Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Postseason plans for Mavs, Suns

Thinking about what DAL and PHX need to do this offseason.  The Kidd trade was done to help the Mavs make a run at a title.  With D. Harris gone now, they'll need to find some youth at the PG spot.  They also need a back-up for Damp, something they've missed since Diop was traded.

As for the Suns, they need inside help and a true backup point guard to give Nash a rest.  The guy's logged 35 MPG for eight seasons.  That will take a toll at some point.

Chris Paul: Byron lets us play

Telling quote in today's Dallas Morning News from PG Chris Paul on Bryon Scott's coaching style:

"He lets us play.   He's on us in practice, but when I look over to the bench for a play, he waves his hand."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mike Sherman expects players to respect time of their teammates

Tim Griffin has a story on today about the rules new Texas A&M football coach Mike Sherman is putting in place in Aggieland.  According to the article:

There is no room for tardiness anywhere around the Texas A&M football program anymore.

New A&M coach Mike Sherman has made his concept of team unity and time his primary early lesson. To help facilitate his group's understanding of those dynamics, Sherman has installed 25 digital clocks around the team's sprawling football complex in a coordinated effort to emphasize punctuality.

"If you have 110 players in a meeting and one player is late, for one minute, that's 110 minutes you've wasted," Sherman said. "I hit them over the head a lot with time, how your clock is constantly ticking as a football player and as a student.

"The players have to be accountable. And to me, being on time is a matter of respect -- respecting your teammates and your coaches. You don't walk in late." 

Says one player:  "Coach is making it like it's in the pros. It's not like college is a kiddy store around here anymore." 

Monday, April 28, 2008

John Calipari: Why play on the perimeter?

Came across a 2007 story from ESPN on John Calipari's new style at Memphis.  Coach Cal describes it as:

- Wide open
- Attacking the rim on every chance
- Princeton on steriods style of play

Cal got the basic philosophy from a JUCO coach.  He made a few tweaks, put his stamp on it, and rolled it out.  Says Cal:  "The way the game is going, it's changing.  Why play on the perimeter?  [Players] feel unleashed."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Kevin Garnett is a great leader

A note in Bruce Jenkins' San Francisco Chronicle column today tells me all I need to know about Kevin Garnett's character:

All season, Garnett has insisted that Paul Pierce be the last Celtic to take the floor during pregame introductions. And when he's asked to participate in a postgame news conference, Garnett invariably brings a teammate with him.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Monta Ellis set to break out in 08-09

Prediction:   Monta Ellis will be an NBA All-Star next season.  Because he scores so well, the Warriors will go to him even more than this year when he put up 20 ppg (includig 12 games of 30 or more).  He's one of the best in the league in scoring in transition.  

After a good off-season strength program, his body will be ready, too.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NBA top 5: Power forwards

1. Kevin Garnett: A winner with a great attitude. When KG is in the game, it's like having a sixth defender on the floor because of his length and defensive IQ.

2. Dwight Howard: Has the perfect body to play the 4- or 5-spot in the NBA. Hard to believe he's so young. Gets better every night and his offensive game is improving quickly. Rebounding skills are incredible.

3. Dirk Nowitzki: No one's tougher to defend than Dirk, who has the ability to shoot over smaller defenders and drive by bigger ones.

4. Amare Stoudemire: Explosive offensive player who believes he can score on anyone at any time. If he can upgrade his defense, he'll be an elite player.

5. Carlos Boozer (pictured): A nice face-up 15-17-foot jumper and an inside game make Boozer a terror on the offensive end. Great left-hand finisher.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

OKC and the NBA

A few years ago, when playing a game in Oklahoma City, I remember sitting on the bench, watching the crowd, and thinking how much the fans there genuinely loved NBA basketball. Off the top of my head I could think of three or four cities that didn't appreciate their NBA franchises as much as OKC would.

In my experience, the fans there are knowledgeable and passionate. Moreover, they're friendly. More than one player told me how the people there treated them almost like a the way a college campus treats its team when it's the only show in town.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What Bill Belichick learned from Jerry West

Former NFL player personnel guru Michael Lombardi has an interesting article on today about a 1993 meeting Bill Belichick had with then-Lakers GM Jerry West about the issues related to working in a cap system.

