NBA Playoffs….Where Awesome Happens

Welcome to MY NBA playoffs!!

Welcome to MY NBA playoffs!!

Each year its the same thing with the NBA. The regular season rolls along, with three or four teams rising to the top as contenders, the teams in the middle futilely try and make moves to catch them, and the teams at the bottom try and position themselves to lose as many games to gather ping pong balls for the ceremony I like to call “Celebration of Failure” when the draft order is announced.

"No, I'm the biggest loser" "No I'M the biggest loser"

“No, I’m the biggest loser” “No I’M the biggest loser”

The playoffs come around and the in the first round the top teams pound the underdogs, with sweeps, blowouts, and short series ruling the day. The action doesn’t really start until the semis, and by that time only die hard NBA fans remain, only to come back in the finals to root for Lebron James, or whoever is the overwhelming favorite, to lose.

Good job, good effort

Good job, good effort

But somehow, someway, things changed this year. Maybe we should have known something was up when the Indiana Pacers, a team everyone thought to be a title contender, completely imploded after the trade deadline. In the West there seemed to be little difference between the top and bottom teams although in the past that hasn’t made much difference.

Then the tournament began and all hell broke loose. Other than the Heat, who struggled to win their second game against the putrid Bobcats, nothing has went as scripted. In the East the Wizzards crawled out of what feels like a million years of futility, took it to the team “no one wanted to play” and won both games in Chicago. Paul Pierce dragged his overaged Nets team to victory in game one against the Raptors only to give it up in game two. The Pacers literally fought one another on the eve of the playoffs, dropped game one to a 38 win Hawk team and then came to life in game two to even the series.

I like to fight with my teammates

I like to fight with my teammates

The West has been even more exciting and crazy. The top seed Spurs used every trick in their vast book of winning basketball to take game one on the 8 seed Mavericks, only to get blown out in game two, looking every bit their age and vulnerable. The 2nd seed, and sharp pick for the Championship Thunder looked like they had it all figured out in game one against the savvy Grizzlies, only to get beaten in an overtime classic in game two. The Clippers and Warriors, two teams that sincerely don’t like each other (how refreshing) split their series, which shifts to Oakland, one of the toughest places to play in the NBA for games three and four. The upstart bombers from Portland managed to take two from the Rockets, immediately putting Kevin McHaile and the clown prince of basketball Dwight Howard on the hot seat.

We got this

We got this

What happens from here is anyones guess. Its completely possible that BOTH #1 seeds could fall in the first round for the first time in NBA history. The Washington Wizzards could make it to the second round of the NBA playoffs. Someone in uniform or the stands might murder Blake Griffen. The duo of Westbrook and Durant being viable championship timber is going to be tested by a Grizzly team that plays team basketball we remember from the 1980′s.

We're the 80's and we approve of the Grizzlies

We’re the 80′s and we approve of the Grizzlies

So sit back and enjoy the ride, because this is just not how the NBA system is set up. Maybe its the karma David Stern and his tyrant rule over the NBA gone. Maybe some of these “non contenders” have just had enough of the same old story. Maybe this is the new NBA. Either way its a win for the fans.

The NBA playoffs……where awesome happens.

What the fuss is all about

What the fuss is all about

Hey, I remember that guy…

 

In future videos of players mic’ed up:

  • Gerald Wallace while dribbling the ball out of bounds off his foot;
  • Jeff Green after sinking a jump to cut the 4th quarter deficit from 21 to 19 points;
  • Vitor, heading to the bench after biting on a pump fake for his third 1st quarter foul

(h/t HRB, Greg Minor)

So, what do we have here? Part 1: Kelly Olynyk

[First in a series about the players on the Celtics roster]

Young Kelly brings impressive skills for a big man

As an NBA prospect young Kelly Olynyk offered one side of the classic ‘skills’ versus ‘tools’ trade-off. Outside of the very top of the lottery teams usually have to decide what they are going to prioritize. Do you draft the guy with the physical tools (frame, athleticism, vertical leap, etc) who needs to learn to play the game? Or do you draft the guy with great skills (BBIQ, form on his shot, footwork, understanding of help defense, etc) who will struggle to keep up with the speed and strength of NBA athletes?

