was winding down as I sometimes do at night by watching random basketball videos on Youtube.. watched a handful of Roko Ukic (a Croatian guard the Raptors drafted two years ago who is going to be joining the Raptors next year) clips before i came across these of one of my favourite basketball players of all time.. i know his post-Vancouver career didn’t turn out that favourably, but there’s still something about Shareef’s game that makes me root for him every time i watch him play.. man, these clips brought back a lotta memories.. its crazy, i used to follow his career so closely, its like i grew up with him.. and, i know i imitated a lot of Olajuwon’s footwork for kicks but come to think of it, Abdur-Rahim might be the reason i (randomly) have a whole set of post moves in my repertoire, including the one-handed hook with both hands, even though i play as a guard in organized basketball haha..
Prior to the start of the current NBA season, I took a look at some of the more intriguing (to me, at least) storylines around the league.. I never actually finished writing the piece however, so upon seeing my notes from a couple months ago, I thought it’d be interesting to follow up and revisit some of the thoughts I had before the season began.. (Note: I wanted to call this the mid-season review, but we’re closer to being a third of the way thru the regular season so any clever readers with title suggestions should let me know)
Mid-September 07: Portland’s GO out for the year.. Big uh-oh and lots of unhappy fans or a hidden blessing in allowing other talented bigs to develop?
January 6th 2008: I figured Channing Frye would do more with the minutes with Oden out, but despite his inability to step up, the Portland Trailblazers are in a good position to make the Playoffs. How did that happen?! Last year’s ROY in Brandon Roy is battling teammate LaMarcus Aldridge for this year’s Most Improved award and talented/athletic swingmen Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster are showing enough collective consistency to pull out big wins. After removing several character sores from the long-troubled Portland locker room, the new-look Blazers are playing with a togetherness rarely seen in professional sports and have won 16 of their last 17 games. Publications coast-to-coast are taking notice, and many (including myself) simply can’t wait for defensive stalwart Oden to return to the mix as this group of youthful upstarts continues to close the gap with the stronger Western Conference squads.
Mid-September 07: Shaq’s divorce is official, papers signed a week ago – announced Sept 4th.. Teammates rallying behind him, fuel for best season since LA or will the aging knees/back/(enter any body part here) and off-court distractions take a toll the Diesel can’t bear?
January 6th 2008: The Big Aristotle began the season starting in 29 straight games, playing the same (low) amount as he did last season (28mpg), averaging career-low in points (14.3) and pulling down close to a career-low in rebounds (7.8) while still picking up fouls at a career-high pace (4.0per). Then after rumours drifted out that Shaq was suffering from depression, a hip injury has kept the center out of action for the past 5 games. Even after being called out by D-Wade and saying that he would step up, Shaq simply hasn’t rounded into form, leaving the hapless heat with a 8-25 record thus far.
Mid-September 07: The truth (according to Riley) revealed: Dorell Wright’s up & down season last year came as a result of being in poor shape.. Riley looking to give him a chance again by leaving him no outs and openly disclaiming that he wanted no established players in Wright’s way this year, and Wright knows the opportunity, though it might be his last in Miami, is there.
January 6th 2008: Wright got his chance at the outset of the year, starting in the first handful of games before his poor shot selection put him in an irritated Riley’s doghouse before an injury kept him out of the next few. Wright then had a productive December: 15 starts, and an efficient 54.1% on FGs, 87.5% on FTs to go with a solid stat-line of 8.1ppg, 5.1rpg, 0.9stls, 1.4blks. He’s missed the last few games to an ankle injury that is said not to be too serious, so hopefully Wright can continue to progress in what has otherwise been a disasterous season for the Miami Heat.
Mid-September 07: Miami Heat camp upbeat and filled with eager athletes – it seems the (few) proven champions (left) understand how they must gel and perform as a unit to have a chance at returning to form, can they do it?
January 6th 2008: Wade was injured to begin the year, and Shaq has struggled so it isn’t really a surprise that the Heat have a 8-25 record to date. The Heat sorely miss the outside threats they lost to free-agency (Posey, Kapono, Jones) and on top of that, Jason Williams has been a mere shadow of his former self, perhaps also as a result of deteriorating health. At this point, it looks even the most miraculous of miracles couldn’t help the Heat. As a fan, I now hope that they scrap some of their (many) useless parts in an effort to rebuild for next 2 seasons (or they can say bye-bye to Dwayne Wade).
Mid-September 07: Last chance for Wizards? Arenas & Jamison are all in the final years of their contracts – as a loaded offensive team that has yet to make good on its potential, this is the year to peak before the defense-less Wizards are blown up?
