Monday, October 29, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Pacific Division)

Good lord, this thing is done! I can scarcely believe it, and with only hours to spare. This is quite possibly the single most hellbent I've ever been on a project, so I hope somebody out there is getting something out of it. I suppose it is incumbent upon me to make a prediction at this point, and even though I'm no good at this, I'll do it. You can't go wrong with picking the Spurs and the Pistons as finalists, with the Spurs taking the series in six games. They're the two most successful franchises over the past five years and no one has made a move that's significant enough to stop either of them. Only an inspired effort, like LeBron's coming of age in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, or the Mavericks' resounding Game 7 win in San Antonio in 2006, can derail these two.

Oh, and how could I ever forget? ... Statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game from 2006-07, unless otherwise noted. And I do, on occasion, note otherwise.

Golden State Warriors
2006-07: 42-40
Beat Dallas 4-2 in first round
Lost to Utah 4-1 in conference semifinals
Coach: Don Nelson
Starting lineup
PG Baron Davis (20.1/4.4/8.1)
SG Monta Ellis (16.5/3.2/4.1)
SF Stephen Jackson (16.8/3.3/4.6)
PF Mickael Pietrus (11.1/4.5/0.9)
C Andris Biedrins (9.5/9.3/1.1)
F/C Al Harrington (17.0/6.4/2.3)
F Matt Barnes (9.8/4.6/2.1)
C Patrick O'Bryant (1.9/1.3/0.6)
G/F Kelenna Azubuike (7.1/2.3/0.7)
PG Troy Hudson (5.9/1.4/2.1)
PF Brandan Wright (rookie, 8th pick)
SG Marco Belinelli (rookie, 18th pick)
PF Austin Croshere (3.7/3.0/0.7)

The Warriors returned to relevance in a resounding way last season, making their first playoff appearance in 13 years count with an upset of No. 1 seed Dallas. The emotional heart of the team is Stephen Jackson (pictured, right, with Kobe Bryant), the volatile swingman who will miss the first seven games of the season as punishment for an alleged incident at an Indianapolis strip club. When he returns, he brings intensity that translates on both ends, and especially on offense, where he is fearless driving the basket in the Warriors' up-tempo attack. If he's playing dialed in and isn't turning the ball over, he's one of the league's best players. The conscience of the Warriors is Baron Davis, the veteran point guard who directs Don Nelson's famous small-ball attack. He can penetrate, shoot and post up any other point guard in the league, but like Jackson, is prone to turnovers. Monta Ellis, a scorer whose athletic skills are perfectly tailored for this offense, moves into the starting lineup to replace Jason Richardson, who was traded to Charlotte for rookie Brandan Wright. Andris Biedrins is another athletic presence, but while he excels at defense and is a solid rebounder, he doesn't contribute much offensively. Mickael Pietrus, another skilled athletic defender who could use a reliable jump shot, starts at power forward while Nelson tries Al Harrington as a sixth man. Harrington is an offensive threat as a shooter and with his post-up game and will see time at all three front court positions. Swingman Matt Barnes is another valuable asset off the bench who provides energy and is rapidly developing his offensive game. Kelenna Azubuike's jump shot and open-court game were nearly enough to vault him into the starting shooting guard role. Troy Hudson, a fearless penetrator but not a skilled distributor, is the backup point guard, but his job description, like most others on the team, is subject to tinkering by a veteran coach who is known to experiment.

Los Angeles Clippers
2006-07: 40-42
Coach: Mike Dunleavy
Starting lineup
PG Sam Cassell (12.3/2.9/4.7)
SG Quinton Ross (5.2/2.3/1.1)
SF Corey Maggette (16.9/5.9/2.8)
PF Tim Thomas (11.0/5.0/2.3)
C Chris Kaman (10.1/7.8/1.1)
F Al Thornton (rookie, 14th pick)
G Cuttino Mobley (13.8/3.4/2.5)
F/C Paul Davis (1.6/1.4/0.2)

Power forward Elton Brand wasn't the only one hurt badly when he tore his achilles tendon in August. He'll miss at least the first half of the season, which is probably enough to knock the Clippers from playoff contention since he was by far their best player. Corey Maggette (pictured), who's been a versatile talent and provides both strength and athleticism, must raise the level of play to the star-quality level he's never quite reached if this team is to remain afloat while Brand recovers. It would also help if Tim Thomas, who is one of the NBA's most inconsistent talents, is at his best and produce offensively. Sam Cassell, one of the best shoot-first point guards in the NBA over the past decade, turns 38 on Nov. 18 and just isn't the player he once was, but he's the best the Clippers have at this point. Center Chris Kaman, an energetic force around the basket but a deficient rebounder, needs to improve his rebounding and could use a consistent mid-range jumper, too. Quinton Ross doesn't have much of an offensive game, but is the Clippers' best perimeter defender and is a much needed rebounder as well. Cuttino Mobley is a skilled defender as well, and his shooting and quickness make him a valuable reserve who could wind up in the starting lineup at either guard position at some point. Rookie Al Thornton is another who could be starting soon, but he's blocked for now by Maggette, who is in many ways a more polished version of Thornton. Scoring has always been what backup center Paul Davis does best, but his work rebounding and passing this past offseason has earned him a spot in the rotation. He might start some day if he gets better on defense, too.

Los Angeles Lakers
2006-07: 42-40
Lost to Phoenix 4-1 in first round
Coach: Phil Jackson
Starting lineup
PG Derek Fisher (10.1/1.8/3.3)
SG Kobe Bryant (31.6/5.7/5.4)
SF Luke Walton (11.4/5.0/4.3)
PF Lamar Odom (15.9/9.8/4.8)
C Kwame Brown (8.4/6.0/1.8)
C Andrew Bynum (7.8/5.9/1.1)
C Chris Mihm (last played in 2005-06: 10.2/6.3/1.0)
F Vladimir Radmanovic (6.6/3.3/1.2)
SG Sasha Vujacic (4.3/1.5/0.9)
PG Jordan Farmar (4.4/1.7/1.9)
PF Ronny Turiaf (5.3/3.6/0.9)

Trade rumors continue to swirl around Kobe Bryant, so the team could look drastically different at any moment. Bryant wants out of what seems to be a dead-end situation in which an appearance in the conference semifinals would be a breakthrough accomplishment. The team around him, though improved this season, is not suited to complement his vast skills. Power forward Lamar Odom, the team's second best player, is an all-around talent and probably the best passer on the team, but his weakness is a lack of aggression and intensity, which Bryant demands from teammates. Luke Walton, who likely starts at small forward, is a similar player to Odom in that he is a skilled passer with an array of skills but doesn't look to score. The team's most significant acquisition was of Derek Fisher, who has plenty of experience playing with Bryant, having been his backcourt mate on all four of the Lakers' runs to the Finals this decade. Fisher isn't a star, but he's a dangerous outside shooter and a crafty defender who can make up for a lack of speed. Center Kwame Brown has the most tenuous hold on his starting spot, largely contingent on continued development of his offensive game, into which he has failed to channel his vast athletic ability in any of his six seasons so far. He's in a three-way battle with Andrew Bynum, another high school-to-NBA project, and Chris Mihm, who was the starter before missing all of last season with an ankle injury. The team will likely keep Vladimir Radmanovic on the bench to use as a scoring sixth man, capable of getting points with his outside shot as well as with post-ups. Defense keeps him from beating out Luke Walton for a starting gig. Sasha Vujacic is another valuable reserve, despite his inconsistency, given his ability to play either guard spot. Jordan Farmar, who was the team's starting point guard in the playoffs, is nonetheless a poor defender and shooter and must battle Vujacic for minutes.

