The most improved player debate

Apologies for not posting consistently for a while. I've just finished my wave of finals and what not. Hopefully I will be able to post a lot more consistently than I have been in the coming months.

The MVP debate has not really heated up yet. It is still too close to call. The two most lively debates are the Most Improved Player award and the Rookie of the Year award. On a side note, Lou Williams might be able to challenge Ginobli for the 6th Man award, but he has to play at his current level for the rest of the season which is a long shot. For now, we'll focus on the 3 most improved players in the NBA.

Rajon Rondo: It is not longer the Big 3 in Boston. Rondo has clearly established himself as one of the premier point guards in the league. He is putting up amazing numbers and many won't deny that the reason the Celtics are playing at the level they are at is due in large part to Rondo's play. He has had some amazing games this season that were well publicized, and is averaging 11 ppg and 7.3 assists and shooting an amazing 51% from the field. He is reliable and delivers pretty night after night. We need to remember that Rondo is only 22 years old right now. He is a supreme athlete with long arms who can cut defenses apart, and has incredibly decision making skills. Doc Rivers does not need to worry when the ball is in his hands because he only averages 2.3 turnovers a game. Rondo had his coming out party in the finals last year when he outplayed Derek Fisher in virtually every aspect of the game. He has used that momentum to show that he can help lead this team. There is no question that Rondo is the difference in the Celtics this season, and has helped fill James Posey's shoes.

Brandon Roy: I'm sure you all have heard that Roy dropped 55 last night against the Suns. He has emerged as one of the premier players in the league. Roy is an awesome player to watch. He is one of those players who can do it all, and he is also a player who comes through in the clutch. Roy can play in the post, face up, shoot, pass, and everything in between. He is also a great athlete who has enough strength to create his own shots off the dribble. Roy has helped the Blazers become a legitimate playoff contender. Not only will the Blazers make the playoffs this year, they will be in the middle of the pack which is a big change from the past few seasons where they have struggled to find the 8th seed. Roy is averaging 23.4 ppg and 5.2 assists to help the Blazers to 3rd place in the Western Conference and only a half game behind their division rivals, the Nuggets. There is no doubt that this drastic improvement in performance is a direct effect of Roy's elevated performance. As of now, Roy is my favorite to win the award. I would even go as far to say he is a MVP candidate.

Lou Williams: It might be a little early to consider him for this category, but with Brand going down, he has a chance to prove he belongs. He will be a candidate for 6th man and this category because of the explosive nature of his stats in the past few weeks. He just had a career high tonight against the Wizards with 26 points. Williams was not performing up to expectations earlier this season, but in the recent weeks has turned his game around. Maurice Cheeks will look to him to be their primary scorer off the bench, and in the weeks without Brand, they will look to Williams to be one of their primary scorers in general in Brand's absence. Williams is averaging 10.9 ppg and 2.2 assts, but expect those to dramatically increase in the coming weeks. If Williams and the rest of the 6ers can produce at a high level, it will allow Brand the time he needs to rest, and won't have to rush back to action. Expect Williams to be averaging north of 15ppg in Brand's absence.

Al Harrington: I know no one would even consider him, but doesn't his amazing improvement post-being traded warrant some kind of consideration? The voters should be able to interpret the phrase 'Most Improved Player of the Year" however they wish. He did improve a lot since he has been traded, and has played a key role in making the Knicks competitive. Just a thought.

I do think Danny Granger and Devin Harris are candidates for this award also, but I wrote about them in my top 5 most overachieving players so I didn't want to bore you all with repetitive details.


Analysis on the Jason Richardson and Boris Diaw/Raja Bell trade

There were two trades that went down in the NBA today. The Hornets, Wizards, and Grizzlies were involved in a trade. The impact of that trade is relatively minor so I will focus on the big trade that went down today. The trade was Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, and a 2nd round pick from Charlotte to Phoenix for Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Sean Singletary.

