Monday, January 02, 2012

The Hardwood Macbeth

I don't know if a there has been a player that I change my mind about more often than Demarcus Cousins. I recollect disgust back in his Kentucky days as he would pout and scream at the officials and also argue with coach Calipari as if he was roaming the sidelines and calling fouls on his as well. He would remind me of everything that most people I know complain about with modern basketball. I would argue that not all players were prima donnas, selfish and didn't truly love the game. With every new tirade and blasé performance, Demarcus made my stance increasingly difficult. All he seemed to care about was himself and it didn't matter who or what stood in the way of his own needs. I would openly chastise him but then he would actually focus and everything would change. For being such a large man-child, he has soft hands, great feet, incredible length and great bounce. His talent and natural athletic gifts are undeniable but his psyche is incredibly fragile. I always found it ironic how polarizing he was with me considering he always seemed bipolar. At any given moment, he can snap and lose focus and throw himself and his team out of the game. I feared that any team that would take him in would be bringing on the second coming of Derrick Coleman. Derrick could be breathtaking on the court and you would swear that you were witnessing the ascension of one of the all-time greats. Like Demarcus, Derrick could be incredibly immature and mercurial. No matter how outrageous their actions were and are, you could not help but be intrigued by their gifts. Big men with skill sets like Demarcus and Derrick are like unicorns or Bigfoot. Where Derrick fell, I hoped that Demarcus would rise.

Cousins had a rookie years full of ups and downs. For being so long and also being quite large, his field goal percentage ended up being only 43%. This was mostly due to poor shot selection but he also shot only 30% from 3-to-9 feet. Only 32.5% of his buckets at the rim were assisted and a point guard that can create for him would be optimal but a big man with as much skill as he has should be able to finish at close range regardless of the players around him. He obviously needs to finish and take better shots but he also just needs to take care of the ball. Cousins throws horrible passes and tends to force the issue rather than let the game develop. I think he has the ability to create for others but he needs to find patience and for somebody that doesn't seem to understand how to control himself, this may take some time to develop, if it does at all. Demarcus can also rack up the technical fouls. He was towards the top of the league with 14 T's and he was tied for a league high 3 ejections. Cousins has issues controlling his temper and these stats did not surprise me in the least. Being young and inexperienced, he also had a tendency to foul too often. He averaged a foul every seven minutes. His understanding of the game flow should improve but he also needs to not reach or go for balls that are out of his range. With all of these stats, you would think I felt he could not play at all and only showcased a set of red flags. This is not true. He was in the top 30 last year in rebound rate and was among the top 15 power forwards in steals per minute. I can recollect watching his game against the Lakers on 1/28/11 and feeling like he was the best big man on the court for periods of time and that was playing against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. He overwhelmed almost everybody in that game with his size and athleticism and I could truly see the true glimmer of hope that most scouts and GMs saw within Cousins. For his own good, I hoped he would take that momentum he built in the second half of the season last year and silence critics like myself. Unfortunately, history just repeated itself.

Only four games into the season, Demarcus supposedly demanded a trade from Sacramento. This stems from issues with Coach Westphal and the lack of an apparent offensive system in Sacramento. There is seemingly no direction right now and when the touches are not coming and you feel that there is no connection with the head coach, trouble can only be looming. When I first heard about this, I could somewhat empathize with his position but the old school part of myself felt that second year players do not have this kind of leverage, especially players that have obviously not shown that are an elite NBA player yet. We all get caught up in the potential of players, especially young bigs, but how much do you give up for a player like Cousins? I am intrigued by him like anybody but his personality on the court and in the locker room could be a team killer if you try to base your franchise around him. If I was a GM and had the chance to pull the trigger for Demarcus, I would try to not to give up too much of my future with picks and proven NBA talent. Cousins may have the highest risk/reward of any player in the league and if the Kings actually do elect to let him go, they will either look like they fleeced another team or look like they gave up on an all-time great far before they hit their prime both mentally and physically. If I were the Kings, I would let Westphal go and start anew. He lost the team and the Kings need a new voice and a leader that can optimize the talent they have assembled. Cousins is still only 21 and a strong leader could help both him and the other young Kings like Evans and Fredette reach their full potential. I hope Cousins reaches his ceiling as he could be a force coming into a new decade of NBA stars, but I am also on the side of the fence of those that question his mental makeup. Life tends to be cyclical and he truly seems to be Derrick Coleman 2.0. A big that transcends the game but won't allow themselves to succeed due to not being able to keep their inner demons at bay. For any fan of the game, this should break your heart.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Thanks for the Memories Steve!

