Thursday, February 25

Top 20 NBA Players

So for my newest column I’m going to breakdown and give you my top 20 players in the NBA. The factors I will be considering are 1: if there were a draft of everyone in the NBA, who would the first 20 picks be. 2: if you were starting a team from scratch which player would you want. 3: the rankings will factor in the age of the players, so a player who is younger but has uber talent, he will be ranked higher than someone who might be have better numbers.
So without further ado…the rankings:
1: LeBron James: This kid is a beast. He makes his teammates better by playing the point forward and has the vision to know what his teammates will be doing. He has the tools to take over a game on offense and defense. He has yet to put this all together to bring home a championship to Cleveland, but he is young and will have plenty of time to win some.
2: Kobe Bryant: He has having one of his best seasons this year. Coming off the NBA title, the first he won on his own, he has put together a season that has solidified himself as one of the best scorers in the history of the game. He can take over games offensively and if the game is close in the final minutes you know the Mamba is coming through. The reason why he is second is his age, LeBron is just way too young not to put him first.
3: Carmelo Anthony: a natural and silky smooth scorer. He puts up huge offensive numbers and he has positioned his team to be the 2 seed in the West. He has yet to put up the numbers and lead the Nuggets to the Finals. He has picked up his scoring this season and is a guy who can carry his team offensively for long stretches of games.
4: Dwight Howard: He is a monster in paint. He blocks shots, rebounds, and defends like one of the best in the league. However, He needs to pick up his offensive game and he will be higher in this list. He needs to develop a consistent turnaround jumper and 10-15 footer. He also needs to start taking the game more seriously and acquire a killer instinct so he can lead his team to a title.
5: Kevin Durant: This kid has it all. He is 6’10 and can score on any part of the court against any type of defender. He will win the scoring title this year, and will continue to improve his rebounding and assist skills. He will average close to 30PPG this year and he is only 21! He is a natural leader and scorer. He has a clean-cut image and is fun to watch. This kid has it all and will be playing in this league for almost 20 more years. It’s crazy to think of how his career will play out.
6: Dwyane Wade: Mighty Mouse is one of the best at getting into the lane and finishing. He has an NBA title as an alpha dog and he gives 110% every single night. He plays hurt and he continues to throw his body around like a young Allen Iverson. He is going to make a ton of money on the open market this summer and make a new team an instant contender.
7: Chris Paul: He is the best point guard in the league. He gets his teammates easy shots and buckets while also having the ability to score. He can take over a game on the defensive end allowing his team to get easy breakaway points.
8: Chris Bosh: This guy is quietly one of the best superstars in the NBA. Did you know he averages over 24PPG and 11RPG? Yea me neither until I started doing some research for this post. He is still somehow only 25 years old and continues to mature on the court on a daily basis.
9: Brandon Roy: He is young, athletic and a great scorer. He is 25 and has many years to come that will produce greatness. Can you imagine what would have happened had Portland drafted KD instead of Oden that would be one the greatest What If’s in NBA. But I digress, Roy, carries himself very well offensively, he helps his teammates, and he has the ability to carry his team to the Finals.
10: Dirk Nowitzki: The big German is arguably the best big man shooter in the NBA. He is a consistent All Star who continues to produce on a daily basis. His blocks and steals are up from years past and he will continue to thrive in the Dallas offense.
