Tag:Philadelphia 76ers
Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:56 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 2:40 pm
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Sixers deny report regarding Turner issue

Evan Turner struggled off the bench in his first start this week. (Getty Images)
By Matt Moore

Update: Shock of all shocks, the Sixers and Turner deny any such problem to WIP Sports Radio. It seemed weird given that Turner's honestly played pretty well this season, but in either case, we've got the Sixers official take on the situation.

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I know that headline is pretty much the vaguest thing you're ever going to read, but that's really the best way to describe this from CBS Philly: 
Stan Hochman, long-time writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, says that there’s a reason for Turner’s troubles. “There’s an explanation for Turner’s inconsistent play. One of these days, the team, with Turner’s permission, will reveal it. And then the criticism will back off,” he said during an interview with 94WIP’s Angelo Cataldi and The Morning Team on Wednesday.

Hochman indicated that the information was given to him with the knowledge that he would not reveal exactly what the problem is. He said that at some point this season, he believes it will be made public.
via Evan Turner's Mystery Problem « CBS Philly.

Turner shot 1-12 in his first starting spot this week, despite having played really well off the bench. Now it could have just been one of those games. It could have been a shock to the system for him to start. Turner has shown without a doubt he's going to be a quality player in the league after a rough start to his rookie season, but this kind of vague talk is at least a little concerning.

Now, this could be an exaggeration. Teasing something like that requires no risk for the writer and paints a picture without signing your name at the bottom. Then fans and media.... like this blog, take it and interpret it in ways which are in no way relevant to what's actually going on. But if nothing else it serves as a reminder that we like to look at players' efforts to being isolated to on-court matters, and that in reality, as with anyone's life, there are a number of factors, personal, professional, and medical playing into each player's performance.
Posted on: February 28, 2012 11:01 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 1:03 am
 

Report Card: Brook Lopez dominates in Big D

Posted by Royce Young

 Brook Lopez definitely grabbed some attention Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Each night, Eye on Basketball brings you what you need to know about the games of the NBA. From great performances to terrible clock management the report card evaluates and eviscerates the good, the bad, and the ugly from the night that was.


Brook Lopez
Probably about halfway through Tuesday's New Jersey game against the Mavericks, Billy King called Otis Smith and said, "Hey, just wanted to make sure you're watching this." Because in his third game after returning to the floor after a foot injury, Lopez was dominant. He finished with 38 points on 17-28 shooting leading the Nets to a one-point win over the Mavs in Dallas.
Minnesota Timberwolves
On a night where Kevin Love scored just 10 and Ricky Rubio only two while Blake Griffin had 30 and Chris Paul 27, you'd assume the Clippers handled the Wolves with ease, right? Wrong. Instead it was a big 109-97 win for Minnesota. So how'd they do it? Behind a career night from rookie Derrick Williams who finished with 27 points on 9-10 shooting and Michael Beasley who had 27 on 11-15 shooting. That's right, 54 points on 20-25 shooting. That'll get it done.
Middle-of-the-pack Eastern teams
Both the Pacers and 76ers limped a bit into the All-Star break, revealing some issues. But both came out roaring with the Sixers topping Detroit by 29 and the Pacers whipping the Warriors by 24. Good start to the second half for both.
Derrick Rose
The Bulls made it far closer than it should've been against the Hornets, but Rose came to the rescue for Chicago, scoring 32 points, including the last four for the Bulls. He hit a big jumper with 19 seconds left to put Chicago up two, then picked up a block on a Jarrett Jack drive that would've tied it and then hit two free throws to seal it.
Boston Celtics
Boston ended a five-game losing streak with a win over Cleveland, but still, it's obvious there are problems. They look slow, old and have problems scoring. Rajon Rondo was outscored by Kyrie Irving 24-0 -- that's right, zero points for Rondo -- and outside of Ray Allen's solid game, the Celtics weren't very good. It's not that the Celtics are disappointing anymore, mainly because expectations are constantly being lowered.
Chicago Bulls not named Derrick The bench combined for only 18 points and the other four starters only had 49. Without Rose in the game, the Bulls blew an 11-point lead and had to be rescued by the MVP in the last couple minutes.
Dallas Mavericks
It's one thing to blow a game to the Nets at home, but the Mavs' failure in the last minute to execute was just bad. Jason Kidd's heave to win the game was off a horrible set that exploded in Dallas's face. And Dirk Nowitzki -- you know, the guy that's seven feet tall and as clutch as it gets -- didn't take a shot in the Mavs' last two possessions.
New Orleans Hornets
The Bulls won a game they were supposed to, but the Hornets made it tough on them. So why an F? Because they had it. After a 13-0 run to go up 95-91 with 1:30 left, the Hornets watched the Bulls close on an 8-0 run. Here were their possessions: turnover, blocked shot, blocked shot, turnover. Derrick Rose hit a big shot, but the Hornets really showcased exactly why they have such a horrendous record.

Posted on: February 20, 2012 12:42 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 1:05 pm
 

Eye on Basketball Midseason Awards

LeBron James is having one of the best seasons of his career and is the midseason NBA MVP. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore
 

The 2012 NBA All-Star break begins this week as this season continues to fly by on a shortened lockout schedule. Already we've seen an incredible year, even in the midst of some ugly, ugly, ugly basketball. The Heat look better than ever, the Bulls are still dominant through injury, the Sixers are impressively complete. The Dwight Howard saga drags on. The Lakers and Celtics are struggling to find their dominant gear. The Thunder are blistering offensively, the Timberwolves surprising and of course, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lin all the time. 

With that, here are the 2012 NBA Midseason Awards, based on where we stand on February 20th, 2012. 