January 6th 2008: Arenas struggled at the start of the season, shooting under 40% from the field in leading the Wizards to a 3-5 record before aggravating his knee-injury in mid-November. In his absense, the Wizards have gone 13-11 and have played better team basketball on both sides of the court, leading many media members to assert that the Wizards are better without Arenas, who is considered a shoot-first PG. The good news is that Arenas is still entertaining us with his off-court antics and comedy routines (via his blog) despite not having been on the court over the past two months. Will Arenas retire a Wizard? (I highly doubt it.)
Mid-September 07: Pietrus re-signed despite rumours that he wanted out of GS, terms of deal not disclosed.. After an impressive 06-07 campaign, what will the athletic forward bring to the table on a roster filled with athletic swingmen and led by a coach who seemingly doesn’t believe in set rotations?
January 6th 2008: As I suspected back then, Pietrus simply doesn’t figure in the Warriors’ long-term plans as their apathy in re-signing him to a fair contract demonstrated. Pietrus has been shoved into an uncomfortable role (as an undersized PF) and given less playing time than last year, despite making tremendous strides over the course of the past season and in the 06-07 Playoffs, leaving the versatile forward unhappy with his situation. The Heat, who showed interest in Pietrus before the season, are still looking to add the French swingman.
Mid-September 07: Kirilenko reports to Utah training camp, both parties hopeful of a positive year but AK’s stance stays the same though he ultimately has no hand in influencing the situation despite Sloan’s admittance that he didn’t handle AK well.. Between poor recent performance and a questionable attitude to being a professional, trade value has plummeted.. he doesn’t fit Sloan’s system, and the other scoring options should be even better this year so nothing figures to change – will he be on the Jazz come Oct 30th?
January 6th 2008: Both sides made amends, and AK-47 has been much happier since Sloan made the adjustment of using Kirilenko’s playmaking abilities as a point-forward when Deron Williams goes to the bench. Former Jazz sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek has been working with AK-47′s confidence and shooting technique and the results are encouraging – Kirilenko isn’t quite back to being on top of his game, but he has been a valuable contributor to the Jazz at the very least.
Mid-September 07: The NY Mets might have the crown at the moment, but the New York Knicks are the most embarrassing team in professional sports despite the Knicks’ overloaded payroll.. An eventful off-season helped the team move forward – but in what direction?
January 6th 2008: The Knicks’ off-season shocked me in many ways, but I was no way prepared for what has taken place so far this year. 8-24, with an asterisk by their near-50 point loss to the Celtics. The Curry-Randolph experiment has not yielded any positive results, Isiah Thomas and Marbury have feuded openly, and their lone shining light in David Lee is still buried on the bench because neither Curry or Randolph were happy with being benched. Owner James Dolan has made it clear that he still supports Thomas despite the angry protests of Knicks fans and nation-wide basketball-lovers alike. Various media publications have buried one of the NBA’s most storied franchises with ridicule, one significant source openly likening them to a “sad bunch of clowns” – but nothing has changed, and the Knicks continue to be one of the season’s disappointments along with the Heat.
Mid-September 07: Revitalized Garnett looks to be the difference in Boston – can the Big 3 mesh and prosper? After years of criticism, can Doc Rivers deliver to save his job?
January 6th 2008: I was banking on a 50-win season, but as of now the Celtics are gunning for 70. Garnett’s passion has rubbed off on his teammates, and they have stayed relatively free of the injury bug so far. Most figured the Celtics’ offense would become more potent, but it has been their collective effort on the defensive end that has been responsible for their amazing 16-1 record at home and 29-3 record overall. Doc Rivers hasn’t had to do much coaching but is now learning to rest his big guns for their playoff run now that they’ve already got each other figured out about 3 months earlier than anticipated. Rajon Rondo has shown considerable maturity as the starting PG and 2nd round pick Glen “Big Baby” Davis has been a pleasant surprise, offering the Cs inside firepower to go with Eddie House’s instant outside offense.
Mid-September 07: Warriors not looking to extend Davis’s contract, at least for the time being – still 2 yrs (including this year) remain on the $84 million contract.. Davis looking to remain professional though he would like to stay put in GS – health concerns, as always with the oft-injured by talented PG, are at the center of the discussion.
January 6th 2008: Not much is to be said here, Davis didn’t make a big deal of the situation and quietly is having one of the best seasons of his career. He remains the key to the emotional Golden State Warriors team along with Stephen Jackson, and will have to continue to stay healthy and focused for the Warriors to have a shot in the playoffs.
