and should help the backcourt when needed. Jamelle Horne should embrace his bigger role in the Wildcats' frontcourt this year, too. In fact, of the six players that received the most playing time last year, four are returning.

Quite frankly, I can't understand why there is no hype for this team. They have their Hall of Fame coach coming back as well as two first round draft picks to go along with the #1 point guard in the Class of 2008. Arizona has great potential in the upcoming season. Hopefully, come March, every one of those experts that skipped over them in the preseason will be kicking himself or herself. I'll be at my computer saying, "I told you so."

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Defending Kobe Bryant

Kobe. The mere mention of his name breeds controversy. After what some would consider a poor showing in the NBA Finals, he is doubted now more than ever. "He can't win without Shaq." "He's just a selfish player who can only score." Is it fair? Not in the least bit. Is it said? Most definitely. I am now writing this as Kobe's basketball lawyer.

Disclaimer: I am not liable for anything written in this blog. I am neither a diehard Lakers fan nor a Celtics hater. I feel compelled to give you the whole truth and nothing but it. Please do not hold anything against me for what you may or may not read here.

Accusation #1: "Kobe didn't deserve the MVP award."

That is ludicrous on every level. Kobe has been the best all-around player in the League for a couple years now. This year, however, he stepped up his team game. He was getting them the ball more often. The result? An NBA Finals appearance. However, in those six season-ending games, Kobe's teammates froze up. They suddenly were struggling at the most inopportune time. The Celtics' fantastic defense didn't help much either. Kobe always had a defender right on him, and as soon as he put the ball on the floor to make a move, another defender would be coming to help. Sometimes, it didn't work, like when Kobe dropped 36 in Los Angeles. Other times, it did.

Kobe's numbers were great as always, but what separated him from players such as Chris Paul and LeBron James was the fact that he led (yes, I use the term "led") his team to the #1 seed in an extremely tough conference that was chalk full of parity. To not give him the award would be an injustice. He earned it; he got it. Some have even gone as far as saying that Kobe got the award because the voters were afraid of the backlash if he didn't receive it. That statement is pure ignorance. The voters have long been receiving backlash for their choices so what would make this year any different?

Accusation #2: "Kobe isn't a team player."

This is the one that I have long had a problem with. You have to understand Kobe's personality I suppose. He wants to win above everything else. His desire and passion for the game is unparalleled by anyone in the NBA. Therefore, if it means he has to score 40 points for his team to win, he does it. If it means he has to share the ball and get his teammates involved, he does that, too. Now, some may not believe my last statement, but Kobe has done it before. Take a look at last year's FIBA World Championships. Kobe was playing alongside superstars such as LeBron and Carmelo. The result was exactly what I expected. He was among the team leaders in assists.

Since most readers don't believe what they hear, I decided to supply some stats. In games when Kobe had at least 10 assists this past season, the Lakers went 4-1. This directly shows that when he gets his teammates involved, they respond by playing well and winning. Going back to the first accusation that is made, his team didn't respond in the playoffs as much due to all the inexperience. In fact, Los Angeles went only 1-2 in the postseason when Kobe dished out 10 assists or more. He's a team player when he needs to me, and that's good enough for me and it's good enough for the League MVP.

Accusation #3: "Kobe isn't a good leader."

This particular accusation probably irks Kobe the most. He leads by example. The examples he sets is one that I would expect. It is full of passion and desire which he achieves through playing hard and winning by any means neccessary. Some of the younger guys on the team have trouble responding to it. Others, such as Luke Walton, have been with Kobe for a little longer and understand what he's doing. Throughout this postseason, Walton was called out by Kobe on numerous occasions. What happened next? Walton began playing better and started helping the team more. That is just one of the many prime examples of how Bryant has led the Lakers.

The casual fans of the NBA wouldn't understand what his yelling and screaming at guys would do for the team. Nonetheless, as his teammates gain more experience and skill, they will begin to respond much better to what he says. On the flip side, Kobe is always the first to congratulate and praise his teammates for what they do right. He's the positive guy in the locker room, which is exactly what you want from your franchise player. Kobe is the best player in the NBA, bar none.