Eastern Conference Most Valuable Player: LeBron James


When CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel wrote that LeBron was different this year, he was spot-on. James has talked about how he spent the summer re-discovering his love of basketball, getting away from all the criticism, and getting back to the person he wants to be. He and the Heat have admitted that the resounding backlash to "The Decision" played a large part in their mental approach to last season. In short, James is not comfortable being bitter, angry, resentful. He's at his best when driven by a simple love of the game. That's the dichotomy with James. He is inarguably the single most arrogant and out-of-touch player in the Association, and yet he does possess a genuine love of basketball. It's always playing at his home. It's something he lights up when he gets to talk about instead of storylines. Basketball came easily to James athletically, but it's also something he works obsessively at. History teaches that you have to hate your opponent, have to be driven by anger and resentment. James is simply not built that way. In reality, he may be too goofy, too fun-loving to ever reach the kind of iconic play that is necessary to be considered one of the best, to have the killer instinct that so many criticize him for lacking, which he himself has admitted he may lack.

None of this changes the fact that there are only three things which can stop James from earning his third MVP this season, should he continue to play as he has for the first half of the year. The first is largely the same reason he failed to win it last season: vengeance. Voters showed their disapproval of James by not truly considering him for the award. Whether it was a distaste for the arrogance of James' approach to leaving Cleveland on national television, a disgust at the preseason championship comments at the presser with the smoke and fireworks, or disappointment with James seeking to team up with two great players instead of winning on his own (an element neither Carmelo Anthony nor Chris Paul have received criticism for), James was shut out, when by most measures, he simply played better than Derrick Rose. Rose was a phenomenal player last season and a wonderful story, well-worthy of the award. However, James was better. Those sentiments have cooled this season, but if voters decide to maintain their teeth-grinding disapproval of James, that could cost him. The second is simple injury. James has only missed a small handful of games, but that can always derail a player's path. And the third is the most likely impediment: minutes.

The Heat did not take the tactic of prioritizing homecourt last season. It wouldn't have mattered, the Bulls were simply better in every way during the course of the regular season. But the Heat were clearly more focused on being healthy for the playoffs than capturing homecourt. And it's likely to be the same this year. The Heat have managed to handle the compact schedule well, outside of some Dwyane Wade bumps and bruises as to be expected. But when March rolls around, this team will start looking for rest, and that means James could sit out several games. The Heat will happily trade in April wins, provided they have a top four seed, for rest. James could lose momentum in that case as he watches from the sideline and another worthy candidate pushes his way to the finish line.

What makes James worthy of the award this year? Pick one. The Heat are the best team in the East, and you may claim that Dwyane Wade is still the focal point of the offense, metrics be damned, and that's fine, but James' overall work on both ends of the floor still takes the notch. Without resorting to statistics, you see James take over games as if he's a one-man army. He's seemingly everywhere, interrupting passes, working in the post, snatching rebounds, blocking shots, lobbing to Wade, dishing to Chalmers, attacking the rim over and over again. It's awe-inspiring basketball. You don't need metrics to see he's the best player in the game this season. This is all factoring in the fact he's taken a step back defensively. He's turned it on the past five or six games, but this hasn't been a season of his usual defensive dominance... and he's still been this good overall.

But if you want them, they bear it out as well. James is enjoying a career high (tied) in points per 36 minutes, rebounds per game and 36 minutes, field goal percentage, True Shooting percentage (factoring 3-point shooting and free throws), and of course PER. The confusion with PER most often is that it somehow measures value, that it establishes how good a player is. Instead, it's just what it's defined as. Player Efficiency Rating. It establishes who produces the most per minute, considering how many possessions they use in doing so. And right now, James is doing the most of any player in history in that department.



So that's fun.

James may not win MVP this year, for a variety of reasons. But there is absolutely no question at this season's halfway mark, that he's the best player in the league, and most valuable.

Western Conference Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

If you prefer the classic mold of the MVP, AKA a scoring machine, Kevin Durant fits pretty well. He's a jump-shooter shooting 52 percent from the field. Think about that. The league average is 36 percent. Durant is hitting 15 more shots for every 100 attempts from the hardest place on the floor to knock them down. That's ridiculous. That's just absurd. He is the best pure-scoring machine in the league. Kobe Bryant may topple him for the scoring crown, but he'll need five to six more attempts to do so. The cherry on Durant's Sunday has to be his 51-point explosion Sunday night. He managed 51 points on 28 shots.

And really quietly, Durant's become an elite defender. He's allowing just 26 percent from the field in ISO situations according to Synergy Sports. Defense was a huge weakness in Durant's game over the past few seasons and he's really hit his stride this season. The Thunder aren't even that great defensively, Durant has just been individually incredible.

For him to catch James, he would need for the Thunder to continue their impressive winning percentage. He would need to top the league in scoring, and for his impressive uptick in rebounding rates to continue. It's a tall order, but there's no question he's within range. Durant has become the most impressive offensive force in the league.

He is 23 years of age.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

Ricky Rubio is dazzling. He's a phenom. He changes the course of games and wows you with the eyes. No rookie has impressed more than Rubio, who has silenced all his critics, of which I was very much one, regarding his ability translate his game to the NBA level. Rubio is honestly poetry in motion, and the feel he has for the game is joy-inspiring more than awe-inspiring. It is such a fluid and spectacular range of abilities, it makes the Timberwolves so much fun to watch.

And Kyre Irving is a better player.

It's not really close.

Get past the fact that Irving has been shooting at historic levels, that his overall production is in line with some of the all-time greats in this league in their first years. Irving has a mastery of the game that Rubio does not, even after so many more years of playing professionally. Irving can run an offense more completely and calmly, and is a superb crunch time scorer (Rubio is brilliant in that area in his own right). But if you want numbers, it's simple. Rubio's a 38 percent shooter. Irving is a 48 percent shooter. You can talk about how you would prefer your point guard pass than score, but Irving's numbers are truncated by a lack of talent on the Cavaliers, while Rubio has Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (a scorer for all his faults), an emerging Nikolai Pekovic and Derrick Williams.