Right now Kelly is all skills, few tools. And let’s give him his due: He has great court sense, a real nice feel for the game, and is instinctive on offense in a way that can’t be taught but only learned. His decision-making has adjusted to the speed of the pro game faster than lots of guys new to the league. You often see young players visibly thinking about what they’re going to do next and then trying do it. Olynyk has already moved past that. Not for nothing that when I first heard that he’d been a PG when he was much younger my first reaction was “of course”.

Olynyk is also a very good at creating quality shot attempts in the half court, especially from the mid-post and below the free throw line. He consistently recognizes and takes what the defense gives him and has a bunch of nice moves– the spins left and right, the step back short jumper, the floater he launches when he’s just started to drive and has his defender going backwards. Olynyk can look a little out of control with these, but this year managed to shoot a perfectly-respectable-for-a-rookie-big-man 47% from the field.

Now, one of the reasons young Kelly needs to be so creative offensively is because he’s so regularly at a physical disadvantage to the guys defending him. When the defense is prepared and anticipates his shot Kelly often gets swallowed up for a turnover or a block. Which brings us to Olynyk’s well-documented physical limitations that are the basis for so much of the criticism he has come in for.

Even relative to his peers in college, Kelly was noticeably unathletic. He’s slow-footed enough that on defense he neither stays in front of his man on drives, nor rotates fast enough to provide much help. Lacking much noticeable vertical leap he does little to protect the rim and prevent high-percentage, close-in shots. He reliably rebounds balls that hit him in the chest and hands, but doesn’t have the reaction speed or explosiveness to get to balls that are outside his immediate area. According to official pre-draft measurements young Kelly also has relatively short arms for someone his size, that doesn’t help his cause. It’s rare to see him win a scrum for the ball in traffic, although he’s sometimes competing with plus rebounder and team-mate Jared Sullinger. On the offensive end you can also see Kelly’s limited athleticism in the relatively flat arc on his three-point shot, which could stand to have more power and leg strength behind them.

Early in this NBA season Kelly (like lots of rookies) showed poor court awareness on defense and frequently had a hard time keeping track of his man and the ball both. To his credit he noticeably improved at this as the season went along.

Every rookie is going to have nights like this

Watching Olynyk’s rookie campaign one has to wonder how high his ceiling really is. A red-shirted junior his final year of college Kelly was already 23 when he hit the pros. He had one season of noticeable college production, having spent his freshman and sophomore seasons playing short minutes behind current Lakers scrub and former second-round pick Robert Sacre. On one hand, 24 year old basketball players are a lot closer to their physical and professional peak than their younger peers.

On the other hand, you only need to be really strong at one important NBA skill in order to stick in the league.  Seven footers who can shoot will always have value. If Kelly can improve his athleticism to the point that he’s no longer a defensive and rebounding liability he should have a 10-12 year career as at least a back-end starter or a first big off someone’s bench.

In general, if you want to be a regular rotation player on a Conference Championship team you have to be able to play at both ends of the court. And that’s because Conference Championship teams usually need to be well above average on both offense and defense. Over the last couple of decades a really high number of the final four teams standing were were top ten in the league at both ends of the court. The exceptions have generally been teams from the weaker Eastern Conference that made the ECF while being great at defense, and only mediocre on offense. (Examples include: The Jim O’Brien Celtics, the Rasheed Wallace Pistons, the KG/Pierce Celtics, and last year’s Pacers). Off the top of my head I can’t remember any recent team that made a serious challenge to the Finals by being great on offense and mediocre on defense. So if Kelly’s going to be part of the short playoff rotation of the next Celtics team to get to the ECF I suspect he’ll need to spend a lot of time in the gym and turn himself into a decent defensive player. His offense alone– which really is enjoyable to watch– isn’t going to be sufficient.

Keep at it, young fella

Like a lot of the Celtics youngsters Olynyk is an interesting player in search of a position. Right now he is too slow to guard most NBA power forwards– particularly when teams go small with ‘tweener’ SF/PFs–  and not strong enough to guard most NBA centers. Which position the team sees him at long term should determine how he tries to improve himself.

Whats Wrong With The Pacers?

