NBA

NBA All-Star West Selections (originally from stumped4aduck.com)

Point Guard

Binczyk: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)

The LA Clippers’ little enforcer has certainly put his hand up as an MVP candidate so far this season averaging a remarkable 11 assists and 19 points per game.

The attributes of the world’s best chess players are comparable to how Paul manoeuvres and dictates games on the court.

One has to wonder though if Paul can propel the Clippers to a championship, as the last alpha point guard to do so was Isiah Thomas over 20 years ago.

Lavalette: Chris Paul

Most believe CP3 is indisputably the greatest point guard plying his trade right now. I’m not in this camp. Is he the best? Yeah, probably. But I believe Tony Parker, likely to forever be a historically under-rated player, is virtually on-par. Had Parker not been limited by injury at the latter stages of the NBA finals, the Spurs would be the reigning champions (although, they should have clinched Game Six anyway) and every possibility Parker would now boast two flashy Finals MVPs.

Due to strict game time monitoring from Pop (Parker’s averaging just 30 min per game) combined with the Spurs’ renowned depth (Aussie Patty Mills is having a sneaky good season as backup point guard), Parker hasn’t had to consistently showcase his trademark brilliance to this point of the season.

There are loads of other contenders in this esteemed conference.

After a delayed start to the season, Russell Westbrook has shrugged off any concerns with a scintillating season – 21-5-7 – ensuring OKC quietly remain a championship contender.

Witnessing Damian Lillard (averaging 22 -7) emerge into a badass assassin late in games has been one of the highlights of the season and a key in the Blazers being a surprise championship contender.

Having said all that, it’s hard to go past Paul. He’s averaging 19 points, a league leading 11 assists per game, and 2.4 steals – third in the NBA.

He eclipsed Magic Johnson’s 23-year record by starting the season with 13 straight double doubles (points/assists). Only five times out of 28 games has he not mustered a double/double.

There are not too many players more important to their teams as Paul to the Clips. He’s their on-court general, leader, facilitator, initiator, intimidator, crunch time scorer, and so on and so forth.

He provides this flashy team with the gravitas it so desperately craves.

He’s transformed the franchise from an international sports punch line to a fringe championship contender.

Simply, without CP the Clips would be one of the dregs of the Western Conference.

Collins: Chris Paul

CP3. The second best point guard in basketball but the ultimate point guard to run the All Star show. No other little guy in the NBA is relied upon more to play both the intimidator and the creator than Chris Paul.

He edges out Tony Parker for the starting point guard duties because, quite simply, the Spurs’ depth allows Parker to stay mostly in second gear (San Antonio has blown out 12 teams this season) and play limited minutes (30 minutes per game).

On the other hand, Paul leads the league with 11.3 assists per game, and more impressively, lulls you into believing, for a moment, that the Clippers could be more than just sweeping practice for Oklahoma and San Antonio in the second round.

Shooting Guard

Binczyk: James Harden (Houston Rockets)

Ultimately this will be Kobe’s spot in the team as the very large Lakers faithful will still tick off Bryant on their ballots to ensure the ageing champion makes his 16th all-star appearance even though he has only played a handful of games this season.

However Harden deserves the spot, having relished the role of being the leader on the court for the young Rockets roster in his second year with the team.

Harden in the team, according to ESPNs Hollinger stats, results in the Rockets being five wins better off to the team’s season if a replacement SG with average baseline stats were to take Harden’s position – the best in the NBA for a shooting guard.

Lavalette: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

For the past 15 years, Kobe has been an automatic lock in this position.

This season marks a generational change and I suspect for many years we’ll have the perennial debate – Curry or Harden?

It’s a bit of a toss-up, with both their respective teams hard to gauge and one could make the reasonable argument Golden State and Houston have been slightly underwhelming thus far.

But it’s hard to fault Curry, who is averaging 24 and 9. His three-point mark is slightly down (41% compared to 44% career) but that’s testament to increased defensive strategies to curb his lethal long-range expertise.

Perhaps, he’s been a bit too three-happy – eight attempts per game! –  but why nit-pick, eh?  There’s possibly no better sight in the NBA, heck sports, than witnessing Curry in heat check mode. When he’s so ridiculously in the zone – reminiscent of when a player was engulfed in flames in the legendary video game NBA Jam Session – it’s MUST WATCH. You just have to drop whatever you’re doing and quickly log into NBA League Pass.

Curry’s one of the most entertaining players in the league and his unique skill-set is sure to dazzle during All-Star weekend.

Plus, the dirty little secret is that I just can’t plump for Harden as an All-Star starter and/or First-Team NBA. As much as I admire Harden for his ability to absolutely become a franchise player since being shockingly traded from OKC, it’s been disappointing that he hasn’t grasped the concept of being impactful on both ends.

His defence has spiralled to such an atrocious level that it has become fodder on YouTube, with an abundance of clips lampooning his inept defending.

It’s becoming increasingly embarrassing, yet he seems to be oblivious to the shortcomings.

Collins: Stephen Curry

Still splashing but mostly doing it alone these days. I’m not sure what’s more astonishing about Curry’s season. The fact that Golden State’s offense sans-Curry is as putrid as Ben Affleck’s performance in Gigli (that movie should have never graced the cinema) or that he continues to play at a high level despite his coach being more inclined to run a prayer group than a constructive timeout.

Curry makes those around him considerably better, which is a true measure of one’s greatness. The Warriors score 112.0 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor but score a miserable 86.5 points per 100 possessions when Curry sits.

The Warriors offense, without Curry, is like trying to open the bowling for your local cricket team after a night on the booze. The effort is there – you envision bowling ‘line and length’ – but there is just no hope.

Small Forward

Binczyk: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Next selection please!

This All-Star game wouldn’t be the same without the silky smooth OKC star draining shots from anywhere and everywhere on the sticky alcohol stained New Orleans floor.

The second best player in the league, and the best out West, Durant always is in contention for the MVP All-Star award on the day.

Lavalette: Kevin Durant

I find myself worrying for KD. Yeah I know my bleary brain is blotted with triviality.

I fear Durant may be the Barkley/Malone/Ewing superstar of this generation and retire ringless. LeBron is on track to replicate Jordan’s obliteration of the ‘90s and own this decade. When LeBron’s peak starts dwindling, perhaps it’ll be Wiggins, Randle, Anthony Davis, some unknown player, dominating the landscape.

Of course, Durant’s only 25 years old and he seems too great to not be covered in championship glory at least once in his career

Is it possible that Durant has become under-rated? With LeBron striving for immortality, and the ascension of Paul George, it’s easy to neglect Durant.

He’s producing 28-8-5 on 41-49-89 shooting. Durant and Westbrook shoulder the burden for OKC, in almost every conceivable way, and they keep delivering even when Harden and Kevin Martin have exited, Kendrick Perkins somehow becoming more lamentable and the West’s difficulty increasing.

Yet for whatever reason – perhaps he’s been too consistent – we take his consistent greatness for granted.

Even if he’s not destined to win the MVP and/or championship this year, I’m going to cherish his nightly superlative deeds.

Collins: Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant has the Thunder positioned with the best record in the league and he’s so consistent that a 30-10-5 game barely causes a stir.

In a league driven by flash, consistent brilliance is shockingly underrated. Durant is truly a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

It’s just a shame we surrender to the what-if-there-was-no-LeBron game.

Kevin Durant is already an all-time great

 

Power Forward

Binczyk: Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)

What’s Love got to do, got to do with it?

Love is definitely not a second hand emotion for me, the dude is putting up enormous numbers and solidifies himself as my power forward.

Averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds per game, there is no other player in the league better on the boards.

Lavalette: Kevin Love

This was arguably the hardest position to select. Love? Dirk? Blake? Aldridge? Anthony Davis? The latter two predominately play center even though technically they are power forward prototypes.

But Love is the standout despite the T-Wolves being a baffling team to gauge. Even though he’s a mediocre defensive player – exacerbated each cringe worthy time he attempts to guard Griffin – Love’s offensive prowess is too intoxicating.

Love’s averaging 26-14-4 with 38-46-83 shooting. I absolutely believe Love is a top-10 player in the league, perhaps with the skill-set to climb into the coveted top five list. But shouldn’t he start warranting some criticism for the Wolves’ continued disappointment? Even though it must be acknowledged the team has been constructed poorly and was previously in the hands of the one and only KHAAAAAAAAAAN!

Perhaps the inevitable trade to the Lakers will be the tonic Love needs to become a transcendent talent for a contender.

Collins: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers)

The best power forward in basketball.

Aldridge is one of only four players currently averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds and, importantly, he’s playing winning basketball.

Any basketball junkie or San Antonio Spurs fan (seriously, he always kills my Spurs) already knew about his elite catch and shoot midrange jumper and skilled post game.

Only now that the Blazers are winning, the world has caught on to basketball’s best-kept secret.