If you came by my desk at work, you would immediately know that I am both a Suns fan and a Steve Nash fan. I cannot think of a player in my Suns lifetime that has been more inspiring than Steve. That says a lot because the team has been very successful since I can recollect. From a pure point guard perspective, Steve is one of the best ever. His vision is incredible and I can say, without a doubt, that he is the best shooter that has ever lived. That may seem like homer talk but the stats don't lie. His on court skills are undeniable but his off the court presence is even better. He is humble in a world filled with God complexes and he is a professional and a leader that any player would ride into battle with. I will always remember his amazing performances and I have always feared life after Steve. I hate to say it but I have to be a realist, that time is now.

Suns fans and beat writers all look for a specific reason for our sudden downfall. Some blame poor management for picking up fringe players with bad contracts like Warrick or Frye. Others point to Amare walking as the ultimate reason for our failures. In some respects, they are both correct but our window has been closed for some time now. I know we made the Western Conference Finals but that was truly unexpected. We did not have the size and defense to truly compete with the Lakers and Celtics of the world. We would scrap and play well but those limitations have been blazing brightly for years. It's time to go back to the drawing board. I still want to push tempo and be the Suns we all know and love but we need some toughness and some size for a change. With our current position, the only way to really do this is by letting Steve go. It's only fair to him as we're mired in mediocrity with no end in site. We need a youth movement and players, picks and salary cap relief are the only way to go. It's time to stop pretending.

I know the Suns are debating this move as they don't want the uproar of the fan base. We are all spoiled with winning but we need a little futility before we can ascend once again. Steve will always be my favorite Sun and I can never thank him enough for the countless memories he gave me over the course of his career. I only wish him well but it's time to move on. I only pray that our management doesn't draft poorly and dig us into a deeper hole but only time will tell. There is an amiable break up on the horizon, let's just hope that both parties can walk away the better for it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Popularity Contest

I feel that I'm seeing a lot of discussions centered on the NBA All-Star game recently. Every year, I gripe personally or rather loudly about who gets in and who doesn't. I understand that there are a limited amount of roster spots but the game should be a true reflection of the best players currently in the NBA. I know I don't want to see a broken down T-Mac or AI just because the fans still remember them from when. I also do not want to see a player voted in just because his country has an overwhelming amount of people supporting them IE Yao Ming. Don't get me wrong, I like that people can vote but it seems that people are voting predominantly based on recollection or limited knowledge rather than the truth. If a guy is busting his butt and destroying the competition, he should be in, regardless of his country of origin or the record of his current team. One player can make a tremendous difference to a franchise but you cannot punish them for the lack of overall talent around them or due to how green their supporting cast may be. Looking around the league, a few guys come to mind that deserve to be recognized and should get some burn in the All-Star game. Maybe the game isn't significant any longer but with the right people involved, it may start to evolve into the competitive clash that the game once was. Without further ado, here are some players that deserve your votes and their teams record simply should not matter.

I know the T-Wolves are 8-24 and stink it up on most nights but Kevin Love has blossomed into a bona fide stud. He doesn't captivate you above the rim or in transition but he gets it done the old school way. He fights and scratches and sees the game in a very cerebral way. He is a living example of a player that wasn't overtly blessed athletically but compensates with basketball IQ. He might not make you jump out of your seat or show up in the Top Ten plays on Sportscenter but his 15.5 boards per game are all the justification you need. Give Love some love!!

