Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
Lead Story: Nerlens Noel Re-classifies To Class of 2012
Nerlens Noel Is Now One Of the Top Seniors In the Country. (Daryl Paunil/NRS)
Elite Junior Will Graduate A Year Early. There’s been ongoing speculation for a long time that center Nerlens Noel might re-classify from the Class of 2013 to the Class of 2012, but he didn’t gave much of an indication that he was going to. However, late Wednesday night the best shot-blocker in the prep ranks in the country confirmed that he was indeed going to graduate a year early and move to the Class of 2012. What does that mean? Well, other than getting to see him in college a year early, it means that he will have to decide which school he’s going to commit to in the next couple of months. Syracuse and Kentucky have long been the favorites for Noel and while a couple sources have told RTC that they think he will pick the Orange, it’s going to be a close race between the two. Other than John Calipari and Jim Boeheim‘s squads, Noel is considering multiple other schools and has already visited Providence and Connecticut while he plans on visiting Syracuse (February 11), Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina soon. He doesn’t have a timetable for committing but keep in mind that the regular signing period is April 13-May 18. We will be interviewing Noel some time in the next several days so if you’re interested in his recruitment, make sure you check back next week to see what he has to say about the schools on his list.
What They’re Saying
Senior star Rodney Purvis on why he’s happy he made the Jordan Brand Classic: “Being from the same city and with John [Wall] being like my big brother, I wanted to do all the things he did. I didn’t tell a lot of people, but I really, really wanted to play in the Jordan Brand Classic. Like a whole lot.”
Who’s Got Next? is a bi-weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Twice a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are in the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week it was the Nike EYBL, this week it’s the Pangos All-American Camp. Last week Class of 2012 small forward Shabazz Muhammad (#3) got his own section and this week Class of 2013 power forward Julius Randle (Watch List) gets his own section. Last week Class of 2012 point guard L.J. Rose (#20) named UCLA as a favorite and this week he elaborated on that. As you can tell, there are a lot of parallels between last week’s column and this week’s column but there are some things (or should I say people) that weren’t mentioned in the previous Who’s Got Next? column: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Candace Parker and ‘The Jewish Jordan”… not to mention a Twitter recruiting scandal.
What They’re Saying
Junior Brandon Ashley (#4) looks to cut his list in the next couple of weeks.
Junior Brandon Ashley (#4) on when he will make his decision: “I’m hoping to cut everything down in the next two or three weeks, maybe to a top ten, make my decision probably in the early signing period.”
Junior Rodney Purvis (#7) on his list of schools: “Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina State and Memphis.” On what position he’ll play in college: “Most of the coaches I’ve talked to feel I’ll be most successful as a combo guard.”
Junior L.J. Rose (#20) on why he took a visit to UCLA this past weekend: “I’ve built a great relationship with [UCLA] head coach Ben Howland.”
Junior Elijah Macon on the schools recruiting him the hardest: “Miami, Maryland, West Virginia and South Florida are on me hard.”
Sophomore standout Solomon Poole on what he’s looking for in a college: “First, academics. You can’t get anywhere without that. And a coach that makes you better. I want him to tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
Fantastic Freshman Trey Gundy on his favorite school: “I’m a Kentucky fan, I want to go to UK for college. I am going to keep my options open and see what’s best for me, but I bleed blue.”
IMG Academy head coach Andy Borman on when senior DeAndre Daniels will commit: “There is no timetable.”
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?
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.
WhenHigh 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.
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.
Funny how the landscape of college basketball could have been completely different had then-Lakers GM Jerry West not talked new Nets coach John Calipari out of drafting a 17-year old player from the suburbs of Philadelphia named Kobe Bean Bryant. With one of the best young players in the world at his disposal in the late 90s, would Coach Cal have been fired in 1999 only to resurface back in the college game at Memphis in 2000 and eventually moving to the Bluegrass in 1999? Unlikely.
There should be more of this in college basketball. Quincy Pondexter on Saturday pretty much guaranteed a victory over rival Washington State this coming weekend, and his teammate Isaiah Thomas backed him up in a radio interview on Tuesday morning. While this game doesn’t mean a whole lot in the national picture, it’s clear that people in the Pacific Northwest are taking it seriously.