Center

Binczyk: Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets)

I’ve moved Howard into the 5 spot although officially he is listed at the power forward position, where I selected Kevin Love.

Interestingly, if we were to go by ESPN’s Hollinger stats the most efficient centers in the West are Boogie Cousins from Sacramento and Jordan Hill from the Lakers.

If I was picking Team USA for the 2016 Olympics, Cousins would most likely be in my squad, however as this is All-Star weekend, I will have DeAndre Jordan coming off the bench for some jaw dropping dunks.

Bench: Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Damian Lillard, DeAndre Jordan, LaMArcus Aldrige, Anthony Davis,

Lavalette: LaMarcus Aldridge

Dwight Howard is likely to get the nod with the voters. Healthier and happier, Howard has alleviated concerns his star was fading after a tumultuous lone season with the Lakers.

Howard has reclaimed the mantle as the league’s most dominant center, even though his domination – particularly defensively – has waned considerably since his athletic peak in Orlando, where he was a physical force of nature.

Despite not technically a center, LaMarcus Aldridge has to start, considering the Blazers have been the fairy-tale team thus far and have unexpectedly emerged into an elite team.

Aldridge (23pts-11reb) has been the catalyst for the team’s rise. His stats don’t even do him justice. As one of the last genuine post-players remaining amid a stylistic attitudinal change in the league, Aldridge has become basically impossible to curtail close to the basket and from mid-range.

Remarkably for a player who was rumoured to want out of Rip City during the off-season, Aldridge has demonstrated strong leadership, which was previously non-existent. Self-confidence is radiating from his skin. He appears like he absolutely believes he’s the best player on the court every night. Before this season he would shirk the challenge and the responsibility.

Simply, LaMarcus Aldridge has propelled himself into a top-five NBA player.

Bench: Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki

Collins: Kevin Love

BOOOOOOOGIE COUSINS!!!!

No, don’t worry I’m kidding… well, sort of… Kevin Love edges out Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin (and Boogie) for the final spot.

After a year of injury and tantrums, Love has returned to his 2011-12 form – 25 points and 14 rebounds a game is too much to ignore.

Sure, we should reward winning but Love excels with the burden of a supporting cast that struggles to defend and shoot from beyond the arc.

Although, Love’s scoreless fourth quarter against the Lakers does make me think that maybe… ummm… Boogie Cousins… should… no, no, I better stop right there.

Bench: Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins

 

NBA All-Star East Selections (originally from stumped4aduck.com)

Point Guard

Binczyk: John Wall (Washington Wizards)

With not a lot of superstar grade talent to choose from in the East since Rose went down, I’m picking John.

Although averaging less than Kyrie, his reliability and importance to that Wizards team is insurmountable.

Lavalette: John Wall

In a league that is top-heavy with elite point guards, it’s a travesty injuries have afflicted some of the stars of this position.

Pre-season, I would have automatically locked in D-Rose. I was expecting an Eff-You type season, while seeing him propel the Bulls to the East’s best regular season record. I knew he was going to start scratchily but I was certain he would get back to his MVP form by playoffs. Alas! Watching Rose cruelled again by injury, and perhaps likely to never reach his 2011 superlative level again, still pains me.

Rajon Rondo’s eclectic talents haven’t been seen as he recovers from knee surgery, sustained in January. In their desire to tank, the Celtics are probably hoping his recovery takes even longer otherwise they may ship him off. A combination of Brad Stevens + Rondo + gritty role players probably equates to the Cs claiming the third or fourth seed in this horrific conference. Being blown away by the Heat or Pacers in the second round is pretty futile. Danny Ainge has a major dilemma on his hands. He’s like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver – itching to pull the trigger, his fuse has been lit.

Deron Williams too has missed an abundance of matches due to his cumbersome ankles. With a bevy of experienced players brought into the team, highlighted by the strong leadership of Garnett and Pierce, I was confident Williams would morph back into the beast of a player he was during his halcyon days in Utah – a time when D-Will v CP3 was a legitimate debate. It’s just too bad that D-Will has been most likely blotted from existence.

Despite the good form of Jeff Teague, whose consistency (16pt-8ast) has helped Atlanta become one of the few competitive teams in the conference, the point guard battle in the East is between John Wall and Kyrie Irving.

Their careers have paralleled and so too their shtick – both rely on their amazing athleticism to compensate for their sub-par shooting. Both aren’t traditional point guards, as their innateness compels them to score first. Both can be liabilities on the defensive end, although Wall is clearly superior at this stage despite his propensity to descend into freneticism. And both players are trying to etch credibility into morbid franchises.

The former number one draft picks find themselves at interesting predicaments. Can they make the leap? There’s no doubting the pair are elite players, all-star calibre, but can they develop into top 10 players? Can they start challenging CP3 for ‘best point guard alive’ status?

Both have had their dazzling moments. Wall had a run in late November of three straight 30+ games, while Kyrie scored 41 against Wall (who only scored 9) and was recently engaged in an enthralling recent Mano-a-mano with fellow young stud Damian Lillard.

It’s hard to separate the two. Their respective teams have been disappointing, with Cleveland and Washington both entering the season with ambitions of making a playoff splash – and might still do so, albeit primarily by default because of the atrocity of the Eastern Conference.

I’m giving the edge to Wall due to his better all-round game. He clearly has an advantage in assists (9 to 6) and steals (2 to 1) per game. Plus, I just can’t give the nod to Kyrie, whose leadership had been rudderless amid the Cavs’ petty infighting and overall chaos.

Collins:  John Wall

The joy of playing in a conference where You-Don’t-Need-To-Be-A-Top-Five-Player-In-Your-Position-To-Make-The-AllStar-Team!

With Rose and Rondo injured and Irving bricking his layups, Wall has bolted to the starting position in Steve Bradbury-style.

Still, Wall’s 19.6 points and 9.1 assists per game are impressive and definitely would warrant all-star consideration in any given season.  

Shooting Guard

Binczyk: Arron Afflalo (Orlando Magic)

A toss-up between Afflalo from the Magic and Wade from the holy trinity in Miami. I’m going with the unpopular way here and with Affalo.

Along with Vucevic, Afflalo has pretty much put the Magic team on his back and been a fantastic role model for the young bloods down Disneyland way. Arron has been shooting 47% from the field and averaging 21.8 ppg, the best in this position in the East.

Lavalette: Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat)

I so wanted to go with Afflalo, who is having an outstanding season averaging 22-5-4 on 42-47-87 shooting. But I’m a stickler for rewarding players on successful teams. It’s not a knock on Afflalo, who has helped ensure Orlando has escaped being the laughingstock anticipated at season’s start. Afflalo has shown that he can absolutely be a successful second or third banana on a contender.

But I’m selecting Wade as my starter. I was dubious about whether he could still be an elite player. He struggled mightily last season, as a decade of physical punishment seemed to have eroded his body.

He’s back doing D-Wade things. He’s slithering to the basket and attacking the rim with flair that was reminiscent of the pre-LeBron days when D-Wade was a top-five player in the league. He’s averaging 20-5-5 and playing the most efficient ball of his life.

Healthier and well-rested, with Miami opting not to play him in back-to-backs, Wade appears rejuvenated and his ability to attack the rim has helped him achieve his best field goal mark of his illustrious career – 54%. Unlike recent years when he had a misguided penchant for the three, Wade is not settling for the jumper, but instead terrifying the opposition with his trademark acrobatic driving.

Wade in this vintage ensures Miami are the favourites for the title and claim a historic three-peat.

Collins: Dwayne Wade

With Duncan-minutes, Flash is back! A night off here and 30 minutes there, it’s amazing how father-time can be fought off with sensible player-management. If only Mike D’Antoni understood the concept of resting a 35-year-old who has played the fifth most minutes in league history to minimise risk of injury (A sobering thought: Would Kobe have suffered a possible career-ending Achilles injury if Gregg Popovich was his coach?).

Wade is shooting a highly efficient 54 percent from the field and recently bagged 32 points against Indiana’s elite defense. Despite Durant’s hasty proclamation on Twitter that Harden is the new premier shooting guard, Wade remains top dog and has proved to be more than just flash.

Small Forward

Binczyk: LeBron James (Miami Heat)

A no-brainer on this one – King James. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already about the current back-to back-champion? When we thought he couldn’t get any better, Lebron has elevated his status by improving both his field and three point goal percentages so far this season.

Lavalette: Paul George (Indiana Pacers)

I know, I know, technically LeBron is a three but in Spoelstra’s position-less system he’s always playing a myriad of roles.

I just had to select Paul George, who has delighted hoop junkies by making ‘the jump’ this season. We saw glimpses last playoffs, particularly during his entertaining duels with LeBron in the conference finals, but George has now materialised into a top-five player. He’s looking at Melo in his rear-view mirror. George has become the third best forward in the league and only LeBron is more impactful on both ends of the floor.