Bench

After limping into the post season the Pacers laid an egg in game one of their series against one of the worst playoff teams of all time tonight getting whipped 101-93. The score doesn’t even begin to demonstrate just how bad the Pacers performed. After being tied at the half, they were outscored 30-16 in the third period by the Hawks effectively ending the game.

What happened to this team? It all seems to stem from the trade deadline where they shipped out Danny Granger and brought in Andrew Bynam and Evan Turner. The results were disastrous to say the least. Bynum has only played in two games, with averages of 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds. Just like in every other spot that he has called home, Bynum has been an underachieving disappointment. Turner has been up and down for Indy averaging 7/2/2. But this alone shouldn’t have derailed at team at the precipitous of grabbing the crown from the Miami Heat.

Bynam

It appears it runs much deeper than that. Many fingers have been pointed in the direction of Lance Stevenson, a mercurial player who has at times in his career struggled to share the basketball and made terrible decisions on the court and off. Roy Hibbert has played the worst stretch of basketball in his career, and at one point was benched in the second half of a close game. He responded by sulking at the end of the bench. Early in April, after a bad home loss to the Hawks, the players called a meeting sans coaches to clear the air. That didn’t work. Frank Vogal sat all of his starters in a game against Milwaukee in an attempt to get them rest and rejuvenate the club. This failed as well. The lone bright spot in the final weeks of the regular season came with an unexpected win against the Thunder. That momentum obviously hasn’t carried over into the playoffs.

Lance

If I was to guess, Danny Granger was a much bigger presence in the clubhouse than anyone imagined. Inserting the toxic Andrew Bynam into the picture only helped to make the situation worse. They are a team without a leader, without a purpose, and without the resolve to win an NBA championship, which is strange because they seemed to have all of those before the trade deadline.

They SHOULD be able to come back and have success against the Hawks, who shouldn’t be in the NBA tournament to begin with posting a putrid 38-44 record during the regular season. But even if they are to get past the Hawks, its hard to imagine them having much success against whoever they might face next. And its not out of realm of possibility they become only the 6th #1 seed in NBA history to lose to a #8 seed. This would never happen if Larry Bird were still alive.

Bird

Discuss the Pacers and everything NBA and Celtic related here: http://celticsnuts.com/forum/index.php/

First Round Predictions

Playoffs

According to Vegas, not many of the first round matchups will be particularly close, so lets take a look at exactly what we have here. First the East:

Nets slight (-140) Favs against the Raptors. This is the most intriguing series in the first round. The Nets did everything in their power the last week of the season to make sure they faced the Raptors, which should make for good bulletin board material for Dwayne Casey. Garnett hasn’t made the impact on the Nets that they hoped, but they have played well in the second half. The Raptors have a potent offense lead by the most under rated player in the NBA in Demar Derozan.(22/4/4) This series should come down to who can execute in the half court and Jason Kidd will do the Nets no favors there or anywhere coaching is involved.

Prediction: Raptors in 7

DD

Pacers heavy (-700) Favs over the Hawks. The Pacers have been a mess since the trading deadline, Roy Hibbert is playing as if he’s drunk on skates, and they backed into the top seed. The Hawks have been even worse and at 38-44 are the biggest reason Adam Silver is looking into eliminating the conferences for playoff seeding. Neither deserve anything right now.

Prediction: Pacers in 5

Heat pacers Basketball

Bulls favored (-205) over the Wizzards. It seems everyone is scared to death to face the Bulls, and with good reason…..being the best defensive team in the NBA, with the best defensive player in the league in Noah, a game against them is similar to a trip to the dentist office. That said, the Wizzards have had a fairly impressive season, getting inspired (albiet emotionless) play from John Wall (19/4/9) and Trevor Ariza (14/6). Its possible the Bulls, who don’t have much actual NBA talent past Noah and Boozer, look past the Wizzards, but I wouldn’t bet on it. At the end of the day they’re still the Wizzards

Prediction: Bulls in 5

Noah

Heat massive (-3,500) favs against the JordanCats. Al Jefferson has been a fantasy basketball players dream the last 4 years, but this is reality and they have no business being on the same court as the defending champs.