Case closed.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Can you hold this lead for me?

If you're the Los Angeles Lakers, you may have trouble fulfilling my request. Twice in a row, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have come out on fire in the first quarter only to see the lead disappear before their very own eyes. In Game 4, their inability to hold the biggest 1st quarter-lead in Finals history was the reason they lost and headed into last night's game down 3-1. In Game 5, the Lakers posted an astounding 39 points in the 1st period of play on a remarkable 65% shooting percentage from the field. Leading the attack for LA was the MVP, Kobe Bryant, with 15 first quarter-points which featured 4 three-pointers. All seemed well at the Staples Center.

However, watching the game, I had my doubts. Kobe was shooting lights-out, but that's just it. How long could he sustain this spectacular shooting? His rest at the start of the second quarter helped fuel a run made by the Celtics. He then re-entered the game with about nine minutes to go in the half. He was coming in cold though, which posed a major problem for the Lakers, in my opinion. Not surprisingly, Kobe struggled with his shot in the entire second quarter and the Celtics came within three points at the half. In fact, Paul Pierce, the star of this year's playoffs, had as many points in the second period as the entire Lakers team combined.

The third quarter of games has been dominated by the Boston Celtics in this series. The Lakers are always outplayed and outhustled for some reason. Game 5 saw a dramatic change. With roughly nine and a half minutes to play in the quarter, Kobe Bryant converted on an old-fashioned three-point play which was the start to a 14-5 run by the Lakers. They ended the third quarter on a 22-11 run. This game was different and after Kobe's crew responded, I knew the Celtics would not win.

The fourth and final quarter saw a flurry of scoring by both Pierce and Sam Cassell, who scored seven points in less than two minutes of game time. For LA, everyone was contributing, which was yet another sign that the Celtics would not be celebrating the series win just yet. At any rate, the game came down to free throws. Boston missed theirs; LA did just the opposite as the Lake Show took Game 5 with a 103-98 win.

Pierce had 38 points and 8 assists while battling foul trouble and was easily the most valuable player on the court for Boston. Kobe, after the hot start to the game, scored only ten points in the final 36 minutes of play, including a stretch of 15 minutes in which he was scoreless. Leon Powe, who replaced the injured Kendrick Perkins in the starting lineup, was a complete non-factor in the game scoring zero points in only five minutes of play. Kevin Garnett, who was in serious foul trouble for most of the first half, struggled with his scoring and was a paltry 1-for-4 from the charity stripe.

For the Lakers, Lamar Odom had his second good game in a row with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Pau Gasol also had a good game. Nevertheless, I'm still less than convinced about this guy. He's the biggest player on the floor most of the time, yet he plays so weak. I firmly believe that KG's being in foul trouble and Perkins's injury were the reasons he had a good game scoring-wise.

Looking ahead, Kobe Bryant needs to establish himself in the remaining games in a different way than he has. He either focuses too much on his penetration or too much on his shooting. He either concentrates too much on his facilitating of the team or his scoring. If the Lakers want to win the crown, they absolutely must have Kobe Bryant find a happy medium between these. He should first drive the lane which will open everything else up for his shooting. Bryant can't rely on one or the other all the time.

That being said, I would like to commend the Boston Celtics on being one of the finest defensive teams I've seen in the NBA. If not for the 65% shooting by LA in the first quarter, Boston easily keeps the Lakers under 90 points. They have been playing tougher defense than Kobe has seen in his entire playing career, which could be the main factor as to why he is struggling. I'll take the Celtics in six games. Los Angeles is too inconsistent.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Seven Best from the NBA's Marquee Rivalry

From the days of Russell and Cousy against Baylor and West to the fierce battles of Kareem and Magic versus Bird and McHale. So many great players and so much tradition shrouds this series with all of the hype. Quite frankly, I am sick of hearing this and that about the upcoming NBA Championship. So I decided that I will dig deep into the past, which is somewhat difficult to me considering I wasn't even alive in '87 when they met in the Finals last. Without any further adieu, I give you the five best players to ever play in the NBA's best rivalry...