They’ve cooled off slightly but the Pacers absolutely are legitimate championship contenders, primarily due to George’s ascension to carrying the scoring burden.

Collins: Paul George

By George he has it all except for a decent nickname (damn you, Mr. and Mrs. George!). If voters know anything about basketball, Carmelo finds himself on the bench and the league’s premier two-way player (LeBron, aside) starts at small forward in New Orleans.

Nine teams passed up on the MVP candidate in the 2010 NBA draft. To recap, Minnesota selected the one and only Wesley Johnson with pick four.

KHAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!

Paul George has made the leap this season

Power Forward

Binczyk: David West (Indiana Pacers)

Probably the toughest category to pick for me. Do I play LeBron here and allow Paul George or Carmelo to start at small forward for more fire power? Or do I go and pick the best power forward true to their position? Well I’ll do the right thing and pick David West from the Indiana Pacers.

Don’t get me wrong the likes of Millsap, Boozer and Young are having fantastic seasons so far but when it comes to crunch time in the big games, I wouldn’t want anyone else but the behemoth Mr West pounding bodies near the hoop.

Lavalette: LeBron James 

Yeah, LeBron’s not technically a power forward but as mentioned earlier, he plays everywhere, including at four during stretches when the Heat play small ball and insert Bosh at center.

It’s a killer line-up and has been a major factor in Miami’s success over the last couple of years. I’m not going to wax lyrical too much on LeBron. Plenty has been written by better basketball writers than me.

But LeBron keeps improving. He’s freaking shooting nearly 60% from the field this year!  I just can’t believe I wrote that. He’s on track for a 40-60-80 shooting season! That’s incomprehensible, particularly from a player who was never considered a great shooter during his Cleveland years.

I believe LeBron is obsessed with honing his craft in a bid to realise perfection. He only shoots when he believes he has a realistic chance of scoring, or absolutely has to at the crunch – when he puts his head down and barrels to the rim.

I know the Jordan comparison clichés are hackneyed. But he’s the only player in my lifetime that has matched MJ’s undisputed status as the game’s best. Kobe – an absolutely great player – never quite reached that echelon. In the early/mid 2000s Duncan was probably the league’s best player, while by the time Kobe was winning rings as ‘The Man’ later in the decade, LeBron was already hoarding MVPs. Shaq probably held that status during the Lakers’ three-peat but he was too lazy and/or didn’t care for long-term domination. He never wanted to have a crack at being the greatest.

LeBron will never have the worldwide gravitas of MJ, who was (and still is) a sporting icon globally. In the 1990s, Jordan was the most famous and beloved sportsman in the world, due to an assortment of factors including basketball’s boon, marketing, his on-court domination and his sheer force of personality.

In my opinion, Jordan will always be revered and exalted with a select royal few – Pele, Ali, Babe Ruth, Bradman for an Australian example. Can LeBron reach that status? I’m not so sure.

But what’s indisputable is the reverence LeBron now commands with his peers and basketball fans. It’s reminiscence of MJ’s aura in the 1990s. He is the King of Kings. He should win another MVP. And until he gets knocked off his throne, I’m backing him to win another ring.

Collins: LeBron James

LeBron James owns four distinct titles: Reigning NBA Champion, Most Dominant Player Alive, Greatest Athlete Alive, and All-Star-Every-Year-Unless-He-Drops-Dead.

Enough said. Let’s move on.

Center 

Binczyk: Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers)

Originally I had Lopez in this spot due to his mobility and versatility around the paint.

But after last week’s despairing news of a broken foot which will keep him out for the season, I have moved Roy Hibbert into this spot.

Although the lumbering big man doesn’t possess the flashy all-star game attributes, his presence in the paint will be invaluable as he most likely will get matched up against Howard in the West.

Shout-outs to Horford, Jefferson and Vucevic their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

Bench: I’ll just pack it with scoring fire-power which will be needed against the better West –  Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.

Lavalette: Roy Hibbert

Before injury struck, Brook Lopez was in the conversation for being arguably the best offensive big man in the league, with his beguiling post moves.

I really like Andre Drummond, who is set to become one of the best big men in the game.

As previously stated, I like rewarding successful teams, meaning Miami and India boasting four of the starters is justified recognition for their utter dominance of the conference.

So, I’m going to have to give this spot to Indiana’s enforcer Roy Hibbert. With the decline of Dwight Howard as a physical specimen, and Marc Gasol being another star succumbing to the injury scourge, Hibbert’s now the best defensive big man in the league, with his rim-protecting brute the catalyst for Indiana’s league best defensive.

Hibbert is Miami’s biggest threat in their bid for immortality. Unless Greg Oden makes a miraculous recovery, the Heat are helpless in limiting the girth and sheer presence of Hibbert, who can only be curbed by the whistle. His foul troubles were a major reason for Indiana’s recent loss in Miami.

Roy Hibbert is no MVP candidate but he has become one of the most valuable players in the league.

Bench: Kyrie Irving, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap, Lance Stephenson.

Collins: Roy Hibbert

Hibbert is a rim protector, a towering concern for the defending champions and one of the league’s more intelligent, witty and outspoken characters who is a must-follow on Twitter.

Hibbert’s 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game don’t scream All-Star, but his defensive presence, sheer size and leadership makes him arguably the Pacers’ most valuable player.

Bench: Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Drummond, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Teague.

NBA Q&A (From stumped4aduck.com)

Binczyk: Let’s kick it off with the terrible start the New York Knicks have endured. Still early days but the loss of Tyson Chandler has left a defensive hole that is big enough to drive a Mack truck through. Is there any coming back for this Knicks team to be some sort of threat come playoff time? Personally, Woodson has to go first, his days of getting by on “lucky dip” coaching has come to an end for me. There are several quality coaches out there, GM Steve Mills should have his eye on the likes of S Van Gundy, J Sloan for example.

Lavalette: Is there a more overrated sports franchise than the Knicks? I know, I know, it’s due to the colossus that is New York– with the city now firmly entrenched as the chic capital of the world – but their beloved basketball team have been abominable for the past 40 years bar the halcyon Ewing years.

At the start of the season, I was convinced Melo wouldn’t bolt during free agency. How could he leave the bright lights of New York? How could he abandon the chance of being the saviour of Big Apple ball? Winning a drought-breaking ring in New York would propel Melo to an immortal.  He always seemed to embrace this pressure. He was confident in his ability to realise his destiny.

But why would he want to stay with an inept franchise, mired with incompetent management and a wooden coach (poor pun alert)?

Maybe teaming up with his boy Kobe and moving to LA with his Tinseltown craving wife could start tempting Melo.  Even an aging and crippled Kobe is more alluring than the insanity of his current abode.

The problem for the Knicks is that everyone is culpable. Even Melo. I’m probably one of the poor delusional souls still on the Melo bandwagon. I believe, if properly surrounded by suitable talent who can cover his deficiencies particularly defensively, Melo can replicate Dirk and win a championship as ‘The Man’.

Unfortunately, Melo hasn’t taken his game to the elite level. His defence is mediocre and he doesn’t have the innate ability to make his teammates better. Even his esteemed shooting is struggling at its lowest ebb since his rookie season. Hence, he has been overtaken by Paul George in the ‘third best forward alive’ debate, which seemed folly at the start of this season. Now, it’s not even a conservation, which is an indictment on Melo’s inability to improve his all-round game.

The point is, I don’t think New York’s woes are entirely lumped on Woodson. The coach is always the easy target. Remember Woodson was the coach who helped resurrect the Knicks following the dysfunctional Mike D’Antoni era.

But there’s no doubt Woodson will eventually be made scapegoat. It’s a star-driven league. Superstars rule. The Knicks will panic amid the pile of pressure from the press, which is unmerciful in New York. But I’m not sure it’s realistic any of the acclaimed coaches biding their time – Van Gundy, Hollins, Sloan,  Karl – can make much of a difference without an off-season to prepare.

Expect the Knicks to have a new coach by Christmas. And expect the Knicks to make panic trades soon too. Most likely, the team won’t improve much. Yet, they can still make the playoffs, testament to the atrocity that is the Leastern Conference.

Thorgesen: Knicks are matched for most overrated sports franchise only by the Dallas Cowboys and the LA Dodgers.  And they’ve both won multiple championships since 1973.  Though none since 1995.  I’m all for sacking Woodson.  Perhaps at the trade deadline if the downward spiral continues.  Let’s see what happens when Chandler returns.  Word is Allan Houston is waiting in the wings.  As an interim I could think of worse options (Kidd oy), but the Knicks better have an ace up their hole or as you guys mentioned – NY will turn on them.  Smith and Shumpert have been totally shithouse so far, Amare’s contract is a massive burden and I don’t even know what Felton does

As for that other Knick: I agree with the uncontroversial statement that Carmelo Anthony does not make his teammates better.  Hard to measure without using the eye test.  Or the ring test.  Plus/minus says Knicks are up 5.7 pts when he’s on court, up 3.4 pts when off.  A cynical a-hole might suggest Melo helps teammates to the tune of 2.3ppg.  Agree his defence is below average for his natural position (SF), while at PF it’s even worse.  He is worth a decent 3 wins a season on D though, and 6-7 wins on offence.  Most teams would take that.  My sources tell me Mr Anthony will stay in NY.  But the reasons for staying must be dwindling.