Phoenix Suns
2006-07: 61-21
Beat L.A. Lakers 4-1 in first round
Lost to San Antonio 4-2 in conference semifinals
Coach: Mike D'Antoni
Starting lineup
PG Steve Nash (18.6/3.5/11.6)
SG Raja Bell (14.7/3.2/2.5)
SF Grant Hill (14.4/3.6/2.1)
PF Shawn Marion (17.5/9.8/1.7)
C Amare Stoudemire (20.4/9.6/1.0)
F/C Boris Diaw (9.7/4.3/4.8)
G Leandro Barbosa (18.1/2.7/4.0)
PG Marcus Banks (4.9/0.8/1.3)
F/C Sean Marks (2.0/1.0/0.0)

The Suns can make a legitimate claim that they would have won the title last year if not for the controversial suspension of Amare Stoudemire in Game 5 against the Spurs or if not for disgraced official Tim Donaghy, who worked Game 3 of that series. We'll never know for sure. What we will find out is if it was their best shot at a championship with this group by seeing whether the infusion of free-agent signee Grant Hill elevates the team or an injury-prone bunch led by Steve Nash, who turns 34 in February, is about to crumble physically. Nash, a two-time MVP and the director of the Suns signature small-ball, up-tempo attack, has been plagued by back problems in recent years that haven't kept him out of important games but require him to lay on the floor instead of sit during breaks. Hill had his career derailed by ankle injuries that cost him the better part of three seasons. He hasn't played as many as 70 games in a season since, but when healthy lends an interesting change of pace to the Suns' offense. He's never played in a fast-breaking system, but his slick passing, court vision and ability to get to the basket are excellent fits, even if his mid-range jumper will be difficult to shoehorn in. He joins the starting lineup with explosive slasher and rebounder Shawn Marion, center Amare Stoudemire, who combines strength, agility and speed like no other big man, and Raja Bell, one of the league's premier perimeter defenders and a dangerous three-point shooter. The bench features Boris Diaw, whose long arms, athleticism and knowledge of the game allow him to play all five positions, and Leandro Barbosa, quite possibly the fastest man in the NBA who can blow by defenders on his way to the basket. Marcus Banks, a skilled defender whom the team is counting on to improve his playmaking and shooting so he can spell Nash at point guard, is fighting for a spot in the rotation along with Sean Marks, a post player with deft offensive moves and a reliable jump shot but little appetite for banging in the paint.

Sacramento Kings
2006-07: 33-49
Coach: Reggie Theus
Starting lineup
PG Mike Bibby (17.1/3.2/4.7)
SG Kevin Martin (20.2/4.3/2.2)
SF Ron Artest (18.8/6.5/3.4)
PF Shareef Abdur-Rahim (9.9/5.0/1.4)
C Brad Miller (9.0/6.4/3.6)
PG Orien Greene (1.5/1.1/0.5)
G John Salmons (8.5/3.3/3.2)
G/F Francisco Garcia (6.0/2.6/1.1)
F/C Mikki Moore (9.8/5.1/0.9)
F Kenny Thomas (5.3/6.1/1.2)

The Kings were dealt a withering blow when Mike Bibby tore ligaments in his thumb at the end of preseason that will keep him out the first six to 10 weeks of the regular season. Bibby is the last link to their title-contending teams from the early part of this decade and far and away their best ball handler. His shot and leadership will be missed as well, as the starting point guard job falls to Orien Greene, whose best asset is his defense. The team will be missing Ron Artest (pictured) for the first seven games because of a suspension stemming from a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The Kings will be missing one of the best perimeter defenders in the game and a steadily improving offensive force who had developed a reliable mid-range and outside jumper. Veteran Brad Miller has been plagued by nagging injuries, but he should be available to provide the passing, mid-range shooting and rebounding that make him one of the better centers in the game. Prior injuries have robbed Shareef Abdur-Rahim of some of the skills that made him a one-time All-Star and top 10 scorer, but he's still one of the craftier point producers in the game who is an asset offensively. Kevin Martin, the team's leading scorer last season, is around to provide defense and is the kind of athlete new coach Reggie Theus wants to emphasize in a more up-tempo game. The team has a pair of capable if undersized veteran frontcourt options off the bench in Mikki Moore, a shot blocker and active defender, and Kenny Thomas, a rebounder and scorer. The backup wings are the ones who must step up. John Salmons is a smart and versatile player whose shot could use work and Francisco Garcia must work in the weight room to add strength and improve a deficient defensive game.

2007-08 NBA Preview (Northwest Division)

One more of these things to go ... now, let's all say it together: Statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. Good! And this time with better enunciation ...

Denver Nuggets
2006-07: 45-37
Lost to San Antonio 4-1 in first round
Coach: George Karl
Starting lineup
PG Allen Iverson (24.8/3.0/7.2)
SG Yakhouba Diawara (4.4/1.7/0.9)
SF Carmelo Anthony (28.9/6.0/3.8)
PF Nene (12.2/7.0/1.2)
C Marcus Camby (11.2/11.7/3.2)
PF Kenyon Martin (9.5/10.0/0.5)
F Eduardo Najera (6.6/4.1/0.9)
PG Chucky Atkins (13.2/1.9/4.6)
PG Anthony Carter (3.0/1.5/5.5)
F Linas Kleiza (7.6/3.4/0.6)
G/F Bobby Jones (2.5/1.3/0.4)
C Steven Hunter (6.4/4.8/0.4)
PG Mike Wilks (3.6/1.1/1.7)

The Nuggets team two of the league's most prolific scorers in Carmelo Anthony (pictured, right) and Allen Iverson (pictured, left) with a deep bench. They have a chance to be a title contender if they stay healthy, which they haven't been able to do recently. One of their starters has suffered an early season-ending injury in each of the past three years. Two years ago it was Nene, the Brazilian who could be the X-factor for this team. He is a gifted athlete with ballhandling skills that a power forward in the team's up-tempo offense needs, but he must improve his jumper in order to become the versatile offensive threat the team needs in its power rotation. Center Marcus Camby was the league's fifth leading rebounder last year and is a major defensive asset, while backup power forward Kenyon Martin, returning from knee surgery, excels at defense as well. Whether Martin regains the explosiveness and leaping ability he had before he got hurt remains to be seen. Shooting guard Yakhouba Diawara, the fifth starter, is an athlete who can run the floor and provides perimeter defense, and though he won't contribute offensively, scoring isn't needed when you play alongside Anthony and Iverson. J.R. Smith is a penetrating wing who can score off the bench, but lacks and mid-range game and is a liability on defense. Chucky Atkins, Mike Wilks and Anthony Carter are around to play point guard if Karl decides to go small and shift Iverson to shooting guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves
2006-07: 32-50
Coach: Randy Wittman
Starting lineup
PG Randy Foye (10.1/2.7/2.8)
SG Rashad McCants (5.0/1.3/1.0)
SF Gerald Green (10.4/2.6/1.0)
PF Al Jefferson (16.0/11.0/1.3)
C Theo Ratliff (2.5/3.5/0.0)
SG Corey Brewer (rookie, 7th pick)
F Antoine Walker (8.5/4.3/1.7)
F Ryan Gomes (12.1/5.6/1.6)
C Mark Madsen (1.1/1.6/0.2)
PF Craig Smith (7.4/5.1/0.6)
G Marko Jaric (5.3/2.6/2.1)

It's the first Timberwolves season without Kevin Garnett since 1994-95 as the rebuilding process begins in Minnesota. They'll build around power forward Al Jefferson (pictured), already a great rebounder who is developing the kind of offensive post moves that could make him a superstar some day. The team's other anchor is point guard Randy Foye, the seventh pick in the 2006 draft, a scorer who must improve his playmaking ability. Every other position is largely up for grabs, especially shooting guard, where the best guess is undersized but versatile scorer Rashad McCants will get the starting nod. The other wing position is Gerald Green's, an athletic offensive threat who must bulk up and improve his defense to hold on to the job. Center is the purvey of veteran shotblocker Theo Ratliff, who won't contribute any more than putbacks offensively. The bench features Antoine Walker, an aging long-range gunner who can handle the ball but won't drive the basket and may well wind up with another team soon. Corey Brewer, the team's top rookie, is the team's other option at shooting guard and provides athleticism on offense and defense but undeveloped shooting and ballhandling skills. Ryan Gomes doesn't excel at any skill but is a versatile all-around forward who could become the team's sixth man. Craig Smith is an undersized power forward whose physical gifts might be a nice fit in an up-tempo attack. Marko Jaric and Mark Madsen are veterans at point guard and center, respectively, who'll provide leadership and guidance.

Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Nate McMillan
Starting lineup
PG Steve Blake (6.4/2.0/5.0)
SG Brandon Roy (16.8/4.4/4.0)
SF Martell Webster (7.0/2.9/0.6)
PF LaMarcus Aldridge (9.0/5.0/0.4)
C Joel Przybilla (2.0/3.9/0.3)
SF Travis Outlaw (9.6/3.2/0.8)
PG Jarrett Jack (12.0/2.6/5.3)
PF Channing Frye (9.5/5.5/0.9)
G/F James Jones (6.4/2.3/0.6)
F/C Raef Lafrentz (3.7/2.6/0.3)
PG Sergio Rodriguez (3.7/1.4/3.3)
G/F Darius Miles (14.0/4.6/1.8)

The team was a trendy pick for the playoffs this year before first overall pick Greg Oden (pictured) underwent microfracture surgery on his knee that will force him to miss the season. They're probably lottery-bound again but there's plenty of young talent that will team with Oden on playoff teams in the future. Reigning MVP Brandon Roy is an all-around talent who will improve as he develops his outside shot. LaMarcus Aldridge still needs to work on his strength and post game, but he is nonetheless an athletic force inside. Martell Webster is an outside shooter at small forward who can become a star, too, if he is willing to drive to the basket more often. Jeol Przybilla is a defensive stopgap at center and won't figure in the offense. Coach Nate McMillian hasn't named a starting point guard, but Steve Blake is a logical choice given his defense and court vision. Jarrett Jack, who is a slightly better offensive player but turns the ball over too much, is the other option at point. Travis Outlaw, an agile if slender player whose energy is key on both ends of the floor, will likely be the team's sixth man. Backup power forward Channing Frye is a mobile shot blocker who has a reliable mid-range shot but doesn't grab enough rebounds. Former Sun James Jones is a long-range shooter who will provide quickness as a backup wing. Raef Lafrentz can shoot from the outside, too, and can provide a matchup problem at either post position despite being a defensive liability.

Seattle Supersonics
2006-07: 31-51
Coach: P.J. Carlesimo
Starting lineup
PG Luke Ridnour (11.0/2.3/5.2)
SG Damien Wilkins (8.8/2.8/1.9)
SF Kevin Durant (rookie, 2nd pick)
PF Chris Wilcox (13.5/7.7/1.0)
C Robert Swift (last played in 2005-06: 6.4/5.6/0.2)
F Jeff Green (rookie, 5th pick)
PG Earl Watson (9.4/2.4/5.7)
G/F Wally Szczerbiak (15.0/3.1/1.7)
C Kurt Thomas (4.6/5.7/0.4)
PF Nick Collison (9.6/8.1/1.0)

The team is headed in a new direction, and that has nothing to do with its impending move to Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant (pictured), the second overall pick, is the centerpiece of a youth movement designed to eventually lift the franchise back amongst the elite. He's a gifted and versatile scorer who needs only to refine the skills he already has and perhaps add more post-ups to his game. It'll be up to him how far the Sonics go this year, which probably isn't very far since there isn't any other marquee talent around him. Damien Wilkins can score and provide some toughness and defense, but he's not outstanding in any particular facet of the game. Luke Ridnour is a fearsome shooter and a skilled passer, but doesn't possess the strength necessary to be one of the league's better point guards. Chris Wilcox is quite the opposite, a tough man inside who must polish his offensive skills. If he does, though, he could be a beast and a valuable asset for the team's future. Robert Swift, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his knee, is an X factor at center who's a talented shot blocker but must prove he can be a consistent scorer. Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick, is a versatile player who backs up Durant at small forward and will likely see plenty of time at power forward as well. His lack of ballhandling skills keep him from starting or seeing minutes at shooting guard. Earl Watson is a defensive stopper at point guard who takes care of the ball and can hit a mid-range shot but isn't a playmaker or outside shooter. Backup center Kurt Thomas brings a valuable veteran presence inside along with rebounding, solid defense and capable offense. Wally Szczerbiak is another veteran who provides size and shooting as a backup wing, but he doesn't defend well. Nick Collison, a skilled low-post scorer and passer, provides depth and is the choice for offense off the bench as a power forward.

Utah Jazz
2006-07: 51-31
Beat Houston 4-3 in first round
Beat Golden State 4-1 in conference semifinals
Lost to San Antonio 4-1 in conference finals
Coach: Jerry Sloan
Starting lineup
PG Deron Williams (16.2/3.3/9.3)
SG Ronnie Brewer (4.6/1.3/0.4)
SF Andrei Kirilenko (8.3/4.7/2.9)
PF Carlos Boozer (20.9/11.7/3.0)
C Mehmet Okur (17.6/7.2/2.0)
G/F Matt Harpring (11.6/4.6/1.3)
F Paul Millsap (6.8/5.2/0.8)
C Jarron Collins (2.5/2.1/0.7)
G/F Gordan Giricek (7.8/2.1/1.0)
PG Jason Hart (6.9/2.7/2.9)
PG Ronnie Price (4.6/1.3/0.4)

The Jazz were surprise Western Conference finalists last year, as Deron Williams (pictured, in front) and Carlos Boozer (pictured, rear) took command the way no one since John Stockton and Karl Malone has done in Utah. Williams, in particular, has a bright future as one of the best point guards in the league entering his third year. He has excellent command of the offense as an all-around offensive threat. His only weaknesses are a lack of quickness and average defensive play, the latter of which he's likely to improve. Boozer can matchup with any of the top power forwards in the game and is a dominant offensive force against anyone who isn't. His increased defensive intensity in the playoffs last year helped lift his game. Small forward Andrei Kirilenko, trade demands notwithstanding, fits in well as a complimentary offensive player who can defer to others when his inconsistent jump shot is not falling, plus he is an outstanding defender. Mehmet Okur is the perfect high post complement to Boozer on offense as quite possibly the best outside shooting big man in the league, but struggles defensively. What hurts the Jazz the most will likely be the absence of shooting guard Derek Fisher, who was a great leader and served as the backup point guard as well. Ronnie Brewer, who could handle a fair share of ballhandling duties as well. is the starting shooting guard for now, but his shooting will have to be consistent to stick in that job. Sixth man Matt Harpring may wind up seeing minutes as a two guard. He can defend that position and shoot from anywhere. Paul Millsap, a strong if undersized power forward, should see increased minutes this year after proving his mettle as a surprising rookie last year. Jarron Collins is a veteran offensive weapon who can be used to back up Okur and Boozer. Gordan Giricek often finds his way into coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse, but he's a dead-eye shooter and provides size at the wing positions. The onus is on Jason Hart, a steadying influence, and Ronnie Price, the better athlete, to prove themselves as backup point guards and alleviate the pressure on Williams and Brewer.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Southwest Division)

Someone please tell Yao that photographers who want him to do homoerotica aren't with the Chinese government, and he doesn't have to comply with their requests ...

Objects in mirror are closer tha ... er ... statistics in parentheses are points per game/rebounds per game/assists per game from 2006-07, unless otherwise noted.

Dallas Mavericks

2006-07: 67-15
Lost to Golden State 4-2 in first round
Coach: Avery Johnson
Starting lineup
PG Devin Harris (10.2/2.5/3.7)
SG Eddie Jones (7.7/3.0/1.7)
SF Josh Howard (18.9/6.8/1.8)
PF Dirk Nowitzki (24.6/8.9/3.4)
C Desagana Diop (2.3/5.4/0.4)
G/F Jerry Stackhouse (12.0/2.2/2.8)
G Jason Terry (16.7/2.9/5.2)
C Erick Dampier (7.1/7.4/0.6)
SF Devean George (6.4/3.6/0.6)
G/F Trenton Hassell (6.7/3.2/2.7)

A core scarred by consecutive playoff collapses returns to seek an elusive championship that seemed imminent, before they blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals and before they were shocked in the first round last year. Reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki (pictured, second from left) is the anchor for what coach Avery Johnson (pictured, far right) promises will be a more up-tempo attack this season (also pictured is team owner Mark Cuban, far left, and commissioner David Stern, second from right). That would seem to fit their personnel, and point guard Devin Harris has the quickness and playmaking ability to run a fast-break offense, and is one of the best defenders at his position as well. Only the lack of a jump shot keeps him from becoming an All-Star. The development of a reliable shot helped Josh Howard earn his first All-Star berth last year, and his athleticism could become even more apparent if the team quickens its pace. Center Desagana Diop can run the floor well for a 7-footer and his blocked shots could start plenty of transition opportunities. The Mavs will go to backup Erick Dampier for rebounding. Defensive whiz and long-range shooter Eddie Jones will likely get the nod at starting shooting guard, though incumbent starter Jason Terry could very well playing more minutes. Bringing Terry off the bench would allow for the Mavs' reserves to have an unrivaled one-two offensive punch and mean the team could continue to play an athletic, up-tempo style even when Howard and Nowitzki are getting their rest. Trenton Hassell and Devean George are around when the team needs to tighten its defense.