Gary Parrish thinks that UConn should just go ahead and offer Jim Calhouna lifetime contract for as long as he wants it after the last ten days where UConn thrust itself back into the NCAA Tournament picture. We’ve gone on record showing that this UConn team both before and immediately after Calhoun’s medical leave of absence wasn’t appreciably different, but there can be no question about the post-Calhoun effect.
Pat Forde offers this week’s Forde Minutes column, and we’d LOVE LOVE LOVE to know the number of nasty emails he’s going to get with the following statement near the top of the piece. Referring to the terrible seasons going on in Westwood and Chapel Hill, he says, “We’ve never seen such simultaneous lousiness from what The Minutes believes are the top two programs in college basketball history.” Can a whole state go apoplectic at exactly the same moment? Forde will know soon enough.
Ole Miss students came correct yesterday with their vote to add a new mascot to take over for, um, nothing, because the school hasn’t had Colonel Reb prancing around its games since 2003. Administrators said that bringing the racially-charged former mascot back is not an option, but reportedly, Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars fame is one of the top candidates. Love the ironic twist there, but we doubt the very traditional school or the SEC would ever allow it.
We have already laid out our thoughts on the possibility of this occurring earlier, but it’s worth bringing up again because USA Basketball made it official today that Mike Krzyzewski was returning to lead Team USA in the 2012 Olympics in London. For as much hate as he gets as the coach of Duke, we have to say that he has done a great job of rebuilding USA Basketball with Jerry Colangelo although that it can be argued that his best attribute was that he didn’t bench his best player (see George Karl in 2002) or select a squad that was horribly put together/too young and act like an insufferable jerk while coach that team (see Larry Brown in 2004). Perhaps the biggest impact Coach K’s return will have is convincing the team’s stars (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade) to return for another run at the gold medal. Team USA version 2012 could potentially field a team that is legitimately as dominant as The Dream Team (none of this ridiculous “Redeem Team” junk from this year) as the 2008 team’s core players will be entering their primes with the exception of Kobe. Here’s a quick look at a potential roster for London:
PG = Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, and Derrick Rose
SG = Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and Brandon Roy
SF = LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant
PF/C = Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Al Jefferson, and Chris Bosh
Obviously that’s more people than could suit up, but they would probably lose at least one guy to age/injuries (candidates: Kobe, Wade, and Jefferson) or might drop one of the potential PGs (likely Rondo or Williams). Griffin is also the other wild-card here since we’re forecasting his success in the NBA, but Team USA’s weakness is inside and it seems like he would be perfect in the international setting with the up-tempo pace that Team USA would likely employ even if Malcolm Gladwell thinks that style of play is a recipe for an upset. In any case, this team would be enormous favorites in London and would highlight a talent–recruiting–that was once considered Coach K’s greatest asset back when he used to simply coach Duke.
We’ll be doing a full BGtD today so you won’t have any interruptions in coverage tonight. Honestly, last night’s games were kind of disappointing. Pittsburgh-Xavier was entertaining, but that was the only game that I would say was memorable from a pure basketball standpoint. Now the other games did have their own interesting subplots. UConn rolled over Purdue in a game that was close at points in the 2nd half, but I never really got the sense that the Huskies were in any danger of losing. I was particularly impressed with how the Huskies played despite the media circus that is going on around them. Missouri‘s victory over Memphis was entertaining although for me it was marred a little by the atrocious free throw shooting. As we mentioned last night, I really wonder what John Calipari does, if he does anything, for his team’s free throw shooting. At this point, I’m convinced J.J. Redick would have shot 70% from the free throw line if he had gone to Memphis. Also, what happened to vaunted Memphis defense. Missouri has a good offense, but they shouldn’t be able to hit triple digits in regulation against a team that went into the game with the #1 defense according to the Pomeroy numbers. I’m sure some of you took great pleasure in watching Villanova pick apart Duke leading to another early March exit for Coach K, but the game wasn’t exactly exciting if you didn’t have a rooting interest for (or in most people’s case against) a team.
The line-up for tonight should give us a couple of interesting games:
7:07 PM: #12 Arizona vs. #1 Louisville
7:27 PM: #3 Syracuse vs. #2 Oklahoma
9:37 PM: #3 Kansas vs. #2 Michigan State
9:57 PM: #4 Gonzaga vs. #1 UNC
We’ll be back around 7 for the start of tonight’s action. Leave your comments/questions and we’ll respond to them as soon as we start.