According to Lombardi, the lesson Belichick learned the most from was this:  Never stop trying to learn.

Fascinating article about a genuinely fascinating guy in Bill Belichick.

The success of the team depends on the plodders as much as the superstars

Great quote by Frank Leahy, who led Notre Dame to four national championships in the 1940s:

“Superstars don't know how or why they do things right so easily. They are spoiled by how easy it is and impatient with those to whom it does not come easy, so they seldom make great coaches.

The men who become coaches understand that most players must sweat and sacrifice for success and that the success of the team depends on the plodders as much as on the rare superstar.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

NBA top 5: Point Guards

As a coach, I really appreciate a smart point guard who can run an offense, distribute the ball, and make his teammates better.  Here are the five best PGs in the league, in my opinion:

1.  Steve Nash:   Great pick-and-roll player who puts a stamp on his team's style and identity.  Perhaps the best push-it-up-the-floor point guard in the NBA, guys love playing with him.

2.  Chris Paul:  Continues his rapid improvement.  Terrific at getting in the lane to both score and distribute.  But it's more than the lane.  Paul gets to anyplace on the floor that he want.  Once he gets his 3-point shot to fall consistently, he'll have it all.

3.  Deron Williams:  I love his size/strength for a point guard.  For such a young guy, he's done a great job of playing and performing in Coach   Sloan's system, which can be tough for young players, especially the on-floor quarterback.  Competes every night.

4.  Gilbert Arenas (pictured):  Creates to get the shot he wants whenever he wants.  Has great range and can shoot well beyond the arc.  Another tough competitor.

5.  Tony Parker:  Incredibly quick and strong.  Smart player who can get to the hoop.  Gets his teammates involved.  Wins and wins and wins.

Bonus.  Baron Davis:  Terrific scorer with great strength.  Intimidates opponents.  After struggling with injuries the last five seasons, BD played all 82 games this year in Golden State (logging nearly 40 minutes a night), a first for him since 2001-02.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

NBA top 5: Off Guards

I have a soft spot for point guards, but how could anyone deny the excitement these guys bring to the game?

1.  Kobe Bryant:  Remarkable scorer who can draw a foul whenever he wants.  Get the ball in his hands when it matters and you're likely to win.

2.  Tracy McGrady:   One of those rare players who can play four positions thanks to his great size and athleticism. 

3.  Dwyane Wade:  How good is Wade?  Just look what happened to MIA when he went down.  Another terrific above-the-rim guy who will come back with a big year in 2008-09.

4.  Brandon Roy (pictured):   Multi-dimensional player who doesn't get enough props.  

5.  Ray Allen:   12-year vet is a dead-eye shooter who turns the game into a 4-on-4 because defenders can NEVER leave him.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bucks are a tough team to figure out

New Milwaukee GM John Hammond has made a quick coaching change. Now, he's gotta get a handle on his team, which is a hard one to figure.

They've got a lot of scorers, but the pieces haven't come together for them. A lot of people felt that the Bucks' talented backcourt -- with Redd, Williams, and Bell off the bench -- could get them to into the postseason.

Didn't happen, though, and Larry's out after the Bucks lost their last eight games of the season.

"When you're in the midst of it, it's not a whole lot of fun, and I know coming out the other end of this that I'm going to be stronger for it," Krystkowiak said. "But right now I'd be lying if I said it was enjoyable."

The state of the Bulls

Jim Boylan's firing in Chicago gets me wondering about what Pax will do in the offseason. The expectations have been high for the Bulls the last couple of seasons, but the club hasn't improved quickly enough and the guys don't seem to be jelling like they did with the Hornets, who also have a good, young nucleus.

It's possible that public comments from some of the young players over the last two years could have had an impact on chemistry.

As for the new coach, I'd look for Pax to go after an established guy. Skiles certainly got the most out of the Bulls roster the last few years, so there will be pressure to match Scott's performance.

