Friday, June 30, 2006

Off for the Weekend

Since I started this blog, I only have taken the weekend off once, when I was out of town and had no computer access.

But now that we've got the weekend of the 4th of July, and family is in town, and with me working in the morning Saturday and Sunday, you won't see me posting here for the weekend. But don't fear, I am working on something now which could be kinda cool that hopefully I'll start next week.

So anyway, when there aren't any new posts for the weekend, don't worry, I'm ok!

Some final thoughts and predictions from the draft

With people starting to get a better feel for the draft, and who the winners and losers were, I'll just take a quick look at who I expect to have some of the most success next year, and perhaps in the careers of some of these young guys.

Top Scorers as Rookies
1) Adam Morrison
2) Randy Foye
3) Brandon Roy

Kinda obvious, but that's how I see it, because these guys can score well, and they will get playing time. Morrison's strongest (or some might say only) strength is that he can score in so many different ways, and he will certainly get a chance for Charlotte, who I suspect will start him from day 1. In Minnesota, Foye should get lots of minutes with Jaric possibly on the way out, and McCants likely done for the year. In Portland, Martell Webster still realistically isn't ready to contribute much yet, so Brandon Roy should slide right in there and be a good player.

Top Rebounders
1) Shelden Williams
2) Tyrus Thomas
3) Paul Millsap

Like Morrison, Williams should step right in and play a lot of minutes, as he appears to be the most polished of the big men. The Bulls don't have a lot of depth up front, so Thomas should get his share of minutes and he is athletic enough to get the rebounds down there. At 3rd is Paul Millsap, taken by the Jazz in round 2. He led the NCAA in rebounds for 3 straight years, pulling down 13.3 per game last year. He can fla-out rebound, even if he won't see tons of minutes.

Top Assist Men
1) Randy Foye
2) Marcus Williams
3) Jordan Farmer

As I said with regards to scoring, Foye should get a lot of minutes which would allow him to lead rookies in assists despite his passing not being his greatest asset. Williams should get a fair amount of minutes behind an again Jason Kidd with bad knees, and Farmar should also be able to get good minutes because Smush Parker just really isn't that good. (another Laker piece: my thoughts go out to Lamar Odom after the tragic accident yesterday)

Gilbert Arenas Award (2nd rounder most likely to turn into a star)
Daniel Gibson - I don't necessarily think he will become a real good player in the NBA (in fact, I don't at all), but I think he's got the most chance if he can reach the potential he seemingly had after his first year at Texas. Coming into the year, he was looked at as a lottery pick at PG... and then it turned out he really couldn't play PG, he can't get to the rim enough, and his outside shot is inconsistent. But still, there was a reason he was so highly thought of, and if he can put things together and reach that potential, he can be a steal at 42.

Ryan Gomes Award (2nd rounder who has the best chance to step into a starting lineup in Year 1)
Paul Millsap - This all depends on what goes on with Carlos Boozer of course. But the last time Utah took a PF from La. Tech, that turned out pretty well. Now obviously Millsap isn't in the same stratosphere as Malone, but with his excellent rebounding and decent low post play, he can be a very effective player in the NBA.

Marquis Daniels Award (undrafted player that can make an impact)
I mentioned him yesterday, but I think Mike Gansey can be an effective NBA Player. He's not that athletic, but he's smart and quick defensively, and he's a very solid shooter. I still can't figure out how a guy like Danilo Pinnock gets taken over Gansey. And that's my story there.

Anyway, these are my final thoughts on the NBA Draft (although I reserve the right to have some more if I want!) What are your picks for some of these categories?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lots and lots of thoughts on the NBA Draft

Apologies in advance, because this might get very long. I suppose I should probably split it up into multiple posts, but I'll just put all my thoughts here. First, just some general thoughts:

  • The NBA Draft is so much easier to watch then the NFL Draft because of the time factor. After sitting through 15 minutes per pick at the NFL Draft, only having 5 minutes between each pick is extremely nice.
  • Here are some of the phrases used to describe players that I heard from Jay Bilas (more than once for each of them): 'Speed merchant.' 'Absolute scorer.' Huh? What the heck is a speed merchant? What's the difference between a scorer and an 'absolute scorer'? Those phrases don't have upside.
  • The 'absolute highlight' of the night for me came right towards the end of the draft, when Fran Franschilla used this direct quote to describe the Spurs second round draft pick Damir Markota: "Big guy that can play away from the basket. Also runs and jumps." I heard he even has arms.
  • While we're on the subject of Fran Fraschilla, I don't think it's right to call him a guru at anything. Even if he has spent like the last 10 years studying foreign guys.
  • The draft was about 100x better when it was on TNT, and we got to listen to Chuck Barkley, EJ, and "The Jet." Instead, we got STEPHEN A. SMITH (in caps to symbolize the yelling that Smith does). As TrueHoop said, Greg Anthony was the most sensible guy on TV tonight. And that's not a good thing.
But anyway, let's move on to a pick-by-pick analysis of the first round. Or at least, I'll try to do a pick-by-pick analysis, but I'll probably like pass out halfway through.

1. Toronto Raptors - Andrea Bargnani - As expected, Bargnani was the pick. I would have gone with Thomas myself, but this is a nice pick. The Darko/Skita comparisons are inevitable, but flawed. Bargnani is more polished, experienced, and has the better skill set. He should be able to contribute some off the bench in year 1, and he will be a solid NBA player.

2. Chicago Bulls - LaMarcus Aldridge (PICK MADE FOR PORTLAND) - I guess I don't really understand why the Blazers moved up to pick Aldridge, but that's neither here nor there. He is a solid player on both ends, and a good character guy, with further goes to help the Blazers image. If I'm the Blazers, and I need to get the fan base back, I think Adam Morrison may have been the better option there. But I do like Aldridge.

3. Charlotte Bobcats - Adam Morrison - From a basketall standpoint, I don't really like the move all that much. Gerald Wallace was their best player last year, and he happens to play the same position Adam Morrison does. I would have gone with Brandon Roy... not quite the scorer that Morrison is, but a better all-around game.

4. Portland Trailblazers - Tyrus Thomas (PICK MADE FOR CHICAGO) - Nice job by the Bulls, who trade down 2 sports, still get their guy and a guy whose last name is Kryhapa... now that's solid. As for Thomas, I've been saying he was #1 on my board. He brings much needed athleticism, and should be a nice piece in the rotation for a young and talented Bulls team. Bulls could be scary in a couple years.

5. Atlanta Hawks - Shelden Williams - For the second straight year, they passed on a talented PG. This year at least, the pick does do well to address needs - defense and rebounding. Atlanta was bad in both areas, so Williams, who may be the most NBA -ready player in the draft, should step in immediately and be a nice contributor. Although I do think that was a little high for him.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Roy (PICK MADE FOR PORTLAND) - Now this is a move I really like for the Blazers, who eventually wound up with Roy. A solid player in the backcourt that is ready to play and contribute immediately. Everyone's pick for ROY, especially Critical Fanatic, who had #1 on his board.

7. Boston Celtics - Randy Foye (PICK MADE FOR MINNESOTA) - If I were the Wolves, I would have held on to Brandon Roy instead, but that's just a minor complaint. I think Foye will be a very good player - he's got a decent outside shot, he can create his own shot better than anyone in the draft, he makes good decisions, and he plays good defense. In other words, he's a definite upgrade over Marko Jaric. Which isn't saying much, I guess.

8. Houston Rockets - Rudy Gay (PICK MADE FOR MEMPHIS) - And this is where things got really interesting. Although it can't be officially announced until sometime in July, all reports are that Gay is headed to Memphis in exchange for Shane Battier, which is a very interesting deal. On the one hand, I really like Gay (I had him above Morrison), he has loads of talent, and his game is suited to the NBA. On the other hand, McGrady's back isn't getting any better, and Battier is a lot better suited to help them win now.

Initial reactions were that Memphis got the better end of the deal. Although I heard Stephen A. saying the Rockets should have stuck with Gay because he is a better scorer, and that is what Houston struggled with last year... but that doesn't make too much sense to me. Of course Houston struggled last year offensively, because McGrady wasn't really himself all year. Actually, with Battier in the mix, I think Houston can potentially be a scary team if T-Mac is healthy. Look at Miami this year - they had a star Guard (Wade), a good but declining Center (Shaq), and a bunch of role players. Houston potentially has a star Guard (McGrady), a good and improving Center (Yao), and a bunch of role players. And I do think Battier is an underrated commodity - a guy that will play tough defense, contribute offensively in an efficient manner when called upon, play his hardest no matter the circumstances, and basically do whatever he needs to do to win. And he can hit an open shot, which he should get a lot of with T-Mac and Yao. If McGrady is healthy, the Rockets are a top 4 team in the West.