11: Amare Stoudemire: Amare has the ability to take over games on both ends of the floor, when he chooses. The problem is he chooses a lot of the time to coast. However, he still has to be considered one of the top 20 players because he is so dominant. He can score when he wants, however, he needs to be more consistent with his rebounding and he could be ranked higher on this list.
12: Joe Johnson: He is still in the beginning of his prime; he can score from outside and by taking it to the hole. He is a good rebounder and passer for someone in his position and his size. He is an impeding free agent and will instantly help the team his signs with in the offseason.
13: Tim Duncan: He is on his way out of the league, but he can still bring it when he knows he needs to. He is still averaging just under 20 PPG and 11RPG. He also pitches in with some assists and a nice amount of blocks. He is just fundamentally sound and a great teammate who demands a double team when he is in the post.
14: Deron Williams: The second best point guard in the game and he is still growing each year. He averages a double double with 18PPG and 10 APG. He is a very good defender and leads the Jazz on the court.
15: Rajon Rondo: Now I know what you’re thinking…what a homer, how can you say someone who cant shoot the ball consistently is in the top 20. However, hear me out. Sure this guy is shaky, and that might be an understatement, with his jump shot and free throw shooting, but he can dish out assists like no one else in the league, he is fearless when going to the hole and has such big hands that he can do things with a basketball others can’t. Now, while his shooting is still suspect, he has worked on it very hard since he came into the league and he has developed his shot tremendously over the past few years, and if he continues to trend up, he is a top 10 player in this league.
16: Steve Nash: This guy is still one of the best point guards in the game. He takes over games with his passing abilities. He still has one of the sweetest jump shots in the game and knows how to play the game to his advantage because of his age. He is also towards the end of his great career and thus ranking him higher than this is difficult because people above him have brighter futures.
17: Brook Lopez: Yup a member of the New Jersey Nets is on this list. While the Nets might struggle to win 10 games this season, Lopez is not the reason. He has ridiculous athleticism for a big man and he averages 19 and 9 a night and he is a sophomore in this league. He is 21 and has a very bright future in this league.
18: Al Jefferson: Big Al has the tools to be one of the few 25PPG and 12 RPG players in this league for years to come. He is having a little bit of a down year as he is still not 100% from his knee injury that ended his season last year after 50 games. However, he still dominates on the defensive end. He is the kind of big man you build a championship contending team around.
19: Carlos Boozer: He is in the prime of his career, and he knows how to score. He averages 20 and 11 a game. He has a nose for the ball on the glass. He has solid footwork in the post and knows when to gamble on defense. He is one of the best power forwards in the game.
20: Pau Gasol: He is a smooth 7 footer who has a decent jump shot and knows how to grad some rebounds. He is very soft on the defensive end and can get lost in games when he faces a tough big man inside. He is still young and in his prime and has a solid future ahead of him in this league. As much as it pains me to put Gasol on this list, I just don’t like watching him play, He is just too solid to ignore.
There you have it folks, Let me know what you think of the rakings. If you think I left anyone off email me or comment…
Fyi did you know the Lakers are 7-8 versus the top 8 teams in the NBA. How crazy, for all the Laker Cool-aid drinkers that live near me, and insist that are a lock for the Finals and the title, perhaps it is not so given. Let’s just wait and see how the end of the season plays out.

