Welcome, Dr. Emmert: Please Don’t Mess Up…

Posted by rtmsf on August 18th, 2010

Yesterday on Seattle radio station KJR, NCAA president-elect Mark Emmert gave an interview with host Mitch Levy where he discussed his thoughts on some of the hot-button topics impacting collegiate sports.  Dr. Emmert, who will assume his post on November 1 of this year, is currently the president of the University of Washington and the former Fulbright winner is widely recognized as one of the savviest up-and-comers in the world of academic administration.  His rise up the ranks from an assistant professor (Northern Illinois) to Vice-Chancellor (Colorado) to Provost (Montana State) to Chancellor (UConn and LSU) to President at UW is impressive on its face, and his skill at political maneuvering and fund-raising should be obvious.  The concern we have, however, in all situations where administrators move from an academic to an athletic environment is whether such a transition will be seamless — in other words, will that person “get it?”  The danger in the application of ivory tower customs and norms to the world of athletics is that you can find yourself in troublesome spots if you haven’t gauged the environment correctly, such as when Emmert badly overreached in asking for public funding for a new Husky Stadium in the midst of a massive nationwide recession.  While that example represents a single misstep in a career full of home runs, it gives us pause when taken in concert with the following quote he made on the KJR radio broadcast.  In discussing the much-maligned one-and-done rule in college basketball, Emmert said:

I much prefer the baseball model, for example, that allows a young person if they want to go play professional baseball, they can do it right out of high school, but once they start college they’ve got to play for three years or until they’re 21.  I like that a good deal.  But what you have to also recognize is that rule isn’t an NCAA rule.  That’s a rule of the NBA. And it’s not the NBA itself, but the NBA Players Association. So to change that rule will require me and others working with the NBA, working with the players association.  We’ll be having those conversations, because I think it would be good for young people and good for basketball.

Emmert Seems a Smart Fellow, But the MLB Model is a Mistake

Before we get to our argument against this idea, let’s briefly touch on the reality of this proposition.  You hear this frequently stated among coaches, fans and pundits, but what all of these folks fail to recognize is that the NBA wants nothing to do with this on either the management or the players’ side.  Commissioner David Stern and his owners do not want untested teenagers who are virtually complete unknowns coming into their league because they are unmarketable, while players do not want untested teenagers who are virtually complete unknowns coming into their league because they take away veterans’ jobs.  The NCAA acts as a veritable minor league for the NBA, providing a competitive environment to fully vet and scout players for at least a year before some 80-year old owner throws sixteen million dollars and the viable future of a franchise at them.  Think of it this way — were Washington Wizards fans more excited about #1 pick Kwame Brown (who nobody outside of rural Georgia had ever seen play) or #1 pick John Wall (who was on national television about 4,000 times last year)?  As a point of fact, the NBA powers-that-be seem more interested in extending the one-and-done rule by another year than rolling it back in any way.  And why not? — it’s better for business.

Now, as to Emmert’s proposal itself, we’re going to explain why this is not a preferred option without regard for what the NBA wants or will agree to.  The remainder of this post represents pure advocacy for the college game and the college game only.  We see three compelling reasons that the NCAA should not bother to explore this MLB model possibility, as tempting as it sounds to an educator/administrator such as Emmert.

What Say You, UK Fans? One Year of Wall or None of McGrady?

  1. The NCAA Needs Marketable Stars Nearly as Much as the NBA Does.  This is the dirty little secret of college basketball in the 21st century.  The hardcore fans of the elite programs at Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, et al, aren’t going anywhere.  These folks would watch their teams play if they suited up four skinny 12-year olds and a rented donkey.  But the casual fan won’t.  The casual fan wants to see star power, and he wants to learn who the next big basketball talents will be through the crucible of the best postseason in all of sports, the NCAA Tournament.  When players like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, John Wall and many others are on college campuses building considerable buzz throughout the season and heading into March, this collective must-see component to the game takes on a much different meaning than when the player names are instead Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Adam Morrison and Tayshaun Prince.  All great collegians, but do you see the difference?   Who does Mr. Office Drone/Bracketeer tune in to watch more readily?  Furthermore, CBS/Turner Sports just signed a fourteen-year, $10.8B deal to broadcast the rights to the NCAA Tournament, in case you’d already forgotten, and there will be none-too-subtle pressure on the puppet-masters of the sport to ensure that the best possible product is placed on the floor.  For the maximum amount of interest to take hold, that product without question must include the top 18- and 19-year old basketball players in the world. 
  2. When High School Seniors Make Their Decisions, Coaches Bear the Brunt of It.  We talked about this back in June, and nothing has changed in the interim.  We saw what happened to recruiting from 1995-2005 when coaches had to compete not only against rival schools for the talents of a player, but also the siren call of the NBA.  Whether it was Kentucky and Tracy McGrady, Florida and Kwame Brown, Duke and Shaun Livingston, or North Carolina and JR Smith, the fans and (more directly) coaches of those programs where agonizingly forced to endure a late spring phone call to learn that, after many hours spent recruiting the player to their campuses, it was all for naught.  And those were the elite players!  Imagine the situations where the player was fully expected to go to college but still was lured away — Jackie Butler (Mississippi State), Ndubi Ebi (Arizona) and Louis Williams (Georgia) all come to mind.  How does a coach go about finding a suitable replacement for a star recruit so late into the signing period?  Short answer:  he can’t.  We certainly understand that it’s frustrating to a lot of people (coaches included) to have to lose a star player as a one-and-done, but to have spent the same amount of time recruiting him and not receive even a single season of his talents is far worse, isn’t it?  That’s what would happen if the MLB model were implemented — recruiting would once again become a two-phase process.   
  3. For Better or Worse, NCAA Basketball is the NBA’s Minor League.  It’s not the NBDL (although it has found a nice niche as a training ground for older players), and it’s not Europe (similarly).  Rather, college basketball remains the NBA’s minor league, and where the MLB example fails is that college baseball is not.  Each professional baseball franchise has several levels of minor league teams beneath it by which to develop its prospects, whether they come directly from high school or after three seasons of college.  This is a HUGE difference.  The reason is that, as Mark Stein notes in this article, the vast majority of prep-to-pros players during that ten-year period were nowhere near ready to impact the professional game on a regular basis, and there remains no true professional minor league in basketball available by which to develop them.  NCAA hoops is it.   The list of players who came right into the NBA and contributed immediately is much shorter (Dwight Howard, LeBron James) than the list of those who took a few years to develop (nearly everyone else, including superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Amare’ Stoudemire).  If Mark Emmert is worried about the players (and his quote above seems to imply that he is), then he needs to push for an environment that will foster player development for the next level, in much the same way as he would inspire any student with soaring dreams.  This tact dovetails nicely with what we described above that college basketball should be selling — Watch the greatest sporting spectacle on earth — the NCAA Tournament — where the stars of tomorrow are on stage today. 