Rubio would be a fine choice. He's the most exciting rookie. Maybe even the most impactful rookie.

Kyrie Irving is the Rookie of the Year, halfway through. This one will be tight to the finish.

Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Iguodala

I know. It's always Dwight Howard! It has to be Dwight Howard! But here's the thing. Howard's effort hasn't been as consistent this season. Whether it's the trade talk, the lockout schedule effect, coaching, whatever, it hasn't been there. His rebound rate is there, it's the highest of his career. He actually is allowing fewer points per possession than he did last year, but if we consider the lockout effects on all shooting percentages, Howard has slipped from the 96th percentile to the 77th percentile in rank on points per possession. Howard is maybe the most impactful defensive player in the league. But his performance hasn't been worthy of the award this year.

Iguodala, on the other hand, is the star defender on the league's best defense (Philly is tops in defensive efficiency, points per 100 possessions), and is most often given the toughest assignment night in and night out in this league. He is tasked with stopping the best perimeter threat on offense each game, and in doing so, has limited opponents to 35 percent shooting. He is able to body up larger opponents, stick with smaller ones, switch, shift, deter, block, steal, cajole, harass and otherwise make his opponent's life miserable and has done so for the majority of the season.

A close second on this list is Luol Deng, who actually has better marks via Synergy. But a combination of Deng's missed time due to injury, and the Bulls' reliance on help defense under Tom Thibodeau's system barely, and I mean barely, gives Iguodala the edge here. Dwight Howard will wind up winning this award, but ask yourself, is it more difficult to shut down perimeter elite scorers in this league or to stop the awful, horrible batch of big men currently roaming the lanes?

6th Man of the Year: James Harden

Harden should be starting. By any and all accounts, he is a much better player than Thabo Seofolosha, or Daequan Cook, or whoever you want to start at two-guard for the best offense in the land. Harden should be the starter, he plays starters minutes, he finishes like a starter, he's close with the starters, he's a star in his own right. And yet, he's much better off the bench. He provides the Thunder with not only a scorer off the pine, but an offensive creator, maybe his best asset. Harden can run the offense, he facilitates, and can make a play go even off-ball. He's a capable if not excellent defender, and his decision making and effort is often times the difference in close wins and losses for OKC.

This award has been wrapped up for a good long time.

Coach of the Year: Doug Collins

The Philadelphia 76ers have the third seed in the East as of this writing, with signature wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic, and just about everyone not from South Beach. Doug Collins has managed to turn a team without a central star, without an Isolation scoring threat, without a dominant big man or an all-world point guard (no offense to the brilliant Jrue Holiday) into a powerhouse that overwhelms teams with defense, savvy, bench scoring, team play, and fortitude.

The players genuinely love to play for Collins and he's gotten through to them to a man. Spencer Hawes is playing well, for crying out loud. Elton Brand is producing. Iguodala is having the best overall season of his career by the eye test. They have the best defense, the best bench, the best record in a tough division. Collins has done an incredible job and is every bit deserving of this award as much for his process as the results it has garnered.

Most Improved Player: Jeremy Lin

What were you expecting? Usually second-year players are exempt in my eyes. They're supposed to develop and improve in their second season. But Lin is a special case. Lost in the Linsanity and all the great storylines surround him is the fact he has talked a lot about what the D-League did for him. This league too often doesn't allow players to develop, simply shreds them through and only the strong survive. Lin is a testament to the idea that players can develop, can improve, can learn this game and get better to the point of success. He's improved the most simply by making himself relevant, let alone raising New York from the dead for 15 percent of the season.
Posted on: February 20, 2012 12:42 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 1:05 pm
 

Eye on Basketball Midseason Awards

LeBron James is having one of the best seasons of his career and is the midseason NBA MVP. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore
 

The 2012 NBA All-Star break begins this week as this season continues to fly by on a shortened lockout schedule. Already we've seen an incredible year, even in the midst of some ugly, ugly, ugly basketball. The Heat look better than ever, the Bulls are still dominant through injury, the Sixers are impressively complete. The Dwight Howard saga drags on. The Lakers and Celtics are struggling to find their dominant gear. The Thunder are blistering offensively, the Timberwolves surprising and of course, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lin all the time. 

With that, here are the 2012 NBA Midseason Awards, based on where we stand on February 20th, 2012. 

Eastern Conference Most Valuable Player: LeBron James


When CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel wrote that LeBron was different this year, he was spot-on. James has talked about how he spent the summer re-discovering his love of basketball, getting away from all the criticism, and getting back to the person he wants to be. He and the Heat have admitted that the resounding backlash to "The Decision" played a large part in their mental approach to last season. In short, James is not comfortable being bitter, angry, resentful. He's at his best when driven by a simple love of the game. That's the dichotomy with James. He is inarguably the single most arrogant and out-of-touch player in the Association, and yet he does possess a genuine love of basketball. It's always playing at his home. It's something he lights up when he gets to talk about instead of storylines. Basketball came easily to James athletically, but it's also something he works obsessively at. History teaches that you have to hate your opponent, have to be driven by anger and resentment. James is simply not built that way. In reality, he may be too goofy, too fun-loving to ever reach the kind of iconic play that is necessary to be considered one of the best, to have the killer instinct that so many criticize him for lacking, which he himself has admitted he may lack.