Lavalette: “My sources”…Love the Chris Broussard impression! I’m sure your sources are a lot more credible than Broussard’s, who embarrassingly still believes he is competition for ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI. BOW DOWN TO THE JOURNALISM KING PEOPLE!!…Sorry, I’m getting excited. Woj, man crush.

I think, I have sabotaged your eloquent views BT. Continue…

ThorgesenMelo has played 75% of his minutes this season at PF/C compared to 26% last season.  Listed variously at 230, 235 and 240 – does Anthony have a future at PF?  What’s the more efficient setup: Bargnani at 3 and Melo at 4, or the reverse?  Bargs actually has the better true shooting % and effective FG%.  However, NBA Reference suggests Anthony is a 20% more efficient player than Bargnani in general.  Even with Melo shooting 3 pointers at his 2003-07 standard of sub 30%.  Good news is that lately he’s spreading the ball more enthusiastically and taking fewer desperate jump shots.  Miracle on 31st St.

CollinsAndrea Bargnani, BOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Whenever anyone mentions the 2013-14 Knicks, I think of poor Il Mano – seriously, why blow $23 million on a stretch four who’s rebound rate only just shades Pablo freaking Prigioni’s?! Are we sure David Kahn isn’t the Knicks’ GM?

Last season New York was Dad’s Army and this season, the Knicks remain a poorly constructed team. Unfortunately for New York, its awful contracts make it difficult to render drastic change to the roster.

Poor Melo, he’s surrounded by four washed up teammates – Stoudemire, Bargnani, K-Mart and Metta – and CHRIS SMITH!! Despite his critics, Melo is still a top 10 player and the best scorer in the NBA. We all know he’s a notoriously lazy defender but so is Houston’s James Harden and even Kobe Bryant (Watch Kobe – he gambles on nearly every defensive possession). Melo needs to play with an elite point guard (Paging you, Rajon Rondo) who can run an efficient offense, which would then allow Melo to pick and choose his moments to take over offensively.

Can the Knicks make the playoffs? Sure. Heck, the Eastern Conference is so poor that the tanking Celtics find themselves in the fourth seed! Even if the Knicks get back a healthy Tyson Chandler to anchor its defence and JR Smith chooses abstinence from clubbing, they’ll ultimately be making up the numbers in the playoffs. You can book your flights now for Indy and Miami.

Please, no more talk about the Knicks. I refuse to waste any more ink on a perennially overrated and miserable team.

Binczyk: The Portland Trail Blazers on the other hand off to a fantastic start. I guess we all expected them to be around the 40-win mark due to their home court advantage, but they are on track to well surpass that. Is this team good enough to go all the way to the Western Conference Finals with the pieces they currently have?

Lavalette:Not in the powerhouse that is the West. The Blazers have a nice blend of talent, are well coached and managed – so basically they are the Anti-Knicks.

They’ve improved their bench considerably, and have two proven scorers in crunch time – Aldridge, one of the best post players in the league, and Lillard, who is fearless as a young point guard.

So, scoring is not an issue and should result in plenty of regular season wins – around the 55 range is absolutely feasible, considering their home strength.

But can they make multiple stops during crunch time in playoff games? Will they be able to stop the savvy Spurs, Durant/Westbrook, the eclectic Rockets, etc?  I don’t think so.

Scuttlebutt suggests Omer Asik will be traded by Houston. Portland would be an intriguing destination but Houston may not be willing to trade within their conference. Asik would immediately be their best defender as a rim protecting enforcer the Blazers desperately require.

Internally, the Blazers probably never expected to be this good. Making the playoffs was probably their goal for the season. But now they can sniff an opportunity. The West, while strong and deep, is open. Every team has questions – will the Spurs finally age? How do the Clippers improve their frontcourt? Is there too much pressure on Durant/Westbrook? You get the point.

The Blazers have to be ballsy. They must gamble if they truly have ambitions to be competing in June.

Thorgesen: I really like Portland.  A freaking fantastic city.  And the team is a hoot too.  The Blazers are pretty much the only team in Portland.  Memories of Bill W and Clyde and Cliff and yes, even the JailBlazers mean a lot to them.  And their visitors.  Maybe…after a game many years ago, a young fellow met up with a beautiful young lady/Bicycle store owner at a microbrewery and fell in love*.  *Possibly autobiographical. 

Portland are a team you want to show to new Basketball fans.  What’s that spiral thing on the court?  What the hell is Rip City, they’ll ask.  But they soon start enjoying the flow of the Blazer.  What a bunch of overachievers.  I might just start jogging again.

I love watching underrated guys like Mo, Batum and Wes do their thing.  Robin Lopez still has some residual appeal from the Suns days.  Lillard is a star.  His scoring style works in the scheme.  His defence needs a lot of work sure.  Aldridge is a beast.  Even Allen Crabbe is impressive.  100% 3pt shooter.  Their team defence is not totally decrepit – they’re a top 10 perimeter D team.

55 wins might get the Blazers 6th in the West!  I have them at 54 wins but let’s not squabble over details.  Trading for Asik (and by December 19th apparently) sounds incredible.  This must happen.  But for whom?  Let me consult the ESPN Trade Machine for spiritual guidance:

Wes Matthews for Asik: works, adding 3 wins for Houston and costing Portland 7 wins.  Which seems insane.

Or Lopez for Asik: gains Rockets 3, costs Blazers 3.  Still a royal rogering for the Blazers.  I’m sure they can find a way.

Anyway, is Portland really a city some tall sad sack named Omer would enjoy?  Chicago maybe.  Oh yeah.  Moving on, average punters like me might love the Blazers, but sadly they’ll struggle against the Clips/Thunder.  That’s counting on the Spurs aging out.  Portland will reach the West Semis.  And lose.  Classic May grey.  

Collins: As it stands, Portland is the third best team, behind San Antonio and Oklahoma, in the very competitive Western Conference. The Trail Blazers have the best power forward in basketball, an improved bench, a truly crazy fan base and Damian Lillard brings that Oakland swagger.

Can they come out of the West this year? It’s difficult to say. Portland’s athleticism on the wings could definitely give San Antonio some genuine problems in a seven game series – much like the Warriors did last post-season. Yet, could a team with minimal playoff experience get past the Spurs and Thunder in consecutive series? Don’t count on it.

Portland is exciting (particularly at the Rose Garden) and definitely rivalling the Warriors for League Pass Supremacy. Although, with plenty of panic trades and What-The-Hell-Are-We-Doing-We’re-Meant-To-Be-Tanking-For-Wiggins trades on the horizon, Portland might be able to obtain that one savvy veteran player who could take them over the hump in the West.

Despite, the preseason hype, the Clippers don’t play defence and with Blake Griffin’s enchantment with the midrange jumper, the Clips are the fourth best team in the West, at best. Houston plays fast-paced but is ultimately doomed in the clutch with Dwight Howard’s incompetence at the line (Safe to say Dwight’s miserable effort at the line rivals Shaq’s in Kazaam). If Golden State can get healthy and Bogut stops fouling, the Warriors might be the team to pass Portland as the third best team in the West.

It might only be December but Rip City is building some dangerous momentum.

Binczyk Thoughts on Jason Kidd’s Gatorade cup flop during the week? Personally it did crucify the integrity and spirit of the game a little bit. The association agreed on this as well handing Kidd a $50K fine.

Lavalette: I thought it was comical if anything. Yeah, it was bone-headed and he received his deserves. But I suppose one must delve into Kidd’s bleary brain for possible reasons why he resorted to such a stupid act.

A few months back, he seemed to be receiving the golden ticket. Here was a star-laden and experienced team delivered to him by one of the richest, albeit shadiest, owners in sport. Concerns over his inexperience as coach was allayed with the reassuring presence of Pierce and Garnett – two loyal players who would ensure the locker room was tight.

Unfortunately, it has been a spectacular disaster. Their two best players – Williams and Lopez – have struggled with injuries, and the seemingly formidable bench has been similarly scythed. Perhaps the saddest sight has been reserved for Garnett, who no longer has the mobility to be an elite defender and has basically been a liability on both ends. Sadly, he should have retired in his beloved green. Age always conquers.

To add insult to injury, Kidd recently reassigned right-hand man Lawrence Frank to a reduced role, meaning Frank no longer sits on the bench.

So, after reading the above doesn’t it not totally surprise that Kidd had a moment of madness? He imploded, embodying his sorry team in the process.