What the new coach has going for him is a good core of young players. The question is whether Ty Thomas can become a consistent and reliable performer every night. Hinrich is another question: Can he get better or has he peaked?

I'll also be interested to see how the mid-season trade of L. Hughes and Gooden fit in with a full training camp.

Elsewhere, Ben Gordon's a great off-the-bench scorer, but his size can give opposing teams a matchup advantage there. Small forward Deng is underrated, in my opinion, because he's tough to defend.

Energy guys are hard to find and can play a valuable role. Noah and Nocioni (left) both play hard and get their team extra possessions by hustling for loose balls, etc.

The Art of the Timeout

Great article in today's Wall Street Journal about "The Art of the Timeout." In my experience, timeout strategy varies depending on the team, players on the floor, opponent/opposing coach, game, and situation.

With the Warriors, our players that first year loved any new wrinkles we could create for shots and quick-hitters for guys like Gil Arenas and Jamison. The next year, our vets were good at executing after time outs. Plus, with Avery Johnson on the roster that year, we had an extra coach in the huddle.

Be sure to watch the video that accompanies the story.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

NBA Playoffs: Lakers v Nuggets

One of the keys to this series will be how the Lakers defend Iverson, who scored 51 on LA in December.  This time, DEN will have to hold him to half of that -- 25 or less per game.  That won't be easy as Iverson scored nearly 100 pts in three games against LA this season.   

Of course, it's not just Iverson who can score.  DEN has not one, but two of the league's top 5 scorers.  Melo is also good for 25/game.  But there's no consistent third scorer.  Kenyon Martin has 22 one night; and just 4 two games later.  JR Smith can score, too.  Not afraid to launch the 3, he had 24 points a week ago vs GS, with half of those coming on 3-pointers.   In two February games, he put up 14 3-pointers, going 16-28 from behind the arc.  That will get a coach's attention.
Keep an eye on Pau Gasol's confidence.  Pau is 0-12 in the postseason.  He could get down on himself if things go south.  LA can't afford that.  On the other hand, if the Lakers can get rolling and Pau gets his confidence up, LA will be tough to stop.

Is New Orleans for real?

In a word: Yes. B. Scott has done a terrific job. I honestly think they would have made the playoffs last season if they would have been healthy. N.O.'s young nucleus has really come along quickly and -- with the postseason experience they're getting now -- they'll only get better. That's gotta concern other teams in the West.

The keys: C. Paul, who controls the tempo as well as anyone in the league, and West, who is still underrated even as an All Star. West plays hard and can really face-up shoot.

Should be a fun team to watch over the next few seasons.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NBA playoffs: HOU v UTH

This one could go seven games.  Rafer's injury comes at a terrible time for HOU.  In Williams, the Jazz have a one of the league's most physical point guards and the Rockets will need depth at the point. 

With Alston's injury, HOU will need Bobby Jackson to play the 1 spot.  But Jackson is more of a combo guard who is at his best when he's looking to score.  Unfortunately, HOU needs him to distribute the ball.

McCrady has the pressure of trying to not only get out of a first round playoff series, but simply get a win.  He's 0-6 so far.

Utah can really score the ball and they have a true advantage playing at home.  I look for Utah to steal one in Houston and win the series in seven. 

NBA Playoffs: Atlanta v Boston

A young team getting its first taste of the postseason, ATL is a long-shot in this series. BOS plays good team defense -- they're second in points allowed (90.2 ppg) and first in defensive field goal percentage (42%) and defending the 3-point shot (31.5%). Defense is a big factor in the postseason.

Joe Johnson is the only established scorer for the Hawks. I'm certain Doc and the Celts will double- and triple-team him all series. BOS is excellent at executing their defensive schemes and having their defenders in a boxes-and-elbows concept. Johnson will see bodies in isolations and pindown situations.

If the Hawks hope to remain competitive, Bibby and Smith will have to have big games offensively. The problem for ATL is that Rondo is an underated defender on the ball as well. He will really pressure Bibby. A sweep is certainly possible, though it is likely to go five games.

Of course, BOS won't walk through the postseason. This unit hasn't played together in the playoffs. It sounds like a minor thing, but teams typically don't win championships in their first year together. It takes some time to come together.