Prediction: Heat in 4

LJ

Thunder (-450) favs against the Grizzlies. You gotta feel for the Thunder, who can’t seem to buy a break these days. No one wants a championship more than Kevin Durant, who right now is the best player in the NBA. They draw the Grizzlies, who are an 8 seed because of injuries. Gasol and Randolph are the top one two punch in the paint league wise, and Connoly (who ever would have thought he was the guy to draft out of Ohio State over Greg Oden?) is as clutch as they come from the point guard position. The Thunder counter with the top backcourt in the Association with Westbrook adding a nice ying to the Slim Reapers (best nickname in sports) yang. These games will be close, and if the Grizzlies could steal game one they might make a series of it, but they catch the wrong team at the wrong time.

Prediction: Thunder in 5.

Durant

Now the West:

Spurs (-950) favs over the Mavs. You gotta love the Mavs emptying the tank in the final game of the season and proclaiming afterwards they were going to “let it fly” against the Spurs, a team they have struggled to win games against for the last 4 years. The Spurs and Tim Duncan have an eerily similar success arc as the Patriots and Tom Brady, with their David Tyree moment coming last season via Ray Allen. They should have an easy time here as no one had more regular season success as the Spurs, but sometimes strange things happen when you reset the W/L column. Both teams are impeccably coached and get the most out of their players. The Spurs just have better players.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.

Tim Duncan

Rockets (-220) slight favs over the Blazers. Maybe the most anticipated first round matchup. The Rockets have played well, but you never know what your going to get from the mercurial Dwight Howard (18/12) and the Blazers can shoot the lights out. If the Blazers can manage to split the first two games, I like their chances for an upset here. They have a dynamic and exciting point guard in Damian Lillard (21/3/6) and an inside presence in Lamarcus Aldredge (23/11). This one goes the distance.

Prediction: Blazers in 7

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors

Clippers (-380) favs over Warriors. These teams just don’t like each other, which in this day and age is completely refreshing. Nobody seems to like Blake Griffen (24/4/9) but it might be the best kept secret in the NBA that he has improved his game more than any other player this season. Teammate Dandre Jordan has also improved, upping his already impressive rebounding totals a whopping 6 per game to get to 10/13.6. The Warriors have one of the most prolific outside shooting duos in NBA history in Curry (24/4/9 42% from 3) and Klay Thompson (18/3/2 on 41% from 3). A key late season injury to Golden State’s Andrew Bogut could be the difference here as the Clip Joint will have a massive advantage inside and on the glass. One thing to keep in mind is the Warriors have one of the biggest home court advantages in the NBA, which will give them a chance to stretch the series out. Still, the Clippers just have too much.

Prediction: Clippers in 7

BG

The first round in the NBA is often riddled with blowouts and quick series, and this year should be no different. But these are the greatest basketball players on the planet playing at the highest level with the biggest stakes, and thats always great to watch.

MJ

Discuss the playoffs and anything basketball related in our forums. http://celticsnuts.com/forum/index.php/

Why Is The NBA Dark Tonight?

nba

Every year the NBA playoffs start the same way…..games end on Wednesday, and the playoffs start on Saturday. Unceremoniously, with a non marquee game at 12:30 followed by 4 other games.

But why no game on Friday night? Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to showcase to your fans the kickoff of your REAL season? You just finished a regular season where teams on the top and bottom were losing games on purpose to solidify either a draft slot or preferred first round playoff matchup.

So here is what I have always proposed, and its so simple, so fun, and so fan friendly it has always confounded me that its never be done. Play ONE game on Friday night. Have it be your “Playoff Opening Night Extravaganza”. Have an hour pregame where the ESPN or TNT pundits set the matchups for your tournament. Let them recap the regular season and let the lay fan understand how we got here and what to expect.

Have the teams welcome the national audience by having a team legend throw up an honorary tip. Adam Silver should be in attendance and should welcome the fans to the greatest show on earth from half court. The game would merely be celebration to kickoff what will be a month and a half of tournament action to crown your champion.

Friday

Who wouldn’t watch this? Is there something else the NBA fan is doing Friday night other than checking out the NHL tournament or watching a movie with a significant other?? Whats the downside? One less day of rest for TWO of your SIXTEEN teams competing in this thing??