ThorgesenThe bleary brain of Kidd.  Great line.  I’ll get to him.  First off, Pierce and Kev should have retired in the Green, no argument.  We’ve talked previously about Deron being done as a top 5 PG.  Joe Johnson has always been underwhelming to me, a good scorer but little else.  When cold, he’s a major liability.  All round lots of fogeys and injuries.

Lawrence Frank (still owed money from Detroit and on $1 million a year) must have felt like Dirty Harry when he had to partner up with the rookie college grad cop.  “Former player..oh you’ll go far – that’s if you survive.’  Now relegated to the daily reports sin bin.  And Kidd played under Frank for years, which has to hurt Mr ‘real’ coach.  Lawrence will be fine by the way, he’ll get recycled.

I have it on good authority that Kidd’s drink was a Brass Monkey.  Ok the spill was a classic old school tactic – maybe even brilliantly devious.  He has a massive Basketball IQ.  But if you don’t have any time outs: stiff shit.  Own it.  Kidd, in that unfortunate incident, exposed himself as an ex player unable to manage players/assistants and call plays.  Kind of essential for an NBA coach.  Welch and Frank were calling the plays.  It could have worked.  Unfortunately a losing team is a blame-seeking team.  But hey, you never know – Kidd might turn it around for the Nets.  Well, I’m off to ask Jennifer Lawrence out.

CollinsJason Kidd pulled an old school coaching move – probably his only tactically sound coaching decision, yet. He won’t be the first or the last coach to cross the moral line. However, I’m more concerned about coaches interfering with the play on the court – talking trash to opposition players and standing in the way of inbound passes (Kevin McHale, anyone?). It’s an ugly part of the game that needs to be stamped out.

Like highly charged horny frat boys, father time eventually catches up to you. Unfortunately for Jason Kidd, father time has certainly set in at Brooklyn. Kevin Garnett has dropped off so drastically that even BARGNANI felt compelled to talk trash to the future hall of famer – a candlelight vigil for Garnett might be needed…  I’m not sure who’s the more clueless coach, Kidd or Dwayne Casey? (Surprise, surprise, both coach in in the Eastern Conference). I’m so disenchanted by Kidd that I would rather see Isaiah Thomas be the coach and GM of the Nets!

(Crap, I really need a drink now)

BinczykWhat has been the biggest surprise packet for you guys so far in the first month of basketball? For me it’s been the Cleveland Cavaliers. I thought the addition of Bynum, Jack, Clark and the number 1 pick Bennet would be valuable attributes to the formulation of a solid team built around Kyrie. However most of the time when I watch them there are serious chemistry issues on the court and it has been reported that there are issues behind closed doors as well, which has put Dion Waters on the trade table. Despite a few recent encouraging performances, the panic button is just a couple of losses away for me.

Lavalette: I wasn’t too enamoured with the Cavs coming into the season. Bynam is a knucklehead and injury-plagued. I don’t trust the dude. Bennett was a surprise number one in arguably the worst draft for years. In other words, he had BUST written on his forehead.

Mike Brown was rehired. Umm, why? Perhaps, BT can explain this to us, but why do coaches get recycled in the NBA? Aren’t team’s suspicious hiring discards? In the AFL, once you’ve been fired, even when dealt harshly, there’s no chance of redemption.

And Kyrie has been disappointing since last season’s All-Star break. He’s virtually invisible on the defensive end.

Is this really a credible destination for LeBron? I think the chances of LeBron returning home are now in single digits. Although, they every so often have the knack of pulling wins from the proverbial.

Anyway, the surprises for me have been the supposedly inept teams – Suns, Sixers, Magic, Bobcats, etc..

HOW DO YOU TIP THEM? I am finding it impossible to pick these teams because I keep expecting them to spiral yet they are still playing hard and smart. Who would have thought in the season of ‘Riggin for Wiggins’ and ‘Scandal for Randle’?

The Suns are the shock. I honestly did not project them to win more than 20 games amid the Wild West. Unlike other atrocities, Jeff Hornacek has impressed as a rookie coach. And Bledsoe and a rejuvenated Dragic have been a sneaky good backcourt combination.

They won’t make the playoffs in the loaded West, but they could win more than 30 games.  In the illustrious words of Clay Davis: SHEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!!!!!!!!

Thorgesen: The Grand NBA Coach Recycling Scheme. 

First off:  Mike Brown must interview well.  No idea why he was invited back.  Maybe the conspiracy theory is true – the problem lies with the lack of coaches ‘that fit.’  Bear with me!  While George Karl, Hollins, PJ, Jerry and Stan/Jeff Van sit on the couch, it’s a tough call to say there are no coaches out there.  But what’s the common factor with those coaches?  All old guys.  Often tagged regular season specialists.  Have run-ins with the talent.  No rings.  Head Offices are making younger hires like underdog Dave Joerger and worthy assistants like Brett Brown.  Or nerds like Brad Stevens.  Teams are looking at different angles, even analytics…Hey, it worked in Baseball, right?

Also important to consider the separation of duties that coaches have, ‘coaching/mentoring players’ v ‘haranguing players.’  Some coaches fit one job, some both, others neither.  Experienced coaches can be very demanding regarding team setup, aka non-pliable.  The ‘old guy’ and ‘analytics’ model might work for veteran teams, but a young team needs a social worker/teacher/father.  Lots of work.  Do any NBA teams have psychologists on the payroll?

Also, teams love to hire former players to coach.  Question is, are former NBA players more successful coaches than non players?  The NFL has few former players as head coaches.  MLB prides itself on turning mediocre players into very fine managers.  AFL coaches are all former players right?  Here are the current NBA Head coaches with NBA experience: Kidd, Carlisle, Shaw, Cheeks, Jackson, McHale, Rivers, D’Antoni, Drew, Adelman, Williams, Woodson, Brooks, Vaughn, Hornacek, Corbin, Wittman.  Now, some had better careers than others but it is what it is.

17 of the 30 teams have former players as Head coach.  In the current season, coaches with NBA playing experience have won 47% of their games, whilst coaches without playing experience have won 53%.  Incidentally, Woodson and Kidd are the difference.  In the negative.  Goodnight nurse then, former players are shit coaches!

I propose a 3 year purgatory for NBA coaches who get the arse.  Unless they’ve won a ring, are coming off a 50 win season or have never played in the NBA.  Great hair helps too.

In answer to your question: Yes, Mike Brown is a terrible coach and should be fired if the Cavs can find the right fit.  Counterpoint is Brown (no NBA experience!) has the highest winning percentage amongst current coaches (.685), a great effort even with LeBron being responsible for half his wins.  Give Brown a season and Cavs may just surprise.  Thompson and Varejao are quite impressive and probable trade bait.  Irving is struggling with T/Os and being an actual PG but what a talent.  Bennett may be a bust, but with development and the right setup….

Lebron will stay in Miami for the rest of his living days.  No playing in LA, NY or a return to CLE.  If the Heat wins this season, he keeps it going for a fourth.  If they lose, he returns to finish the job.  What a stubborn man.

Biggest Surprise

The Suns.  No doubt.  On evidence they’ll win 30 games minimum.  My prediction is 35.  It’s not that insane.  They’re entertaining and one Morris will deliver on any given night.  Plumlee and PJ have been solid finds.  I think Bledsoe is massively underrated.  He’s in the top 20-25 most efficient players in the NBA.  Coach Jeff has an accounting degree so he’s probably invented his own player evaluation system.

TeamRankings.com predicts Phoenix will win 38.5 games, and gives them a 13.1% chance of making the Playoffs.  Maybe pushing the bounds of reality there.  Incidentally they rate the Lakers’ playoffs chances at 13.4%.  Much like Kobe’s turnover ratio!  Stats joke there for coach Hornacek.

I honestly don’t see the point of a strategic tank for the 2014 Draft.  You draft any of Wiggins, Parker or Randle and things are good in your world.  Franchise players.

*Allow me a quick indulgence on the ’14 Draft*

For the record I think Randle is the most ready of the three.  In the (admittedly limited) games I’ve watched, Randle looked like a man amongst boys.  Ridiculous he’s just 19, but has an NBA frame (250lbs and counting) and knows how to use it.  He’s not necessarily brilliant at spacing, like most Freshman, yet he seems decent at creating his own shots.  This may seem a bit of an old fashioned notion, but these kids would really benefit from two years of College, a smart wardrobe and a part time job.

Embiid looked raw as shit from what I saw, U-17 errors and poor positioning..but he’s a genuine athletic 7 footer and that carries major sway on Draft day.  Smart is the highest projected PG and is built like a PF.  From what I’ve seen he’ll be a well-liked teammate – shows great hustle and is a reckless young man at both ends.  Not sure if Exum will declare for 2014, but he looks a bit skinny and his outside shot needs work according to scouts.  Labelled with the dreaded ‘combo guard’ tag too.  My initial thought is that his lack of a consistent jumper confines him to being a very skilled backup PG, with high Basketball IQ/Makeup and near-Rose speed (hurt just writing that).  Kind of guy you want on your team.  I wish all of them the best.

