Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fast-Breaking It Down

Steve Nash hoisted the MVP Trophy Monday night in Phoenix, but the most valuable player in the league he is not.

-I'm still a bit perturbed that Steve Nash was named MVP over Shaquille O'Neal. Nash had a fantastic season in leading the Suns to a tremendous turnaround in becoming the league's best team during the regular season. There's no denying that his addition to the team last summer was a major factor in the team's turnaround, but look at that lineup-- Amare Stoudemire, an absolute physical menace that no team in the league could figure out how to guard; Shawn Marion, the best third option on any team in the league and the perfect guy for the Suns' style of play; Joe Johnson, the quiet assassin good for 15 points every night, or 30 if you really need it. And Quentin Richardson, an athletic tweener capable of knocking down 3s and finishing fastbreaks with the best of 'em. Are you telling me the Suns aren't a 55-win team if you substitute say, Jason Williams in at the point? People talk about the 2-4 record without Nash, but Leandro Barbosa was their backup! Phoenix's success this season is very similar to Detroit's in that both clubs have dynamite starting 5's that work incredibly well together as a unit. Nash might have been the engine that spurred the team along, but he could have been replaced by another engine and the car would have still sped along. Miami on the other hand would have been mediocre without Shaq and I can't see anyone arguing against that. Imagine replacing Shaq with the second best center in the world, the one and only Erick Dampier. The Heat would be lucky to win 40. Most Valuable = of the greatest importance. Look it up. Or just ask the Lakers.

-There's a reason why Anthony and I didn't come out with Conference Semifinal previews-- the matchups absolutely suck, with the exception of one, maybe two. Washington has virtually no chance to beat Miami and will be lucky to steal a game off them. You can't throw Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, Michael Ruffin, and Peter John Ramos up against Shaq and Zo and expect to compete. That's like pitting "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" against "The Godfather" in an Oscars race. Seattle, injuries aside, doesn't have a morsel of a chance against the Spurs. Spurs have too much size upfront, defend the perimeter way too well, and had gotten in to Ray Allen's head before the series even started (nicely done, Bruce). I thought Indiana had an outside shot of taking two games from Detroit, but not after watching last night's game. The Pacers play so similar to the way the Pistons do, yet they're just not nearly as good. Something would have to go terribly wrong for Detroit if Indiana was to take more than a single game from them. So that leaves one series, and I'm beginning to have my doubts with the Mavericks' chances against the Suns as well. How the hell is Avery Johnson planning to slow down Amare Stoudemire?! You look at that Dallas roster up and down and there is not a single player capable of even remotely stopping Amare. Erick Dampier looked like a little boy lost in the jungle. Charles Barkley made a good point last night-- how can you call yourself the 2nd best center in the world and give up 40 points without scoring a single point?! It took some lineup shuffling for Avery to get the Mavs past the Suns, but I'm just not sure if any lineup shuffling will do the trick against Phoenix-- a team that was driven by its on-court chemistry all season long. Whichever lineup he puts out there won't be as good as Phoenix's, especially not in a full-court game. I think he needs to do his best to slow the game down some and somehow get Amare into foul trouble. Maybe then Dampier can defend Steven Hunter, though I'm not even sure about that.

-This information actually came out close to a month ago, but I know I didn't see it publicized anywhere. Anyways, I thought some of you might be interested in knowing which players' jerseys sold the best this year:

1. Shaquille O'Neal
2. Tracy McGrady
3. LeBron James
4. Stephon Marbury
5. Kobe Bryant
6. Allen Iverson
7. Carmelo Anthony
8. Vince Carter
9. Dwyane Wade
10. Steve Francis
16. Amare Stoudemire
17. Emeka Okafor
20. Allan Houston
21. Kyle Korver
22. Steve Nash

Nothing better exemplifies the power of the New York market than the fact that Allan Houston's jersey sells better than that of the league MVP, Steve Nash.