When your done solving the tanking problem thats plagued the regular season you need to make this happen Adam Silver. Would be a great way to put YOUR stamp on the NBA in way that would make people pay attention to your sport.

Silver

Possibilities for next season

The final few weeks of this season are/will be grim, so here’s my little diversion into la la land to distract me from the horror show on the court.

Rondo mad

Here’s the roster as it is now…

 

It’s always dangerous to make big decisions when you’re depressed, but after this season I’m punching out on the two guys who are theoretically our biggest talents– Rondo and Green. Whatever magic coaching juju Brad Stevens might be capable of we’re not seeing any evidence that it’s working on these two.

So here’s my Thursday early evening pipe dream of how the off-season might go

  • Come draft night after furious negotiations, 13 almost-trades reported on twitter, and 5 camera cut-aways to Danny talking on the phone while the Celtics are on the clock, the Celtics stand pat and draft Jabari Parker, Duke, with the #3 pick
  • Jabari

  • Parker hangs around back stage so he can pull off a photo bomb of the post-selection interview with the Celtics second pick, K.J. McDaniels, Clemson, taken at #18
  • KJ

  • At the end of the night, to the complete surprise of the sports media who had not reported it in advance, the Celtics trade Rajon Rondo in a deal with multiple considerations for the draft rights to Marcus Smart, OK State
  • Smart

  • Over the summer the Celtics pull off one other roster-altering move: Brandon Bass and Keith Bogans (who is immediately waived) are finally dealt to Houston for Omar Asik in move that the Rocket’s owner reportedly insisted on. It is later revealed that Wyc included several millions dollars in the deal
  • NBA: Houston Rockets at Cleveland Cavaliers

  • As free agency opens the Celtics are unexpectedly revealed to be a desirable destination of journeymen vet PGs, since the starters job is wide open and there are plenty of minutes to go around. Disco takes his kids to the beach for a week where there is no internet access, and doesn’t catch before he leaves whether the team ends up signing Mo WilliamsShaun Livingston or Kirk Hinrich on a small-money deal. As he nods off to sleep with his toes in the warm sand he fondly dreams of any of the three providing stability and leadership in the court to our roster of young’uns
  • The final surprise comes a week into training camp as Wizards management becomes furious at the lack of development from Otto Porter, who shows up to camp horribly out of shape. The proceed to deal Porter and Andre Miller to the Celtics for Jeff Green, along with other draft considerations changing hands
  • After a summer in which both are underwhelmed by their contract offers and passed over by other teams pursuing bigger names, both Avery Bradley and Kris Humphries resign with the Celtics on two- and three- year deals.

As training camp winds down the Celtics rotation for opening night looks something like…

 

 
Could it happen? Anythings possiiiiiiibbbbble!!!!!!
Garnett
Ainge

How might Phil running the Knicks impact the Celtics?

Phil Jackson, the Knick's new "Philosopher-in-Chief"?

Phil Jackson, the Knick’s new “Philosopher-in-Chief”?

Since I’m generally in agreement with those who see a potential SuperFriends, Jr. team-up between Rondo and ‘Melo as both a real risk to the C’s, but also a potential opportunity, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how the Knicks hiring Phil could impact things related to Rondo and the C’s, whether that means the level of threat we should see in the Knicks as a max-contract bidder for Rondo in 2015, or how realistic it might be for the Celtics to make a play for ‘Melo as a sign & trade target this summer.

It’s hard to know if he’s reading the situation correctly, but this piece by veteran New York-based NBA columnist Howard Beck of Bleacher Report includes a lot of interesting suggestions about how Phil might run things, and the role Phil supposedly envisions for himself:

“I think mentoring is something that I’d be very comfortable doing,” Jackson told me over lunch in February 2011.

Mentor who? Coaches, preferably, though coaches can be famously headstrong, Jackson noted.

The seeds of a broader vision were evident, even then. Jackson wanted to share the wisdom he had accumulated over four decades in basketball. What form that might take, he wasn’t yet sure.