7. John Havlicek- He was a Celtic for life and now has his number hanging in the rafters. "Hondo" was a 13-time All-Star, who was ranked #15 on SLAM's Top NBA Players of All Time list. He was also a very clutch player that battled toe-to-toe with Jerry West. Havlicek had the luxury of playing in five Lakers/Celtics finals throughout his career.
Career Stats: 20.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 43% FG, 78% FT

6. Wilt Chamberlain- Some would wonder why he is down so low but you can't forget that his entire career was not spent in Los Angeles. By the time he played for the Lakers, his scoring ability had dropped off tremendously yet remained a dominant rebounder. Wilt the Stilt played in only one Lakers/Celtics finals, which took place in 1969 in an epic showdown between the Cinderella Celtics (they were a 4-seed that year) and the dominant Lakers.
Stats w/ LA (5 seasons): 19.3 ppg, 19.1 rpg, 4.3 apg, 62% FG, 47% FT (blocks were not recorded)

5. Jerry West- Mr. Clutch played against Boston in six NBA Finals appearances yet walked away without a ring. He was, however, named the Finals MVP in '69 despite the losing effort put forth by the Lakers. West was a prolific scorer with a very solid all-around game back then. He was a 13-time All-Star and a 10-time All-NBA First-Teamer.
Career Stats: 27.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 6.7 apg, 47% FG, 81% FT (no 3-point line)

4. Bill Russell- One of the greatest defenders in NBA history and was an 11-time NBA Champion, winning seven titles by defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He is a 12-time All-Star and a 5-time NBA MVP award winner. He is widely considered a top ten player to ever play the game, yet he is #4 on this storied and legendary list of players.
Career Stats: 15.1 ppg, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 44% FG, 56% FT (blocks were not recorded)

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar- He is widely considered one of the best big men of all-time and a top 10 player ever. Kareem also invented the Skyhook, his signature move that no defender could get a piece of. He was a 6-time NBA MVP award winner and a 2-time NBA Finals MVP. Abdul-Jabbar was also a symbol of longevity because he played into his early forties which is remarkable for a big man. Nonetheless, it was tough to give him a nod over the top two players on this list that gave the rivalry its credibility.
Career Stats: 24.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 56% FG, 72% FT, 2.6 bpg

2. Larry Bird- Larry Legend, as some call him, was one half of the NBA's greatest individual rivalry that was ever established. He catapulted the Lakers and Celtics to new heights. Without him, all the nostalgia going around right now and this blog itself would not even exist. He was one of the best shooters ever and could rebound and pass pretty well, too. Bird was also clutch with his performances. He stepped up when it mattered most. All of these reasons culminated into his beating out Kareem for the #2 spot on my list.
Career Stats: 24.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 6.3 apg, 50% FG, 38% 3P, 1.7 spg

1. Magic Johnson- Did you really expect it to be anyone else? The leader of the Showtime Lakers and the most exciting player in the game at the time falls on my list at #1. If you couldn't tell, he is the other half of that fantastic individual rivalry I mentioned earlier. Every single time Magic stepped on the floor, he created a mismatch. He was a point guard in a big man's body which allowed him to, basically, do whatever he wanted out on the court. Johnson was the definition a human highlight reel.
Career Stats: 19.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 11.2 apg, 52% FG, 30% 3P, 1.9 spg

Honorable Mention (in no order): Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy.

There it is. The seven greatest players to ever appear in the best NBA rivalry. Most of us can only hope that Kobe, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce will be competing for those same spots in five years. The Celtics are up 1-0 and, in my opinion, this next game is a must-win for the Lakers. They positively need to split a game in Boston if they want any chance at salvaging this series.

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Poll Results: 66% of voters believe the Phoenix Suns are in more trouble than the Dallas Mavericks.