Houston Rockets
2006-07: 52-30
Lost to Utah 4-3 in first round
Coach: Rick Adelman
Starting lineup
PG Rafer Alston (13.3/5.4/3.4)
SG Tracy McGrady (24.6/5.3/6.5)
SF Shane Battier (10.1/2.1/4.1)
PF Luis Scola (rookie, 55th pick in 2002)
C Yao Ming (25.0/9.4/2.0)
G/F Bonzi Wells (7.8/4.3/1.1)
F Chuck Hayes (5.6/6.7/0.6)
G Mike James (10.1/2.0/3.6)
G Luther Head (10.9/3.2/2.4)
C Dikembe Mutombo (3.1/6.5/0.2)

The Rockets are counting on an unconventional rookie to lift the team into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Luis Scola, a 27-year-old Argentinian who has been considered the best player not in the NBA while playing in the Spanish league the past several years, was acquired in a deal with the Spurs and is expected to step into the starting small forward position. He's a skilled low-block player who can score and teamed with center Yao Ming (pictured) might give the Rockets the most intimidating combination of post threats since they had Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in the '80s. Yao is considered by many to be the league's top center with an array of post moves and the deft passing and ball-handling that sets great centers apart. Tracy McGrady is the perfect perimeter complement when healthy, the rare wing who is equally adept with a pull-up shot as he is driving to the basket. McGrady has rebounding and passing skills as well, but has missed 10 or more games two of the last four seasons. McGrady often creates plays for the offense since point guard Rafer Alston has never been known for his passing. Alston has nonetheless developed his jump shot to the point that he's a capable starter. Shane Battier has nowhere near the talent of the other four starters but is in the lineup because of his shooting, defense, intelligent play and defense. The bench features three offensively talented perimeter players in Bonzi Wells, Mike James and Luther Head, as well as an undersized post player who is nonetheless a force on the boards in Chuck Hayes. Then there's backup center Dikembe Mutombo, who can hit an open jumped and is still a skilled rebounder and shot blocker at 41. years old.

Memphis Grizzlies
2006-07: 22-60
Coach: Marc Iavaroni
Starting lineup
PG Damon Stoudamire (7.5/2.2/4.8)
SG Mike Miller (18.5/5.4/4.3)
SF Rudy Gay (10.8/4.5/1.3)
PF Pau Gasol (20.8/9.8/3.4)
C Darko Milicic (8.0/5.5/1.1)
PG Kyle Lowry (5.6/3.1/3.2)
C Stromile Swift (7.8/4.6/0.3)
SF Casey Jacobsen (6.5/2.0/1.3)
SG Juan Carlos Navarro (rookie, 40th pick in 2002)
F/C Hakim Warrick (12.7/5.1/0.9)

The Grizzlies were the worst team in the league last year, but that was mostly because they were racked by injury, most notably to Pau Gasol (pictured), who was coming off his first All-Star selection in 2006. His versatile offensive game is back this year, but new coach Marc Iavaroni will insist he concentrate on improving his mediocre defense. Gasol is surrounded by Mike Miller and Rudy Gay, two athletic, multi-talented offensive threats who will be challenged to get better defensively as well. Damon Stoudamire has never been considered a great passer or much of a pure point guard, but Iavaroni believes he has been a calming influence and has distributed the ball well enough in preseason to get the starting nod. Talented but unaccomplished Darko Milicic gets his first chance to prove his mettle as a full-time starting center. Veteran Stromile Swift, who might be a better fit with the team's athletic core, waits in reserve behind Milicic. Hakim Warrick is another post player who could fit that scheme but is the fourth option in the team's power rotation because of his lack of strength and defensive liabilities. The Grizzlies have a defensive option at backup guard in Kyle Lowry and an offensive weapon in Juan Carlos Navarro. Casey Jacobsen is around for his dead-eye shooting.

New Orleans Hornets
Coach: Byron Scott
Starting lineup
PG Chris Paul (17.3/4.4/8.9)
SG Morris Peterson (8.9/3.3/0.7)
SF Peja Stojakovic (17.8/4.2/0.8)
PF David West (18.3/8.1/2.2)
C Tyson Chandler (9.5/12.4/0.9)
G Bobby Jackson (10.6/3.2/2.5)
G Jannero Pargo (9.2/2.2/2.5)
G/F Rasual Butler (10.1/3.2/0.8)
PF Melvin Ely (3.0/1.8/0.6)
C Hilton Armstrong (3.1/2.7/0.2)
F Ryan Bowen (last played in 2005-06: 1.3/1.3/0.4)

The Hornets nearly made the playoffs last year despite being beset with injuries and playing half their home schedule in Oklahoma City. Healthy and back in New Orleans full time, the team could make a leap this year. Point guard Chris Paul (pictured, right), who many believe may be the best at his position in a couple of years, is the nerve center of the Hornets and can distribute, penetrate and is a strong team defender. Paul gets the attention, but power forward David West (pictured, left) gets the points, despite his lack of athletic ability. The team's leading scorer from last year combines long arms, sure ball handling and uncommon court vision with a reliable mid-range jumper to excel. Center Tyson Chandler was the league's second best rebounder behind Kevin Garnett last year, and is a defensive force. Only his inability so far to develop a decent offensive game keeps him from superstardom. Peja Stojakovic is one of the league's best shooters and can penetrate to score as well, but doesn't defend and can't stay healthy. He played only 13 games last year due to back surgery and has missed more than 15 games in three of the last four seasons. Morris Peterson, the team's most significant free-agent signee, brings his deadly outside shot and veteran leadership from Toronto, where he helped mentor a young club to a surprise division championship last year. Bobby Jackson, the Sixth Man of the Year in 2003, leads a deep bench with his slashing offense and solid defense. Jannero Pargo is a shooter and a defender, but neither he nor Jackson can adequately fill in as a ball distributor when Paul is out. Rasual Butler is an intriguing athlete and potent shooter who still must develop strength to defend and drive the basket. Melvin Ely is the choice for offense in the post, while Hilton Armstrong is the better defender, while Ryan Bowen can provide a punch of energy and rebounding at either forward spot.

San Antonio Spurs
2006-07: 58-24
Beat Denver 4-1 in first round
Beat Phoenix 4-2 in conference semifinals
Beat Utah 4-1 in conference finals
Beat Cleveland 4-0 in NBA Finals
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Starting lineup
PG Tony Parker (18.6/3.2/5.5)
SG Manu Ginobili (16.5/4.4/3.5)
SF Bruce Bowen (6.2/2.7/1.4)
PF Tim Duncan (20.0/10.6/3.4)
C Fabricio Oberto (4.4/4.7/0.9)
G/F Michael Finley (9.0/2.7/1.3)
C Francisco Elson (5.0/4.8/0.8)
PG Jacque Vaughn (3.0/1.1/2.0)
G/F Ime Udoka (8.4/3.7/1.5)
F/G Brent Barry (8.5/2.1/1.8)
PF Robert Horry

The Spurs return every rotation player from last year's championship team, so there's no reason to think they can't repeat, which is about the only unaccomplished objective left for this bunch. It all starts with Tim Duncan (pictured, left), who staked his claim as the greatest power forward in the history of the game with another title in 2007. He has the size, the talent, and a wide variety of skills on the offensive and defensive ends, and few have ever known the game better. He is a dominant post presence. Tony Parker is the perfect complement who dictates the pace of the game and can turn it into an up-and-down, athletic, slashing affair if the situation warrants. He and Manu Ginobili are two of the best at driving to the basket. Ginobili has been used as a sixth man who doesn't start but plays clutch minutes in the past, but he's opening the season in the starting lineup. Bruce Bowen (pictured, right) provides toughness on the perimeter and is one of the best defensive players in the game, despite having little more than an outside shot to rely upon offensively. Fabricio Oberto emerged last year as a solid post defender and slick passer who knows his role and never got in the way despite limited offensive skills. Michael Finley, though 34 and in decline, is an outside shooter off the bench whom Duncan can find on kick-outs and can use his strength to body up defenders and back them down for an easier look at the basket. Francisco Elson is a better shot blocker than Elson but is more suited to a bench role because of his foul difficulties. Jacque Vaughn is a veteran caretaker for the offense, a distributor who rarely looks to score. Ime Udoka, a journeyman free-agent signee, has impressed as a rebounder from the perimeter who can play a variety of positions. Brent Barry is a deadly outside shooter who isn't afraid to drive the lane, but doesn't play much defense. Robert Horry, at 37, is a bit player, but has won seven titles, more than any other player in the league, and still can hit the outside shot when needed most.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Southeast Division)

This project has officially become unwieldy. But no stopping now -- we're halfway done. And, as always, the statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, unless otherwise noted.