Lets start off with Charlotte. I have no idea what they are doing with this trade. They give up their top scorer for two mediocre scorers in Diaw and Bell. Diaw is signed until the summer of 2011 and has an option for the 2011 and 2012 season. Bell is signed until the summer of 2010. So cap space was not the motivation. They couldn't even fake like they were going for Lebron because Diaw's 9 million is still on the books during the summer of 2010. The rotation of Richardson, Augustin, and Felton was working out really well for Larry Brown. It is a little surprising that they broke that rotation up. I expect the Bobcats to make Bell part of that 3-man rotation, but it will be with Bell playing a much smaller role than in Phoenix. The acquisition of Diaw makes a little more sense, and he will be the backup for Okafur. It bolster's Charlotte's size, but I can't justify giving up my top scorer for two role players that would fit in well with a championship calibur team. Clearly, Charlotte is nowhere near a championship, but they still took these two players on. It is at best, and I stress the word 'best', a linear move for the Bobcats.

For the Suns, this has continued the trend of good players moving West. Jason Richardson gives the Suns a chance to compete with the best teams in the West. The West is so good on paper, if you were to try and rank the teams without seeing them play, you could legitimately make a case for the top 6 teams in the West to be in multiple positions in the West. Jason Richardson averages 18.7 ppg and 4.1 rebs a game and has about 2 3-pointers a game. He is also a decent defender who will cause a lot of matchup problems for teams. He will be able to body up the the SG or SF on any team they play. That includes the Kobe's and Odom's, the T-Mac's and Artest's, and the Roy's and Outlaw's of the West. Not to mention the East's SG's and SF's. Shaq and Amare will provide good interior defense, and being able to have a 3-man rotation of Hill, Barnes, and Richardson provides a strong combination of defense and offense whenever any of the 3 are on the floor. It also gives them a tremendous amount of versatility in their offense. They have a strong inside presence in Shaq which allows Stoudamire more freedom, and putting gunners like Grant Hill, Richardson, and Barnes on the perimeter will stretch defenses thin. Throw in a penetrating pass-first point guard in Nash, and the Suns looks like a pretty good team.

Nash said that he was sad to see Raja Bell leave because Bell was Nash's best friend, but I don't think Nash will be disappointed with the player he is getting in return. The Suns are not in the cellar of the West anymore. The West has become ultra competitive. I am too young to make a claim that this is the strongest a conference has been, but I can't imagine that a conference in the past has surpassed the current Western Conference in talent by much. There is no doubt that as an NBA fan this has been one of the most exciting time periods to follow the league. The competition between the teams will ensure that teams will be fighting all season long for playoff seeding. This mitigates some arguments people make about the NBA season being too long, and the teams not caring. I think we can be safe in assuming teams will be fighting until June.



Top 5 underachieving players

Fans and teams have huge expectations of certain players. Just like the surprise players every year, there are also disappointments. Here are the top 5 disappointments thus far.

Elton Brand: He left the Clippers hanging even though they made the move for Baron Davis, but the expectations for the Sixers were through the roof, and now they are back where they have always been. The Sixers are desperate for success. They gave up AI with the expectation that they could rebuild. The team has failed to perform up to par, and Elton Brand is not helping change that notion. The only reason I didn't put Iguodala on this list is because I have always thought he was overrated and not equipped to fill the role of Iverson. The acquisition of Brand was suppose to shoot the Sixers into Eastern Conference title contention. Instead, they are 9-11 behind the Celtics and Nets. Brand is averaging 16.7 ppg and 10 rebs. You may say that isn't so bad, but that is the lowest ppg he has had since he has been in the league. His 10 rebs are about his average. Remember, the Clippers were about to pay him around $100 million until he left to Philly for less money, but still due to make $13.7 million this season. One could also make the argument that Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala are taking away from his production, but Andre is only averaging 15.5 points (1.1 point higher than his career average), and Iguodala is averaging the lowest ppg since his sophomore season at 13.9 ppg. There is enough to go around, Brand just isn't getting it done. The Sixers record combined, expectation, salary and Brand's career low in points makes him the clear pick for the most underachieving player.

2. The Raptors: I can't pin point one player on the Raptors who is underachieving. Did we really expect Jermaine O'Neal not to get injured? They fired their coach Sam Mitchell which was a scapegoat move for their abysmal performance this season. Chris Bosh has done his part by scoring 26.1ppg and 10.3 rebs. The next highest scorer is Jose Calderon at 12.7 ppg and then Jermaine O'Neal at 12.6ppg. Having a 14 point difference between your #1 and #2 scorers is not going to get it done. The Raptors are also waiting on their project Andrea Bargnani to start producing. Currently Bargnani is averaging 11.16 ppg and 5.1 rebs which is solid, but they need more from him. The Raptors also have some pretty good role players in Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon, but still not enough to get them to a winning level. On paper, this is a team that could be top 3 in the Eastern Conference. They have the pieces there, they might be a little undersized, but it is not looking good for them right now.