Now we know…

This is the ultimate evolution of Jackson’s mentoring impulse: to teach an entire franchise—indeed, the league’s most dysfunctional franchise—how to win. To impart all that he knows about team building, trust, strategy, training, preparation, work habits and, yes, Eastern philosophy. If any team needs a lesson in Zen, it’s the Knicks…

The role Jackson covets is best described as “philosopher-in-chief.” He wants to set the agenda, to establish a culture and a values system, to identify the type of players and coaches a team should pursue, the offensive and defensive philosophies it should adopt…

This much is also true: Jackson has no interest in getting cozy with agents, or poring over salary-cap minutiae or scouting college games. He will need a strong and experienced front office working with him…

If Dolan provides Jackson with the autonomy he needs, if Jackson proves as adept fostering a healthy office culture as he is at promoting a harmonious locker room, then the Knicks may yet have a ray of hope, and Dolan may yet find redemption.

That’s a role for Jackson that makes sense to me, and I think it potentially mitigates the question about whether he’s going to be a legit talent evaluator (which he wouldn’t need to be, if he’s planning to keep or build an experienced front office to handle the day-to-day details.

If nothing else, I think having Phil there as the “Face of the Franchise” is going to help them, based on some of the comments that Melo made immesiately after the hiring was reported:

Al Iannazzone ‏@Al_Iannazzone

Carmelo Anthony said Knicks look more attractive now (for free agents) with Phil Jackson here.

Melo also made comments that sure sound to me llike he’s not planning on going anywhere (reported here by ESPN New York)

“I’m willing to do whatever,” Anthony said after practice Monday. “As long as it’s gonna put me in a position to win, I’m willing to do whatever. I’m not sold or stuck on my play.”

“What I’ve been able to do these past 10-11 years has gotten me at where I am right now,” Anthony continued. “If Phil wants to come in and change that this late in my career, if it’s going to help me win a championship, I’m with it.”

“As far as knowing what it takes to win, Phil is the best to ever do it,” Anthony said. “So for me to be able to have the opportunity and have him by my side, for him to teach me, you know, because I’m still willing to learn the game of basketball.

“And I haven’t won anything [and] he’s won a lot. I can learn a lot from him and his system, things that he wants to incorporate here. I’m hoping and praying this all works.”

That makes me think that Melo’s probably not a realistic option for the C’s this summer.

Rondo and 'Melo may no longer be destined to for SuperFriends, Jr., if Anthony stays with Phil in New York to run the triangle offense.

Rondo and ‘Melo may no longer be destined to for SuperFriends, Jr., if Anthony stays with Phil in New York to run the triangle offense.

But on the bright side, from a Celtics perspective, it’s also been reported that a “Philospher in Chief” role for Jackson WILL at least eventually mean focusing on the Triangle Offense:

Ian Begley ‏@IanBegley

This isn’t ground-breaking, but source says Phil is strongly committed to implementing the triangle & will shape the roster w/that in mind.

Presumably, part of the appeal there is to try and maximize ‘Melo’s scoring ability in a less-Iso-driven offense.  That makes sense to me, as I see the triangle as an excellent fit for Anthony’s skill-set.

Phil also reportedly envisions keeping Iman Shumpert, among others, and I also see Shumpert as an solid fit as a triangle-offense guard.

Ian Begley @IanBegley

Phil’s early assessment of the #Knicks: per source, he likes Anthony, Chandler, Iman and Aldrich. Also likes youth of Hardaway Jr. & Murry.

Rondo, on the other hand, is not an ideal fit in that offense.  So to the relief of many C’s fans, I could see Phil trying to go in a different direction with the Knicks’ 2015 cap room.  If New York is no longer a suitor, that not only would help the Celticss keep Rondo, it could mean that his salary market will be more limited, and the C’s might even be able to re-sign Rondo at a more reasonable (i.e. sub-max) contract level.

The guy I DO think Phil might focus on in 2015 is Kevin Love, whose passing and shooting would be a great fit in the triangle, if they could put defenders around him and Melo. Love has even played in the triangle before, when Jackson-disciple Rambis was coaching the Wolves.

That might remove another All-Star level option for the C’s (although if Love makes it to FA in 2015, he’s almost certainly not going to end up in Boston regardless; they’d need to trade for him before then).