Of course, the one thing missing in the Rockets/Heat comparison is that Pat Riley is a far better coach than Jeff Van Gundy. But well, you can't have everything. I thought it was a pretty good deal for both sides, with maybe a slight edge to the Grizz.

9. Golden State Warriors - Patrick O'Bryant - Nothing really to get excited about here. O'Bryant can be a good center in time, but he's not at all ready to contribute right away. Jay Bilas said it best here - O'Bryant will either become a really good player or he'll be ok. At this pioint, speculation is just that, speculation.

10. Seattle Supersonics - Saer Sene - Supersonicsoul said it best: "Wait a minute, didn't we already draft this guy? Like four times? I guess you can never have too many 7-foot "projects" that no one has ever heard of." Absolutely, positively, the worst pick of the lottery. The Sonics have picked centers for like 4 straight years now, what's the point of drafting an African center that's at least 3 years off from doing anything in the NBA? How'd that DeSagana Diop pick work out for Cleveland?

11. Orlando Magic - JJ Redick - I liked Ronnie Brewer or Rodney Carney here because they can just do more things well than Redick can, but Redick's not a bad pick by any means. At the very least, he should help in the development of Dwight Howard and Darko because he'll open up the floor for everyone else. Still, a little high for a one-dimensional player with a bad back.

12. New Orleans Hornets - Hilton Armstrong - Not much to say about this one. We pretty much know what Armstrong can do - block shots and rebound, and what he can't do at this point - contribute much if anything offensively. But hey, if you're looking for a good defensive center, Armstrong's the best option in this draft after Shelden Williams.

13. Philadelphia 76ers - Thabo Sefolosha (PICK MADE FOR CHICAGO) - After this pick was made, and I thought it was for Philly, I became almost depressed (which my sister can definitely confirm!!), but then immediately brightened up when I found out they made the pick to trade it for #16. I'll admit I don't know a lot about Thabo, but I think Brewer would have been the better option.

14. Utah Jazz - Ronnie Brewer - I really like this pick for the Jazz. They're a solid team now, but Brewer should provide nice athleticism, defense, and scoring for them. A backcourt of Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer to go along with a nice frontcourt (Kirilenko, maybe Boozer, Okur), and the Jazz are once again on track for the playoffs.

15. New Orleans Hornets - Cedric Simmons - I would have thought New Orleans would have gone with Rodney Carney here to provide Chris Paul with another running mate, but they decided to go big again. With PJ Brown aging, and David West already in place, the Hornets will have some great depth and talent in the frontcourt after drafting Armstrong and Simmons.

16. Chicago Bulls - Rodney Carney (PICK MADE FOR PHILADELPHIA) - I was so close to getting my wish, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. But I'll admit, if you had told me before the draft that the Sixers would get Carney, I wouldn't really have been disappointed. Carney is potentially a lockdown defender, a "world-class athlete" (thanks Jay Bilas), and a pretty good shooter. Sure, he has shortcomings - he doesn't have much of a midrange game and he's not all that great at creating his own shot off the dribble, but paired up with Andre Iguodala, and you're looking at one of the most athletic wing combos in the NBA. Keep AI around, and now this is a real fun team to watch.

17. Indiana Pacers - Shawne Williams - I think Williams has the potential to be a nice player in time here, but I'm puzzled as to why they passed on Marcus Williams. Jamaal Tinsley is not a good PG, and Marcus Williams would have been a nice fit, especially since the Pacers took Danny Granger last year. Regardless, Larry Bird said he thinks S. Williams can develop into a 4, and if he can, then it's a better pick. Although the Pacers did just love Peja to free agency, so this is not a bad pick by any means, but I think Marcus would have been a much better option.