None of this changes the fact that there are only three things which can stop James from earning his third MVP this season, should he continue to play as he has for the first half of the year. The first is largely the same reason he failed to win it last season: vengeance. Voters showed their disapproval of James by not truly considering him for the award. Whether it was a distaste for the arrogance of James' approach to leaving Cleveland on national television, a disgust at the preseason championship comments at the presser with the smoke and fireworks, or disappointment with James seeking to team up with two great players instead of winning on his own (an element neither Carmelo Anthony nor Chris Paul have received criticism for), James was shut out, when by most measures, he simply played better than Derrick Rose. Rose was a phenomenal player last season and a wonderful story, well-worthy of the award. However, James was better. Those sentiments have cooled this season, but if voters decide to maintain their teeth-grinding disapproval of James, that could cost him. The second is simple injury. James has only missed a small handful of games, but that can always derail a player's path. And the third is the most likely impediment: minutes.

The Heat did not take the tactic of prioritizing homecourt last season. It wouldn't have mattered, the Bulls were simply better in every way during the course of the regular season. But the Heat were clearly more focused on being healthy for the playoffs than capturing homecourt. And it's likely to be the same this year. The Heat have managed to handle the compact schedule well, outside of some Dwyane Wade bumps and bruises as to be expected. But when March rolls around, this team will start looking for rest, and that means James could sit out several games. The Heat will happily trade in April wins, provided they have a top four seed, for rest. James could lose momentum in that case as he watches from the sideline and another worthy candidate pushes his way to the finish line.

What makes James worthy of the award this year? Pick one. The Heat are the best team in the East, and you may claim that Dwyane Wade is still the focal point of the offense, metrics be damned, and that's fine, but James' overall work on both ends of the floor still takes the notch. Without resorting to statistics, you see James take over games as if he's a one-man army. He's seemingly everywhere, interrupting passes, working in the post, snatching rebounds, blocking shots, lobbing to Wade, dishing to Chalmers, attacking the rim over and over again. It's awe-inspiring basketball. You don't need metrics to see he's the best player in the game this season. This is all factoring in the fact he's taken a step back defensively. He's turned it on the past five or six games, but this hasn't been a season of his usual defensive dominance... and he's still been this good overall.

But if you want them, they bear it out as well. James is enjoying a career high (tied) in points per 36 minutes, rebounds per game and 36 minutes, field goal percentage, True Shooting percentage (factoring 3-point shooting and free throws), and of course PER. The confusion with PER most often is that it somehow measures value, that it establishes how good a player is. Instead, it's just what it's defined as. Player Efficiency Rating. It establishes who produces the most per minute, considering how many possessions they use in doing so. And right now, James is doing the most of any player in history in that department.



So that's fun.

James may not win MVP this year, for a variety of reasons. But there is absolutely no question at this season's halfway mark, that he's the best player in the league, and most valuable.

Western Conference Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

If you prefer the classic mold of the MVP, AKA a scoring machine, Kevin Durant fits pretty well. He's a jump-shooter shooting 52 percent from the field. Think about that. The league average is 36 percent. Durant is hitting 15 more shots for every 100 attempts from the hardest place on the floor to knock them down. That's ridiculous. That's just absurd. He is the best pure-scoring machine in the league. Kobe Bryant may topple him for the scoring crown, but he'll need five to six more attempts to do so. The cherry on Durant's Sunday has to be his 51-point explosion Sunday night. He managed 51 points on 28 shots.

And really quietly, Durant's become an elite defender. He's allowing just 26 percent from the field in ISO situations according to Synergy Sports. Defense was a huge weakness in Durant's game over the past few seasons and he's really hit his stride this season. The Thunder aren't even that great defensively, Durant has just been individually incredible.

For him to catch James, he would need for the Thunder to continue their impressive winning percentage. He would need to top the league in scoring, and for his impressive uptick in rebounding rates to continue. It's a tall order, but there's no question he's within range. Durant has become the most impressive offensive force in the league.

He is 23 years of age.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

Ricky Rubio is dazzling. He's a phenom. He changes the course of games and wows you with the eyes. No rookie has impressed more than Rubio, who has silenced all his critics, of which I was very much one, regarding his ability translate his game to the NBA level. Rubio is honestly poetry in motion, and the feel he has for the game is joy-inspiring more than awe-inspiring. It is such a fluid and spectacular range of abilities, it makes the Timberwolves so much fun to watch.

And Kyre Irving is a better player.

It's not really close.

Get past the fact that Irving has been shooting at historic levels, that his overall production is in line with some of the all-time greats in this league in their first years. Irving has a mastery of the game that Rubio does not, even after so many more years of playing professionally. Irving can run an offense more completely and calmly, and is a superb crunch time scorer (Rubio is brilliant in that area in his own right). But if you want numbers, it's simple. Rubio's a 38 percent shooter. Irving is a 48 percent shooter. You can talk about how you would prefer your point guard pass than score, but Irving's numbers are truncated by a lack of talent on the Cavaliers, while Rubio has Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (a scorer for all his faults), an emerging Nikolai Pekovic and Derrick Williams.

Rubio would be a fine choice. He's the most exciting rookie. Maybe even the most impactful rookie.

Kyrie Irving is the Rookie of the Year, halfway through. This one will be tight to the finish.

Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Iguodala

I know. It's always Dwight Howard! It has to be Dwight Howard! But here's the thing. Howard's effort hasn't been as consistent this season. Whether it's the trade talk, the lockout schedule effect, coaching, whatever, it hasn't been there. His rebound rate is there, it's the highest of his career. He actually is allowing fewer points per possession than he did last year, but if we consider the lockout effects on all shooting percentages, Howard has slipped from the 96th percentile to the 77th percentile in rank on points per possession. Howard is maybe the most impactful defensive player in the league. But his performance hasn't been worthy of the award this year.