I used to hate on Monta all the time. I'm not too proud to admit that. I grew up on Steve Nash and John Stockton and I appreciate selfless players. Monta would just freeze everybody out in the past and only look for his. This year though, I feel that he is letting the game come to him. We all know his first step may be the quickest in the league and that he can score at will. The thing that impresses me is his increase in field goal percentages, assists and also the decline of his turnovers. He is finally understanding the game and that is a scary thought for the opposition. Yes, I know the Warriors are pretty bad but don't punish one of the most exciting players in the league because of this.

Hoss should be in the All-Star game. He is the very reason a game like this even exists. Also, I did just call Blake Hoss. I created that nickname and I am sticking to it. I haven't seen a combination of this reckless, powerful and graceful abandon since pre-microfracture Amare. The real difference is that Blake is not simply a dunker. He works his butt off and boards like a mad man and actually hands out quite a few assists. I know he is young, is not an elite defender and can't make a free throw to save his life but he should be in the game. This kid is the future if he stays healthy and I know I will be watching every second of it. Giddy up!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Trade

Trades are always exciting in the NBA and it is even that much more exciting when it involves your own team. If you have ever read this blog before, you would know that I was born and raised in Phoenix and I grew up on the purple and orange. Last season was fantastic to watch and that was one of my favorite teams we ever put on the floor. That being said, I knew we weren't getting by the elite teams. Even with all of the hype about a suddenly "improved" defense, we were still small and some of our best players, Amare and Nash, are not good defenders. I sincerely hoped for the best after Amare walked and was somewhat perplexed by our moves like many of you.

We ended up with a team full of swings. There was so much redundancy and I applaud Alvin Gentry for just trying to figure out a way to make it work. We were still lacking in defense and we actually got smaller in the front court and worse on the boards. As we were hovering around .500, I knew something had to give. The rumor about Hedo being shopped was being circulated hard and I knew somebody would have to be tossed in to take on that contract. I hate to see J Rich go but with what we obtained, I'm actually pleasantly pleased.

I've seen many people out there, journalists I respect greatly, hammering this trade due to it not bringing in the pieces Nash needs to win now. My question to them is this, do you see an Amare or Pau sitting out there right now? Jason Thompson or Anderson Verejao would not take us to promise land. I knew we had to fix a gaping hole in our front court and continue to improve our perimeter defense. This trade actually does that two fold.

Mickael Pietrus gives us a very solid perimeter defender and a player that is great spotting up. He will be spoon fed by Nash as long as he is a Sun and he should flourish. There will not be pressure to do more than that and he has proven he can play that role. He is also pushing Josh Childress to improve and you can tell Josh is hearing footsteps after he great game against the Thunder last night. Now we only have one too many wings and it should be a dog fight to see who comes out on top. If Josh plays like he did last night, the only thing that Mickael does better on the floor is hit the three. It really depends on spacing and what Alvin feels we need. The 3 ball could be imperative with J Rich not being there now though.

The Polish Hammer is a Godsend. That isn't hyperbole either if you had been watching. If I had to watch one more team walk in for a layup or volleyball the offense boards around, I was going to jump off the Columbia Tower here in Seattle. Gortat can rebound and block shots and his fluidity will be great in transition and in the pick and roll. He has been one of the better back up centers in the league for some time and with Robin struggling on the court and with injuries, he is great insurance to have. Much like how Pietrus will push Chilly, Gortat will push Robin. It is amazing to actually have a gross of centers on the Suns.

Vinsanity is still the unknown quantity. He is not J Rich and I would not profess that he can completely fill those shoes. I will miss Richardson on our squad and he was a huge reason we had the run we did in the playoffs last season. Vince just needs to hit open looks and attack the rim from time to time. His contract is expiring and unless our staff and Steve transform him, I don't see him staying beyond this season. I am hopeful for the best but this deal was meant more for size and defense, not for Vince.