Mid-September 07: Kobe reports to training camp, keeps his chips intact. after openly calling for a trade and expressing a lack of confidence in his supporting cast in LA, Kobe will go ahead with this season despite not seeing any of his requests fulfilled – as the most talented player in the world, he’s bound to have a great year anyways, but is he looking to suck it up for a year to maximize his options for after this season, the final of his current contract with the Lakers? He can’t be happy with the lack of off-season moves, especially with what other teams have done.
January 6th 2008: The Lakers have been one of the league’s pleasant surprises so far (yes, without Jermaine O’Neal, and without Jason Kidd), with young Bynum coming into his own as one of the best centers in the NBA this year. Bryant hasn’t entirely shifted gears in committing to the team long-term or saying that he has withdrawn his request to be traded, but for the time being, the Lakers are in 6th spot in the Western Conference. Phil Jackson has a rotation figured out with a strong bench contribution, so Bryant hasn’t had to carry the entire for unbearable periods (a la LeBron James every game) yet. Lamar Odom has been the mercurial star he usually is, and Walton has been dealing with a number of injuries, so all in all, LA has to be happy with where they are so far – more importantly, is Kobe?
Mid-September 07: Cavs open without Pavlovic and Varejao, who reportedly are asking for salaries in the ballpark of $6-8 million and $10-12 million per year.. Hah, keep dreaming.. Let’s see where this saga takes us.
January 6th 2008: Both have since signed, with Varejao taking a 2-month extended vacation before a Charlotte offer to the 6’11 forward broke the ice for Cleveland to match the offer and re-sign one of the most important pieces of their NBA Finals run of a year ago. Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden and Ilgauskas have all had solid seasons to date alongside The Man, but without James (aka the best player in the NBA right now) the Cavs would be in tatters right now. Larry Hughes continue to disappoint the Cleveland faithful as he earns his $12/yr salary while serving as one of the league’s most inefficient/unproductive players. With the rest of the Eastern Conference slightly stronger than a year ago, Lebron’s Cavs need to find more consistency now with their rotation set in order to contend.
Mid-September 07: The Orlando Magic start the season as an upbeat squad with the addition of Rashard Lewis & the contract extension offered to Dwight Howard. Turkoglu & Redick are said to be healthier and better, Arroyo looking to assume a bigger role against or alongside Jameer Nelson and the addition of a solid coach – if everything falls into place, a 7th or 8th place finish isn’t out of the question?
January 6th 2008: Another huge surprise so far, but the Magic have showed plenty of signs of slowing down following a 16-4 start to the season. Dwight Howard was a beast out of the gates, having more dunks than 21 other TEAMS at one point but teams have started to collapse down on him with more frequency and success. Rashard Lewis has indeed opened up the court, but not for Howard as it was predicted. Instead, veteran sharpshooter Hedo Turkoglu has had a career year to date, handling the ball in all of the team’s clutch situations down the stretch in 4th quarters. Guard consistency (at both spots) and depth in the post are still concerns, but if Orlando’s big three of Turkoglu, Howard and Lewis continue to get it done, the Magic will be a force to be reckoned with heading into the playoffs.
Mid-September 07: Phoenix might’ve been the favourite to win it all this year if it hadn’t been for the off-court drama between do-it-all forward Marion and the Suns management.. As it stands, Marion looks to be an unhappy 3rd fiddle on a super-talented Suns squad for at least one more year.. Assuming Diaw has regained some of his confidence and will return to form, Stoudemire has continued to get stronger and more comfortable playing into his new repertoire of skills, Nash & Marion stay at the same level, and a super-excited Grant Hill is able to contribute half of what he’s dying to contribute, the Suns should have a great season ahead of them.
January 6th 2008: Marion’s shots, accuracy and scoring have been down a bit, but the rest of his impressive numbers have been rock solid across the board as he has remained the consumate professional and teammate throughout the situation. Stoudemire has shown signs of regaining his dominance, and Grant Hill has been playing like an All-Star again as the ageless marvel of a guard Steve Nash continues to guide the Suns into the NBA’s upper echelon. Talented forward/center Boris Diaw has been a disappointment, but free-agent pickup Brian Skinner has been a pleasant surprise, more than making up for the slumping Diaw. Once again we should see the Suns running and gunning deep into the playoffs, the only question remains whether or not Nash can convince his ultra-talented teammates to commit to both sides of the court for 48 minutes a game.