Iguodala, on the other hand, is the star defender on the league's best defense (Philly is tops in defensive efficiency, points per 100 possessions), and is most often given the toughest assignment night in and night out in this league. He is tasked with stopping the best perimeter threat on offense each game, and in doing so, has limited opponents to 35 percent shooting. He is able to body up larger opponents, stick with smaller ones, switch, shift, deter, block, steal, cajole, harass and otherwise make his opponent's life miserable and has done so for the majority of the season.

A close second on this list is Luol Deng, who actually has better marks via Synergy. But a combination of Deng's missed time due to injury, and the Bulls' reliance on help defense under Tom Thibodeau's system barely, and I mean barely, gives Iguodala the edge here. Dwight Howard will wind up winning this award, but ask yourself, is it more difficult to shut down perimeter elite scorers in this league or to stop the awful, horrible batch of big men currently roaming the lanes?

6th Man of the Year: James Harden

Harden should be starting. By any and all accounts, he is a much better player than Thabo Seofolosha, or Daequan Cook, or whoever you want to start at two-guard for the best offense in the land. Harden should be the starter, he plays starters minutes, he finishes like a starter, he's close with the starters, he's a star in his own right. And yet, he's much better off the bench. He provides the Thunder with not only a scorer off the pine, but an offensive creator, maybe his best asset. Harden can run the offense, he facilitates, and can make a play go even off-ball. He's a capable if not excellent defender, and his decision making and effort is often times the difference in close wins and losses for OKC.

This award has been wrapped up for a good long time.

Coach of the Year: Doug Collins

The Philadelphia 76ers have the third seed in the East as of this writing, with signature wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic, and just about everyone not from South Beach. Doug Collins has managed to turn a team without a central star, without an Isolation scoring threat, without a dominant big man or an all-world point guard (no offense to the brilliant Jrue Holiday) into a powerhouse that overwhelms teams with defense, savvy, bench scoring, team play, and fortitude.

The players genuinely love to play for Collins and he's gotten through to them to a man. Spencer Hawes is playing well, for crying out loud. Elton Brand is producing. Iguodala is having the best overall season of his career by the eye test. They have the best defense, the best bench, the best record in a tough division. Collins has done an incredible job and is every bit deserving of this award as much for his process as the results it has garnered.

Most Improved Player: Jeremy Lin

What were you expecting? Usually second-year players are exempt in my eyes. They're supposed to develop and improve in their second season. But Lin is a special case. Lost in the Linsanity and all the great storylines surround him is the fact he has talked a lot about what the D-League did for him. This league too often doesn't allow players to develop, simply shreds them through and only the strong survive. Lin is a testament to the idea that players can develop, can improve, can learn this game and get better to the point of success. He's improved the most simply by making himself relevant, let alone raising New York from the dead for 15 percent of the season.
Posted on: February 8, 2012 12:09 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2012 1:42 pm
 

Ten likely candidates for contraction

Let's see how many kids' dreams we can crush with contraction just to make the Knicks and Lakers better, shall we? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

Oh, no, there's (insert problem in the NBA)! Quick, let's contract some teams!

That's pretty much the standard fare from a lot of mainstream basketball scribes. Their proximity to large cities, usually coastal, is something you should try and not look at too closely. It's like one of those 3-D images. Yes, it's a schooner, which is a sailboat, and you still have a headache.

The answer always seems to pop up. "Oh, we don't have enough stars!" Contract! "There's a lockout and the owners want more money!" Contract! "We're out of sandwiches in the media room!" Contract!

There's about a billion reasons why contraction won't be happening. David Stern won't allow it on his watch. Losing games, twice in 12 years? Sure. Losing teams? No way. One thing hurts your fans. The other hurts your business.

But let's say it did, because there are more fans of big market teams than small market teams, and big market teams love the idea, because they get a talent influx. Who goes on the chopping block? Here are teams that would be up for contraction, if we're going to go ahead and kill off sections of fans.
(Franchise valuation data courtesy of Forbes, attendance via ESPN.)

1. New Orleans Hornets: Trying to avoid this conclusion is something I spent a solid hour on. Surely there's a way around this. But there just isn't. The Hornets staged a massive ticket sales promotion in order to try and boost their attendance profile for a potential buyer as well as to satisfy various city and state requirements regarding their lease. The result? They're 26th this season. With Chris Paul having gone to the Clippers, things are going to get worse before they get better. If we absolutely have to chop off a team, you have to start with the Hornets, as much as it pains me.

There are a lot of factors here, but George Shinn's horrific ownership should not be overlooked, nor should two natural disasters in the span of five years. But it's never been a strong market, and if we have to make cuts with our minds and not hearts, the Hornets have to be silenced.

Biggest argument against: Have you no soul? Honestly?

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Such a great playoffs run. But here are the facts. It's one of the newest franchises, with little in the way of successful history (as in, none outside of last season). It's been evaluated as 29th in overall worth by Forbes. Despite making the playoffs last season and being expected to contend for the West this year, they are 21st in attendance, Z-Bo or no Z-Bo.

The Grizzlies are trying to build a new culture of passion and success in Memphis. But if we have to make the cut today, they have to be on the block. If you need me I'll be in the corner gurgling arsenic.

Biggest argument against: Memphis' playoff run shows what can happen if that fanbase is engaged.

3. Charlotte Bobcats: Terrible team. The newest in the league. No success to speak of. Poor ownership. A fanbase damaged by George Shinn's tenure in Charlotte (hey, look, a theme!). The overriding influence of college basketball and its permeating stench throughout any sports discussion. The reasons go on and on. I mean, just look at their attendance.

They're... 14th this season?

That's up from 21st, which really isn't that horrible. And that's why they manage to slide to three. If you took the way the Bobcats have been run and put them in Memphis, New Orleans, or Sacramento, they're toast, first out the door. But Carolina gets basketball. So they slide to third. So... uh... good for them?