Atlanta Hawks

2006-07: 30-52
Coach: Mike Woodson
Starting lineup
PG Speedy Claxton (5.3/1.9/4.4)
SG Joe Johnson (25.0/4.2/4.4)
SF Josh Smith (16.4/8.6/3.3)
PF Marvin Williams (13.1/5.3/1.9)
C Zaza Pachulia (12.2/6.9/1.5)
C Al Horford (rookie, 3rd pick)
F/G Josh Childress (13.0/6.2/4.3)
PF Shelden Williams (5.5/5.4/0.5)
SG Salim Stoudemire (7.7/1.2/1.0)
PG Acie Law (rookie, 11th pick)
PG Tyronn Lue (11.4/1.9/3.6)

The Hawks have been dreadful for years, but may have finally assembled enough young talent to approach a playoff spot this season. If Josh Smith (pictured with ball) has improved his ballhandling and shooting skills, he could make the leap and become a premier small forward in his fourth season. Joe Johnson is the team's established scorer, and if he and Joe Johnson become more aggressive, they may become one of the best one-two punches in the league. Third-year man Marvin Williams possesses all the tools to become an effective power forward on a winning team, just as he was on the 2005 NCAA championship team at North Carolina. Rookie Al Horford, like Zaza Pachulia, are tough defenders, but the nod at starting center goes to Pachulia, who possesses the more sophisticated offensive game, for now at least. Speedy Claxton, an effective if undersized floor general, is the caretaker at point guard until rookie Acie Law is ready to take over. Tyronn Lue is also an option at the position and part of a deep bench that's led by versatile sixth man Josh Childress (pictured, background).

Charlotte Bobcats
2006-07: 33-49
Coach: Sam Vincent
Starting lineup
PG Raymond Felton (14.0/3.4/7.0)
SG Jason Richardson (16.0/5.1/3.4)
SF Gerald Wallace (18.1/7.2/2.6)
PF Emeka Okafor (14.4/11.3/1.2)
C Primoz Brezec (5.0/3.2/0.4)
G/F Matt Carroll (12.1/2.9/1.3)
PG Jeff McInnis (4.3/1.6/3.3)
F Walter Herrman (9.2/2.9/0.5)
G/F Derek Anderson (8.0/2.3/2.7)
SF Jared Dudley (rookie, 22nd pick)
C Ryan Hollins (2.4/1.1/0.0)

Season-ending injuries in preseason have robbed the team of its best low-block scorer in Sean May and Adam Morrison, its top scorer off the bench. That's tempered any enthusiasm over the acquisition of Jason Richardson, a potent scorer and rebounder from Golden State. Richardson struggles defensively though, and he and Gerald Wallace, the team's leading scorer from last season, must learn to mesh their similarly athletic offensive skills. Wallace and Emeka Okafor, unlike Richardson, are defensive stalwarts. Okafor is a major force on the boards but must work on his offensive game in the post with May out. Primoz Brezec, the last-minute choice at center, is a defensive liability, is a reliable shooter who can stretch the defense but a liability on defense, which might be mitigated by Okafor's presence. Slashing, playmaking point guard Raymond Felton has quietly become one of the league's better point guards despite the lack of an outside shot and his diminutive 6-foot stature. The bench is short but sixth man Matt Carroll (pictured) is a dead-eye shooter who could provide instant offense, and Walter Herrmann uses his strength as well as his shot to provide scoring from either forward spot.

Miami Heat 2006-07: 44-38
Lost to Chicago 4-0 in first round
Pat Riley
Starting lineup
PG Jason Williams (10.9/2.3/5.3)
SG Dwyane Wade (27.4/4.7/7.5)
SF Ricky Davis (17.0/3.9/4.8)
PF Udonis Haslem (10.7/8.3/1.2)
C Shaquille O'Neal (17.3/7.4/2.0)
SF Dorell Wright (6.0/4.1/1.4)
C/F Alonzo Mourning (8.6/4.5/0.2)
PF Mark Blount (12.3/6.2/0.8)
PG Smush Parker (11.1/2.5/2.8)
SG Daequan Cook (rookie, 21st pick)
G Anfernee Hardaway (last played in 2005-06: 2.5/2.5/2.0)

The Heat traded for Ricky Davis to provide a third scoring option behind Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal (pictured). He has been a selfish player in the past, but he's never been around personalities quite as strong as Wade, Shaq and coach Pat Riley. He's a slasher and a much more athletic player than Antoine Walker, whom the Heat sent to the Wolves in return, and will help make the Heat offense less reliant on Shaq's ability to draw defenders down and create room for outside shooters. Jason Williams, a distributor and outside shooter but a liability on defense, and Udonis Haslem, a tough rebounder who takes pressure off Shaq on the boards but struggles with his shot at times, return as starters. Alonzo Mourning is back to ensure the team doesn't miss a beat while Shaq's on the bench, and Mark Blount, a capable offensive player who came over in the Davis trade, will see minutes in the frontcourt as well. Dorell Wright has the athletic ability to develop into a valuable sixth man but must watch his turnovers and improve on defense. Smush Parker, who started most of last season for the Lakers, is backing up at point and Anfernee Hardaway is attempting a comeback after two years out of the game.

Orlando Magic
Lost to Detroit 4-0 in first round
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
Starting lineup
PG Jameer Nelson (13.0/3.1/4.3)
SG Keith Bogans (5.1/1.6/1.0)
SF Hedo Turkoglu (13.3/4.0/3.2)
PF Rashard Lewis (22.4/6.6/2.4)
C Dwight Howard (17.6/12.3/1.9)
PG Carlos Arroyo (7.7/1.9/2.8)
SG J.J. Redick (6.0/1.2/0.9)
G/F Keith Bogans (5.1/1.6/1.0)
F Pat Garrity (2.2/1.3/0.4)
C Adonal Foyle (2.2/2.6/0.4)
PF Bo Outlaw (2.0/2.6/0.4)

The two big changes for the Magic this offseason were the additions of head coach Stan Van Gundy (pictured, right) and the signing of free-agent Rashard Lewis (pictured, left), both of whom signal a change toward a more open, faster-paced style of play. Lewis challenges defenses with a consistent long-range jumper and an ability to create off the dribble, and he can post up if the occasion calls for it, too. He's sieve defensively, though, and the team has mirrored that deficiency throughout training camp. Dwight Howard will be playing center full time this year, and with Tony Battie out for the season, the All-NBA Third Teamer will carry a heavy load this year. Point guard Jameer Nelson returns to direct the attack, and while he'll welcome the opportunity to make quick cuts to the basket, his lack of playmaking ability could be an albatross for the Magic all season, or at least until backup Carlos Arroyo takes over primary ballhandling duties. Keith Bogans has overcome his shooting woes, at least for the time being, and will start at two-guard. Small forward Hidayet Turkoglu isn't an outstanding player, but his all-around skills and ability to play four positions make him an invaluable asset. The team has a choice of wing players off the bench -- they can go with either sharpshooting J.J. Redick or defensive stopper Trevor Ariza. Pat Garrity, in his second stint with the Magic, brings shooting off the bench at either forward spot. Veteran Adonal Foyle is around to make sure the team has someone capable of protecting the basket even when Howard is on the bench.