But if the trade-off is the Lakers losing Phil AND getting shut-out on both ‘Melo and Love the next two summers, I could dig that.

That’s especially true if it means that Rondo is more likely to stay with the C’s even if they miss on the two obvious All-Star trade targets.

——————————–

Visit the Celtics Nuts / Stuck on 16 (shouldn’t that be 17 now?) forums to discuss Rondo’s season, where Ainge might take the roster from here, whether Rajon should even be part of it, and all things Knicks (Rocco used to like these Knicks, but he’s reformed now).   Then join yourself, and let your fellow Nuts know what you think.

 

 

UConn Nation

Uconn 10

If your not from Connecticut, you’ll never understand. Its a state caught in-between New York and Boston, with very little to claim as their own, other than mastery of insurance sales.

In 1986, the University of Connecticut hired a little known basketball coach from Northeastern named Jim Calhoun and everything changed. By 1990 they won the Big East tournament. In 1999 they won their first of three national titles. UConn basketball was something, the only thing, people from the state could call their own. And it all had been done from a campus located across from a farm in a small town called Storrs.

 

jim-calhoun

But by 2012 everything began to fall apart. The team had been placed on academic probation, prohibiting them from participating in the post season for the first time in school history. Conference realignment left UConn the only major program in the nation without a chair, landing in a conference called the American Athletic Association. Jim Calhoun retired (or did he?…..but thats a discussion for a different day) and the program was on life support.

Enter Kevin Ollie, an alum who had spent the last 13 years bouncing from one NBA team to another. He hired all assistant coaches with UConn alumni status. The top players, specifically Shabaz Napier, decided to stick around. There was a glimmer of hope, specifically when the team beat Florida on a last second shot early in Ollie’s second season.

Then the tournament began and magic followed. The state rallied around Ollie and Napier and they won their first tournament game, a nail biting overtime win over St. Josephs. Next up was ex Big East rival Villanova, which UConn handled with ease and a big lift from Napier, who seemed to be channeling Kemba Walker, who single handedly lead UConn to their last national championship in 2011. Next up was Iowa State, who had the misfortune of facing Connecticut at MSG, a place where so much of their past history had been made. On they advanced to the elite 8 where they will face Michigan State.

 

Iowa state

While it would be nice to win three more games and capture their fourth national championship, their mission has already been accomplished. The state with nothing to call their own once again has something to rally around and be proud of.

They have already won.

Magic-Bird for the rec league set?

mcdermott---anderson

The new Bird vs. Magic?

Heretical photoshops aside, the forthcoming NBA Draft will have two of the more interesting players in years in Doug McDermott of Creighton and Kyle Anderson of UCLA. Both are supremely skilled players while possessing athleticism normally seen in pickup games at your local YMCA. It is easy to dismiss players like this, given that they look like walking dinosaurs even playing beside their NCAA peers, but my question is, “Is this folly?” Does passing over players like these two, and I should really include North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren here, leave an NBA team open for ridicule once they turn pro?

The case for Doug McDermott

Doug McDermott gets the basketball in the hoop. He does it in a wide variety of ways, despite what you may hear from the mouthbreathers who claim he is a one trick pony, chucking endless three point attempts. He uses screens for both spot up attempts and cuts. The post up game is a big part of his repertoire, despite the annoying college zones McDermott faces. Although he is limited by his foot speed, this is a player who can drive with the ball as well. From a 20,000 foot level, McDermott’s offensive arsenal is really impressively comprehensive, and a lot of it will translate with his entry into the NBA.

Throughout his four college seasons, Doug McDermott has scored, going for 30 or more points 26 times over the course of his college career. Each season was more consistent than the last, ending with his senior campaign, his best by far. Out of 35 games this past season, McDermott scored 25 or more points in a staggering 22 of them. This was all done, despite every team Creighton faced keying their defense to contain McDermott. Man? Zone? It didn’t matter. McDermott was dropping an avalanche on them, and doing it while turning the ball over less than twice per game.