We obviously recognize that there are no easy answers here.  Any model implemented will have someone complaining.  But beginning in November, it will be the obligation of Emmert to push the game of college basketball forward in popularity and interest.  After all, NCAA Tournament dollars fund nearly the entire operation there in Indianapolis.  The way to do this is not to push college hoops down a path that makes it even more like college baseball, a sport that nobody cares about in large part because there is no direct connection between those players and the pros; but instead,  Emmert should work with the NBA to pursue a model more like college football, an incredibly popular sport where everyone knows that today’s Heisman Trophy candidates are tomorrow’s NFL all-Pros. 

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The Meteoric Rise Of Anthony Davis

Posted by nvr1983 on July 20th, 2010

For most of his high school career, Michael Gilchrist (a recent Kentucky verbal commit), has been the top-rated player in his class. Now it looks like the talented small foward might be losing his place atop those rankings through no fault of his own. Instead, the reason for his drop is the spectacular play of Anthony Davis over the past few weeks, which has prompted many analysts to anoint the 6’10” power forward out of the “Mean Streets” of Chicago (that’s actually his AAU team’s name) as the new #1 player in the rising senior class. Davis has been rising up the charts so rapidly that even in-state schools like Illinois have only began to pay particular attention to him in the past few months. An ESPN Chicago writer took a look at the rise of Davis back in May while he was rocketing up the class rankings, but was still not receiving “#1 in the class” praise. Currently, the only listed “schools of interest” are SyracuseOhio State, and Kentucky although there are reports that UNC is reportedly interested in Davis (and which school wouldn’t be?). However it appears that the Tar Heels sit in 4th position at the moment while the Davis family analyzes UNC’s current situation.

Credit: David Dixon/Natural Talent Scouting

Where will Davis land?

All of this begs the question as to how someone as talented as Davis could go relatively unnoticed in the over-saturated recruiting landscape. The only comparison player we could think of who rocketed up this quickly this late was Tracy McGrady who went from a relative unknown coming into the summer before his senior year to the top recruit in his class by the time he graduated a little over a decade ago, but that was pre-YouTube and even pre-Google (yes, there was a world before Google). Part of the reason that Davis has shot up the rankings is because of a ridiculous growth spurt during his sophomore and junior years (6-7 inches in 18 months according to Evan Daniels). Still some Illinois recruiting gurus [Ed. Note: We are imagining a Hoop Dreams-like TV segment here.] only had him as the #9 player in the state of Illinois after the high school season ended just a few months ago. There has been some speculation amongst Illinois high school basketball fans that Davis may have been ranked so low coming into the summer because he played in a weak Chicago Public League division that most of the recruiting gurus paid little attention to and until this summer he had skipped the AAU summer circuit. All of this seems perfectly reasonable although somewhat surprising so we are left to wonder just how good Davis actually is. For that we turned to Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports and Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog, who have seen Davis in person and spoken with Davis and people close to him.

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Time to Bet Heavily Against FIU

Posted by nvr1983 on April 14th, 2009

According to Jeff Goodman at Fox Sports, Isiah Thomas has accepted an offer from Florida International University to become their head coach. We briefly discussed the situation yesterday, but now that it’s all but official it is probably a good time to review Isiah’s prior experience. As a basketball player, there is no question that he was an all-time great. As a basketball executive/coach? Not so much.

isiahthomas

Here is a quick recap of his prior stints in a managerial role:

  • Toronto Raptors (1994-1998): Serving as the GM and part-owner, he started by taking B.J. Armstrong with the #1 pick in the 1995 expansion draft. While Armstrong isn’t what you would consider #1 pick material, when you look at the other luminaries that were available it was probably a pretty good pick (at the very least he could show the young guys all the three championship rings Michael Jordan won for him that he won). Unfortunately, Armstrong refused to report to the team and was promptly traded. Even though the team was 67-179, Isiah did exhibit some draft acumen by taking Damon Stoudamire (turning the #7 pick into the Rookie of the Year), Marcus Camby (the #2 pick who might have won Rookie of the Year that year if it wasn’t for some guy named Allen Iverson), and Tracy McGrady (with #9 pick out of high school just 2 years after Isiah’s hilarious plan for Kevin Garnett). Sadly, this was probably the high point of Isiah’s managerial career.
  • NBC (1998): Briefly worked with Bob Costas and Doug Collins. Not particularly memorable, but it worked out better than his last appearance on NBC (see below).