Washington Wizards
2006-07: 41-41
Lost to Cleveland 4-0 in first round
Coach: Eddie Jordan
Starting lineup

PG Gilbert Arenas (28.4/4.6/6.0)
SG DeShawn Stevenson (11.2/2.6/2.7)
SF Caron Butler (19.1/7.4/3.7)
PF Antawn Jamison (19.8/8.0/1.9)
C Brendan Haywood (6.6/6.2/0.6)
G Antonio Daniels (7.1/1.9/3.6)
G/F Nick Young (rookie, 16th pick)
SF Oleksiy Pecherov (rookie, 18th pick in 2006)
F/C Andray Blatche (3.7/3.4/0.7)
PF Darius Songaila (7.6/3.6/1.0)

Late-season injuries to Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, among others, derailed the Wizards last year, but barring similar maladies there'll be no stopping the Wizards' offense. The questions is whether they'll heed coach Eddie Jordan's call and stiffen up defensively. That would help Gilbert Arenas' (pictured) quest to become a First Team All-NBA type of player after finishing third in the league in scoring last year. It is of even greater importance that Arenas, Butler and Jamison, all terrific offensive players, make an effort to ratchet up their defense now that Etan Thomas, a shot-blocking rock on the interior, is out for an indefinite time following heart surgery. He'll be replaced at center by Brendan Haywood, a solid defender but a downgrade from Thomas. Starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, the team's best perimeter defender, is more valuable than ever this year. Antonio Daniels is a reliable ballhandler and an attractive defensive option off the bench at either guard spot. Rookie Nick Young is a wing player who can provide scoring with his jump shot, but must be more aggressive in driving the basket. Andray Blatche has to become more assertive in the post, since he may be the best option off the bench at both power positions, though Darius Songaila's versatile offensive game was put on display when injuries forced him into heavy minutes last year, and he'll be an asset again this season.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Central Division)

The NBA preview continues. But I'm also linking to a clip of George Carlin's appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night. Since Hunter S. Thompson is dead, this is pretty much as good as gets for me in the "personal heroes in one room" department.

Remember, statistics in parentheses are points per game/rebounds per game/assists per game unless otherwise noted.

Chicago Bulls
2006-07: 49-33
Beat Miami 4-0 in first round
Lost to Detroit 4-2 in conference semifinals
Coach: Scott Skiles
Starting lineup
PG Kirk Hinrich (16.6/3.4/6.3)
SG Ben Gordon (21.4/3.1/3.6)
SF Luol Deng (18.8/7.1/2.5)
PF Tyrus Thomas (5.2/3.7/0.6) or Joe Smith (8.5/6.2/0.8)
C Ben Wallace (6.4/10.7/2.4)
F/C Tyrus Thomas or Joe Smith
F Andres Nocioni (14.1/5.7/1.1)
G Chris Duhon (7.2/2.2/4.0)
C/F Aaron Gray (rookie, 49th pick)
PF Joakim Noah (rookie, 9th pick)
G/F Thabo Sefolosha (3.6/2.2/0.8)
G/F Adrian Griffin (2.5/2.0/1.1)

The team has improved, but so has its competition in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are a contender for the conference championship, but will have to find some source of post scoring if they are to win it. Joe Smith is a nice addition in this regard, but he's 32 years old and his best basketball is probably behind him. The team would likely be better served if Tyrus Thomas has developed his offensive game enough to win the starting power forward job. Luol Deng's consistent improvement bodes well, and the all-around talent could be the team's best player. The guards are a known quantity, with Ben Gordon providing the scoring punch and clutch shooting, Kirk Hinrich running the offense and making plays, and Chris Duhon as the defensive stopper and steadying influence off the bench. Much was made of the acquisition of four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace before last season, but he's not a factor on offense and his rebounding and defense slipped last year. They likely won't get any better for the 33-year-old center this year, but he still strikes fear into anyone who tries to drive to the basket. Sixth man Andres Nocioni was out for most of the second half last year, and his aggression and toughness was sorely missed. Rookies Joakim Noah (pictured, with commissioner David Stern), an athletic defender, and Aaron Gray, who has impressed in preseason, make the Bulls' power rotation one of the league's deepest.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Beat Washington 4-0 in first round
Beat New Jersey 4-2 in conference semifinals
Beat Detroit 4-2 in conference finals
Lost to San Antonio 4-0 in NBA Finals
Coach: Mike Brown
Starting lineup
PG Larry Hughes (14.9/3.8/3.7)
SG Sasha Pavlovic (9.0/2.4/1.6)*
SF LeBron James (27.3/6.7/6.0)
PF Drew Gooden (11.1/8.5/1.1)
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11.9/7.7/1.6)
G Daniel Gibson (4.6/1.5/1.2)
C/F Anderson Varejao (6.8/6.7/0.9)*
F Donyell Marshall (7.0/4.0/0.6)
PF Cedric Simmons (2.9/2.5/0.3)
PF Dwayne Jones (0.8/1.5/0.0)
PG Eric Snow (4.2/2.3/4.0)
G Damon Jones (6.6/1.1/1.6)
*-contract holdout

LeBron James (pictured) staked his claim as the league's best all-around player when he put the team on his back and carried them to the Finals last year, but the Cavs did nothing to get LeBron James any help in the offseason. If anything, they're worse, as long as Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao continue their contract holdouts. That means playoff sensation Daniel "Boobie" Gibson brings his ability to light it up from behind the arc into the starting lineup, but leaves the cupboard bare on the bench. That doesn't bode well with a 32-year-old starting center with a history of foot problems in Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He must assert himself more on the dfensive end this year, and Drew Gooden will have to be at his best to replace Varejao's energy. If not, reserves Cedric Simmons and Dwayne Jones, both defensive specialists, will grab significant minutes. Donyell Marshall's long-range sharpshooting will be needed now more than ever off the bench. Larry Hughes still struggles as a point guard, but he, Gibson and James can split the responsibility of running the offense three ways. Backup point guard Eric Snow, a defensive option, and reserve Damon Jones, the choice for added scoring, will see minutes depending on the game situation.

Detroit Pistons
Beat Orlando 4-0 in first round
Beat Chicago 4-2 in conference semifinals
Lost to Cleveland 4-2 in conference finals
Coach: Flip Saunders
Starting lineup
PG Chauncey Billups (17.0/3.4/7.2)
SG Richard Hamilton (19.8/3.8/3.8)
SF Tayshaun Prince (14.3/5.2/2.8)
PF Rasheed Wallace (12.3/7.2/1.7)
C Antonio McDyess (8.1/6.0/0.9)
G Rodney Stuckey (rookie, 15th pick)
F/C Jason Maxiell (5.0/2.8/0.2)
G Flip Murray (6.7/1.6/2.7)
SF Jarvis Hayes (7.0/2.6/1.0)
F Amir Johnson (5.9/4.6/0.4)
C Nazr Mohammed (5.6/4.5/0.2)

The familiar foursome of Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups (pictured, in order from left to right), together since the middle of the 2003-04 season, are back for at least one more run at the championship. Antonio McDyess, who has been an energetic and tactful presence off the bench, should be able to comfortably slide into the starting lineup at center. More dramatic changes have taken place on the bench, where a youth movement should allow the Pistons to run with some of the league's up-tempo teams when necessary. Combo guard Rodney Stuckey, a slasher the Pistons have lacked, has played so well in the preseason some are calling the rookie, who was picked 15th, the steal of this year's draft. Amir Johnson, who impressed the team with his work in the D-League the past two years, missed seven of the team's first eight games with an ankle injury, but he's healthy again and should still wind up in the rotation, backing up at both forward spots. Jason Maxiell is only 6-foot-7, but has learned how to use his 260 pounds to become a physical force and skilled rebounder. His leaping ability and speed belie his girth. Nazr Mohammed, who cleans up the offensive glass and can score if needed, should get a chance to redeem himself after falling all the way from starting center to out of the rotation last year. Flip Murray and former Wizard Jarvis Hayes provide bench scoring at the wing positions.

