Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why Tonight's Warriors-Kings Actually Matters

At the surface, this is just a contest between two poor teams that has no playoff impact and minor draft implications. However, if you take a closer look, this could potentially be a huge game for the Warriors season, which is important to the Kings, as a division rivals. This whole year I have advocated "tanking" the season, which isn't popular with the fans or, more importantly, the players and coaches, but is crucial because the Warriors are stuck in mediocrity and badly need a top pick in this loaded draft.

The key point of the tanking movement is that they owe a draft pick to the Jazz that is only top-7 protected, and they currently have the 9th worst record with just 21 games left to play. There's a discrepancy in games played, but the Warriors "trail" the Cavaliers by 2 games, the Kings by 3 games, and the Pistons by 4 games, and each of those teams lost one point games this week that could prove to be critical. Hence, tonight's game is a much needed opportunity to close the gap with a loss. Ideally, the 6th worst record is what the Warriors need to aim for in case they suffer some horrible luck and get jumped a spot in the lottery.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What direction are the Niners headed?

For the second year in a row under general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have gone about constructing their team in the offseason in a shrewd way. They play it patient and let the market sort itself out. That resolve has shown itself more so than ever with the Peyton Manning situation. They weren't listed among the front runners for the former Colt's services early in the hunt, but they now appear to be among the finalists with the Broncos and Titans. They played it so discreetly that the news of his workout for coach Harbaugh didn't become public until the following weekend, and if he is being honest with himself, the Niners are the best situation for him from a football perspective. From a personal standpoint, he would probably like to keep a possible Super Bowl matchup against his brother Eli alive and stay in the AFC, especially in the South that he has always known with the Titans in the state where he went to college. But let's take a look as to what direction the Niners are headed and why they are best fit for his services.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Trade Grades

Well, how was that for a trade deadline? With the unexpected decision by Dwight Howard to opt in to his contract for next year, keeping him with the Magic until the summer of 2013, the dominoes began to fall hard and fast. Of course, the first big blockbuster of the week occurred two days before the deadline between the Warriors and Bucks, as I anticipated last week. It takes a while to gain a little perspective to determine who are the winners or losers in these trades, but here's some quick trade grades:
*Note: all salary figures courtesy of
Warriors: Traded Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. Then traded Jackson for Richard Jefferson, T.J. Ford, and a lottery protected 2012 first round pick. Purchased a second round pick from Atlanta for undisclosed cash considerations.
The good:

  • You have to give the Warriors credit for taking a risk in order to finally secure a franchise center, which Bogut is when healthy. The health is the tricky thing, but his major injuries have never been related and are more of the freak accident variety. Sitting him out the rest of the year should help the tanking cause, however, and it should be noted that (at the time of the trade) since being drafted #1 and #40 overall in the 2005 draft, "injury-prone" Bogut has played 408 games and Ellis has played (wait for it) 413. This is not unlike the Mavericks addition of Tyson Chandler last season, as Zach Lowe points out.
  • The undersized, ineffective backcourt of Stephen Curry and Ellis is finally broken up. It was ill-fated from the beginning, and now the keys to the offense next year can officially be handed to Curry at long last. I'm not completely sold on Klay Thompson as the shooting guard of the future, but he has a lot more length than Ellis and now has the door open for him to see what he's got.
  • In addition to the tanking cause being helped to secure their top-7 protected draft pick, they made sure to at least have a late first round pick in this deep draft, likely in the 25-30 range depending how the Spurs finish, by trading for Jefferson and Ford instead of bringing back the malcontent Jackson, who forced his way out of Golden State in 2009 on bad terms. Of course, he wouldn't have that big contract (due $10 million next season) if they hadn't been dumb enough to give him that idiotic 3 year, $27 million extension in 2008 when he had TWO YEARS left on his current deal.
  • Monta and Udoh were nice additions for the Bucks' playoff push.
  • They also purchased a second rounder from Atlanta that will be whichever is later between the two that the Hawks own. The Hawks couldn't find a deal to get under the luxury tax, so they could use some extra cash for their cheap ownership to pay the bill, and Joe Lacob, to his credit, was happy to oblige.
The bad:
  • The Warriors had to take back Jefferson's albatross contract ($21 million over the next two years), which is a high price to pay for a late first rounder. They also took back the recently retired T.J. Ford, who makes just under $1 million. The Spurs included him just to shave their luxury tax a bit more, and insurance likely covered his buyout from the Warriors.
    • Having to include Udoh as a sweetener in addition to taking on salary and the risk in Bogut's health definitely hurts. He has been their best defensive player while showing a nice mid range jumper, but let's be honest: he's almost 25 already, doesn't have much upside left, and is undersized to play center full time, which he would have to for this team with the presence of David Lee on the roster. Now, the Warriors wouldn't have this problem if they would have done the proper thing at draft time in 2010 and selected Greg Monroe instead of Udoh OR hadn't given Lee such a huge contract in the Anthony Randolph sign-and-trade just a month after the draft.
    • Trading away Ellis, arguably the face of the franchise, is not popular with the fans at all. Of course, the fans aren't paid to make decisions, and they don't always take into account his poor defensive fundamentals or shot selection to go with his empty scoring totals. He had some value for his ability to get his own shot, and this is probably the best deal they could get for him, albeit with the inherent risk. If it works out with Bogut's health, then this is a great move for the long-term because you always take the franchise center over the inefficient, high usage shooting guard. That's a big if, though.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    It's MADNESS