Second, how Doc handles his rotation is another key for the Celts. Over the last 20 games or so, Doc has rested his big three. As the rotation shortens in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how their bench responds. Powe, Davis, Posey, and House really contributed this season. It will be interesting to see how they respond to fewer minutes in the postseason as the superstars see more time.

And keep in mind that Cassell (left) was brought in for a playoff run. Keep an eye on how he and Rondo play out. Rondo's been outstanding under the radar. The spotlight gets hotter now.

BOS has struggled at times this season with forwards who have the ability to drive from the perimeter. Pierce is a sub-par defender. WAS beat BOS three times this season because Butler and Jamison can get to the basket.

With this in mind, ATL may consider starting Smith at the 3 spot alongside Horford and Pachulia. This would help the Hawks match the Celts on the glass on the front line. It also gives Johnson another player who can slash on the perimeter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NBA Playoffs: DAL v NO

This should be a great series.   With the two teams so close geographically, travel won't be a factor.   Travel, you say?  Who cares?  The team that advances does, for one.  It's a short 80-minute flight (at most) between NO and DAL.  Less wear and tear will come into play in the next round.

With DAL as the seven seed, they won't have the pressure they did last season when GS (an eight seed) upset them.  

Really looking forward to the Kidd-Paul match-up at the point position.   Dallas's depth (167-87 in bench points vs Hornets in season series) and postseason experience gives the Mavs the edge. DAL in seven.

NBA Playoffs: Toronto v Orlando

Point guard play could be the key for ORL.  If Nelson is solid -- not spectacular -- and takes care of the ball, the Magic are a tough team.  But they have the tendency to get erratic at times with unforced turnovers.  That's the sign of a young team.  

Even though ORL was swept by DET last season, the experience will help them vs TOR.  

If the Magic are making their 3's, they're one of the most dangerous teams in the league.  If Turkoglu, Lewis, and Bogans can get their shots to fall, Howard will be able to play straight up in the post.  That's bad news for TOR as neither Nesterovic or Bargnani can't handle Howard.  He's simply too much for them.

The good news for TOR is that ORL is not a strong defensive team.  Bosh will give ORL problems with his quickness and ability to face the basket.   He's lit up the Magic this season.  His range, array of post moves, and -- yes -- quickness makes him one of the toughest players in the league to defend.  But Lewis will force Bosh to move away from the basket.  This could cause problems for TOR.   

Despite Bosh and Howard, I think this series will come down to point guard play.   Ford and Calderon have to play at a consistently high level.   TOR's real weapon is their three-point shooting.  Yes, they've struggled the last month or so behind the arc, but if they get hot, ORL will be in trouble.

Still, I like the Magic in this series, though I don't think they'll have enough to match DET in the next round.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tony La Russa: You do the best you can...

Couple of insightful quotes from Tony La Russa in a USA Today article today:

"[Former manager Paul Richards] would say, 'They pay you to do what you think is right. Trust your gut, don't cover your butt,'" La Russa says. "The guys who are not trying to cover butt last longer than the guys who are worried about how this is going to look."

"He's brilliant and he's creative and he's daring," says Roland Hemond, who as White Sox general manager hired the unproven La Russa at 34 in 1979. "He's not afraid to go against the conventional style that has prevailed through the annals of baseball. He gets a lot of mileage out of the fact he's a great student of the game and is well prepared."

"If you do something they think is a little bit innovative or different, 'Oh, he's overmanaging,"' La Russa says of his detractors. "But if you sit there and don't take out the pitcher, you undermanage. So in the end, you know what you learn?  If whatever you do works, it makes sense.  If it doesn't work, it's a bad decision.  You just do the best you can."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Always do what you're afraid to do

"Always do what you are afraid to do."

Sleepers to watch in the upcoming NBA Draft

Since I'm on the West Coast, I've had a chance to watch several good seniors who may or may not get drafted, but who could play on the NBA level in the right situation:
-- JR Giddens (New Mexico/photo left):  Had 26 points and 13 rebs vs Cal.