Clay Davis was asked to rig up the NBA Draft so that the Knicks get a first round pick in 2014.  Declined.  He may be corrupt, but he’s not an idiot!

Lavalette: I agree with you on Randle. He’s a beast. He’s already LeBron 2.0. There’s a chance, physically anyway, that he becomes a nastier and more destructive force than Bron. I can’t believe I just typed that. It sounds unfathomable, yet I don’t believe I’m stretching into hyperbole. AND HE MIGHT NOT EVEN BE THE NUMBER ONE PICK!

Speaking of the legendary Clay Davis, there’s a 6.75% chance Isiah Whitlock Jr – who portrayed Davis in The Wire – is reading this. Let me explain.

During the Adelaide Test match, I tweeted in the aftermath of an unfortunate George Bailey dismissal – “SHEEEEEEEEEEEEETTTT…… I’m still on-board the Bailey Bandwagon (I think)”… Whitlock Jr favourited the Tweet. He doesn’t follow me on Twitter. And I assume he doesn’t follow the cricket. Meaning, he must Twitter search ‘Clay Davis’ or ‘SHEEEEEEEEETTTT’. Whatever. JUST SUPPORT OUR CRACKPOT SCHEME OF A PLANNED SPORTS SITE (IDEALLY FINANCIALLY) WHITLOCK JR!! WE LOVE YOU!!

Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone is still reading at this point. Over to you Collo!!

CollinsCan we stop talking about Kyrie Irving as an elite point guard until his teams win at least 30 per cent of its games? Seriously, love his talent and, heck, I even love the fact that he was born in Australia, but right now his play stinks. In his defence, Kyrie is playing with a fat number one draft pick, a ticked off shooting guard and is attempting to run an offense that revolves around no backdoor cuts, solid screens or passing. The joys of Mike Brown’s coaching! Yay!

I tipped the Cavs to claim one of the bottom playoff seeds. I thought another summer of development from Waiters and Thompson, and the signing of Jack, would propel them into the playoffs. However, I should have known something was rotting in Cleveland when the Cavs selected Anthony Bennett with the number one overall pick. Why do NBA GMs make such monumental blunders? WHY would you gamble on someone who is too overweight to play small forward and undersized to man the power forward position? It’s like saying that Jessica Simpson would be a great conversationalist but an ordinary root! C’mon!

The surprise for me has been the Indiana Pacers. No, not that Indiana is arguably the best team in basketball but the fact that its regular season record is 18– 2 heading into the OKC game. I picked the Pacers to advance to the Finals this year but I thought Indiana would go through the emotions during the regular season and have its struggles on the offensive end for long stretches (characteristic of the Pacers last season).

Paul George’s rise as a clutch dominant scorer in the NBA has elevated the Pacers’ offense and allowed them to blowout teams instead of engaging in grinding low-scoring games. George can score anywhere on the court and in so many different ways.

Indiana is not just a post-season force but also now a regular season winning machine.

Australian connection

Can it be possible that Australians have found a new ‘home away from home’ tucked away in San Antonio, Texas?

The City of San Antonio might be more known for the ‘Battle of the Alamo’, but in professional sports the San Antonio Spurs have become known as the hotspot for international basketball talent and to be more specific, Australian basketball talent.

On the surface, the ‘Outback Steakhouse’ is San Antonio’s only hint of Australian culture. However, any Australian who has ventured into the food chain restaurant knows that the Outback Steakhouse is about as Australian as Mick Jagger’s 1970 performance as Ned Kelly.

Yet, on the basketball hardwood at the Spurs’ AT&T Centre, Australians are beginning to make their presence felt, even if there has always been a subtle Australian flavour in the Spurs locker room.

Two giants of Australian basketball, Andrew Gaze (1998-99) and Shane Heal (2003-04), slipped on the Spurs guernsey and indeed, Gaze was a member of San Antonio’s first Championship team.

For the first time in Australian basketball history, two Australian Boomers shared minutes together on the same team in a NBA game. Guard Patty Mills and recently acquired Center Aron Baynes shared minutes in the Spurs’ rout of the struggling Charlotte Bobcats.

In fact, with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan being forced to sit out the last four games due to knee soreness and other big men like Dejuan Blair and Matt Bonner succumbing to injury, Baynes played an encouraging 17 minutes where he muscled nine rebounds and seven points.

Patty Mills, who joined the Spurs midway through the lockout-shortened season last year, has proved to be a handy ‘energiser’ off the bench, even though he receives sporadic minutes.

Despite some Australians and even San Antonio Spurs fans pleading for more playing time for Mills, Mills could not be in a better position than he is right now.

Mills’ decision to stay patient in San Antonio is far more beneficial longterm for his NBA career. Learning from a top five-point guard in the league, Tony Parker, and champions Duncan and Manu Ginobili, are far more advantageous for Mills than playing for a weak team with little veteran guidance and stability.

Unlike the majority of the league, the San Antonio Spurs’ play, led by arguably the best coach in all American pro sports currently, Gregg Popovich, is an unselfish mix of pushing the ball and swift passing (lead league in assists) which makes less offensively gifted players more effective.

For Mills and particularly Baynes, the Spurs offense is a perfect fit. While there remains in some quarters of the NBA a prejudice against European or overseas players, the Spurs welcome and nurture international basketball talent.

“They definitely have that international influence,” Aron Baynes said of the Spurs.

The value of having former Australian Boomers head coach Brett Brown on the sidelines as one of Coach Pop’s assistants, cannot be understated.

It would not be a far stretch to argue that Baynes, and, to a lesser extent, Mills, would have found breaking into the NBA a far more difficult and arduous task if Brown never had a deep Australian connection.

The fact is, the Spurs’ willingness to pursue international ‘project’ players like Baynes, makes them the most likely and best way for Australians to establish a NBA career.

The Alamo City sure has that Australian feel.

Step in the right direction

San Antonio can feel more buoyed by their overtime defeat against Memphis after a disappointing 48 minutes against the struggling Lakers two nights before.

The Spurs’ locker room was reportedly flat after their underwhelming performance against a depleted and sorry Los Angeles Lakers.

In an 82-game regular season, wins don’t always equate to good play or improvement and losses don’t always signal a backward step or panic time.

According to Gregg Popovich, the Spurs play of late has been difficult to stomach.

“I didn’t recognise that basketball team,” Popovich conceded.

The Spurs ball movement was at times nonexistent against the Lakers and the “trust” that seemed so engrained in the Parker-led Spurs broke down.

Again, in such a long and gruelling season this lack lustre night could simply be an aberration. Yet, the Spurs looked tired as well in their loss against the young New Orleans Hornets and are 6-7 on the road against Western Conference teams this season.

For the first time in the Duncan-Popovich era the Spurs’ play has been shackled by untimely and careless turnovers.

The Spurs rank 26th in the league for turnovers (15.3) and the last three games are averaging a terrible 17.7 turnovers.

Sure, turnovers are inevitable particularly when mercurial playmakers like Manu Ginobili take the hardwood. He and the Spurs like to look for little gaps and miscommunication in opposition defenses and often pursue the risk in hope for greater reward. Yet, the high number of turnovers can be credited to pure carelessness with the ball.

Tim Duncan has had an uncharacteristically poor stretch of late (six turnovers against Memphis) with taking care of the ball down on the low block. The smaller guards have been allowed to easily to get a hand in and disrupt Duncan’s control of the ball. Duncan and the Spurs need to figure out a way to maintain their daring and free ball movement while lowering their turnover numbers.

Maybe San Antonio  begun figuring it out as a team in the second half against Memphis. After committing 12 turnovers in the first half that fuelled the Grizzlies offense, the Spurs only conceded six in the second half which allowed San Antonio to cut the eight point deficit held by the Grizzlies at half time and take a three point lead heading into the final quarter.

While the Spurs came agonisingly short of escaping Memphis with a ‘W’, they may have played their best and toughest basketball of 2013 against a team that plays the most ragged defense in the league.

Sometimes the end result doesn’t tell the whole story.

Spurs’ defense the difference maker

The San Antonio Spurs were on an incredible 20 game win streak that stretched from late in the regular season and into the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Spurs offense was rolling as they surgically disposed their opponents with unselfish and quick ball movement. With a WCF’s 2-0 lead over the Thunder, the Spurs looked set for a fifth Finals appearance in the Duncan-era.

Yet, something swiftly changed that led to a startling reverse of fortune, where the Thunder claimed the next four games and ended the Spurs’ run.

Coach Gregg Popovich called the Spurs’ meltdown as “identity theft” as the Spurs’ smooth ball movement became stagnant and the Thunder became “San Antonio” on the offensive end.

Yes, “identity theft” took place but it was the Spurs’ inability to get “stops on demand” or play without detrimental lapses on defence that saw Oklahoma advance to the Finals.