-I've been looking at the free agent list which we'll begin to hear more and more about as the Playoffs go forth and I've come to the conclusion that there are 10 top-flight players that will actually hit the market (Shaq, Grant Hill don't count because they likely won't hit free agency):

-Eddy Curry, Restricted
-Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Unrestricted
-Bobby Simmons, Unrestricted
-Michael Redd, Player Option
-Samuel Dalembert, Restricted
-Joe Johnson, Restricted
-Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Unrestricted
-Cuttino Mobley, Player Option
-Ray Allen, Unrestricted
-Larry Hughes, Unrestricted

-That's not a bad list. Though there's only one bonafied superstar, each one of those guys is capable of having major impacts on whichever team they end up with this summer. Now what's going to make this summer's free agency frenzy interesting is the surplus of quality players on the next tier below the top dogs. A slew of these guys could end up being real bargains for teams looking to improve, but not having the cap space to sign a big name:

-Antoine Walker, Unrestricted
-Gary Payton, Unrestricted
-Brevin Knight, Unrestricted
-Gerald Wallace, Restricted
-Tyson Chandler, Restricted
-Marko Jaric, Restricted
-Stromile Swift, Unrestricted
-Earl Watson, Unrestricted
-Bonzi Wells, Team Option
-Udonis Haslem, Restricted
-Damon Jones, Player Option
-Eddie Griffin, Restricted
-Latrell Sprewell, Unrestricted
-Dan Dickau, Unrestricted
-Kyle Korver, Restricted
-Damon Stoudamire, Unrestricted
-Bobby Jackson, Unrestricted
-Devin Brown, Restricted
-Vladimir Radmanovic, Restricted
-Antonio Daniels, Player Option
-Donyell Marshall, Unrestricted
-Kwame Brown, Restricted

-That's 22 more names right there that could play significant roles in the free agent market this summer. Now I know you've looked at a bunch of those names and probably wondered why the hell any team would consider signing them. You have to remember that Isiah Thomas is a GM in this league and while some players might not seem so enticing in the grand scheme of things (Gary Payton, Latrell Sprewell), they could end up being nice pickups for a year or two. If you want the best bang for your buck regardless of how much cap room you have, here are some of the players I would definitely target this summer:

-Bobby Simmons, Unrestricted - Though his Most Improved Award likely drives his price up, I would think Simmons could be had for somewhere around $8-10 Million per. Not a bad investment in a character guy who gets it done on both ends of the floor, and who is only 24. I would hope the Cavaliers come calling.

-Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Unrestricted - I know the rap sheet: solid numbers, no Playoff appearances. Regardless, he's still a talented 4 with a good attitude and is only 28 years old. He's certainly proven he's not worthy of being a #1 or #2 option on a quality team, but I think if put in the right situation, he could be a brilliant find for a team needing some scoring punch out of the frontcourt. Could be a nice addition for the Wolves if they can free up some salary. Garnett would cover up SAR's defensive liabilities and give Minnesota a frontcourt tandem extremely difficult to defend.

-Gerald Wallace, Restricted - I think Charlotte will end up re-signing him, but we won't know for sure what they're going to do until after the draft. If they take a point guard, as expected, then Brevin Knight will likely sign somewhere else and Bickerstaff will use that money to hold on to Wallace. At just 22 years old, Gerald came into his own in the second half of the season as a defensive stalwart who's capable of giving you a little bit of offense from the 3 (15.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.5 BPG in March). There's no denying his awesome atheticism and with some work on his perimeter shooting and more discipline on the court, Wallace would be an excellent signing for somewhere in the $5-6 million/per range.

-Earl Watson, Unrestricted - If you don't know already, I'm a huge fan of this guy. A tireless worker with a great attitude, Watson should be re-signed by Jerry West at the expense of Jason Williams, but it's difficult to see that happening. Watson, a young Eric Snow with a better shot and a little more flair, would make a great fit in Cleveland or with the Lakers, teams sorely looking for energy and defense.

Earl Watson could be a key signing for which ever team signs him this summer.

-Devin Brown, Restricted - I expected him all along to make a huge splash with the Spurs in the Playoffs this year, much like Stephen Jackson a couple years ago, but due to injuries, that hasn't been the case. If I'm a GM in the NBA, what reason would I have not to offer Devin Brown, an underrated, defensive-minded athlete who comes from an excellent system in San Antonio, $4 or $5 million/per, an offer that the Spurs might not be willing to match.

-Donyell Marshall, Unrestricted - Another player that I've long been a fan of and will be highly sought after this summer. Marshall's game is more aptly suited in an open-court game and with more and more teams employing such up-tempo basketball, I would expect him to receive some nice offers come June. And though he's almost 32, Donyell's sharpshooting from the outside will help extend his career a couple years and make him into a player worth investing in for 4 or so years. He's probably worth more than the mid-level exception, but if the Sonics let Radmanovic walk, why not try and entice Marshall into coming to Seattle for a role that's perfectly suited for him.