7:10 PM: Chase Budinger makes a great play to temper Louisville’s great start. He’s going to need to have a great game tonight. If both teams use the press tonight, we’re going to get a blowout (and I think it will end up going in Louisville’s favor).
7:12 PM: I should warn you that I’m a big Chase Budinger fan so you’ve been warned. I haven’t seen a lot of him this year (stupid west coast starts), but I think he has the makings of a very solid NBA player.
7:14 PM: That’s not a good stat for Arizona. Only 6 Wildcats have scored in the NCAA tournament.
7:19 PM: Great play by Edgar Sosa feeding it to Preston Knowles. This pressure is going to kill Arizona if they only go 6 deep.
7:28 PM: I don’t think it will matter tonight, but I hope you paid attention to that FT statistic. Louisville shoots 63.8% as a team (307th out of 334 teams). That will come back to bite them. Just ask John Calipari. Actually he probably wouldn’t admit it because his team was just as bad last night. . .
7:30 PM: I think that any Blue Devil who mentions that they made the 1994 title game should put an asterisk by it on their resume saying that they rode Grant Hill‘s coattails there. If you don’t agree with me, see what happened the next year even if Coach K missed the last 2/3 of the season.
7:31 PM: It looks dead in Memphis. What do you guys think? I’m guessing it’s only 20% full. UNC fans must have bought up most of the stadium.
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. Read the rest of this entry »
First, is there any more difficult impossible charge for a college athlete to shed than that of some kind of sexual assault? Similarly, is there any more difficult impossible charge for an institution and the police to prove than that of some kind of sexual assault (eliminating the outright rapes involving DNA, of course)? Usually all that anyone can seem to agree upon is that something happened involving a player and an unnamed woman. How far that something went and whether it was consensual or a simple misunderstanding often involves convolution that would make Robin Lopez’s lafro look stick-straight in comparison.
How Twisted and Convoluted?
We can think of a couple of recent examples where the he-said/she-said repartee ultimately resulted in a slightly uncomfortable exoneration of a player’s name, where everyone sorta shrugs their shoulders, looks around and wonders exactly what the hell happened while simultaneously hoping that it doesn’t impact next year’s team. Kentucky’s Chuck Hayes is but one example. Kansas’ Sherron Collins another. Need we even mention Kobe Bean’s douche d’amour in Eagle, CO? And now we encounter the trio of Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson, each of whom was accused of playing a role in a sexual assault on the Syracuse campus last fall. Flynn is arguably Cuse’s top returning player, and Jardine/Jackson are both contributors whose roles should increase next season.
Come On Ladies, It Was Only a Kiss…
Reading through the grand jury account (filtered through the Syracuse Post-Standard’s news report) is a lot like watching hockey on tv – you know the puck is down there somewhere, but you can’t really follow it until it hits something. Depending on who you ask, the accuser is a) not seeking criminal prosecution; b) seeking criminal prosecution; c) is no longer claiming she was a victim of sexual assault; d) is claiming that she was a victim of sexual assault; e) being treated as a pawn amongst her mother and the university. In other words, about as clear as Mudd.
Ultimately there was a grand jury proceeding, and the accuser testified at the hearing. She must have apparently been laughed out of the room due to the fact that, according to the old legal adage that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich, the accuser’s story did not rise to ham sandwich level. According to Troy Nunes, Syracuse University will continue with its own internal disciplinary proceedings in this matter (on what evidence, we’d love to hear).
Juli Needs to Put the Screws to Jim Again
The other thing that this post got us thinking about was Jim Boeheim’s program in general. We’ve a notion that Boeheim should be called Mail It In-heim for the way he’s been handling the Orange in the years since his only Carmelo-led championship. With his hot MILF wife and his secure ring finger, does Jimmy B. have the drive to push beyond mediocrity anymore (we were going to compare him to Gary Williams at Maryland, but realized quickly that GW deserves his own category of underachievement)?
Three of Boeheim’s eleven 10+ loss seasons in 32 years as a head coach have come in the last three years (12, 11, and 14 losses, respectively). Last year’s 14 losses were the most for a Jim Boeheim-coached team EVER.