  • CBA (1999-2000): Purchased the league for $10 million on October 7, 1999 and turned down an offer from the NBA to purchase it for $11 million and a percentage of the profits, which according to some sources would have been a $2 million profit (or a 20% ROI) in March 2000. Isiah then promptly proceeded to show everyone what a shrewd businessman he was for turning down the 20% ROI in 5 months by running the league into bankruptcy. [Ed. Note: The fact that the CBA Museum has a page for Isiah Thomas is amazing. Isn't that kind of like a Jewish charity museum starting an exhibit on Bernie Madoff?] Sadly, this was not the low point of Isiah’s managerial career.
  • Indiana Pacers (2000-2003): Took over a team that Larry Bird had coached to the Eastern Conference finals and decided to change directions with a youth movement by playing Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, and Al Harrington more minutes. Even though he had a respectable 131-115 regular season record, his stint is largely considered a failure as his team’s lost in the first round in each of his 3 seasons as a coach. Heading into Isiah’s 4th year, Larry Bird came back as President of Basketball Operations. At his press conference, Bird assured the media that he would work with Isiah. He promptly fired Thomas and replaced him with Rick Carlisle. [Lesson: Don't mess with the Basketball Jesus.]
  • New York Knicks (2003-2008): I don’t know what can be said that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just refer you to Jeff Coplon’s article that says everything in its title “Absolutely, Positively the Worst Team in the History of Professional Sports”. Quick Cliff Notes style summary: Threw away two 1st round picks for Eddy Curry. Fired Larry Brown (his best move) and made himself coach (his worst move–on the court). Ordered his team to commit a hard foul against the Denver Nuggets resulting in a brawl. Despite having the highest paid team in the league and the pipe dream of landing LeBron James he continued to blow money/cap space on over-priced/under-performing players. “Reassigned” and forbidden to have any contact with the Knicks’ players. Charged in a sexual harassment lawsuit that led Madison Square Garden to pay $11.6 million to his accuser and offended multiple sponsors. Reportedly overdosed on Lunesta and was taken to the hospital, but afterwards tried to throw the entire thing on his 17 year-old daughter.

So, um yeah, good luck with that FIU.

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Adidas Plays “What If. . .”

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2009

Adidas has just released a new series of commercials featuring several prep-to-pro stars pretending that they went to various schools.The ads themselves are fairly interesting, but I would be more interested in your thoughts on where these guys (and other prep-to-pros) would have actually gone and what impact they would have had on those programs. Would they have led their schools to multiple championships or would they fail to live up to expectations? Would Tracy McGrady win a round in the NCAA tournament? I know that CNNSI used to do a feature like this making an imaginary NCAA tournament, but I can’t find the link right now.

First, here are the commercials:




Personally I would have liked the videos to feature the guys either doing a big press conference where they announce which school they will be going to or some sort of dream sequence where Dwight Howard is dominating some mediocre college center (Brian Zoubek?).

After the jump we have a list of prep-to-pros since 1995. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on where they would have gone and what impact they would have had. Leave you thoughts in the comment section and your reasoning for the argument.
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2008 NBA Draft Live Blog

Posted by nvr1983 on June 26th, 2008

Well this is sort of unplanned, but rtmsf asked me to do this and I’ve got nothing else to do tonight so I figured I would throw up a live blog of the events.

7:30 PM: Everybody’s favorite commissioner/megalomanic David Stern walks to the stage. Pretty weak response from the crowd. Minimal booing and almost no response to a mention of the WNBA. I think Isiah and Dolan have broken the New York fans.

7:38 PM: Stern announces the Bulls’ selection of Derrick Rose. Kind of anti-climatic, but surprising how quickly the consensus swung from Michael Beasley to Rose in such a short time without anything really big coming out (other than Beasley being shorter than advertised, but the decision was already made at that point).

7:40 PM: ESPN shows some highlights of Rose winning the state championship game 31-29 in OT. Yes, 31-29. I guess the lack of offense in the Big 10 goes all the way down to the high school level.

7:42 PM: Stern comes to the podium with the Miami Heat’s pick. . .Michael Beasley. For all the talk about going with O.J. Mayo I always thought this was a no brainer. I mean they could have dropped down to the #5 pick, but I don’t buy the whole Rudy Gay + #5 for #2 trade. There’s no way Memphis would have done that. Does Pat Riley think Chris Wallace is an idiot? Oh wait. . .

7:45 PM: The interviews have been pretty tame so far. Beasley could have at least pulled the dead rat “joke” on Stephen A. Smith. The Stephen A. Smith guys better have something good planned for the draft because this is pretty weak so far.

7:48 PM: Minnesota is up. Time for Kevin McHale to shine. And the pick is. . . O.J. Mayo! Why do I have flashbacks to KG and Stephon Marbury. Stu Scott fills us in on O.J.’s full name. Thanks for that since we haven’t seen it in every single article written about him (except on RTC). At least O.J.’s time in Hollywood got him prepared for the bright lights of Minnesota. Wait, Minnesota?