Biggest argument against: Decent attendance, run by the sport's biggest icon, awesome mascot.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: We're going to kill off the first team Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, ever played for? The 1971 champs?

Yeah. We are. Milwaukee is rated last in the league by Forbes in overall value. Despite some promising drafts, they have yet to put together a contending core. Their arena situation is not dire, but it's going to get there in the next five years, and Milwaukee voters are unlikely to come streaming to the polls to help the team out. Killing off a franchise with this much history is pretty horrific, but at some point the dollars and cents have to matter.

Biggest argument against: Championship team, history, good ownership, active fanbase.

5. Sacramento Kings: No one has fought harder to keep their team than Kings fans have. They have staved off their owners feeding vultures from Anaheim. They have scrapped up enough support for a new arena plan coming to vote this month during a recession. They have chanted and made documentaries and brought signs and banners and petitions.

And it still might not be enough.

This may be the best example of why contraction is flawed. Ten years ago, even six years ago, this would be incomprehensible. The Kings were on the verge, the doorstep, had their foot jammed into the entryway of the Finals. The biggest problem with contraction is that we look at it through the lens of the present. "Oh, the Bobcats/Kings/Bucks are terrible." But in five years, those teams could be San Antonio. Or OKC. Or Orlando. Winning will change your bottom line, and losing will change it just the same. But considering the arena situation at present time, the financial situation of the club, and their ongoing attendance issues, it's impossible to leave them out.

Biggest argument against: Here we stay.

Five more.

6. Atlanta Hawks: You want to talk about history, this one's like chopping off a limb. But the Hawks are 28th in value, have been unable to put together legitimate success, and feature one of the most lackluster fanbases in the league. Atlanta may simply be oversaturated for the NBA.

Biggest argument against: It's called the Highlight Factory, for crying out loud.

7. Philadelphia 76ers: You can already hear the sounds of those coastal writers crying out in agony. Start talking about an East Coast team that won a title within the past 30 years and it's a whole different story. But the 76ers come in at 22nd in value, just had the team sold, no real success even if you count the Iverson years that victimized a terrible, terrible Eastern conference, and continually have horrible attendance. They're bottom ten this season, and their team is a handful of games out of first in the conference.

Biggest argument against: Erasing what Moses Malone and Julius Erving did should be a federal crime.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: 27th in value, 24th in attendance despite all the excitement. The only reason this team gets put so high is out of practical considerations. Basically, despite killing Kevin Garnett's prime and bobbling the next All-Star they landed in Kevin Love, their owner is close friends with David Stern and one of the heads of the Board of Governors. You see that guy getting his team lopped off any time soon?

Biggest argument against: Rubio? Rubio.

9. New Jersey Nets: Is there enough room in New York for two teams? Of course. Is there room for two fairly terrible teams? Additionally, if they can't get Dwight Howard, they should just pack up and go home, anyway.

Biggest argument against: They will always make money because they will play in New York now, and Prokhorov may come after you.

10. Indiana Pacers: No NBA championships (3 ABA). They are 25th in value and dead last in attendance, despite being a top five team in the East. The Pacers have simply been unable to capture the city's attention since The Brawl. Maybe that just did too much damage, combined with the emergence of the Colts. Yes, it's a historic team, but without any championships since the ABA. And with the Fieldhouse eventually needing a new home and all the money the city has spent on sports and event facilities, hard to see it coming through.

Biggest argument against: 8 points. 9 seconds.

--------------------------------

In the end, any of these teams could become the Spurs in the next ten years. Or the Blazers. Or the Jazz. Or the Magic. It takes ownership, a little luck, and the subsequent success. Get that, and you're good to go. But we never see that when we talk about contraction. We only see the benefits for the Bulls, the Lakers, the Knicks. And we forget that while there are more fans in cities than towns, having an NBA nation makes the game that much stronger. But if we have to do the deed, those are the teams that should get the axe.
Posted on: February 6, 2012 10:36 pm
 

Report Card: Jeremy Lin carries the Knicks

Posted by Royce Young

It's Linsanity in New York right now. (Getty Images)

It was a milestone kind of night in the NBA as the story was Kobe Bryant passing Shaquille O'Neal on the all-time scoring list, but a couple upsets, a couple overtime games and some big matchups were all part of a wild Monday night.

The New York Jeremy Lin's.

No Amar'e Stoudemire. No Carmelo Anthony, who went out with groin injury early in the first quarter. No problem for the Knicks against one of the West's good teams, the Utah Jazz. Behind a new career-high from Jeremy Lin who had 28 points and eight assists, also new career-high (but also eight turnovers, all in the second half), the Knicks were able to pull out an improbable win over a solid team. Jared Jeffries took five charges (!), Steve Novak randomly had 19 points and the Knicks got just enough from all over to win. This is maybe the type of game you can build on a bit. Backs against the wall and the role guys step up. Great win for the Knicks.

Philadelphia 76ers

Over the last seven days, the 76ers have taken down the Lakers Magic, Bulls and Hawks. I had them as a contender and the Sixers did a good job of making that call look pretty good. Lou Williams was terrific down the stretch against the Lakers Monday and the 76ers put away yet another good win. It's time to wake up about this team. These guys aren't just good. They're LEGIT.


Dwight Howard

Another tremendous game from Howard in a losing effort. It's a shame to see a guy go for 33 points and 14 rebounds in a losing effort, but the assertiveness from Howard was certainly nice to see. Howard took 21 shots, including 17 in the first half. Which moght then show you one of the issues the Magic tend to have -- getting the ball to Howard in key situations. It's not that he disappeared, he just wasn't near the offensive factor.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe passed Shaq on the all-time scoring list and did it in a very Kobe way. He needed 24 to pass Shaq and so he got 24 in the first half. The problem: Kobe finished with 28. He had just four points in the second half and shot 10-26 with five turnovers. A great night for Kobe in terms of history, but not a good night in terms of what transpired in his hometown Philly.