Friday, February 19

State of the Celtics Address

So the Celtics are coming off the All Star break and the trade deadline with two straight wins to start a four game west coast road trip. They won close games against the Kings and the Lakers. In between these two wins they traded sharp shooter Eddie House for a sparkplug guy off the bench in Nate Robinson, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The way the Celtics are currently playing has people in Boston jumping of the Tobin. They have blown eight, I repeat eight, double-digit second half leads since Christmas Day, and Atlanta swept them in their season series. They have also struggled against the Magic. They have looked old at times and they have gone through scoring droughts during the second half of games, which is the main cause to the blown double-digit leads. The people in the media have labeled them as old, and that age, and the health of Garnett is the reason for their struggles. This is a good and logical theory, however I would go in a different direction. I would point out that they played their first game with their regular lineup just a week ago against the Magic. They haven’t had the consistency that the Cavaliers or the Lakers have had all season.
The Celtics still have the big three, which now that they have a regular rotation they have the ability to get into a groove and string some good wins together. Last night’s game against the Lakers was the epitome of the season, they ran out to an early lead, looked old and slow in the second half, and then blew that large lead. However, the difference, and now they can be turning over a new leaf, was they held on and earned the victory. A few weeks ago they wouldn’t have had the kahonas to keep their composure and win a game like this. Now, naysayers would point to the fact they only won the game by a point, and that Kobe wasn’t in the lineup. They will also sate the fact the Celtics only scored 11 fourth quarter points, but I look it differently…the Celtics held the Lakers to only 17 fourth quarter points and only two points over their final 7+ minutes. They played some great defense once KG came back into the game, after exiting for a good chunk of the second half because of foul trouble, and that just happened to coincide with the time of the Lakers run.
The way the Celtics are situated now is as KG goes they go. This is a good thing, because now that KG has some games under his belt after recovering from his knee injury and he had some rest of the All Star Break, he will get into a good rhythm.
Currently, the Celtics have the third best record in the east, 1.5 games behind the Magic and they are tied with the Hawks. I don’t think the Celtics can catch the Cavs, as they are 7.5 games up on the Celtics, but there is a possibility as they still have three more matchups this season, including six days from now on February 25th. That contest can be the best barometer of where the Celtics stand.
The trade of Eddie House for Nate Robinson is one that will surely shake up the bench. House is knock down shooter who can’t do much more on the offensive end. House also plays some D, not a whole lot, but more than Nate. Nate on the other hand is a sparkplug off the bench. He can score at will, has a decent shot, but drives to the hole more frequently than House. Nate is also pound-for-pound the best athlete in the game, as evident from his three slam-dunk victories. He is a good bench player who fell out of favor with Mike Dantoni of the Knicks. This trade will allow Marquis Daniels to slide out of the point forward position off the bench and into the three spot, while Tony Allen and Nate can provide the ball handling responsibilities. If the trade works as Danny Ainge envisioned, this will open up the bench scoring and prevent the team from blowing their second half leads.
The Celtics should head into the playoffs playing their best ball and as a #2 seed in the East. They will be able to handle the Hawks or Magic, whichever team they face in round two, and square off against the Cavs in the Eastern conference finals. This matchup will be fun and exciting. The Celtics will come in with their championship heart and the Cavs will come in with their young blood and thirst for a championship. The Celtics need to show me some more consistent play in order for me to believe they can make it back to the Finals to face the Lakers. However, at the same time the Cavs were the perennial favorites to make it to the Finals last year and chocked it away.
In the end I think the Celtics are a championship caliber team, a team that if they put together a strong second half and consistent play, they will be right back in the Finals fighting for their second title in three years.
It is going to be a great second half and an exciting playoffs…oh yeah don’t sleep on the Oklahoma City Thunder, they will make the playoffs this year as a seven or eight seed, but next year they will be a top four team in the West.

Thursday, February 4

Super Sunday...Will The Saints Go Marching In?