7:50 PM: If you’re reading this after the draft and wondering why the writing sucks, blame it on the stupid 5 minutes between picks. There’s no way Bill Simmons live blogs this stuff. It’s impossible. He has to take 3-4 hours after the draft to put something together.

7:53 PM: Wow. Six picks for Seattle. Stu Scott with the quick math (6/60 = 1/10th). I’m not sure why they didn’t do some kind of big package to try and get some help for Kevin Durant.

7:54 PM: Stern with the pick. . .Russell Westbrook! Our first surprise of the night. I had heard Westbrook might be top 5, but never really believed it. The guy’s athletic, but I just don’t see how he’s considered the 4th best prospect in this draft. If you’re just going on athleticism, I’d take Eric Gordon over Westbrook. As for his “great” defense, I don’t remember it against Memphis and Rose. Plus I don’t buy Westbrook as a NBA point guard.

7:58 PM: Commercial break. Weak start to the draft so far. At least we have the comedy of the booing of the Knicks draft pick to look forward to in 2 picks.

8:00 PM: Bilas is pushing for Memphis to take Kevin Love. Stern with the announcement. And it’s Kevin Love. Nice call by Bilas even if Love basically gave it away on PTI earlier this week. I’m pretty sure the first time that anybody has ever had the Color Me Badd facial hair in Memphis.

8:03 PM: Pretty routine breakdown of Love. Good court sense/knowledge of the game, passes well, good range, and can’t run the court. Can we have someone disagree with a pick? I just want to see the player’s reaction (not to mention what their mom will do).

8:05 PM: Waiting for the Love family interview to finish so I can see the Knicks screw up their pick. This is the highlight of the night. . .

8:07 PM: Stern walking to the podium with the Knicks pick. . .(dramatic pause). . .Danilo Gallinari. BOOOOOOOOOOOO! Sorry. Just had to join in the fun. I don’t really buy Gallinari, but hey the YouTube video looks decent and that worked out well for guys like Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry worked out great, right? (Yes, I know that was before YouTube).

8:08 PM: Fran Fraschilla offers the most important piece of news of the night (for those of us who read Deadspin or The Big Lead). “Gallo” is apparently the Italian word for “rooster”. If you’ve read the posts on either site yesterday, you’ll know what that’s important.

8:12 PM:  The Clippers select Eric Gordon. I feel bad for the guy. He goes from the most dysfunctional program in the country to the worst franchise in pro sports. Love the guy’s game, but he’s just too inconsistent at times. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

8:15 PM: Our first horrible suit of the night. Gordon with the combination of white coat and navy blue pants. Not quite Karl Malone level, but you would figure his high school agent could have gotten him something nice.

8:18 PM: Joe Alexander to Milwaukee. At least it won’t be much of a culture shock going from Morgantown to Milwaukee although Joe won’t be seeing as many burning couches.

8:23 PM: MJ and Larry Brown are on the clock. It seems like Brook Lopez is the choice here. The Bobcats certainly have enough college talent on that team being veterans of the lottery process (tip of the hat to the legend Elgin Baylor).

8:24 PM: Jay Bilas and Mark Jackson agree with me.

8:25 PM: But apparently MJ and Larry do not. The Bobcats take D.J. Augustin. Looks like Raymond Felton is going to have some competition. This seems like a good pick for a trade.

8:27 PM: I still don’t get it. Of course, MJ was also the mastermind behind the Kwame Brown selection so maybe I shouldn’t.

8:28 PM: So it looks like Brook Lopez here to New Jersey. They can’t take Jerryd Bayless since they already have Devin Harris. This will be an interesting pick since they just traded away Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.

8:30 PM: Brook Lopez at #10 to New Jersey. Solid pick especially this far down. I’m surprised that he fell down this far. A 7-footer with a mean streak and solid fundamentals. Usually guys like this go too high and typically don’t slip. Not sure what is going on.

8:33 PM: Wow. Looks like our first classic draft moment of 2008. Apparently Jeff Spicoli dressed up as a 7-foot tall guy who went to Stanford. I wish I had been there for Brook’s Stanford interview. What? You mean he didn’t go through the regular admissions process?

8:35 PM: Bayless at #11. I like Bayless at #11, but does Indiana need another guard? Jamaal Tinsley, T.J. Ford, and Bayless. Looks like Tinsley and his gun collection are moving out of Indiana.

8:42 PM: Sacramento takes Jason Thompson. Our first real surprise pick of the draft. I’m actually ashamed to say I have never seen this guy play. Bilas says he’s pretty good so I guess I’ll have to go with that.

8:46 PM: Portland at #13. . .Brandon Rush. Interesting pick. He’ll probably fit in well with this team. He isn’t a star, but they have enough young talent that they don’t need him to be more than a solid role player. He’ll probably back-up Brandon Roy for the next couple of years.

8:50 PM: Golden State is on the clock. This is the part of the draft where teams have a lot of choices. Let’s see what the Warriors do.

8:51 PM: Stern with the pick: Anthony Randolph. 3rd team All-SEC member. Even the LSU blogger doesn’t believe in him. Not sure what else I have to say about this pick.

8:54 PM: Dick Vitale ripping the international. Comparing Gallinari to Darko Milicic. Ouch. Not a surprise since Dickie V loves all things college (as do we, but we don’t rip on the other stuff).