Indiana Pacers
Coach: Jim O'Brien
Starting lineup
PG Jamaal Tinsley (12.8/3.3/6.9)
SG Danny Granger (13.9/4.6/1.4)
SF Mike Dunleavy (12.8/5.3/2.8)
PF Jermaine O'Neal (19.4/9.6/2.4)
C Troy Murphy (10.3/6.1/1.9)
G/F Marquis Daniels (7.1/1.8/1.3)
C Jeff Foster (4.3/8.1/0.8)
PF Ike Diogu (6.2/3.4/0.4)
SG Kareem Rush (10.1/2.2/1.1)
PG Travis Diener (3.8/0.7/1.3)
PG Andre Owens (last played in 2005-06: 3.0/0.9/0.3)
C David Harrison (3.0/1.8/0.3)

I can't believe this team didn't trade Jermaine O'Neal (pictured) during the offseason. Since they didn't, they're caught between mediocrity and rebuilding, and the franchise isn't going anywhere fast. O'Neal has established himself as a very good player, but not outstanding in any way, and far below the level of contemporary greats at his position like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. If third-year man Danny Granger's development continues he could be one of the league's better shooting guards. Aside from O'Neal and Granger, the rest of the team is mediocre at best. Jamaal Tinsley is capable of directing the offense, but little more. Mike Dunleavy knows what to do on the floor but lacks many of the physical gifts necessary to get it done, at least to the level required of an NBA starter. He'd be better off on the bench, but the Pacers have little other choice. His backup, Marquis Daniels is a versatile talent, but his lack of shooting touch keeps him on the bench, where his ability to play all three perimeter positions is more valuable anyway. It's a Faustian choice at center, where starter Troy Murphy can score but doesn't play defense, and backup Jeff Foster protects the basket but can't seem to put the ball inside of it.

Milwaukee Bucks
Coach: Larry Krystkowiak
Starting lineup
PG Maurice Williams (17.3/4.8/6.1)
SG Michael Redd (26.7/3.7/2.3)
SF Bobby Simmons (last played in 2005-06: 13.4/4.4/2.3)
PF Yi Jianlian (rookie, 6th pick)
C Andrew Bogut (12.3/8.8/3.0)
SF Desmond Mason (13.7/4.6/1.5)
PF Charlie Villanueva (11.8/5.8/0.9)
G Charlie Bell (13.5/2.9/3.0)
C Dan Gadzuric (4.8/4.6/0.5)
G Royal Ivey (3.0/1.0/0.8)

Shooting guard Michael Redd, the league's fifth leading scorer last season, got little recognition on a team that compiled the third worst record in the NBA. He may get his due this year, if a young roster can deliver on some of its promise and learn to play defense. Point guard Maurice Williams is a microcosm of the team, which gave up 112 points a game in 2006-07, second only to the league doormat Grizzlies. His court vision, ball-handling and ability to score are among the best in the league, but he's a poor defender. He'll be joined in the starting lineup by Yi Jianlian (pictured), who'll be getting plenty of minutes whether or not rumors he was promised playing time by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., who moonlights as the team owner and made a special trip to China to secure the services of the sixth pick in this year's draft. Yi's quickness, agility and jump shot are his strengths, but he's not a great defender and has no low-post game, two reasons he's at power forward instead of center. Small forward Bobby Simmons, who missed last year after surgeries on his ankle and heel, also won a starting job in training camp, beating out Desmond Mason. Simmons' all-around game trumped the athleticism of Mason, who isn't an outside shooting threat and is undersized at 6-foot-5. Mason is a better fit with an athletic bench, which includes center Dan Gadzuric, a change of pace from the more offensively oriented starter Andrew Bogut.

Monday, October 22, 2007

2007-08 NBA preview (Atlantic Division)

The Red Sox are going to the World Series after rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the steroid-enhanced Indians, the top two college football teams could be headed for a fall (again), and there were plenty of goodies from another fat Sunday of professional football.

But who cares about all that? The NBA season starts a week from Tuesday, and even though the refs are corrupt, it's still my favorite league. I'll be rolling out a preview, division by division, on an irregular basis between now and the first tip. We'll be starting with the Atlantic Division, and like the great explorers Lewis, Clark, and the Oregon Trail families, we'll be making our way westward across the country while trying to avoid cholera, diphtheria, and the dreaded mad ox disease. Enjoy!

(Statistics in parentheses are points per game/rebounds per game/assists per game in 2006-07)

Boston Celtics
2006-07: 24-58
Coach: Doc Rivers
Starting lineup
PG Rajon Rondo (6.4/3.7/3.8)
SG Ray Allen (26.4/4.5/4.1)
SF Paul Pierce (25.0/5.9/4.1)
PF Kevin Garnett (22.4/12.8/4.1)
C Kendrick Perkins (4.5/5.2/1.3)
F James Posey (7.7/5.0/1.3)
G Tony Allen (11.5/3.8/1.7)
C/F Glen Davis (rookie, 35th pick)
PF Leon Powe (4.3/3.5/0.2)
G Eddie House (8.4/1.6/1.2)
F Brian Scalabrine (4.0/1.9/1.1)

The Celtics made the biggest move this offseason, acquiring 2004 league MVP Kevin Garnett (pictured, center), still one of the league's top-10 players, along with seven-time All-Star Ray Allen (pictured, right). They team with mainstay Paul Pierce (pictured, left) to make arguably the league's top threesome, but it remains to be seen whether that's enough to carry an otherwise unimpressive roster deep into the playoffs. The signing of James Posey, who started at small forward on the Heat's 2006 championship team, provides the team with a valuable sixth man who could see time as a backup for all three superstars. The viability of second-year man Rajon Rondo as a competent starting point guard is a question. Kendrick Perkins will be asked to carry the load in the post, given Garnett's aversion to playing close to the basket and the diminuitive height of 6-foot-8 backup Glen Davis. That might be too much to ask from Perkins, who's never held down a starting job for a full season.

New Jersey Nets
2006-07: 41-41
Beat Toronto 4-2 in first round
Lost to Cleveland 4-2 in conference semifinals
Coach: Lawrence Frank
Starting lineup
PG Jason Kidd (13.0/8.2/9.2)
SG Vince Carter (25.2/6.0/4.8)
SF Richard Jefferson (16.3/4.4/2.7)
PF Nenad Krstic (16.4/6.8/1.8)
C Jamaal Magloire (6.5/6.1/0.4)
C Jason Collins (2.1/4.0/0.6)
PF Josh Boone (4.2/2.9/0.2)
PF Malik Allen (4.0/2.0/0.3)
PF Sean Williams (rookie, 17th pick)
F/G Bostjan Nachbar (9.2/3.3/0.8)
SG Antoine Wright (4.5/2.8/0.9)
PG Darrell Armstrong (5.6/1.7/2.4)
PG Marcus Williams (6.8/2.1/3.3)

While most of the attention in the Atlantic Division has been focused on the Celtics' big off-season moves and the surprise first-place finish of the Toronto Raptors, the Nets quietly bolstered a team that's been the last team Atlantic team standing in the playoffs five of the last six years. Jason Kidd (pictured, center) is 34, but he's missed only four games over the past two seasons and is still one of the premier point guards in the game. Health is of greater concern for Richard Jefferson (pictured, left), who has missed significant time two of the last three years but combines with leading scorer Vince Carter (pictured, right) to make this team one of the most exciting offensively when they're together on the floor. Nenad Krstic returns after missing most of 2006-07 with a torn ACL, and the team hopes he can return to form as an all-around scoring threat. Veteran free-agent signee Jamaal Magloire, a classic, in-the-paint post player, is the best guess at center, as the Nets have a glut of power players, an area where they were thin last year. Jason Collins, Josh Boone, Malik Allen and Sean Williams are all in the running for post minutes. Sharpshooting swingman Bostjan Nachbar was a spark off the bench late last year and in the playoffs. Darrell Armstrong, 39, likely in his final season, will be the backup point guard for at least the first month of the season while Marcus Williams recovers from a broken foot.

New York Knicks
Coach: Isiah Thomas
2006-07: 33-49
Starting lineup
PG Stephon Marbury (16.4/2.9/5.4)
SG Jamal Crawford (17.6/3.2/4.4)
SF Quentin Richardson (13.0/7.2/2.2)
PF Zach Randolph (23.6/10.1/2.2)
C Eddy Curry (19.5/7.0/0.8)
F David Lee (10.7/10.4/1.8)
F/G Renaldo Balkman (4.9/4.3/0.6)
PG Nate Robinson (10.1/2.4/1.4)
G/F Fred Jones (6.5/1.8/1.7)
C Randolph Morris (0.8/1.8/0.2)
PF Malik Rose (3.0/2.7/1.0)
F Jared Jeffries (4.1/4.3/1.2)
C Jerome James (1.9/1.6/0.1)

The team's sexual harassment lawsuit surrounding Isiah Thomas (pictured, left) notwithstanding, there's reason for optimism for the first time in a while at Madison Square Garden. The team acquired Zach Randolph (pictured, right), instantly one of the top post performers in the Eastern Conference, in a draft night deal with Portland. Much has been made of the similarity between his game and Eddy Curry's, but two capable big men are better than none. Thomas will be challenged to design a system that gets the most out of both, but for once has a clear option at point guard with Stephon Marbury. Stability could benefit Jamal Crawford, the team's second leading scorer behind Curry, who has the job at shooting guard after vacillating between the bench and the starting lineup the past two years. Three-point bomber Quentin Richardson hasn't been the same since a stellar 2005 with Phoenix, but is the starting small forward for now. Fan favorite David Lee and Renaldo Balkman, who surprised as a rookie last year, provide depth at the wings, along with Thomas favorite Fred Jones. There's not much behind Curry and Randolph, particularly as Jerome James struggles to play with a bad knee that may require surgery.