The major question with this player is whether or not he can defend a position on the floor in the NBA. I have my doubts. While watching Creighton games this season, McDermott appeared to be an indifferent defender, to put it kindly. He exerted very little effort. He will not be able to play the game on one side of the court once he reaches the NBA. One guy half-assing it kills a team’s defense in the pros. His steals and blocks totals were mournful over the course of his college career. Whether this was due to a stark inability to defend or the aforementioned lack of effort is debatable. One thing that isn’t debatable – he will have to devote far more energy to his defense if he wants to be a successful professional basketball player in this country.

The case for Kyle Anderson

I can think of no player more divisive right now than UCLA’s Kyle Anderson. According to this model over on APBRmetrics, Kyle Anderson has the highest upside of anyone in this coming draft. Other folks watch him and cannot see any way his lack of athleticism will allow him to even play in the NBA. Some see him as a towering PG at the next level while other pencil him in a point forward from the SF position. Draft rankings have him all over the place, with Chad ford not having him in his top 25, DraftExpress ranking him #19 and NBADraft.net listing him in the top 5. Suffice it to say, the opinions on this player are all over the place.

Anderson, as a college player, is quite simply a handful. He handles the point and both forward positions for UCLA. There is nobody in college basketball that understands passing angles with anything approaching his (I just have to say it here) genius of the subject. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an NCAA player who understands angles in general, both in passing and attacking the rim, as well as Kyle Anderson. He doesn’t move to a spot simply to space himself from the ball handler. He moves to spots on the floor where he has options – options he has already taken note of. If he’s a PG, the ball isn’t in his hands for long. This isn’t a PG who pounds the ball for half the clock; he knows what is happening on the floor and is ready to either make his move or pass the ball. When he is distributing the basketball, players get the ball where and when they need it.

One of the statistical truisms I have used over the past decade and a half is that PGs who rebound well in college will translate into the NBA. There isn’t a NCAA PG I can recall that rebounds like Kyle Anderson. As a freshman, he took down 8.6 rebounds per game. This past season, that increased slightly to 8.8 boards per game. Anderson’s frame is, to be kind, sort of wiry. It is also agreed that he is both slow and cannot jump to save his own life. Again, the ability to understand angles comes into play here. That, and a pair of condor arms combine to make him an excellent college rebounder.

The startling thing about the improvement in Anderson’s game from his freshman season to his sophomore season has been his shooting. He took few shots as a freshman and made fewer of them. His shooting as a sophomore has been a revelation. While only taking one and a half three point shots per game, he made an astounding 48% of them. His finishing around the rim and the mid-range game also improved vastly. Those long arms make it difficult to block or alter his release, despite the glaring lack of athleticism.

As for his NBA prospects, I think Anderson is a PG at the professional level, despite the absurdity of the notion, given that just about every PG in the NBA should be able to blow by him on drives. I believe the help defenses should mitigate the damage this can cause, combined with the potential to pair him with a center who can defend the rim. If you get that straight, there is the potential to run out a gigantic starting five that offers so many matchup problems on the offensive side of the ball as to be ludicrous. With the shooting improvement, teams will not be able to sag off Anderson outside and playing with NBA athletes at the power forward and center positions, Anderson’s pick and roll game has the potential to be death incarnate.

Rec league or NBA ready?

There are two old school, nonathletic players with solid fundamentals. So, are we talking dinosaurs here or are these two real players?

In this person’s opinion, both McDermott and Anderson will have long, productive NBA careers. I see McDermott more as a bench player – someone who can enter a game against the opponent’s bench and be a remorseless bomber. Unless his defense miraculously improves, I don’t see a way he can help a good team in the starting lineup. Some of his scoring will certainly translate and that is a useful thing for NBA teams.

Anderson is riskier. He doesn’t look like a bench guy to me. I believe his impact will have to come from being a starter in the NBA and if his lack of athleticism prohibits him from starting, he will likely bust. Still, the potential for running out a truly unique player at the PG position is a massive attraction. If a team hits on Anderson, you are looking at a player that helps a team win in multiple facets, something this draft is woefully short of.

They may not be fast. They do not jump like NBA players. Despite the hyperbole of the title, they are neither Larry Bird nor Magic Johnson. What they are, are two more players from the forthcoming draft that have the ability to help their team win.