The other nice X factor with this trade is Orlando's first rounder. It might not be a high pick but we could package picks and move up or potentially use it in another trade, especially if it could help us get a pretty good PF. There are a lot of possibilities but I do feel we are better off now than we were. We were not going to win it all last year with our deficiencies in the front court and we were especially not going to with even less size this year. This pushes us in the right direction and I only hope more young assets are on the horizon. This is not a slap in the face to Steve. He is a professional and will do everything he can to help us win. He will always most likely be a Sun and he can push any squad to great limits. Before we all lash out, let's see how this works. I've seen Steve do more with less before.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Manu The Forgotten?

When you think about the San Antonio Spurs, what comes to mind? Tim Duncan? Tony Parker? The Tony Parker and Eva Longoria split? Their league leading record? So many things come to mind when you think about the Spurs but the last few nights have been a demonstration of the glue guy that keeps it all together, Manu Ginobili.

Manu has always kind of gotten a bad rap. He is known as a flopper, a complainer and also being reckless as his style of play always seems to leave him banged up. By skipping his national team duties and resting in the off season for once, Manu looks revitalized. He showed flashes of being a top ten player in the league again last year but injuries got in the way once again. This year, knock on wood, he looks to be feeling great and leading the Spurs at the age of 33. He has cashed a few game winners lately and this is another demonstration of his clutch play and importance to his team. He can be unstoppable with the ball in his hands but there are so many more intangibles to his game. He is a great passer, ball handler, is good in the passing lanes and can make buckets from all kinds of angles from anywhere on the court. His talent is undeniable but he has always been a shadow of sorts.

I think that avid fans appreciate Manu. People on the outside that have a casual interest probably only see him for the stereotypes that I listed previously. Duncan is the best power forward ever and Tony Parker has always been a damn good point guard but Manu's skill set has been integral to the success of the Spurs. As his health goes, the Spurs go. Every NBA team needs a guy that you can clear out with and let loose and any team could use a guy that is a virtual Swiss Army knife.

The last few nights and a couple game winners later further illustrate my point. In a league full of sudden parody and nobody really jumping out as the MVP front runner, Manu has to be in these initial conversations. Anything can happen over the duration of a season but as of right now, Manu is playing fantastic basketball and he deserves recognition for it. Timmy is fading into the sunset but Manu is still creating chaos on the court in a good way. You may not like the flopping of the crying but you cannot deny the talent.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Beautiful Game is on Twitter

I have officially entered the world of Twitter. Swing on over and feel free to chime in with comments or questions and I will try to post as much as possible and will hopefully be somewhat entertaining to read y'all.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Carmelo a Knick??

I was looking around the Internets and noticed that Melo is telling the Nuggets that the only team he will sign with is the Knicks. I'm sure that a majority of Knicks fans are rejoicing about the idea of landing another max-contract player to put alongside Amare. On paper, you would think that getting another player like Melo just makes too much sense. Then again, people need to think about who the Knicks currently have, who they would give up and how their two alpha dogs will interact.

Chris Sheridan was speculating that the Knicks would have to give up Danilo Gallinari, Landry Fields, Eddy Curry's expiring contract and a number one pick. That is a boat load to give up for any player. I'm not saying that Danilo or Landry are as good as Carmelo but you can argue that they are young, have a lot of potential still and fit certain roles on a team that is playing well right now. Throw in an expiring contract and a draft pick, most likely from the Anthony Randolphy trade and you could be giving up a bit too much. I like Anthony's game but I have never loved it. He is a pure scorer and is rebounding a bit better but he isn't the type of player that makes his teammates better and he is never going to lock anybody down defensively. You have to think about all those pieces you would be giving up Knicks fans and also if Melo is worth it, especially when playing him with Amare.