-Jannero Pargo, Restricted - After his display in the Playoffs last week, Pargo likely earned himself some suitors this summer looking for sharpshooters off the bench. And since Chicago doesn't necessarily need two undersized shooting guards, I highly doubt they match a substantial offer. Pargo has always been able to light it up since his days with the Lakers, he's just had trouble finding a consistent bench role. Teams like the Nuggets and Clippers, desperate for some perimeter shooting, would be wise to pry Pargo from Chicago.

-Jay Williams, Unrestricted - He's currently on the comeback trail and aiming to land on a training camp roster this Fall. Though reports have suggested that a return so early may be a bit of a stretch, I would bank on Williams making significant strides towards a return to the league by next season. So why not pick him up now and give him a shot? He's not going to be asking for much money, so there's little risk involved. If he can make a recovery a la DerMarr Johnson and return to even 75% of what he once showed he can be, then you've got a solid back-up point guard capable of providing some scoring punch off the bench.

-While we're talking bargains via free agency, allow me to briefly shed light on some Draft steals that are bound to happen come June:

-Hakim Warrick, Syracuse - Experts have him falling to the 20-25 range which is outrageously absurd. Warrick has improved his game significantly each year since arriving at Syracuse and is an outstanding athlete that would immediately be one of the top ten finishers in the NBA upon entering the league. I'd much rather grab him at 15 than say, Channing Frye whose game I said months ago most closely resembled Jason Collins.

-Francisco Garcia, Louisville - An outstanding shooter with great size for his position. More importantly, he's dealt with adversity his entire life and will relish the opportunity to play in the NBA and succeed, unlike some high schoolers rumored to be going ahead of him despite not having an ounce of life experience. Most NBA players and coaches will tell you-- mental preparation is as important in making the adjustment to the league as physical preparation is. So why allow a mature, tough kid like Garcia to slip so far? So you can draft a complete idiot like Charlie Villanueva?!

Nate Robinson combines a little bit of Earl Boykins with a touch of Bobby Jackson to make himself one of the Draft's most exciting prospects, yet for some reason he's slated to slip to the 2nd Round.

-Nate Robinson, Washington - Maybe too much of a risk to draft any sooner than late in the first round, but by no means should he be slotted to get drafted midway through the second round. He's probably the best athlete in the draft, is as quick as lightning, and is a great kid. When has a player with these credentials not succeeded in the NBA? His game actually reminds myself and many others of Earl Boykins, except that he's about 4 inches taller and can leap out of the building. Yeah, that really makes me want to pass on him for John Gilchrist, a notorious jerk who couldn't even take a talented Maryland team into the Tourney this year.

-Chuck Hayes, Kentucky - Every time I watched Hayes play I came away impressed. He's just one of those players that finds ways to make himself effective no matter what situation he's been cast into. He surprised a lot of people by making his way on to the Under-20 USA National Team last summer and shocked even more people when he came away from the Portsmouth Invitational as the camp's best player. As an undersized bruiser (6'6"), it's understandable why Hayes wouldn't merit a first round selection, but for him not to be drafted at all, which is a distinct possibility, I mean you're joking, right? Certain guys just have a knack for creating a niche for themselves no matter who they're playing with or what role they play into. Hayes is one those guys and would be an outstanding 2nd round pick for a team looking for a quality player off the bench.


At 10:46 PM, Anonymous SweetB... said...

..since we're on the subject of Basketball..That Damon Jones and Mr. Wade played soooooo good tonight....

At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Josh said...

Those Heat role players don't get enough credit. Everyone is sour on Eddie Jones, but he looks pretty good from this angle. They might not be able to take over games, but why should they need to when you got Batman and Robin on your team?

At 1:05 AM, Blogger Nat said...

read your little bit about steve nash not being the clear cut mvp.. i hear u on that but wondering what your reaction has been abotu the whole race card the media pulled out in the days following. not sure if you heard what barkley said about it yesterday at halftime but wonder what your thoughts are on it

At 5:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you think Charlie Villanueva is a complete idiot? What's up with that?

Villanueva attempted to enter the NBA out of high school, would have been a late 1st round pick; decided to attend UConn over Kansas & Illinois. Becomes a key contributor to the 2004 National Champions, UConn Huskies. Stay another year at UConn, lead the team in scoring and lead the Big East Conference in rebound. Played in the USA Junior National team with guys like Chris Paul, Sean May, McCants, etc. - wins a Gold medal there. This kid has championships, gold medals, a bunch of Big East team and individual titles/awards. And you call him an idiot :)

For 6'11, the kid could do everything else, with the exception of defensive, which I hear he's greatly improved on. He's an offensive machines that can score from anywhere on the court; plus is a terrific passer.