8:56 PM: Phoenix takes Robin Lopez at #15. I’ll admit it. I’m hitting the wall here so I’m probably only going to make it through the first round. I actually like this pick. Robin isn’t an offense force, but is a pretty good defender, which Phoenix is lacking.

9:03 PM: With the 16th pick, Philadelphia selects Maureese Speights. Seems like a talented player. It will be interesting to see how he works with Samuel Dalembert. Wow. Stuart Scott just compared FG% in college to FG% in the NBA as if it’s the same thing. I don’t even know what to say to that.

9:08 PM: Toronto selects Roy Hibbert at #17 for Indiana (part of the Jermaine O’Neal trade). This makes sense. Hibbert will “replace” O’Neal. It’s too bad that Hibbert fell this far. He would have been a top 10 pick last year. He didn’t get injured or play poorly, but because he never exploded like NBA scouts hoped he would he fell far enough down that it probably cost him a few million dollars.

9:12 PM: JaVale McGee at #18 to Washington. Looks like Lebron has another guy to dunk on.

9:15 PM: Pretty interesting trade. Indiana gets Jarrett Jack and Brandon Rush for Ike Diogu and Jerryd Bayless to Portland. Bayless and Roy make a really scary potential backcourt dishing the ball off to Greg Oden and company.

9:19 PM: Cleveland is on the clock. This pick is big for Danny Ferry because it might go a long way to keeping Lebron in Cleveland and out of Brooklyn. Darrell Arthur is still sitting in the Green Room. . .

9:21 PM: The Lebrons select J.J. Hickson and Darrell remains seated.

9:26 PM: Charlotte’s on the clock at #20 and take Alexis Ajinca. I’ll turn to Stuart Scott here, “Who is this guy?”

9:28 PM: Wow. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time the economy ever was mentioned in the NBA Draft. Fran informs us that the fall in the dollar’s value will affect Ajinca’s decision whether to stay in Europe. (Side note: Josh McRoberts is part of the Portland-Indiana deal. He’s not worth his own post.)

9:33 PM: The Nets go with Ryan Anderson at #21. Darrell is still sitting. . .

9:38 PM: Looks like Orlando goes with another guard by taking Courtney Lee. I loved Jeff Van Gundy’s analysis. Basically, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis are the only two guys he likes on the team–a team that’s coached by his brother. More importantly, what does this do to everybody’s favorite Zima drinker, J.J. Redick?

9:42 PM: Utah takes Kosta Koufos. It will be interesting to see how Koufos fits in with Utah’s bigs (Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap). He’s a skilled big guy who was really hyped coming in, but was too inconsistent to stay in the top 10. Playing for Jerry Sloan will either toughen him up or turn him into AK-47 (and cry during the playoffs).

9:49 PM: Seattle takes Serge Ibaka. Fraschilla says he’s good and he’ll be here in 3-4 years. Yeah. . .

9:50 PM: Doris Burke interviewing Darrell Arthur. Pretty tame interview. No tears. Not much to say.

9:55 PM: Houston takes Nicolas Batum. Fraschilla compares him to Rudy Gay, which I guess is good. Fran also says he needs to work on his ball-handling and he’s only 20 years old. Since when do people learn how to dribble after they turn 20?

9:58 PM: Ric Bucher announces that Darrell Arthur has a kidney problem, which he says explains why Arthur hasn’t been selected. Sounds like a HIPAA violation somewhere along the line.

10:00 PM: George Hill from IUPUI? Well apparently he plays great defense and has 3% body fat (thanks for that Stuart).

10:08 PM: New Orleans Portland ends the madness and takes Darrell Arthur. Nice moment as the New York fans clap. Nice pickup here. He should be able to come in and spell the big guys for a few minutes here and there immediately.

10:15 PM: Memphis selects Donte Greene. Seems like he’ll be playing behind Rudy Gay for a while. Well at least they got something for giving away Pau Gasol.

10:22 PM: Detroit selects D.J. White. Nice pickup at this position. Productive player who should be a solid guy off the bench for stretches.

10:31 PM: Mercifully, Boston with the last pick of the first round. J.R. Giddens. Wow. What a long ride it’s been for that guy. The former big-time recruit at Kansas who transferred to New Mexico.

Well it’s been a long first round. We’ll be back tomorrow with a more in-depth (and hopefully shorter) analysis.

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NBA Finals Preview 2008

Posted by nvr1983 on June 5th, 2008

Well it’s the series everybody has been waiting for (ok, not rtmsf). I’ll try to limit my bias in this preview although all of my friends are well aware of the extent of my taunting. Honestly, they’re just happy there isn’t a potential Triple Crown (and eternal bragging rights) at stake here. Anyways, on to what might be the most hyped NBA Finals since 1991 when Michael Jordan formally took the throne away from Magic Johnson (and Larry Bird).

By now, you may have heard that the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have a little bit of basketball history. Boston comes in sporting an amazing 16-3 record in NBA Finals, but no appearances since 1987 andno titles since 1986 (following that title they selected a forward out of Maryland named Len Bias). Meanwhile, LA comes in with a 9-13 record, but had a 3-peat from 2000-2002 and appeared in the 2004 Finals. However, as Rick Pitino said during his ignominious stint in Boston:

Despite all the hype ESPN has given (wonder who has broadcast rights) to the history of this rivalry–think hammer versus nail (sorry, I can’t help myself)–none of the players that led the franchises to their numerous titles will be walking through that door except for some guy named Kobe Bryant. So instead of focusing on the glorious past of this match-up, I’ll focus on the present and this season.