Utah Jazz

Yes, the Knicks winning is the story, but don't overlook the fact that the Jazz blew an easy opportunity to put another win on the board. No Stoudemire, no Melo and the Jazz let Novak, Lin and Shumpert beat them. That's not a good look for a team trying to battle for playoff positioning in the West.


New Jersey Nets

The Nets stink. They're bad. The Bulls probably could've beat them by 60 had Derrick Rose not left the game early with back spasms. The game was over very early as Chicago led 35-14 after a quarter and seemed to be ready to increase that every quarter. The final score, 108-87, doesn't really illustrate what a blowout this was.

Posted on: February 2, 2012 12:23 am
 

Report Card: An upside down kind of night

Posted by Royce Young



It was a pretty wild Wednesday in the NBA with some close games, some massive blowouts, some top teams losing and some big stat lines. Let's grade the action.

Serge Ibaka

What a game from Oklahoma City's paint protector. Ibaka set a franchise record with 10 blocks and finished with an unconventional double-double with 11 rebounds to go with it. He only had four points, which is a shame because a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double is pretty awesome. But Ibaka's impact in the Thunder's win over Dallas can't be understated.


Steve Nash

Nash went for 30 and 11 assists but that's not the best thing from his game against the Hornets. He also became the Suns all-time assists leader with 6,522 passing Kevin Johnson's mark of 6,518. Oh, and the Suns won, scoring 120 points. Just the way it should've happened for Nash.


Overlooked East teams

The Pacers beat the Timberwolves by 10 in Minneapolis and the 76ers beat the Bulls in Philadelphia. Two big wins for teams that are in the top half of the East, but that don't command the same kind of respect or attention as the Bulls or Heat. Andre Iguodala was fantastic defensively on Derrick Rose and Danny Granger poured in 36 for Indiana.


Russell Westbrook

With co-star Kevin Durant struggling a bit, Westbrook took over for the Thunder scoring 33 points to go with four assists and six rebounds. As he tends to do, Westbrook hit a dagger 3 with a minute left to ice the game for Oklahoma City. The six turnovers though were the only blemish in his line, but he had a fantastic game and showed why his scoring can often be incredibly valuable to the Thunder in close games against good teams.

Brandon Jennings

The Bucks won and Jennings scored 31. So why a C? Because he went 9-25 from the field and quite frankly, I was having trouble finding a C tonight. Jennings was pretty good though. He hit seven 3s, dished out eight assists and didn't turn the ball over once. He loved to shoot and does it without conscience, so the 31 points on 25 shots shouldn't really come as any kind of surprise.


Top East teams

While the Pacers and Sixers won, the Heat and Bulls both lost. Miami wasted a 40-point effort from LeBron and 23 from Dwyane Wade as Chris Bosh didn't provide much help at all with only nine points as the Heat lost to the Bucks. A Bucks team missing Andrew Bogut, mind you. Those type of games happen to everybody, but both the Bulls and the Heat definitely revealed a few dings in their armor. Neither executed well offensively and neither were able to consitently find baskets whether in transition or the halfcourt.

Dallas shooting

Credit the Thunder defense, but the Mavericks were absolutely awful shooting the ball Wednesday. Dallas shot only 35.7 percent from the field and went just 8-38 from the floor in the second half. Dirk Nowitzki clearly isn't entirely right as he went just 2-15 from the field. Dallas was without Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom, but that doesn't matter if you only hit 35 percent of your shots. Ten of those shots though never had a chance as Serge Ibaka was blocking them, but still.

Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Bobcats

The Suns scored 120 points. The Raptors and Bobcats combined for 132. The Raptors lost 100-64 to the Celtics and the Bobcats lost 112-68 to the Blazers. Scoring has been ugly on some nights in the NBA this season, but good grief, those are some major league whippings right there. The Bobcats and Raptors aren't good to start with, but an NBA team should be losing by 40 or 44.
Posted on: February 1, 2012 1:37 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 1:28 pm
 

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Posted by Royce Young

Are the Lakers and Celtics challengers for a championship, or for just a postseason appearance? (Getty Images)

Almost every team has played 20 games so far this season, which is a pretty nice sample size to make a semi-educated judgment on just how good some are. We know there are a lot of competitive teams in each conference. Teams that have a quality roster, a decent record and a chance at the postseason.

But what's coming into focus more and more is who is for real and who is for fake. Not in the sense of who is actually good and who is fool's gold, but what teams should we be really watching for to make a push at a championship?

In the same way there's no reason to waste time saying the Wizards and Hornets are not contenders, I don't need to tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are obvious contenders. They aren't just contenders, they're the title favorites as of now. Those three teams have clearly separated themselves a bit from the pack, but that doesn't mean that there isn't another team lingering as a potential title threat. This time last season nobody was really looking at the Mavericks as a team poised to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.