-- Matt Gibson (Hawaii):  Won't get drafted, but he's a legitimate scorer.

-- CJ Giles (Oregon State):  Talented player who was kicked off both the Kansas and OSU teams.

-- Malik Hairston (Oregon):  Played 30 mins/game each of his four seasons for the Ducks.  Had 29 pts vs Arizona and 20 against a good Wash State team.

-- Trent Plaisted (BYU):  Not a senior, but he just declared.  Had 24 pts and 17 rebs vs UNC.  Impressive.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

NY Times: Why players turn inward

Good article in yesterday's NY Times by former major leaguer Doug Glanville. In the article, Glanville writes: "'You have to believe in yourself or no one else will.' In general, good advice. But follow it too closely and you may end up believing in yourself so thoroughly that you trust no one else. This is usually where your problems begin."

Glanville is talking about Roger Clemens, but it could apply to any high-profile coach or athlete in any sport:

He perceives that the court of public opinion will either build him up or tear him down, and that either way, when his time comes, no one will remember him. So he uses this barrier to protect himself from the fickle judgments of the peanut gallery and to make it through his world.

It is a fairly typical and primitive form of defense. It is too complicated for players to navigate the press and millions of fans, each of whom has an opinion of them. It is even more complicated to share with family and friends or non-baseball colleagues the idea that their lives aren’t perfect — even with the fame and the six-figure paychecks. So they turn inward.

That is where things get a little weird...

Check out the full article here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

NBA MVP Race: Garnett, Kobe, C. Paul

No surprises here.  Kevin  Garnett is a heavy favorite after the Celts win nearly 80 percent of their games.  Eastern Conference or not, KG has proven to be "most valuable" in Boston.

Just behind Garnett is Kobe -- the best player in the best conference.  At this point, the Lakers have won more Western Conference games than either N.O. or S.A.  That's a credit to Bryant.

Chris Paul rounds out the top three challengers for MVP honors this season.  He controls the tempo and pace for the NBA's most surprising team.   Like Steve Nash (who knows a thing or two about the MVP award), Paul doesn't just score the ball, he distributes it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

ATL's Al Horford favorite as ROY

As for Rookie of the Year honors, gotta give the edge to the Hawks' Al Horford.  The guy brings it every night and has made his team better.
Kevin Durant will likely be the runner up for ROY.  Great scorer who will only get better as his body get stronger.

Keith Smart: Warriors assistant

Good story today in the Contra Costa paper about Keith Smart, a Warriors assistant who played for me in the CBA and was one of my assistants in Golden State.  One of my all-time favorites.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NBA Coach of the Year battle: Rivers, Scott, Adelman, Phil

Doc Rivers, the NBA's coach of the year in 2000 in ORL, has a terrific shot at winning again this season.  Yes, his roster has three superstars, but he's done a great job of blending that talent.  Plus, it's hard to overlook the turnaround in wins.  Boston only won a couple of dozen games last season.  Doc took heat for last year's mark.  He should receive some credit for his club's success, too.

Byron Scott, Rick Adelman, and Phil Jackson have also done super jobs with their teams this season.  Not sure if they'll get the votes to win COY, but they deserve serious consideration.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pro prospects of seniors in Monday's Final Four

If you watched Final Four, you got a sneak peek at several players who will likely be drafted this summer.  All of them are well coached who played at the highest level of college basketball.  Further, because they're seniors, they have significant experience, i.e., they've got a lot of minutes under their belts.  

Here's a quick assessment of some of the seniors from KU, Memphis, UCLA, and UNC who are getting looks from pro scouts:

Darnell Jackson (KU) -- Hard-working player who will likely go in the second round.  Played in 125 college games at Kansas.  

Sasha Kaun (KU) -- Projected second-rounder; I really think he could be a solid NBA back-up for 8-10 years.  Played in 140 games for the Hawks over four seasons.

Russell Robinson (KU) -- The New York City native may be only 6-foot-1, but he plays solid defense.  I wouldn't be surprised if he made an NBA roster this fall.  Logged more than 2100 minutes over the last two seasons at Kansas.