You know how I feel about Amare in terms of rebounding and defense. He is also not a stellar passer. He is great on the run and spotting up on the hedge in the half court. Carmelo is great in the half court as well, spotting up in a very similar fashion. Who gets the ball on offensive sets? I think that Amare could coexist with a great player, he already has with Nash in Phoenix. Carmelo is not as selfless as Nash and I don't know if he could handle being second fiddle on some nights. It would be fun to watch but you could have a Lebron/Wade issue on the horizon.

Carmelo could help bring even more excitement back to the Garden. He could also cause a log jam in the half court on offense and the Knicks would still be lacking what they need most, somebody in the middle to cover up for Amare on the glass and on D. Carmelo certainly doesn't achieve either of these really and I honestly think money spent on somebody like Marc Gasol in the offseason may make more sense, especially if you have to give so much up. Buyer beware is all I say.
SAT for the NBA

With a lockout on the horizon, you seem to get a few more details about what is on the table in the negotiations on a daily basis. The other day, I read that the players are wanting to fight the age limit set in place. For those not in the know, the age limit stipulates that you need to be one year removed from high school before you can play in the L. This is such a polarizing subject. On one hand, you have people that point to the Lebron's and Amare's of the world and say, "You can play at 18! If you can do it, why should you have to wait a year?" On the other hand, you have those that say, "They are not mentally or physically prepared for the rigors of the NBA both on and off the court!" I can see both arguments in this situation. Most guys at 18 are not ready for that type of celebrity or that sudden influx of money. I could not imagine myself at 18 with millions of dollars. My house would have looked like Tom Hanks's pad in Big. Most people fresh out of high school are also physically not there yet. You have rare cases of people looking like they are 30 at 18 but most kids look like they are 18. I think of people like Brandon Wright that had a world of potential but did not allow themselves time on the court and in the weight room in college to develop properly. I go back-and-forth on this issue but I think there could be a happy medium here. Why not test the kids that want to go pro?

Anybody that wants to go pro can be put through a series of mental and physical examinations. This can drastically increase your draft stock if you perform well. If somebody fresh out of high school thinks they have it, why not test them and allow them entrance if they meet certain standards? The tests that normally showcase your draft position could also be the standard that allows a high school kid to enter the draft.

Any draft geek like myself knows about the combine. You have a series of tests that scouts and teams hold up as an example of your aptitude for the pro game. You are tested in vertical leaping ability, 3/4 court speed and standing reach for example. Draft sites and the NBA have been compiling these findings for years now. You can look back in time and find an average for each position within each physical test. So, if you're a power forward, you will have to be able to lift 185-pounds a certain number of times to illustrate that you can hit the average for most pros at that position at a similar age. If you cannot attain the totals, you have to go to college and continue to develop. You can do the same for players from a mental standpoint too.

People like Mark Cuban and Danny Ainge are notorious for putting players through mental examinations. This can help demonstrate correlations mentally between previous players and also help a team gain insight into a player that you could not achieve in a half-hour interview. If a player goes through these exams and is deemed not mentally fit for the tests ahead in the NBA, then they need to continue their basketball education in college and come out when they feel they are ready to pass these standards.

This may seem radical but it is a way to measure if a player is NBA worthy. There may be more tests and ideas that come over time but I would think that special players like Lebron would pass these easily and be placed in the NBA without any issues. This may also help players like Ndudi Ebi reexamine their path and potentially build themselves up in college and then go to the pros much later then they did. This could help the NBA get players that are better prepared for showtime and also allow kids to grow in college and enter the NBA at the proper time. Again, I know it is not the perfect idea but this is a bit of a wishy washy issue. Some players can play immediately and some players cannot. Why not utilize what is already available to teams in the draft and help separate the dreamers and the truly gifted? You should not stop the elite players from playing at a stage worthy of their skills. You should not also allow players that have "potential" to be drafted much too high again and begin to saturate the game once again.