3. Brad Miller: This guy has been on the decline for a while. He is a two-time former All-Star, but has failed to live up to that standard since he made the All-Star team in 04. He got a huge paycheck when he left Indiana and joined the Kings. He is due to make $11.3 million this season. However, he is just averaging 11.9 ppg this season and 7.9 rebs. He averaged 13.4 ppg and 9.4 rebs last season. The reason Miller makes this list is due to how much he will constrain the Kings until the summer of 2010. Judging by Miller's play, he won't be getting paid anywhere close to the contract he has right now. What is frustrating is that he has proven he can compete at the 5 position, but has been inconsistent in producing that. Night after night Miller continues to get beat up by the Western Conference's size. He is also an injury prone player that has not been able to get the job done against the bigmen in the West, and I'm sure the Maloof brothers are regretting the decision to give him such a huge contract. The Kings will be stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference for a few more years.

Allen Iverson: It is tough to make the transition to a new team suddenly after you have been preparing to be with one team for the whole seasson, but Iverson is a superstar. He is not suppose to have decreases in production when he is traded. He averaged 26.4ppg and 7.1 assists last season for the Nuggets. For Detroit, Iverson is averaging 17.8 ppg and 5.5 assists. He is averaging about 10 points lower than his career average of 27.5 ppg. Dumars made the trade for AI with the expectation that AI was going to continue to produce at the level he needed to. Detroit managed to hand the Lakers their first loss of the season, but outside of that, they have been very inconsistent. Out of their 8 losses, 4 have come from Minnesota, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. Those 4 teams are all worse than Detroit. They should have been easy wins for the Pistons. Their struggles in their 8 losses can be attributed to AI's decline in play. The Pistons are 7-8 with Iverson so far. He makes $20 million, but is not playing like the superstar we have known him to be. AI better turn this around fast or he will find himself with less than impressive contract offers this summer that will take him to the last years of his career.

Shawn Marion: It is tough to put Marion on this list because of the major turnaround the Heat have had this year. They are 11-9, and showing no signs of slowing down. Wade leads the league in scoring, but Marion has seen a major decline in production. Marion only averages 12.6 ppg behind Beasley's 14.1 ppg. Marion's is also averaging 9.4 rebs and 1.5 blocks which are in the ballpark of his career averages. The drastic drop in points is surprising. Marion is constantly around the basket and is known to get a lot of hustle points. That has seemed to take a hit this season as Beasley is grabbing a lot of rebounds and Chalmers is another credible scorer the Heat have this year. Imagine if Marion came up to the levels that he has played his whole career. The Heat would be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Marion is also the highest paid player on the team, and wants a big extension from the Heat or a new team. Marion has not helped his case thus far.



Top 5 overachieving players and the Top 5 underacheiving players

Every NBA season brings us a new list of players who have a breakout season. With these breakout seasons also come players who don't live up to expectations. This is part 1 of 2 of the Top 5 overachieving players and the Top 5 underachieving players. Here is my list for the Top 5 overachievers.

1. Devin Harris: He might not be the best player to put at the top of this list just because New Jersey had high expectations of him. When the Jason Kidd trade went down that sent Harris to New Jersey, Harris was labeled by that vague term, 'prospect'. Usually players labeled by that term take a few years to develop, if ever. We all know that Harris was a college standout at Wisconsin and he won Big 10 player of the year honors, but his start in the NBA was a little rough. The expectation from Harris was always absurdly high being the 5th pick in the draft. His first season in 04-05 he averaged 5.7 ppg and 2.2 assists. He increased that average every year up until midway through the 07-08 season to 14.4 pts and 5.3 assists when he got traded. The second half of that season playing for the Nets, he saw a 1 point increase in his point total to 15.4 and increased his assists to 6.5.
This season, Harris is averaging an astonishing 24.8 points and 6.1 assists and is the 6th leading scorer in the league right now, and is shooting a solid 48% from the field. That is about an 11 ppg jump from his average in the 07-08 season. His play has elevated his team all around him, and the Nets are enjoying a 9-8 record and 2nd in the Atlantic division, only behind Boston, and 4th place in the Eastern Conference. I don't think anyone had New Jersey higher than 7th place this season, and that was even a stretch. They have been the surprise team, and it is all due to Devin Harris. We'll see if they can keep this up.