    This year, March is even crazier than usual thanks to the NBA trade deadline occurring later than usual (thanks again, lockout) to go with the start of NFL free agency and, of course, the NCAA tournament. This post is going up late because of a different kind of March Madness: finals and final papers. However, this breakdown of my bracket hasn't changed in my mind since I made my picks on Sunday night. I tweeted my bracket on Monday, and it never changed, even after seeing all of the experts' picks during the week. In fact, seeing some of my upset picks becoming so popular was actually unsettling. Nonetheless, here's my analysis, broken down by region:
    Did you expect me to pick any other champion?

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Last Thoughts As March 15th Approaches

    There was a ton of great research to read about from the Sloan Sports Conference last week, and the topic that I found most interesting was the study on how "Big 2's and Big 3's" fit together. Robert Ayer's research paper basically re-categorized players based on their skill-sets rather than pure positions and analyzed how these "clusters" performed together, with the research discovering that the best Big 3 is a combination of a high usage, high scoring point guard, a versatile scoring wing with shooting range, and a dominant center inside. The versatile small forward (cluster 8) actually proved to be one of the best possible players to build a team around, which pleases me on a personal level since those are my favorite kinds of players (*cough*KevinDurant/HarrisonBarnes*cough*).

    This got me thinking: who is the best scoring point guard in the league? That's pretty simple: Derrick Rose (with all due respect to Russell Westbrook). And there's no question that Dwight Howard is the best center in the game. If only there was a way to get them on the same team with a versatile small forward who could shoot...Oh wait, that's exactly what I talked about in last week's post! I'd like to augment that trade proposal with this one because it is an even better offer for Orlando, and it keeps the Chicago under the luxury tax threshold since they are currently $2 million (roughly) under the tax.  Hedo Turkoglu isn't the player he once was, but he would mesh well as the second trigger man to get the ball to Howard along with Rose. Alas, the Bulls aren't one of Howard's preferred destinations for whatever reason, and the Magic still don't seem to want to trade their star even though this package is ridiculously better than the wasteland of a roster they'll be left once he leaves.

    So enough with that idea; here are some of my last trade thoughts as the trade deadline is just five days away:
    (Note: all salary information courtesy of and all trades are independent of each other, as you could probably figure out.)

    Friday, March 9, 2012

    Under The Radar Prospects In The Madness

    This is a great time of the year with the cold of Winter thawing away, Spring break approaching, and, of course March Madness. I wrote a speech for my public speaking class talking about how great the conference tournaments are in addition to the NCAA tournament, and then I realized I forgot to include one thing: draft prospects! March is the best time of the year for casual basketball fans to see some college players and pretend to know everything about their draft chances. I've already talked a lot about the lottery prospects, and now here are some of the under the radar players in this draft:

    Kendall Marshall, PG. North Carolina: How is the best passer in college basketball under the radar you ask? Well, for one, he was left off the 1st team All-ACC team despite setting the conference single season assist record (It's tough to have FOUR 1st team players from one team, but how could you not have the best team's floor general on there?). I touched on Marshall's brilliance in the preseason, and he's mostly held to form. I've thought of him for a while as a left-handed Jason Kidd without the defensive impact, and that's become a popular comparison of late. I think he is a late lottery type of talent instead of the current late first rounder as most sites list him, but I'm biased.