The wait is finally over…it’s Super Bowl weekend. This two-week layoff is way too long, and my team isn’t even playing. The Saints are making their first trip to the Super Bowl, while the Colts return to where they won a Super Bowl four years back. The Saints and Colts have been the perennial favorites to reach the Big Game ever since their sizzling starts. The Colts and Saints both stumbled a bit down the stretch, but once the playoffs started they looked like they never skipped a beat. The Colts trailed the Jets in the AFC championship game at the half, but used a strong second half to overcome that deficient and propel themselves to victory. Meanwhile the Saints forced turnover after turnover to propel themselves to victory over the Vikings.
Now let’s break down the teams:
We all know that these two teams possess the best offenses in the game. Brees and Manning are the games first and sixth best-rated passers in the league, respectively. They threw the most and second most touchdown passes this season, and were ranked second and fourth in yards per game. They are both great at avoiding the sack and getting the ball out quickly. They can also make all the pre-snap reads that allows them that extra split second to make a decision post-snap and complete the pass. The difference lies in the fact Manning has been here before and Brees has not. Playing in your first Super Bowl can be very overwhelming and it may take Brees by surprise. Slight Edge Colts
Running Backs:
The Saints are the better running team. They averaged 131 YPG in the regular season, compared to just 80 a game for the Colts. The Saints have Reggie Bush who has the home run capabilities to break a mediocre play into a huge one. The Colts do not have anyone who can match that. Joseph Addai is a capable runner, but the Colts don’t use the run too much. Edge Saints
Offensive Line:
The two lines are quite similar. They have talented players who protect their QB well. (The Colts offensive line gave up only 13 sacks, while the Saints line gave up 20.) However, the lack of sacks has more to do with the QB. Both lines have the ability to open up holes for their running games, although like I said before, the Colts don’t really rely on the run. The lines don’t get called for dumb penalties and they are very disciplined with there play. Even
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The Saints and Colts have explosive playmakers in the receiving corps. The Saints have a good trio in Colston, Henderson, and Meachem. They also have a top tight end in Jeremy Shockey. The four of them combined for 23 TD receptions this season. The Colts have their own trio of receivers in Collie, Garcon, and Wayne. They also add Dwight Clark who is one of the best tight ends in the game. They combined for 31 TD’s this season. Brees likes to spread the ball around, similar to the way Tom Brady used to play before they brought in Welker and Moss. Brady always said his favorite receiver was the open receiver. Brees is very similar to that. Manning, however, likes to stick to his four guys, but as we saw in the AFC Championship game, if you take away Wayne, Manning has no qualms with going to Garcon or Collie. These receiving groups are very explosive and very talented. Even
The Saints are ranked 25th in the league on defense while the Colts are ranked 18th. Peyton Manning played 9 games this year against teams ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in total defense and his stats in those games? 312 PYPG, 20 passing TD’s and only 5 picks. So Peyton can carve up a bad defense better than Wolfgang Puck can a turkey. However, the difference with the Saints is their ability to force turnovers. The Saints forced 39 turnovers in the regular season; that was good enough for second best. The Saints will find a way to force an extra turnover that can help lead to points. The Colts on the other hand only forced 26 turnovers.
The Colts also have a poor run defense, the Saints will have the ability to run the ball effectively and open up passing lanes with some play-action passing.
The Colts and Saints are both in the middle of the pack in terms of getting to the QB, and with the ability of ach QB to get rid of the ball I see this game with 2 or 3 sacks total. On paper this games looks like it is going to be a shootout, but I think it won’t play that way. Even
Special Teams:
As I don’t envision many field goal attempts to be had in this game, the fact the Saints and Colts are both in the middle of the NFL in FG % won’t play a huge role in this game. However, special teams will come into play in the return game. The big question for Saints fans will be if Reggie Bush can come up with a huge return that will directly setup a TD for the Saints. The Colts don’t really have that feared returner to match the Saints have. Bush has a great chance to force the Colts to kick the ball away from him, thus giving the Saints some extra key yards on a punt. Edge Saints
The Saints X-factor is two-fold. It is Reggie Bush and the defense. If the defense forces more turnovers than the Colts the Saints will be in a very good position to win this football game. Similarly, if Bush returns a kick for a TD or has a huge return that gives the Saints excellent field position that is a precursor to a TD, the Saints again will be in a great position to win.
The Colts x-factor is their running game. If the Colts can run effectively to keep the Saints linebackers honest it will be tough for the Saints to keep up with the Colts. However, if the Colts are unable to run the ball, the Saints will be all over the Colts receivers and be able to use their natural ball-hawking skills to force a key turnover.
Coaching Staff:
Jim Caldwell is rookie head coach who has gained a plethora of knowledge from Tony Dungy. He also has an assistant head coach in Peyton Manning. Peyton is so good at calling an audible at the line and reading defenses that it is pretty easy to coach the Colts. The Saints on the other had are coached by Sean Peyton. He is a very successful coach and he lead the Saints to the NFC Championship game a few years ago, but this will be his toughest challenge yet. Coaching in the Super Bowl is a whole different beast. Edge Colts
Contrary to what people may be saying, the Super Bowl is evenly matched. The Saints match up very well with the Colts. This game will be relatively low scoring and I think the Saints can pull off the upset. They have the entire South behind them; they are extremely focused and motivated. They have the offense to keep up with the Colts, and they have enough of playmakers in the return game and on defense to set up the extra score needed to win the Big Game. Saints 35 Colts 31
I think Drew Brees will be the MVP of this game. He will throw for 3 TD’s and over 300 yards and lead the Saints to victory.

Next week I will take a more in-depth look at the Celtics and let you know their chances of returning the NBA Championship trophy back to Boston.