Philadelphia 76ers
Coach: Maurice Cheeks
2006-07: 35-47
Starting lineup
PG Andre Miller (13.4/4.4/7.8)
SG Rodney Carney (6.6/1.9/0.4) or Willie Green (11.3/2.1/1.5)
SF Andre Iguodala (18.2/5.7/5.7)
PF Reggie Evans (4.9/7.0/0.7)
C Samuel Dalembert (10.7/8.9/0.8)
SG Willie Green or Rodney Carney
G/F Kyle Korver (14.4/3.5/1.4)
F/C Jason Smith (rookie, 20th pick)
SF Thaddeus Young (rookie, 12th pick)
PG Kevin Ollie (3.8/1.4/2.5)
C Shavlik Randolph (4.5/4.2/0.3)
G Louis Williams (4.3/1.1/1.8)

What a mess. The rebuilding process after the Allen Iverson trade is bottoming out, and this team could make a run at the worst record in the league. Athletic Andre Iguodala (pictured, right) is the go-to guy, and must show progress this year or he could become the second AI shipped out of Philly. Veteran Andre Miller is one of the league's better point guards, and deserves a better fate than to be stuck with this bunch. Reggie Evans is not a threat offensively, but his defense and rebounding was enough for him to start for a division champion Seattle team in 2005. Samuel Dalembert (pictured, center, with Kyle Korver, left) won't score much either, but he's a team mainstay and a viable option at center, particularly in the Eastern Conference. Rodney Carney and the undersized Willie Green are battling for the shooting guard spot, but the team must hope Carney can overcome defensive shortcomings and inconsistency after spending a first-round pick on him in 2006. This year's first-rounders, small forward Thaddeus Young and forward/center Jason Smith, will likely get plenty of minutes to prove their mettle off the bench. Third-year guard Louis Williams has impressed in heavy preseason minutes.

Toronto Raptors
2006-07: 47-35
Lost to New Jersey 4-2 in first round
Coach: Sam Mitchell
Starting lineup
PG T.J. Ford (14.0/3.1/7.9)
SG Anthony Parker (12.4/3.9/2.1)
SF Jason Kapono (10.9/2.7/1.2)
PF Chris Bosh (22.6/10.7/2.5)
C Andrea Bargnani (11.6/3.9/0.8)
F Jorge Garbajosa (8.5/4.9/1.9)
PG Jose Calderon (8.7/1.7/5.0)
C Rasho Nesterovic (6.2/4.5/0.9)
PF Kris Humphries (3.8/3.1/0.3)
SF Joey Graham (6.4/3.1/0.6)
G/F Carlos Delfino (5.2/3.2/1.1)

Plenty of people assumed NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell won the Atlantic Division last year with smoke and mirrors, and that theory was backed up by a first-round playoff exit. It will be tougher to repeat as division champs this year with Boston, New Jersey and New York all improved, but the Raptors should be better, too, as long as Italian center Andrea Bargnani, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, continues to develop. He needs to be more willing to mix it up inside and grab more rebounds. If he does so, he and Chris Bosh (pictured) could be the league's most fearsome post duo. The team is looking for repeat performances from last year's pleasant surprises, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa. The loss of Garbajosa to knee and ankle injuries late last year was a key reason behind the team's playoff defeat. Jason Kapono, the league's three-point shooting percentage leader with Miami last year, will likely inherit Garbajosa's small forward spot. T.J. Ford is one of the league's best point guards, and perhaps the most underrated at that position, and has a quality backup in Jose Calderon. Free-agent signee Carlos Delfino began the preseason with a chance to start, but played so poorly he might be out of the rotation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why can't we be virtual friends?

It's never fun dealing with Rupert Murdoch. He's probably the only person who can challenge Dick Cheney in the Douche of the Year contest (for which he is hereby nominated), and the chief reason why he might win is the size of his gargantuan and ever-growing sphere of influence, with which he's attempting to swallow reality whole. Perhaps the most surreptitious of these assaults is his MySpace empire, which he acquired in 2005. If you're 25 or younger, chances are you have a MySpace page, and are therefore subject to loud, flashing advertisements, a mountain of spam and fraudulent come-ons, and random encounters with strangers. There are other popular "social networking sites," most notably Facebook, but MySpace has remained the gold standard. There are plenty of older folks, like myself (OK, I'm 28, so I'm not that much older, but so it is) who have MySpace pages, too, and I believe most of them, like myself, lament the corporatized, audience-tailored replacement for the face-to-face encounter the site has in some way become.

Perhaps the most glaring and obvious example of MySpace- fueled societal decay can be encountered when someone you have never met decides to ask if you would like to become their friend. I've found that the most fruitful friendships I've had in life have begun organically, without a defined moment when strangers became acquaintances and acquaintances became friends. It never starts with a cloying "Will you be my friend?" query. But that's how it's done on MySpace. There are no acquaintances -- only friends and un-friends. You're either with somebody or against them, just as in Murdoch's black-and-white, maverick politics.

Your first duty upon receiving one of these requests is to find out whether it's a real person or a spam- spewing robot -- an easy determination in real life but a bit trickier on MySpace. The best way to find this out is by clicking the link to the potential friend's profile and examining their page for prominently displayed nude pictures of themselves, feverish promotion of their favorite consumer product, or a combination of the two. Another tell-tale sign are the person's friends and their comments -- on MySpace you are who you befriend -- which, if they are filled largely with male rednecks in their 30s who seem quite happy to have been added, are a sure indication that this is one request to ignore.

But then, therein lies a hard-to- resolve dilemma -- if you are actually engaged by a real human being and accept their request to become friends, what should your first words to them be? Common etiquette dictates that you comment on their page with a "thank you for the add," but as this has become widely used it has become even more distant and didactic in tone, leaving the friend requester to wonder if they have just committed the cardinal sin of inviting a spam robot to their page. A warmer approach can be made by including one of the vast multitude of graphics with "Thanks for the add" imprinted on them, usually along with a kitten and twinkling sparkles. These are perfect for teenage girls and particularly effeminate men, but, alas, no good for anyone else.

There is, as I have discovered, the witty approach. You can take the popular "Thanks for the add" phrase and have some fun with it, but the risk of misunderstanding is great. For instance, take this exchange of comments from a pair of MySpace pages:

Me, commenting on my new friend's page: Thanks for the a-d-d! Better go take my Ritalin!

My new friend, on my page: What?

Me: Oh, sorry. I was making a joke. I meant ADD, as in attention deficit disorder.

My new friend: I don't have ADD.

Me: I know you don't have ADD. I was just bringing it up because I was trying to say "thanks for the add," but noticed the word add is also the acronym for that syndrome. Just trying to switch things up a bit and lighten the mood.

My new friend: You really have got to be careful ... you shouldn't make fun of people with ADD.

Me: I never meant to make fun of anyone with ADD. I'm very sorry you took offense.

My new friend: You better be.

My guess is I won't be getting an Evite to any of that guy's holiday parties this year. Which is just as well, I suppose, since I probably wouldn't feel very comfortable and wouldn't be my usual jovial self at the affair, given our initial encounter. I suppose that would be the ultimate effect of MySpace -- to discourage one from seeking out face-to-face encounters, the kind of meet-up that lacks advertising space and very often entails conversations that are difficult to document for the purpose of government surveillance.

But hey, I just got some good news! A bunch of strangers named Beverlie, Daniel, Brianna, Sydney, Taylor, Trinity, Samantha and Darryl all want to be my friend! I hope none of them suffer from any attention-span related disorders.