This year, the Spurs ball movement is the same, if not even more precise (league leading 25.6 apg and second in ppg, 105.4).

This year, the Thunder remain the team to beat in the West, the Clippers are more deep and experienced and Memphis are healthy. Meanwhile, the Spurs have virtually the same roster as in the shortened lockout season.

So why should the Spurs be considered still one of the elite teams in the NBA, despite other teams seemingly improved in personnel?

Defense.

“We’re significantly better on defense than we were the last couple of years,” Popovich said. “That’s something we hope will continue as the season progresses, and not just be a blip.”

The casual observer will look at only points allowed in judging whether a team is good defensively or not. By this rating the Spurs are mediocre, allowing 97.6 points per game (16th in the league).

However, this does not tell any of the story at all. San Antonio play at an uptempo pace on the offensive end and get far more shots up than a team like the Brooklyn Nets who walk the ball up the court.

Popovich and the Spurs have always placed a higher value on field-goal percentage defense and in their championship years they were always in the top five in this category.

Spurs defense has been average the past three seasons, ever since they switched their offense from purely half-court sets and banging the ball down low to Tim Duncan to a more blitzing pace.

The Spurs are currently tied for eighth in field-goal percentage defense, allowing 43.7 percent.

Even more impressive, if we follow the recent trend of analysing defense, the Spurs are fourth in the league (101.2) in points allowed per 100 possessions.

The Spurs have improved their defense by a renewing their focus on the defensive end.

“We want to be in the top 5 in every category. If you want to win a championship, you have to be in the top 5,” Tony Parker said.

Somehow the Spurs are on the right track despite their best two defenders, Kawhi Leonard  (2.3 steals per game) and Stephen Jackson, missing a month of basketball. With their return, the Spurs boast one of the stronger defensive units on the wing (Leonard, Jackson and Danny Green).

So even though the Clippers and the Thunder are the headlines in the West, the Spurs’ regained defensive toughness might just be the telling factor on whether the Spurs breakdown or push all the way to the Finals.

The Spurs way

Despite injuries, road heavy schedule, the popgate scandal, Stephen Jackson’s threats over twitter and the Halloween photos, the San Antonio Spurs sit second in the Western Conference standings.

Call it the Spurs way or whatever you like but they are one of the rare teams that play in the same style and pace whoever the personnel. Perhaps, only Doc Rivers’ Boston Celtics and Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls can play with the same identity without key stars and reserves.

Second year forward Kawhi Leonard (knee tendonitis) and veteran forward Jackson (broken finger) have missed the last month due to injury. Leonard and Jackson are the Spurs’ best two defenders and are good rebounders for their position. Their ability to defend the wings and use their height to defend the bigger wings who like to move down to the post, make them crucial to the Spurs’ success.

Yet, despite their absence and other minor injuries to Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, the Spurs have a 19-6 record.

The key to the Spurs being able to survive and thrive is trust in Coach Pop’s system and a deep talented roster. Gary Neal (12 ppg) has stepped up into a starting role at shooting guard, who recorded a career high 29 points against Houston and another 20 against Boston. Neal’s three point shooting and solid tear-drop makes him a deadly scorer.

The discovery of Frenchman dime dropper Nando De Colo, Tiago Splitter’s strong ‘roll’ game and Boris Diaw’s flexibility has ensured the Spurs boast a strong record.

For the Spurs, one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity.

“It’s an opportunity,” Neal said. “You go out there and compete, and try to prove you deserve the minutes.”

Coach Pop has a more simple explanation for the trust instilled in the entire roster, all the way down to James Anderson.

“Whoever is available that’s who plays.”

Of course, Tim Duncan’s best season in five years and Tony Parker’s continued excellence and leadership has made the absence of key players and swirly controversy easier to manage.

The once boring Spurs are now one of the prettiest teams to watch. The Spurs may not get on ESPN highlights for high flying dunks but they sure play an uptempo pace with sometimes gorgeous passing. The Spurs once again are one of the top offenses and lead the league in assists per game (25.4).

While the over-hyped Los Angeles Lakers continue to linger below 500. and struggle to play with any fluency and confidence on either end of the floor, the Spurs just continue to do what they have always done in the Duncan-era and that’s win.

Nothing seems to change down in the Alamo.

Linsanity still finding the middle

Linsanity certainly hasn’t breached the Texan borders and it might never.

This might disappoint the millions (yes millions) of Jeremy Lin fans and in particular ESPN who followed the craziness surrounding the Asian-American Harvard graduate to the extreme.

The shortened lockout season was all about Linsanity until Lebron James finally reached the top of the mountain.

Since playing his last game for the Knicks, Lin has failed to grab America’s or the world’s imagination.

Instead, he took the tag of Linsanity to Houston, Texas, and decided to take the ridiculous paycheque offered by the Rockets (backloaded contract worth 25 million over three years).

When the hysteria emerged last season, Lin was playing at an All Star level with a player efficiency level as high as 24.07. To put this in prospective, Lin sat in the top 10 most efficient players in the NBA (higher than Kobe Bryant’s 23.78 rating) for a stretch of the season. He finished with an impressive 19.9.

This year for the Rockets, Lin’s efficiency rating is at a mere 14.45, which is only just above the league average.

Has learning to play off the ball with James Harden made it difficult for Lin to find his spots and gain consistency in performance?

Maybe. With Harden sitting out against the San Antonio Spurs, Lin appeared far more aggressive in looking for his shot as he finished with a season high 38 points from 11 of 21 shooting.

One thing that hasn’t changed from last season is that Lin is still a pole on defence. All-Star Tony Parker registered his first career triple double on the same night as Lin’s impressive 38 point game.

Ironically, Lin can take a lot out of Tony Parker’s career as he looks for the balance between getting his teammates open looks and finding his own shot. In Parker’s formative years in the NBA, he had no jump shot to speak of. After being ridden hard by Coach Gregg Poppovich, Parker added a reliable jumper and a trademark teardrop.

Some people forget that Lin is only really playing in his first full season and his game is nowhere near rounded.

Speaking before the Spurs played in Houston, Parker made note of the similarities between  the young him and Lin.

“His shot will come,” Parker said. “Me too, I couldn’t hit a shot at the beginning of my career. I was still able to go to the basket. His shot will improve. It will help, definitely, his game. When I started making the outside jumper on a consistent basis, that’s when I was more consistent in my performance.”

Lin is currently shooting at a paltry 39 percent from the field, which is down from 45 percent last season.

So what should we expect from Lin right now and into the future?

If we follow Parker’s note, we just have to be patient and realise that Lin is still learning the position of point guard.

“There is a lot of attention on him. I think you have to be patient with his growth. When I first came into the league, I was a little raw. I was very aggressive. At the same time, I had to learn the point guard position and when to score, when to pass and try to find that happy middle, find the balance. I think Jeremy Lin is at that point,” Parker adds.

Fans and critics expecting Lin to repeat the high numbers from last season is absurdly unfair. As it stands, Lin is a starting point guard on a mediocre team and would be a back point guard on any good team.

Once he learns that “happy middle”, Linsanity might return.

Make a point

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The upcoming London Olympics proves to be a critical moment in Patty Mill’s basketball career.

In the just completed NBA season, Mills finally landed in a team that suits his run and gun and high-octane offensive play. The San Antonio Spurs was the perfect fit at this stage of his development as both a player and a professional. Australian Boomers’ Coach and Assistant Coach for the San Antonio Spurs Brett Brown, spoke publicly about the progression of Mills both on and off the court recently. In the eyes of Brown, Mills has greatly matured and become more professional and consistent performer.

The San Antonio Spurs is arguably the best run sporting franchise in all American sports. The Spurs organisation is a no-nonsense and highly successful basketball club. From the coach to their Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan, the Spurs continually preach about the idea of “getting over yourself” and “putting the team before the individual.” In an Australian sporting landscape, the idea of “team” is not new and not difficult to embrace. However, in the US, making a bunch of super talented individuals embrace a team first mentality is difficult to achieve. The Spurs have led the way in this area for the last 15 years, while winning four championships.

Mills spoke candidly over the last few weeks about the invaluable lessons he learnt from Hall of Famers in San Antonio.

Any observer or supporter of Mills would notice a change of mentality in him. He took advantage of the playing time he was given in a championship calibre NBA team. He knocked down shots, played committed defence and accepted his role on the team. Coach Popovich was quoted of calling him “tough” when Mills first arrived in San Antonio. Coach Pop is a no thrills coach who doesn’t use the word “tough” without meaning it.

These upcoming Olympics is a chance for him to press his claim as more than just a towel-waving teammate. If Mills can lead the Australian team through a strong campaign, he might just push his value higher in the eyes of NBA scouts.

Australians know what Patty is capable of and it’s time the world know it to.

What’s next for the Spurs?