Head-to-head: Boston 2-0. The Celtics won a November matchup in Boston 107-94 and a December matchup in Los Angeles 110-91. As every talking head on TV has mentioned, Pau Gasol didn’t play in either game (before Chris Wallace and the Memphis Grizzlies gave the Lakers the Western Conference). I could go into a detailed analysis of what happened, but I’ll just give you the link to Henry Abbott’s excellent analysis of the earlier games.

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fischer. It seems like this match-up hasn’t been getting much press, but I think it could be the most pivotal of the series. This is definitely a young gun versus experience veteran type of match-up as Rondo is much more athletic than Fischer, but is more prone to making silly mistakes. Along with experience, Fischer has a big edge on Rondo in terms of shooting. With all the helpside defense that Kobe demands, Fischer will likely get a lot of shots. Advantage: Fischer. This match-up is closer than you might think because of Rondo’s athleticism and his surprising maturity. Unfortunately for Boston, Rondo is too inconsistent to give Boston the advantage at PG, but if he plays well he should be able to equal Fischer.

Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Somehow this turned into a rivalry soon after Shaq left LA and Ray Allen told the media that Kobe would go to to Mitch Kupchak in a few years and demand a trade (a few years later. . .). Later, Kobe said that he and Jesus Shuttlesworth shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence. Now, the two All-Stars are saying that there never really was a feud. Why do I bring this up? Well because even though these two play the same position, I can’t see them guarding each other much. LA might put Kobe on Allen particularly if he goes into another one of his funks, but Kobe roams too much and that’s a very bad idea against Allen even if he hasn’t been performing up to his standard. As for Allen guarding Kobe, even Doc Rivers isn’t that dumb. Kobe will see a steady diet of James Posey and occasionally Paul Pierce although Ray Allen will probably play some matador defense against him early in the game as Kobe will probably defer to his teammates early as he notes “I can get off any time I want” (insert Colorado hotel room joke here). Advantage: Kobe. This one isn’t even close. Allen has sort of become a wild card for the Celtics. Even when he’s on this position goes to Kobe and the Lakers, but if Allen can hit from the outside he can keep Boston in the series.

Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. This might be the biggest mismatch of the series (not including the coaches). If they match up head-to-head, Pierce will dominate Vlad. As Shaq once said, “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.” An Inglewood native, Pierce grew up idolizing Magic and the Showtime Lakers, but during his time in green, he has torched the Lakers for a career average of 27.9 PPG (his most against any team). My guess is that Kobe will be guarding Pierce in crunchtime. The rest of the time Vlad will try to stay in front of him. The key for LA is for Vlad to hit his 3s, which usually energizes the Hollywood crowd (if it’s after the 6 minute mark in the 2nd quarter when the crowd shows up) and will make Pierce or whoever is guarding him work. Advantage: Pierce. Big edge although this might turn into a Kobe vs. Pierce match-up, which Kobe would still win.

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Lamar Odom. This is the most interesting match-up of the series. Although Pierce is Boston’s go-to guy, KG is the heart-and-soul of the team. Usually he is able to dominate at the 4 because he is much more versatile than the opposing player. However, Odom’s unique skill set could theoretically pose a problem for KG especially with the amount of help defense he will have to play with Kobe and Gasol. Odom has the type of game that could limit KG’s ability to roam, but Odom is so inconsistent that it may not matter. Advantage: Garnett. If you look at the match-up on paper based on skills, it would be pretty close other than defense, which Odom doesn’t seem to care about most of the time. However, KG’s consistency and effort wins out over Odom’s tendency to space out (insert bong joke here).

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Pau Gasol. The Boston fans will really hate Chris Wallace by the time this series is over. Not only did he kill a few years of Paul Pierce’s prime by trading Joe Johnson for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk (some blame falls on Paul Gaston, the Celtics owner at the time, who refused to resign either player), but he also gave the Lakers Gasol, who poses a tough match-up for Perkins. One of the 3 straight-to-pro starters this series (you probably know the other two) Perkins has grown a lot this year. Playing alongside KG has certainly helped during games, but perhaps more importantly off the court in practice and it shows in his improved performance. Unfortunately for Kendrick, Gasol is basically the worst match-up he could have. While Perkins is a hard-nosed defender with good strength, he isn’t particularly agile and the Lakers pick-and-roll with Kobe and Gasol could give Celtics fans nightmares over the next 2 weeks. Gasol will probably dominate this match-up unless Perkins can somehow turn this into a physical match-up. To limit the Lakers advantage, Perkins will have to try and dominate the glass as the Lakers don’t really have a great rebounder (Gasol can put up numbers, but isn’t going to get physical) while the Celtics have two (Perkins and Garnett). Advantage: Gasol. The Lakers have a clear advantage here as Gasol is one of the best centers in the league, but it’s closer than most people think. Perkins has had some big games in the playoffs and will need to do so in this series if the Celtics are to win #17.