2. Danny Granger: Another player who broke onto the scene last season. Granger probably isn't known outside of Indiana and to the casual basketball fan. He was not highly regarded out of college because he played in a small conference for the up and down New Mexico program. Granger is the 7th leading scorer in the league who is also hitting 2.8 3's a game. He is a combo player who can play virtually anywhere on the floor, and has such a wide range of skills, he is a matchup nightmare for other teams. Granger's play has led the Pacers over the wins over the Lakers and the Celtics this season. The Pacers have been playing up to their competition this year, and have shown they can win. I expect that Granger will keep this level of play up for the rest of the season, but I don't expect the Pacers to do much more than they have been doing. I expect them not to make the playoffs and finish last in the Central Division. They do have great pieces in Granger, Daniels, and if Dunleavy can come back healthy, Larry Bird might have a strong squad up there.

OJ Mayo: He might be playing on one of the worst teams in the league (4-14), but Mayo is playing out of his mind. He has shown an incredibly maturity coming into the NBA and putting him alongside Rudy Gay has only helped him. The scary thing about Mayo is that he is only a rookie, and will only get better. From what I've heard, this guy is a work horse. He is a gym rat, and obsessed with his game. I've heard scouts say he has the 'it' factor that MJ, Kobe, and Lebron posess. Marc Gasol is still a little raw at this point, but when Marc Gasol gets better, we could be looking at a very respectable team with Gasol, Gay, and Mayo. Mayo has averaged 21.3ppg this season, 13th best in the league, and only .2 away from #12 Dwight Howard. The reason Mayo makes this list is due to the difficulty guards have adjusting to the NBA game. He gets a steal or two a game and dishes out a few assists every game and his one or two 3's every game. He can get to the basket, create his own shot, pass, and is a superior athlete. He has shown maturity in the game ahead of his years. We could be looking at the rise of one of the best guards in the league.

Nene: His emotional comeback from winning his battle with cancer might have inspired his play this year. He is a huge part of the Nuggets success and a clear third option for the team. Nene is averaging 15 pts, 7.3 rebs and 1.6 blocks, all of those are his best career averages. Oh yeah, he also has the highest field goal percentage in the league shooting a staggering 63.2%. When people talk about the elite Centers in the league, people seldom mention Nene. He has come onto the scene this year, and this is a pleasant surprise for George Karl because this could help the Nuggets get past the first round, and be exactly what they need to get further in the playoffs. The Nuggets are looking like a more mature team overall this year, and that is due, in part, to Nene's play.

Ramon Sessions: I would expect that hardcore NBA fans have been following Sessions for a while. For those of you who don't know, he is a D-League call-up, and he has played sensational for the Bucks. He played about 17 games last season for the Bucks, and averaged a little over 11 assists per game in that time. He is going to stick around in the big leagues for a while. He is averaging 14.9 pts and 6 assists this season. He is coming up huge for the Bucks, and they have to like their investment. Sessions is also a great value for them because he is a solid backup for Luke Ridnour, I use the term 'backup' loosely here because he plays 32.9 minutes a game, and started when Ridnour was out. He is also great value for the Bucks in terms of salary. He is the lowest paid player on the Bucks at $722,517, and is the 3rd highest scorer on the team, and plays more minutes than the $70 million dollar Center, Andrew Bogut. He is worth much more than he gets paid, and the Bucks better use him to his full extent before he becomes a free agent because there will not be a shortage of potential teams looking to invest in Sessions.

Top 5 underachievers soon to come...



New Banner

So as you can see, the new banner is up. It was done by my friend Ray Kay. He is a business major here at Wake, and hopes to go into a career in marketing one day. As you can see, he isn't too bad at this whole marketing thing. I'm sure this banner will be an attractive aspect of the site, and I hope you all enjoy it. I can't take credit for the design, but I will enjoy it like the rest of you. If you all want to find out more about Ray Kay and what he is about, visit his site: raykay.wordpress.com. He has a new site going up on blogspot, but that is still under construction.

More basketball related posts later this week.

Hope you all had an enjoyable vacation.