The San Antonio Spurs’ deep playoff run was, for many, ended to abruptly by an offensive juggernaut in Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

For the basketball purists, and surprisingly for the average basketball fan, the Spurs precision ball movement was surgical-like and easy on the eye. How can you not love watching the crisp and calculated passing by the Spurs offense. Their philosophy is simple but overwhelmingly effective- make the extra pass and if you have a good look you better take it or it will be bench time.

Forever the master of squeezing out every drop of talent on his roster, Coach Pop completed another wonderful season as the head coach. Led by Pop and the Big Three, the Spurs fast tempo offense destroyed the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers in the post-season. The Spurs reached 20 consecutive wins in the Western Conference Finals and it seemed San Antonio was on the verge of becoming America’s team as the Miami Heat looked the likely foe in the Finals.

Leading 2-0 against OKC, the other Big Three, Durant and Co, went whack, and sent the once red-hot Spurs fishing. Big shot after ridiculous shot, the Thunder just had the answers down the stretch as the old fellas of San Antonio could only watch as the new kids on the block took control.

Since 2007, the Spurs have been written off. The headlines were always the same- “Spurs are too old” or “its time to break up the core”. Actually, if you ask any of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan, they would all tell you that America has been ignoring them since their 2003 Championship. Yet, despite plenty of media pundits writing off the Spurs, General Manager R.C. Buford and Coach Pop continue to put together championship contending teams.

We should not expect anything different for next season.

Of course, the Spurs’ title hopes hinge on the Big Three’s health, starting from the top with Duncan. Yes, as the Spurs acknowledged this season that this is Parker’s team. Very true. Yet, the Spurs have no Championship aspirations if Duncan is not healthy. Duncan, 36 years, is close to retirement and there is a possibility that he will call it quits on his Hall Of Fame Career this offseason. No Duncan, no championship. Its all pretty simple.

If Duncan decides to play on then the city of San Antonio can still dream of Number Five.

If healthy, the Big Three can be the most devastating  trio in the NBA.

For those who think Duncan is not capable of being a productive player next season, one should only have to look at this last game of 25 points and 14 rebounds against OKC.

However, the problems that lie with San Antonio is finding role players who can withstand the bright lights and pressure of the playoffs.

Guard Danny Green enjoyed a breakout season to say the least. He stepped up when Ginobili endured a stretch of injuries and continued to play solid basketball up to the WCF. His three-point shooting, athleticism and defence was his hallmarks. Yet, when the pressure was at at its most intense, he faltered. He shot below 25 percent from long range and lost his starting job in game 5 and never got it back. Green has time on his side, at the young age of 25, this playoff experience should only make him wiser. But can the Spurs bank on Green not to go missing again when the heat is really on? In the first two rounds he shot 43 and 58 percent from beyond the arc. Yet, the Spurs swept those two series. Hardly pressure-cookers.

Another important role player went missing, but not for the first time. The Red Rocket Matt Bonner enjoyed another solid season, perhaps, his most complete season yet, as his defensive awareness improved and his 3-point shooting continued to be a weapon throughout the regular season. Unfortunately, Bonner was nowhere to be found in the post season, again. He shot poorly at 31 percent from 3-point land throughout the playoffs. In the WCF, he shot a pathetic 11 percent from beyond the arc. If his threes are not falling he has little use. When he does shoot the ball well he spreads the floor and gives Duncan room to work in the post. In previous playoffs, his stat line reads similar to 2012. Unlike Danny Green, his papers are surely stamped. With the reported likelihood of European big man Erazem Lorbek making his way to the Silver and Black, Bonner might be the casualty.

So what do the Spurs need to do to stay in the top echelon of NBA teams? As the WCF’s showed, the Spurs need more productive play at the Power Forward position. A PF with length and an ability to run the floor  will keep the Alamo City still dreaming of another championship. If Duncan decides to play on and take a pay-cut then San Antonio should be hunting a talented PF like a Roy Hibbert or Javale Mcgee.

This offseason shall be very interesting as we might see some roster changes.

What will not change is the Spurs’ championship aspirations will be pinned to Duncan’s summer of decisions.

End of a Spurs Dynasty

All great things must come to an end, don’t they?

Watching the aging San Antonio Spurs slowly fall to an inspired Memphis, was like witnessing Muhammed Ali in his final fight. A champion on his knees. A few years ago, the Spurs would have easily taken care of Memphis. Now they see themselves ousted in the first round to the number 8 seed in the West.

The same questions seem to be asked after every season. Are the Spurs too old? Can Manu Ginobli get healthy? Does Tim Duncan have enough support at center? The doubters are often more vocal than the believers.

This time round, there seems to be a rather eerie feel to the Spurs’ off-season. Tim Duncan is 35 years old and Ginobli is 34. Post season success comes at a cost. This season, Duncan’s numbers dropped and his playing time was managed to 29 minutes a night. The greatest ever power forward is a shadow of his former self- only because of age though. Duncan has one more year left on his contract and one would assume it would be his last.

Fellow veteran, Antonio McDyess is set to retire which means the Spurs’ front court is dangerously lacking grunt. Matt Bonner spreads the floor but he resembles nothing like a post-defender. Dejuan Blair provides energy and an offensive punch in the inside but also lacks a defensive edge. Both lack the defensive skill set not because of effort but simply because of skill. Finally, there is the Brazillian center, Tiago Splitter. He will provide the Spurs with a defensive workman edge but he is more of a rotation player than a starter.

Ginobli’s and Parker’s contract extensions mean that there is little cap space for the Spurs’ front office to work with. No major roster overhaul is expected. Therefore, can the Spurs be relevant again? Probably not. Despite improving young sides in the Western Conference, the Spurs’ may hold one of the lower playoff seeds next year if they stay relatively healthy. But getting past the first round seems highly unlikely.

And beyond then?… Time to rebuild.

The improving George Hill is the future for the Spurs. The utility can play at the point and shooting guard positions. He probably is the Spurs’ best on-ball defender now. A Spurs dynasty was built on defence. Now there is little defence to speak of.

Tiago Splitter and Dejuan Blair will be able starters but not of the All-Star category. If rookie James Anderson can get healthy and have a big summer, he may provide some scoring punch. And of course there is the find of the year, Gary Neal, who will be a valuable sharp shooter. However, the worry for the Spurs is obvious. These players are solid role players but not the star-calibre of a Manu Ginobli or a younger Tim Duncan.

But who are we kidding? The Spurs may never enjoy such a unique Hall of Fame duo in the Big Fundamental and Ginoooooobliiii.

Kobe Still got it

While the East and West All-star teams fielded exciting young superstar talent like Durant, Rose and Westbrook, their was one battle-hardened veteran who quietly reminded everyone who the king is- Kobe Bryant.

The champ collected another All-star MVP award- 37 points and double digits in rebounds. Not to bad for an old fella. While, Kobe doesn’t mind his own voice, his most constructive talking is on the court. Like all champions in sport, the field or court is a forum for bold statements to be clearly heard. The competitive animal that is Kobe, made his voice heard: the crown is still his.

Yes. If you like it or not, Bryant has lost a step or two and his elite explosiveness is not what it used to be 5 years ago. Yet, here we are. The last two NBA Championships are in the hands of Kobe’s Lakers.

Lebron James you know what must be done.

Playoff push

It’s that time of year when the champions and the challengers elevate themselves from mediocrity and the pretenders- the regular season’s final stretch.

Historically, eventual Hall of Famers, Greg Poppovich and the Big Fundamental, lead the San Antonio Spurs’ charge to the playoffs. Never given their just credit, the Spurs will continue to look to prove their non-believers wrong. But in true Spurs fashion, Timmy and co won’t concede that it’s a motivational tool. The Spurs organisation typify professionalism with a confident yet genuinely humble streak. Four Championships in just over a decade. This impressive statistic would often inspire complacency and an ugly streak of arrogance in American sports, yet coach Pop’s straight shooting approach to the management of his players and staff assure a focused and hungry lot. While the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, are still the team to beat in the West, the Spurs deserve the label as the “number one challenger” to Kobe and his crew.

Once again the Dallas Mavericks pose a threat to the Lakers and their cross town bitter rivals- San Antonio. Yet, how far do the Mavs expect to make it in the playoffs? With no Caron Butler, the Mavs are short at the three position. Previous years, the Mavs flirted with a Championship run but have broke down, not because of talent but because of grit. With the inclusion of the hardened big man Tyson Chandler, Dallas now look a more assured outfit in the front court. Perhaps, their playoff position by the end of the regular season will depend on the level of production from the newly acquired peja stojakovic. If the three-point shooter can turn back the clock a few years with some efficient shooting from beyond the arc, the Mavs will be more than capable of replacing the injured Butler and make a worthwhile playoff push.

While the rest of the NBA will use the last stretch of the season to jostle to playoff positions, the Spurs, who have all but sown up the top seed, can look to improve on what Pop has been harping on about all season- defense.

As the old saying goes- “defense wins championships”. And no team knows this more than the San Antonio Spurs.

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