Before last year, the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons were the last period where Syracuse had not gone to the NCAAs in consecutive years. (granted, Cuse got screwed royally in 2006-07, but they were still a bubble team) It could have been three in a row if not for G-Mac’s miraculous Big East Tourney title run in 2006.
In fact, Syracuse hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2004, its longest streak of such misery since prior to Boeheim’s arrival in 1976.
Boeheim’s winning percentage from 1976-2003 is .743. His percentage from 2004-present is .694, and that includes four bogus NIT wins played in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome.
Honestly, the only highlights of the last five seasons since the national championship were the 2005 and 2006 Big East Tournament titles. That’s great and all, but it’s not how Syracuse basketball built its name (both of those were Cinderella runs).
Perhaps this is old news for Syracuse faithful, but it really surprised us when we took a look at the numbers. With an eligible Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris in addition to a healthy Eric Devendorf, there is potential for Syracuse to break its stranglehold on an NIT bid this season; but we’re not sure that Boeheim is getting as much from his players as he once did. We’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on upstate New York this year.
We only throw this up because we’re certifiable stat nerds, but as we were watching the Celtics-Lakers game tonight, we started wondering if we were witnessing a possibly historic comeback when LA had cut the Boston lead to 2 with 0:34 remaining. Only seven minutes earlier (at the 7:40 mark), the Cs had been enjoying a seemingly insurmountable 24-point lead.
Nelson Wasn’t Worried
This got us thinking – harkening back to the piece we did a while ago on the Kansas-UNC game where we discussed when it is statistically appropriate to call a game over (thanks, Billy Packer), just how worried should Boston fans have been?
Boston’s lead was as airtight as Vanessa Bryant’spre post-nuptial agreement. In other words, no cause for worry, Beantowners. Even the Assassin Known as Kobe Bryant’s Ego can’t overcome 10:1 odds.
Note: it would be nice if one of the NBA commenters verified this, but we believe the largest 4th quarter comeback in NBA playoff history was in 2002 when Boston came back from 21 down at the start of the quarter to beat the Nets 94-90.But James would call that lead only 48% safe in comparison.
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.
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.
We’ll provide you with a more in-depth analysis later, but we figured we would offer some of our early thoughts.
1) Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts totally dominated this game. UCLA didn’t have an answer for either one of them. It looked like Rose wasn’t attacking as much when UCLA put Russell Westbrook on him, but for some reason Ben Howland decided to keep Darren Collison on Rose for most of the game until Collison fouled out with 2:53 left. As much as we hate to say it, Billy Packer was right when he kept on saying that Westbrook should guard Rose and Josh Shipp should guard CDR, who probably would have abused Shipp, but at least one of Memphis’s studs would have been contained a little better. Rose is definitely ready to go to the NBA and CDR should be a nice addition to a team if a coach can find a way to incorporate his unique game into the offense. Both guys also did a great job knocking down FTs at the end making the last minute a mere formality rather than a tension-filled FT contest that many people were expecting if Memphis was in a close game. CDR also provided the game’s defining play with his baseline dunk on Kevin Love. It reminded us of Kobe’s “Who’s the MVP?!?” dunk on Nash a couple years ago.
2) Memphis got to play at the pace they wanted. It was evident early on that the game was going to be fast-paced. UCLA was able to hang close for the first half, but eventually the pace wore them down. This was particularly evident with Kevin Love who barely touched the ball in the 2nd half and looked sluggish moving up and down the court. In the end, Memphis’s ability to run and its deep-bench full of guys who can all run (except Pierre Niles) proved to be the deciding factor as they opened up a big gap late in the 2nd half and cruised from there.
3) Despite early foul trouble, Joey Dorsey and Shawn Taggert did a great job battling Kevin Love all game. Love won the battle in the first half, but the rotation of big bodies and the fast pace of the game wore out Love. We hope that Love stays in school at least one more year because he still needs some more work before he goes to the NBA. Tonight should have shown him as much. While the Memphis inside guys aren’t NBA-quality players, they have NBA-level athleticism and strength. Love has the requisite strength, but he isn’t athletic enough to go to the league right now. He will never be a Dwight Howard, but some more running over the summer will help cover up some of his athletic deficiencies. He has been able to get away with it all year because they pace has been slow and he has been the strongest guy on the inside, but today was a preview of what the NBA will hold and hopefully Love will consider that before declaring for the draft.