Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
As international basketball continues to gain steam, so does widespread intrigue in the Summer Olympic Games. The upcoming 2012 London Olympics will include some tremendous competition for the heavily favored United States, such as a Spanish team that can boast a monster front line of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. To counter that front line, and as a side effect of several unfortunate injuries, the Americans are in need of some serious size of their own. As a result, college basketball’s reigning National Player of the Year and projected No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Davishas already been named as one of the 20 finalists for Team USA this summer. Would Davis be a good fit for this team, and could “The Unibrow” possibly make the cut? Historical precedent says it could happen, and a roster breakdown shows that Davis might just be the big man inside that Team USA is missing.
Anthony Davis is now Shooting for a Spot on Team USA (AP Photo)
The USA Basketball Committee, led by chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, already selected the 20 finalists for the team back in January but several significant injuries has left Team USA in need of more bodies to compete for the final 12-man roster by the June 18 deadline. Specifically, there is a glaring lack of healthy size on the roster given injury troubles to Dwight Howard (back) and LaMarcus Aldridge (hip). The only true center currently on the roster is Tyson Chandler, with power forwards Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, and Lamar Odom in the fold as well. But there are issues with all of these forwards — Odom was released by the Dallas Mavericks after a terrible season, Griffin brings more ‘flash’ than production as an interior player, and Love and Bosh both thrive offensively on the perimeter. There is an absolute need for an interior presence to back up Chandler.
Overview: After turning down Duke to go to Georgetown, Monroe has mostly lived up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him as a top 10 recruit coming out of high school. He has proven to be every bit as talented as the high school recruiting experts, but questions remain about whether he has the tenacity or type of game to dominate the way you expect a superstar to. Monroe has shown the capacity to improve his game as demonstrated by his growth as a player between his freshman and sophomore year as the Hoyas often ran sets through Monroe. Although Monroe has the best skill set of any big man in the draft by a wide margin he has a lot to work on if he wants to fulfill his potential as a basketball player.
Monroe Has Shown Flashes of Brilliance
Will Translate to the NBA: Monroe will be a player that his teammates will love playing with. As soon as Monroe signs his first contract he will be one of the top 5 passing big men in the NBA. His game won’t overwhelm opposing teams, but if he is put in the right system he could flourish. In a few years he could very easily be the second or third option on a championship level contender. He isn’t the kind of player that you give the ball to with the clock running down, but he is a player who in the right situation can put you in position to win games (a lot of them). On the other hand, Monroe will frustrate fans because his passive game may be interpreted by many on the periphery as lacking the urgency his team sometimes needs. On defense Monroe will put up decent numbers because of his size and decent mobility even if he lacks the ideal NBA athleticism. He should be a decent defender, but will never make an all-defensive team. The big question will be how his game translates from the Georgetown “Princeton offense” to a more traditional NBA offense depending on where he ends up going.
Needs Work: As we have mentioned (and countless others before us) Monroe could become a little more aggressive on the offense end. While we all know the NBA could use a few more unselfish players Monroe needs to develop that “killer instinct” (a banal term for a not so banal attribute). Monroe could also use a little work in the low post. Even though he is effective with his variety of unorthodox moves inside Monroe would benefit immensely from a summer (or two or more) working with a skilled big man refining his inside game so he can play a little center too.
Comparison Players: The name you will hear thrown around the most when describing Monroe is Lamar Odom. While I can see that particularly with their build and passing ability there are some key differences namely that Monroe lacks the handle or outside shooting range that Odom has and Monroe can actually be an inside force (read: play defense) so the comparison is not a particularly useful one. Another comparison that I actually prefer is Brad Miller, another inside player with a solid passing game but not a dazzling array of other offensive skills. Miller has a nasty streak that Monroe has yet to display and Monroe has a little better handle, but otherwise their skill sets are pretty comparable.
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.