- I didn’t foresee the Chicago Bulls struggling the way they did, despite never really viewing them as a contender even in the weaker East. Now Skiles is fired and Gordon/Deng have the rest of the year to prove their worth as the $60+ players they want to be.
- I did foresee the Charlotte Bobcats and LA Clippers being this bad, so I’m not too sure why people are disappointed right now.
- We all foresaw the Minnesota Timberwolves and Seattle Supersonics being this bad, so nobody is disappointed. But, I do want to see Randy Foye play at least half a year. And Jeff Green looks pretty good after getting more comfortable too.
- I live in Toronto 10 months of the year, and I still wouldn’t put money on the Raptors in a playoffs series. So far this year, you can see why – local Raptor homers, you need to watch some other teams play before you make the rest of us Torontonians look stupid with your overzealousness.
- Why isn’t Denver better with the roster they have? I don’t really get it, they should be killing it at this point. Every game. In a video game I would pick Denver over the Boston Celtics even.
- Why aren’t the Rockets better with the roster they have? This one I get: they have a ton of pieces but they don’t fit. Mike James is a scoring 1.5, McGrady is a volume shooter with injuries problems who still doesn’t get his teammates involved enough, Bonzi Wells is Mr. Inconsistency, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes are good defensive players but fairly useless on offense. Yao Ming is extremely skilled at 7’6 but possibly the most predictable (and therefore easiest to swarm) big man in the game. I say blow it all up and start afresh, and I would rather have Jeff van Gundy as a coach instead of Adelman anyday. PS. Someone convince Tomjanovich to return please?
- I figured Indiana would be better, but they’ve surprised me a bit too. Most notably, Mike Dunleavy Jr. who has averaged 18-6-2 with very very solid shooting percentages as a big 2-guard in O’Brien’s uppity system. Granger’s playing better too, but still inconsistent.
- I was trying to be more objective earlier in assessing situations, but I’ll say it now: I am very very very very very disappointed with the Miami Heat and as a Heat fan I don’t know what I should/could do about it aside from giving up.
- Chris Paul > Deron Williams anyday. I can’t believe there is even any debate. One is a complete player who makes his team MUCH better around him, one is a scorer who is bigger but generally useless on defense and when his shot isn’t falling.
- Can the Suns management PLEASE just pay the luxury tax for a year so that the Suns don’t have to play PERFECT basketball in order to win a championship? I’m POSITIVE that you, Robert Sarver, are making money off of the Suns – now give back to the city (and basketball-lovers worldwide) by giving Phoenix the best possible team.
- Kyle Korver to the Jazz was a steal. He was probably a player the 76ers could’ve kept and grown with, as his salary was pretty respectable and manageable by today’s standards.
- Dallas has been in cruise-control so far but I like them in the playoffs this year.
Top Rookies to Date:
- Kevin Durant DOMINATED college players, but needs to gain some weight/strength to be the same type of player in the NBA. I can see that he’s very talented already, but needs polish in a lot of the finer areas of the game (shot selection, using his strengths against diff types of defenders)
- Al Horford aka Mr Double Double has been the most consistent and reliable rookie so far. 9-9-2-1-1 each game when you are playing with a crapload of guards who don’t share the ball is pretty damn good. I figured he’d be the most NBA-ready, along with just about everyone else, and turns out we were all right for once.
- Yi JianLian is much better than I thought he would be, though I never got a chance to watch him before the NBA. Very honed offensive player with a fluid repertoire and good basketball IQ. Surprising athleticism as well as unexpected toughness on the glass and in protecting the rim. That 18-foot jumper is actually beautiful.
- Sean Williams is a freak of nature, but needs to stop falling for pump fakes or he will never play more than 20 minutes. Still, the stretches of 5boards and 5blocks in a series of 6-8 possessions gives me chills. This guy has the potential to be SO GOOD on D once he understands positioning more.
- Mike Conley is getting a chance to run the offense in Memphis at last, and we’ve already seen glimpses of a real solid true PG in the making so I’m excited to watch him progress.
LeBron James‘ line for tonight’s (well.. yesterday’s, technically) game against Uruguay in the FIBA Americas 2007: 26 points on 11-for-11 shooting (ie. dunking) from the field including 4-for-4 from behind the arc too – all in 14 minutes of action. Oh yea, if you saw the game, you’d know he was even MORE dominant on the court than the stats sheet would suggest. When he was coming out of HS with the entire hoop nation’s hype, I couldn’t help but be at least a bit skeptical.. Now? I don’t have anything to say except – hand the man his crown.