So let's break down the current field of playoff contending teams and separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Orlando Magic

After an 11-4 start, a good number of people kind of came around from "They have to trade Dwight Howard right now" to "Maybe they should keep him and make a run at it." Now, after a week of complete stinkage, maybe it's time to take another good look at blowing the hinges off the organization and starting over. If you're consistently having trouble getting out of the 60s, you're not going to win a seven-game series against a good team.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Philadelphia 76ers

A 15-6 record and the best point differential in the league is not something to be ignored. A 4-4 road record indicates that maybe the Sixers aren't quite ready to step into the conversation of competing for the East. I'm going to choose to ignore that. The Bulls and Heat are clearly the class of the East, but it's not hard for me to picture the Sixers taking down one in a seven-game series. Their depth, defense and determination will have them right in any game they play.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Utah Jazz

Rewind to last season. Jerry Sloan had resigned and Deron Williams was traded. It was understandable that the Jazz would finish out the season in the lottery. That was the plan. Get younger, find some cap flexibility and plan for the future. Except that didn't work out. The Jazz aren't a franchise that deal with losing much so this season wasn't just going to be one of tanking. But they're overachieving. They have some nice wins on the resume, but a core of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferon and Gordon Hayward aren't making a title push.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Indiana Pacers

I want to believe. I really do. The Pacers are a fun team and their resurgence over the past two seasons has been something else. David West was a nice addition and Roy Hibbert is playing really well. They've built up their resume with some good wins over the past couple weeks, but I don't see how they improved in the area that killed them last postseason -- fourth quarter execution. Danny Granger is a good player but can't shoulder the load of getting tough, key baskets in crunchtime. I can't see them beating the Bulls, Heat or even 76ers.

Verdict: PRETENDER

New York Knicks

I almost didn't even include them in this list. And not for the reason the Bulls, Heat and Thunder aren't in it. Unless Baron Davis has a superpower in that beard, the Knicks aren't getting out of the first round, and that's if they even get there. Serious obstacles are going to have to be overcome before this team actually competes for a championship.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Dallas Mavericks

It appears the championship hangover is finally wearing off. But for a while there, the defending champs had us concerned. They looked flat, uninterested and worst of all, not as good after losing J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson. But the Mavs are finding their form a bit and if Lamar Odom can ever finally wake up, Dallas goes eight deep with a nice rotation. And as long as that tall German guy is on the roster, they're a tough matchup for anyone.

Verdict CONTENDER

Houston Rockets

As I was writing down the teams I needed to mention for this, I didn't have the Rockets. And then I looked at the West standings and their record and said, "Whoa, the Rockets are 12-9? When did that happen?" I think they're going to be players at the trade deadline, but as the team stands now, they're position in the West's top eight will probably be short lived.

Verdict: PRETENDER

San Antonio Spurs

Could the Los Angeles Clippers -- the Clippers -- really be contenders? (Getty Images)
You just wait. Gregg Popovich knows what he's doing. Manu Ginobili will be healthy soon and the Spurs are going to go on a run of games in late February or March where they win like 14 of 16 and rocket up to third in the West. It's coming. I know it is.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Los Angeles Clippers

I picked the Clippers to finish second in the West but also wrote that they weren't a contender. I'm confused about the Clippers. But they definitely showed a little something this past week with a win in Denver and a win against the Thunder. Part of the reason many doubted that the Clips were ready to contend was it looked like they needed another piece for some depth. But they may already have it as Mo Williams is making a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year. Two top 15 players, a monster rim protector inside, a solid identity and veteran leadership -- the Clips kind of have it all. Only two things are holding them back -- Vinny Del Negro and a 35-year history filled with miserable failure.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Atlanta Hawks

I'll put it simply: The Hawks made no dramatic improvements to a team that's basically been the definition of pretender and then their best player was injured for pretty much the rest of the season. Their winning record without Al Horford has been a bit of a mirage as they've fortunately found a soft spot in the schedule at the worst time. Playoff team, yes. Title contender? Nah.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Portland Trail Blazers

For about five minutes, the Blazers had everyone talking about them as the prime contender to challenge Oklahoma City in the West. And then they lost their next five of eight and have slipped out of the top eight in the West. There's really not that much distinguishing this Blazer team from the one the was eliminated in last season's opening round. Is Ray Felton an upgrade over Andre Miller? Jamal Crawford an upgrade over Brandon Roy? LaMarcus Aldridge has become a legit superstar, but I don't see him carrying this roster to the Western Finals.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Memphis Grizzlies

I fear the Grizzlies were that classic chic preseason pick that everyone kind of likes that ends up going down in flames. Some would call that the "Houston Texans Disease." But Memphis didn't stumble into the second round of the postseason by accident. They upended the Spurs and then were a seventh game on the road away from advancing to the Western Finals. They're an enigma right now without Zach Randolph, but if he comes back healthy, the Grizzlies could be a nightmare matchup for teams in the playoffs.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Boston Celtics

After all of that, the Celtics are back to .500. They're 10-10 and have eased some of the fears that they might miss the playoffs. But they haven't been able to restore confidence that they're a team that's dangerous in the postseason. Kevin Garnett can't jump, which is a problem. Their offense completely fizzles for long stretches. They're actually relying on key production from guys like Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox. The Celtics aren't bad, but I think ubuntu is on life support.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Denver Nuggets

Can team ball really win? Well, it's winning now and looking pretty darn good doing it. The Nuggets ran into a bad matchup last postseason and the Thunder took care of them in five games. I wouldn't say they necessarily improved this offseason after losing Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith while adding Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller, but Al Harrington is playing wonderful basketball, Ty Lawson is blossoming and Danilo Gallinari shows flashes of being a star. Winning this way isn't easy, but I wouldn't rule the Nuggets out.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are 2-7 on the road. They've only scored 100 points three times this season. For any other team, we'd say that's a major red flashing sign that they aren't for real. For any other team, we'd look at their offensive struggles, their chemistry issues and the fact they're looking older than ever and easily write them off. But this is the Lakers, the home of Kobe Bryant and you don't do that. But I'm going to. Point guard is a massive issue, they have no depth inside and I still have absolutely no idea why they traded Lamar Odom for nothing. This team subtracted a key piece from a group that got swept out of the playoffs by the Mavericks and they expect that adding Josh McRoberts and a new coach is going to push them over the top? Unless the Lakers have a big trade coming down the pipe, the Lakers as currently constructed aren't going anywhere.

Verdict: PRETENDER

 
 
 
 
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