Bench: James Posey, P.J. Brown, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, & Sam Cassell vs. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmer, Ronny Turiaf, & Trevor Ariza. The Celtics will probably use Posey quite a bit on Kobe and Brown on Gasol as neither of the Celtic starters appear to match up particularly well. If Posey can focus on staying in front of Kobe and knock down 3s on kickouts, he could become an important facto in the series. Outside of Posey, Brown and House are the most likely to play key roles in this series. Brown primarily for his interior presence against Gasol and House to spot up for 3s assuming Doc notices Cassell couldn’t cut it in a YMCA league. Powe and Big Baby could also contribute in spots, but I have a feeling that Doc will yank around their minutes too much to give either a chance to contribute for more than a game or two. If Doc is smart, Allen and Cassell won’t take off their warm-ups as neither of them has contributed much this season. Meanwhile, the Lakers have a very strong bench. I’m pretty sure Walton would start on most teams in the league. He’s one of the rare players who can come into the game and make an immediate impact, which I attribute to Luke being one of the few players in the NBA who plays with his head instead of his body. Vujacic and Farmer have also proven to be valuable and will spell Fischer when Rondo starts to wear him out. Both of them can hit 3s, which will make them valuable when Kobe decides to drive. As for Turiaf, he’s not a great player, but he’s the only legit thing the Lakers have as a 4/5 backup. Advantage: Lakers. This may be the difference in the series even if Doc doesn’t screw up the rotations like he usually does.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers. The Zen Master with 9 rings as a coach (tied with Red Auerbach) and 11 rings overall (tied with Bill Russell) versus the least stable rotation in basketball history. Advantage: Jackson. This is probably the biggest mismatch in Finals history. Even Ubuntu can’t save Doc in this one and it might cost the Celtics a shot at the title.

Prediction: Lakers in 6. If the Celtics play to their potential (that means you Ray), I think they can win, but he’s just been so inconsistent and the Lakers have been so dominant (in a better conference) that I just can’t pick them to win as much as it kills me if you haven’t caught my bias in the preview. I think LA and Boston will split the opening 2 games and Boston will come back to win 1 of 3 in LA before Kobe takes over in Game 6 and puts the Celtics away.

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NBA Playoffs – JV Conference Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2008

It seems like the general consensus among NBA analysts is that this will be Boston vs. Detroit in the conference finals unless Lebron goes off for an entire series. I’m hoping to provide a little more insight than that with a preview of each opening round series and brief predictions of what I think will happen for the rest of the conference playoffs. I won’t expound upon the later rounds in great detail as I’ll probably mess up my first round picks making the subsequent previews meaningless.

First Round
#1 Boston vs. #8 Atlanta: This series looks like the biggest mismatch in the 1st round. Boston won all 3 games this year including the last when they sat the starters for the 4th quarter and still managed to win handily despite the fact that Atlanta actually needed the game to help get them into the playoffs. I don’t think there is any question that Boston will win the series easily. The only question I have seen by any analysts will be whether the Hawks will manage to win a game (most analysts don’t think they will). The more interesting thing is the individual match-ups:

PG: Rajon Rondo vs. Mike Bibby: This will be our first good look at Rondo against a quality PG in a playoff series. While Bibby isn’t the same player he was back around 2000 when he was the only Sacramento King who would take (and hit) big shots against the Lakers. It seemed like Bibby was ready to become a star at that point, but he never did. Rondo should have his hands full in this match-up individually, but the Celtics overall advantage is so great that it should actually serve as a great introduction to the playoffs for Rondo. If he struggles, the Celtics should be able to overcome it that night and if necessary they can always rely on Sam Cassell for short periods of time.

SG: Ray Allen vs. Joe Johnson: This match-upprobably has the most star power with 2 All-Stars battling. Johnson, who started his career in Boston before being traded during his rookie season, could give Allen a hard time throughout this series. If Atlanta is going to win a game, Johnson will have to dominate Allen for a night (along with Bibby winning his match-up against Rondo/Cassell).

SF: Paul Pierce vs. Josh Smith: Pierce is certainly the better player in this match-up (he deserves consideration for one of the All-NBA teams), but Smith’s length and athleticism make this an interesting match-up. Smith may also have to help on KG, who will be killing Marvin Williams.

PF: Kevin Garnett vs. Marvin Williams: To be honest, I haven’t seen Williams play much since his days at UNC. He seems to be putting up decent numbers, but this is a really bad match-up for him against Garnett, a MVP candidate. KG’s team playoff troubles and inability to hit the big shot has been well-documented, but that won’t come into play this series.

C: Kendrick Perkins vs. Al Horford: This is probably the only match-up that Atlanta has a decided advantage in with Horford, who will likely finish 2nd to Kevin Durant in ROY voting. Even though he is still the weak link in the starting line-up, Perkins has evolved into a decent NBA center, which might say more about the level of NBA centers in the league than it does about Kendrick’s game. I’m interested to see how Horford’s game has changed since he left Gainesville.

-Prediction: Celtics in 4. None of the games will be close.

#2 Detroit vs. #7 Philadelphia: The veteran Pistons team should win this series pretty easily in 4 or 5 games. The Pistons match-up well against the Sixers 2 best players (Andre Miller versus Chauncey Billups and Andre Igoudala versus Tayshaun Prince). The only real question is how intense the Pistons will be as they have a tendency to take games off even in the playoffs.

-Prediction: Detroit in 5. Philadelphia has a surprisingly tough team, but Detroit is too good to blow this series especially since the Sixers don’t have a Lebron-type player to win the series by himself.

#3 Orlando vs. #6 Toronto: Although the NBA experts have been ripping the Eastern Conference first round match-ups, I have to say that this series and the Cleveland-Washington series could be very interesting. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh are obviously the marquee stars here, but both teams have good players at the other positions. It will be interesting to see which of the other players (Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, T.J. Ford, Jose Calderon, and Rasho Nesterovic) in this series step up and make themselves household names (outside of basketball junkie circles).