Joey Dorsey (MEM) -- Athletic rebounder who grabbed double-digit boards against UConn, Georgetown, Texas, and UCLA.

Quentin Thomas (UNC) -- Could have a long career overseas.  Q performed well in extended duty during February, handing out nine assists vs Clemson and seven against VA Tech, NC State, and Wake.

Lorenzo Mata-Real (UCLA) -- Not likely to be drafted, but could catch on to an NBA Summer League roster or a D-League club.  He's another guy who could play overseas.  Had a double-double vs Kentucky in the third game of the 06-07 season.

Monday, April 7, 2008

NBA Honor Season: Sixth Man, Exec of Year, Defensive, and Most Improved

I'd give the Sixth Man Award to the Suns' Barbosa with SA's Ginobili close behind.  I'd think that Ainge in Boston and Kupchak in LA will vie for Exec of the Year honors.  

As for the league's best defender, go with Kevin Garnett.  Marcus Camby could make a case, too.

Most improved this season?  I think TOR's Jose Calderon has really come on.  In fact,  Turkoglu, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Al Jefferson have all taken their game up a notch.

With Barbosa (Brazil), Calderon (Spain), Turkoglu (Turkey), and Ginobili (Argentina), this list has a heavy international flavor.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Personnel moves: Which worked, which didn't

Garnett, Allen to Beantown:  Clearly, the best off-season move prior to the start of the 07-08 season was Boston's move to lock up KG and Ray Allen.  It's why Ainge will likely earn Exec of the Year honors.

PHX's signing of Grant Hill:  Shaq's arrival in Phoenix got a ton of attention, but it was Hill's signing last July that I really liked.  His veteran leadership will figure big in the postseason.

Pau to the Lakers:  Gasol can be to Kobe what Pip was to Jordan.  

Lakers sign D. Fisher:  He's shooting better than he ever has, both from the field and the line.  LA's a better team with him at the point.

Rashard Lewis to ORL:  Having a huge season in Central Florida and is a big reason the Magic will win 50+ this year.

J-Kidd to DAL:  We'll have to give this one an "incomplete" until after the playoffs, which is why Dallas made the move.

One that didn't work out:    Randolph to NYK.  Zach couldn't help the Knicks from taking a 10-game step backward this season.  Donnie will have his work cut out for him in the Big Apple.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What's it take to win a title? Balance

Interesting article on FOX today about what kind of team it takes to win a title.  Yes, you've gotta have a couple of great players.  But more than that, it's critical that you've got a balanced team with several players who can step up.

People typically point to the Jordan-Pippen combo when talking about the Bulls dynasty.  That's obvious.  But the guys who get overlooked are often the key.  John Paxson, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong, Will Perdue, and Scott Williams:  Was winning three rings a matter of "right place at the right time"?  Maybe.  

I think it's more than that.  These guys may not be Hall of Famers, but they have high basketball IQs, they're willing to do what's required of them, they bring energy, they're able to focus on team goals, they make few mistakes, enjoy competing, and are reliable.

Look at the rosters of championship teams.  You'll see that they're loaded with guys who fit this description.  

Yes, the teams with the best players usually win.  How you define "best players" is the trick.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Constructive criticism: A coach's dilemna

I was talking with some college coaches recently about how some players resent constructive criticism.  They get angry, take it personally, or feel that they've been disrespected.  

The problem is, if a coach fears giving his players honest and direct feedback because he's worried that the player will get upset or like the coach less, you're going to have problems. 

For one, you won't be developing your players to their full potential.  Second, the players won't reach their full potential.  

It's not about being buddies with your players.  It's about helping guys to become the best basketball players they can be. 

Not Getting Enough Credit...

Thinking about which NBA players are not appreciated as much as they probably should be -- by most casual fans, at least.  Here's my All Underrated Team for 07-08:

Chandler (CHA), Biedrins (GS/photo left), Calderon (TOR), Milsap (UTH), Rondo (BOS), Battier (HOU), Thorton (LAC), and Landry (HOU).

It's no coincidence that the Rockets ticked off all of those wins when Landry began getting minutes.