    He's not the best athlete, but he's a big guard at 6'4 who just has incredible court vision and is not afraid to make the difficult pass, especially in transition. His defense is lacking because of his lack of elite quickness with his size, but it also sometimes seems that he's not asked to compete too hard on that end because Carolina can't afford to have him get into foul trouble. The other major criticism is that the lack of a jump shot, but I think he gets too much of a bad rap on that front. He'll make the open 3's when opponents double team his teammates, and he's shooting it with a lot more confidence. He's been looking for his own offense with more aggressiveness lately, and that's a great sign for the Tar Heels.
    You know you're getting a good floor general with Marshall Law.

    Tony Mitchell, SF/PF. North Texas: I've long been intrigued by Mitchell because he was one of Missouri's most highly touted recruits in a long time, but he had to transfer to North Texas due to academic issues. He currently has a late first round grade due to a lack of exposure, but he is definitely worth a flier with his explosiveness and length. Unfortunately, he won't get the necessary exposure in the NCAA tournament because he missed a critical box out late in the Sun Best championship game against Western Kentucky that cost his team a chance at a victory to go to the big dance. Still, he is exactly the type of combo forward that could come in and score off the bench for a team like the Thunder (hint hint).

    [Funny story that's not that funny: I felt a strange sense of connection to both teams when watching that Sun Belt championship on Tuesday. Back in high school, I received letters and emails from North Texas, and my dad implored me to apply there as a "backup backup." I didn't apply because there was absolutely no way I was going all the way to Texas for school, but the thought was nice.

    As for Western Kentucky, I actually met some girls from there just this past weekend. I saw group of cute girls at this party, approached one of them that I liked, and proceeded to compliment her on her nice dress. She was flattered and asked for my name before telling me she was visiting her cousin for spring break. I was shocked that she was from WKU and had to think for a moment before noting that she's a Hilltopper, which she was shocked that I knew and had to call a friend over tell about. Later I was introduced to said cousin who goes here, who's a Kentucky Wildcats fan instead of the Hilltoppers, and some John Wall dance action ensued. Unfortunately, one of the other friends was insistent on going to the upstairs portion of the party, and I later saw the girl I was talking to leaving with another guy and friends. I didn't quite share their enthusiasm when they said bye and how nice it was to meet, but it was cool seeing WKU win the Sun Belt championship  after meeting these girls I'll never see again. Sports knowledge coming in handy with girls at a party, what a novelty!]

    Will Lillard be the first point guard taken?
    Damian Lillard, PG. Weber State: Like Mitchell, the penetrating point guard from Oakland lost in his conference championship game, but not without leaving a strong impression with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. Lillard has a chance to go in the lottery due to a lack of elite point guard prospects in this draft and because he is plain good. He's not a pure point guard, but you can't blame him for scoring so much on a team that lacks elite scoring options. He has good size (6-2, 185), great quickness, and a nice perimeter game with shooting range past the three point line. I wish I could have been able to see more of him, especially against the tougher competition that would have come with the NCAA tournament.

    Arnett Moultrie, PF/C. Mississippi State: Moultrie is on the bubble as to whether he'll make the tournament and if he'll be a first round pick. In his first year playing after transferring from UTEP, he has broken out in a big way thanks to his athleticism and size at 6'11 with a nice frame to add more strength. He's great at scoring without the ball, especially from offensive rebounds. While not a great post player, he has progressed as a shooter and is a very good free throw shooter for a big man. He has potential on the defensive end, but he's inconsistent in this area, with his strong rebounding being his best asset. He could definitely rise as the draft gets closer.

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Where Dwight SHOULD Go

    Now that the All Star break has left Orlando, it's time to figure out when and where Dwight Howard will leave, too. We've pretty much known where he wants to go as a free agent: basically, wherever Deron Williams lands, whether it be in his current New Jersey/Brooklyn location or native Dallas. I wrote in the beginning of the season about how Dallas basically conceded its chance at defending its title by taking cost efficient routes to fill its rotation in order to have the flexibility to go after these two premium free agents. Even if they deal Shawn Marion and amnesty Brendan Haywood's contract, whether or not the Mavs would be able to sign BOTH remains to be seen.

    As for the Nets, there's not a single team that has the most boom or bust potential in free agency, assuming there's no trade based around Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks, and draft picks before then. They're a longshot to make the playoffs, which won't make Williams happy, but they'll have a decent chance at winning the lottery. Thus, there's the potential of teaming Dwight, Deron, and a top pick OR winding up with nothing if Williams leaves for Dallas or somewhere else.
    Next year, will Dwight be saying, "Good play bro! High five?"