-Prediction: Toronto in 6. In such a close series, I’m tempted to go with the home-court. However, in this case I’m going with the relative experience of the Raptors to win a couple of the close games and close out the series in Toronto.

#4 Cleveland vs. #5 Washington: It appears like this is the only first round series in the Eastern Conference that the mainstream media cares about. It seems like the media is focusing on the Wizards (DeShawn Stevenson and Gilbert Arenas) calling out Lebron. However, there are a bunch of other interesting things about this series: (1) Can Washington finally beat Cleveland having lost to them the last 2 years in first round? (2) Can Agent Zero control his ego enough to play a supporting role? (3) Can Lebron win another series with a horrible supporting cast? Our answers: No. No. Yes.

Prediction: Cleveland in 7. I think that Washington is the better team, but Cleveland has Lebron. Ever since the Detroit series it appears that Lebron has decided to start taking over games (not counting the Finals last year that nobody watched). In the end, it will be Lebron (and David Stern’s refs) pushing the Cavs into the 2nd round.

I’ll make longer posts for the later rounds when the match-ups are set. For now, I’ll just stick with predictions.

Second Round
#1 Boston vs. #4 Cleveland: Celtics in 5.
#2 Detroit vs. #6 Toronto: Detroit in 6.

Conference Finals
#1 Boston vs. #2 Detroit: Celtics in 7.

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Does March Madness matter in May and June?

Posted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2007

Mike Wilbon 

Wilbon, as usual, is up in arms. 

Today we wanted to take a moment to examine an idea put forth by the inimitable Mike Wilbon in Monday’s Washington Post.   Wilbon’s essential take (written after game 3 of the Detroit-Cleveland series) was that much of Lebron’s struggles in late-game situations of the NBA playoffs is directly attributable to his lack of “big game” experience, which his predecessors (Magic, MJ, Bird, etc.) honed and developed during the crucible of March Madness.  He wrote:

LeBron’s bigger problem is never having learned how to play these kinds of high-stakes games in college — and now having to learn against a recent champion. Most every iconic player in NBA history, particularly the triumvirate of Magic, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, learned to play big games during March Madness. For every Kobe (who had Shaquille O’Neal), there’s an Isiah Thomas or Dwyane Wade or Richard Hamilton, guys who learned how to deal with the enormous pressure of big games in college, then successfully transitioned into the NBA playoffs. It’s no coincidence that Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett, who also skipped college, struggle so mightily in the playoffs. Without Shaq, Bryant is 0 for 2 getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Since the high school-to-NBA era began in 1995 with Kevin Garnett, there have been 28 first round picks used on US kids a month removed from their high school graduations.  It’s too early to say for many, but early returns suggest that only seven were definitely worth the pick – KG, Kobe, Jermaine O’Neal, T-Mac, Amare, Lebron & Dwight Howard.  Others such as Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and the two Smiths – Josh and J.R. – may end up being stars in a few years, but for now it’s too early to tell.

Of that group of high school-to-NBA superstars, and with the very notable exception of Kobe as first lieutenant second banana to Shaq, how many of that group have led their teams to postseason NBA success?  The struggles of KG (2 playoff series wins in his 12-yr career) and T-Mac (0 series wins in 10 yrs) are well documented, although Jermaine O’Neal (3 series wins in 7 yrs as a starter in Indiana) may soon also warrant inclusion on that list.  Still, Amare (5 series wins in 5 seasons in the NBA – assist to Steve Nash) and Lebron’s (3 series wins in 4 seasons) rather quick starts confound Wilbon’s blanket theory a bit.  It’s too early to say with Dwight Howard.

For now, we think there is some validity to Wilbon’s theory, but it’s not as clear-cut as he suggests.  The NCAA Tournament’s knockout format eliminates pretenders from contenders very quickly, and the teams with gamebreaking talents who can keep their cool and make plays at the end of games are usually the ones last standing.   But where we feel Wilbon’s argument fails is that it’s very difficult to go deep in the NBA playoffs for just about anyone, whether a four-year college player or one who skipped it altogether.  During the era of which we’re speaking (96-07), only five franchises have won NBA titles (Chicago, San Antonio, LA Lakers, Detroit, Miami), and it appears that one of those same franchises will win again this season (SA or Detroit).  History tends to show that only age and collapse from within creates a vacuum by which a different NBA franchise can rise to the top of the heap.

Shaq Graduation Laettner at Duke

Shaq & Laettner have had different degrees of success in college and the NBA.   

With so few historical opportunities for superstars to elevate their teams to the highest level of the sport, we find it somewhat unfounded to correlate the amount of time spent playing in March Madness as an indicator of future NBA playoff success.  After all, didn’t Shaq (4 NBA titles and 123 playoff wins) flame out early every year at LSU, winning a grand total of two NCAA Tournament games in his three seasons in Baton Rouge?  Conversely, Christian Laettner won 21 NCAA Tournament  games at Duke, but his NBA teams only won 11 playoff games where he was a significant contributor (note: he also averaged 2.2 ppg in 11 more playoff wins with the Heat in 2005).  There are undoubtedly other examples that will support both viewpoints.  We tend to believe that the those who are destined to become superstars will ultimately use their talent and drive to work their way to that level, and whether those players learned how to do that in college or on the job in the L  doesn’t really matter.  Tonight Lebron will have his biggest opportunity yet to prove us right.      

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