Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NBA Finals Preview

Both of these teams are better than you think.

Dallas? Don't let their overall record and point differential fool you. They have gone 64-16 with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler in the lineup. They also won both regular season games against the Heat. Their ability to space the floor and pass also means they are one of the only teams in the league whose crunch time offense is something other than an ugly ISO into a packed lane.

Miami? After losing to Dallas on November 27th, they have gone 61-19. More impressively, they have gone 27-6 in their last 33 games, a 67 win pace, and looked better than Dallas in the conference finals. And Udonis Haslem, their 4th best player, is finally becoming healthy. And they have the best player in the series.

I think Miami is the favorite, but it should be an interesting series.

Monday, May 9, 2011

NBA Draft Mockery 1.0

As more and more teams see their seasons end, and the slightly disturbing spectacle known as the "draft process" kicks into full gear, I find myself engrossed, in all the word's various possible meanings. Due possibly to the uncertainty concerning the existence of next year's NBA season, or the gods of basketball frowning on '92 babies, this year's draft has been described in terms like "historically weak".

This being a blog at least nominally focused on the history of the NBA, I'd be remiss in not mentioning the granddaddy of weak drafts, 2000. That was the draft in which Kenyon Martin was the best player taken. The best of the rest from that draft class was Michael Redd, Hedo Turkoglu, Mike Miller, and Jamal Crawford. For those concerned about the lack of poetry emanating from NBA circles, though, the draft was considerably more successful.

Which brings us to this year's draft. What follows is what I would do in each (lottery) team's situation, not what I think each team will do.

#1 MIN: Kyrie Irving, PG. Another point guard? The top two prospects right now are Irving, a point guard, and Derrick Williams, who looks like a more efficient Michael Beasley. Whichever pick they end up with, I wouldn't be surprised to see them choose an international big, probably Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas. As for Irving, he's the closest thing to a sure bet in this draft, even if he doesn't have elite potential.
#2 CLE: Derrick Williams, PF. Cleveland needs everything, so they'll go for BPA here. I suspect Williams will mostly play at SF in the NBA, giving a team an efficient 20 and 7 with mediocre defense.
#3 TOR: Enes Kanter, C. Somewhat of an unknown quantity, but according to all reports, he's a polished scorer and all around player, by the standards of 18 year old centers. He won't be great, but Kanter and Ed Davis would give Toronto a frontcourt notable for something other than jump shots.
#4 WAS: Bismack Biyombo, PF. The player I'm highest on in this draft. His backstory reads uncomfortably like a sports movie, but watching him on YouTube it's hard not to get excited. He looks like an NBA player, he has DPOY potential, excellent intangibles, and he's playing excellently in the ACB as a raw 18 year old, a league featuring much tougher competition than the NCAA.
#5 SAC: Jonas Valanciunas, C. It seems like the Kings have talented young players at every position, they just need to figure out how to play together. At this point, with no elite talents on the board, the best option might be to take a Euro who won't be ready to come over for a couple years, when the Kings hopefully won't be developing eight players at once.
#6 UTA: Kemba Walker, PG. They've had good luck drafting point guards in the past, and Devin Harris' fate seems to involve being repeatedly unseated by a better, more famous replacement. Who am I to argue with fate? If Walker improves in the NBA like he did in college, he could be the next Terrell Brandon. I'm a bit leery of guys who weren't great until their junior year, though.
#7 DET: Kawhi Leonard, SF. Another team that needs everything. Leonard won't be a great scorer, but he can play defense, rebound, and slash.
#8 CLE: Brandon Knight, PG. Well, Cleveland desperately needs a guard that can create his own shot. I'm not sure what to think of Knight. He could be anywhere from CJ Watson to Chauncey Billups, depending on how much he improves.
#9 CHA: Marcus Morris, PF. The Bobcats need players who can put the ball in the basket competently, and Morris seems a decent bet to put together a steady string of 16 and 8 seasons with average defense.
#10 MIL: Alec Burks, SG. I think the Bucks are a scorer away winning games in the playoffs again. Burks is the best two guard in the draft, damning with faint praise as that may be.
#11 GSW: Jan Vesely, SF. He's big, athletic, exciting, and has questions concerning rebounding and man to man defense. Moving along...
#12 UTA: Jimmer Fredette, SG. Couldn't resist. The Jazz actually could use a bench gunner, FWIW. Davis Bertans (SF), the latest Peja clone, is a possibility here.
#13 PHO: Kenneth Faried, PF. An undersized four who can play defense, rebound like crazy, and run the floor? Seems like a good fit for the Suns.
#14 HOU: Chris Singleton, SF. He might be the best perimeter defender in the draft. If he can develop into a reliable catch and shoot three point shooter, which he showed flashes of in college, he could be an intriguing player.