I really don't understand what makes him an idiot. Please enlighted us and explain!


At 2:05 PM, Blogger Believe1818 said...

Check out this new D. Wade Converse TV spot.


At 3:36 PM, Blogger Paul Benedict said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Paul Benedict said...

Glad to see we can get some discussion generated. Nat, we know you're always good for that and appreciate your comments as always. Everyone else, thanks for chiming in and I'll try my best to respond to everyone.

-Yes, the Heat supporting cast has done a fantastic job, especially considering Shaq is far from 100% right now. But believe me, Shaq isn't pushing himself now. If we've learned anything during the big fella's career, it's that he turns it up when he wants to and has to. I expect the Heat to finish up this series by Saturday, possibly by Monday and get Shaq a little more rest. They're going to need more than just good play out of the Jones boys and Dooling to take down Detroit.

-Nat, I'm not surprised you brought up your compadre Nash and my issues with him winning MVP. And yes, I did hear Barkley loud and clear on Monday. I'm honestly not sure if race was a factor in the voting, but I do believe voters relished the opportunity to pick an obscure, overachiever type guy like Nash to be MVP. And as we've seen in the past, Shaq doesn't fare well with MVP voters. I believe most of them look at the basic picture a little too closely and held two factors against Shaq- 1) His numbers were significantly down this season. 2) He missed another 10/15 games as he always does. I think what it really came down to was the fact that Nash had an extraordinarly (somewhat) unexpected season, as did the Suns. Shaq had a Shaq-like season. So they went with the flashier pick. If you want to bring race into the discussion, find me the statistics on the percentage of white voters that picked Nash over Shaq and Dirk over AI compared to the black voters that did the same. Frankly, I don't care that much-- what's done is done and there's no trend here anyways. A white guy hasn't won MVP in 22 years since Larry Bird.

-Charlie Villanueva, ahhhh. A guy I've killed ever since he was in high school. Allow me to tell a story-- I interned for a TV station in Philly a few years ago and was sent out to do some work on a high school basketball tourney at Villanova. The targets I was told to direct my attention to were Sebastian Telfair, Luol Deng, and Maureece Rice. I did not know at the time Deng and Villanueva were on Blair Academy together, nor did I even know who Villanueva was. I watched the entire Blair game and came away thoroughly impressed by Deng, who came off like a hard-nosed, intelligent player who fought off double and triple teams to try and lead his team to victory. Then there was this other kid, a 6'11 weird-looking guy with no body hair, jacking up 3s and standing still on offense except to look for dunks off of rebounds. At one point the coach pulled him out of the game for not passing. He impressed me as well because he was obviously an athlete, but his head was far up his ass and Blair ended up losing the game. A few people told me the bald kid was Charlie Villanueva, the #2 ranked high school player in the country behind LeBron James. I almost threw up. After the game Villanueva joined a group of autograph-seekers, talking about his alley-oops and 3s, not even a hint of remorse about the team's loss. Meanwhile, Deng went straight to the locker room after the game where I had an opportunity to talk to him. He seemed significantly distraught about the loss and wasn't willing to take questions about his future, only about the game Blair had just lost. Needless to say, I came away very impressed. 3 years later and I'm still sour on Charlie and big on Luol. I love Coach Calhoun and I know he was having a positive effect on Villanueva, but he still wasn't all there. Believe me, I watch every UConn game, and if you don't notice Villanueva's body language, then you're missing something. He constantly has mental lapses on both ends of the floor, he often slumps his way to the bench after picking up two early fouls. Why do you think Calhoun is always in his ear? You can't go to the pros and get away with giving a half-hearted effort. Yes, Villanueva is a world-class talent. But no, he's not ready for the NBA. You talk to any hardcore UConn fan, and they'll tell you they don't think the loss of Charlie will hurt them this year. My guess is that Villanueva will end up being the next Tim Thomas. A guy loaded with natural talent, but not the right attitude and competitiveness to take his game to a level that it could be taken to. I'm hard on the guy, but it's because I genuinely care about him and just think he would have been better off staying one more year.

-And finally, thanks for the link to the D-Wade commercial. Very cool ad. I'm not sure if I like that one more than the Boykins Nike ad however.


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