If I had to pick one team to trade up, it would be Houston moving up for Biyombo, although that's really nothing more than a gut feeling. The Kings at #5 seem like a likely candidate to move down, those teams like to trade together, the Rockets have assets, and they desperately needs an interior presence/shot blocker.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So, The Mavs Are Pretty Good

In the wake of the Dallas Mavericks' deconstruction of the Los Angeles Lakers comes the inevitable question, should we have seen their victory coming?

I can claim no prognosticative powers here. I didn't think Dallas would lose to the Blazers, but that was due more to pessimism about Portland than optimism concerning the Mavericks. I didn't think the Mavericks had much of a chance against Los Angeles, and even tweeted, when the playoffs began, about the easy road the Lakers had to the Western Conference Finals. Why was I so wrong? I think there were three main factors.

The first factor was that I underestimated how good Dallas is. I saw a team that went 57-25 with a plus 4.2 point differential, which is good, but hardly elite. However, if you eliminate games missed by Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler, Dallas' two best players (JET's heroics nonwithstanding), that record becomes 52-13 with a point differential over 6, which is "best in the Western Conference" territory.

The second factor was that I bought into the Laker narrative. Sure, they had plenty of weaknesses, and they struggled against a weak Hornets team, but they could turn it on when they wanted to, right? I thought they were just too big and too talented to lose this way. It turns out that they were until they weren't. Like the Spurs-Suns sweep of last year, this series is a reminder of how relying on established narratives can become lazy and inaccurate without asking if the reasons behind those narratives are still valid, in this case L.A's particular matchup advantages that Dallas was able to neutralize.

The third factor was the matchups, and I have said in the past that Dallas matches up well against the Lakers, but I didn't realize just how true that was. The Lakers' biggest weakness has always been small, quick guards, and their biggest strength has been imposing size and skill up front. Dallas was uniquely poised to take advantage, with Jason Terry and J.J. Barea shredding their perimeter defense, and their own trio of 7 footers (Chandler, Nowitzki, Haywood) neutralizing the Lakers' biggest strength.

On the other side, Dallas' biggest weakness the past few years has been, like L.A., quick guards. Exhibit A was their loss to San Antonio last year in the playoff series that briefly fooled people into thinking George Hill was a potential star. The Lakers (or the Blazers, for that matter) had no one who could exploit this weakness. Bryant's game is built around guile and precision instead of speed, making him the one type of good player Jason Kidd can still guard, and Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, and Shannon Brown provide the Mavericks with three of the only NBA players Terry or Barea can guard without looking atrocious.

Why did the Lakers get to the NBA Finals three straight years? One of the biggest reasons was that it was extremely difficult to score inside against them, and when an opponent takes your most efficient shot away from you, disaster often ensues. Fortunately for them, the Mavericks' biggest strength has been scoring from the outside, which they were able to do with ease against the Lakers' lackluster perimeter defense.

Oh, and for some reason Pau Gasol played terribly. Otherwise this series goes 6 or 7, maybe with the Lakers winning anyway.