18. Washington Wizards - Olexsiy Pecherov - I don't know much about him, except that he's big, talented, and can hit from outside. I'm not sure if he'll be ready to play this year or not, but with no real glaring needs (except maybe a center), not a bad pick by any means. Although he does kind of look like he's on some type of hard drug.

19. Sacramento Kings - Quincy Douby - Another team that could have potentially used Williams, but I do like Douby, especially since Bonzi Wells is likely gone. Douby looks a lot like Leandro Barbosa to me, a combo guard that can score in bunches off the bench. And we saw how effective Barbosa was off the bench this year for Phoenix. I like the pick.

20. New York Knicks - Renaldo Balkman - Pass. Sometimes Isiah makes it too easy.

21. Phoenix Suns - Rajon Rondo (PICK MADE FOR BOSTON) - Ok so let me get this straight, the Celtics trade for Sebastian Telfair before the draft, they already have Delonte West, and now they take another PG? I heard a rumor that they might have gotten this because Philly liked Rondo, and it's more things that Boston could have in a potential trade for Allen Iverson, and my only reaction to that is: Please God no. Rondo does some things well: like play defense, rebound as a guard, and get to the hole. But he can't shoot. Like at all. And that's pretty important.

22. New Jersey Nets - Marcus Williams - Great, great, great pick for the Nets. With Ason Kidd (he's still got no J) slowly dying at PG, an eventual successor/guy to reduce Kidd's minutes was needed, and the best PG in the draft fell into their laps. Other than the fact that Williams obviously won't be starting, it's a great situation for him - uptempo team, great wing players etc. That's exactly what Williams thrives in.

23. New Jersey Nets - Josh Boone - A little high for Boone, but he's what the Nets needed. A good defensive and rebounding big man. I'm not a big fan of Boone, but I can't argue with the pick.

24. Memphis Grizzlies - Kyle Lowry - Great pick for the Grizz. Maybe the toughest player in the draft. Very good defensively, great rebounder for his size, and a guy that won't complain if he doesn't get too shoot all that often. Jerry West hasn't had the greatest drafts the past few years, but coming down with Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry is a pretty impressive haul here.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers - Shannon Brown - Another nice pick. Brown's another of those athletic guards, with good shooting range, and the ability to help Cleveland out right away. I might have gone with a PG here, because Snow/Jones combo isn't all that frightening, but Cleveland has to be pleased that Brown fell to them here.

26. LA Lakers - Jordan Farmar - As a UCLA fan, I love Farmar's game and what he does, which is why I like this pick for LA. The numbers don't really jump out, but he's a solid, heady player and good leader who will do what he has to to win. Last year the Lakers had Smush Parker at PG, and that basically cost them the series against Phoenix. If Farmar can step in, he'll create depth in the backcourt and another option in the triangle.

27. Phoenix Suns - Sergio Rodriguez (PICK MADE FOR PORTLAND) - Ah yes, "Spanish Chocolate." The bad news is that he's not ready for the NBA year. The good news is that with Blake and Jack at PG (and Roy can step in there), he doesn't need to be. A nice value pick.

28. Dallas Mavericks - Maurice Ager - Ager's a nice player, but I just don't see how he's going to get minutes. With Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Adrian Griffin, and Marquis Daniels basically playing the same position as Ager, I'm hard-pressed to believe he has any shot at cracking the lineup next year.

29. New York Knicks - Mardy Collins - From Chad Ford: "Mardy Collins? He doesn't have a position, is a below average NBA athlete, and he can't shoot. And he's the Knicks' sixth combo guard. Let's just get it over with -- Isiah's getting an "F." I don't think the pick's quite that bad, but let's face it, this wasn't one of Isiah's best days.

30. Portland Trailblazers - Joel Freeland - Another guy with potential that the Blazers can just keep overseas for a while. For all the mockery the Blazers took from all the trades, I do like what they did.

Other quick thoughts:
  • Really like the Steve Novak pick for Houston early in Round 2. He's not athletic at all, but he can shoot the lights out, and when he's playing he should plenty of open looks with T-Mac and Yao.
  • How does a guy like Danilo Pinnock get drafted bu Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle do not? I'm as big on athleticism as anyone else, but Pinnock is better suited to contribute than more skilled players like Gansey or Pittsnogle? Really?
  • As a Sixers fan, I appreciate the deal for Bobby Jones. The Sixers was atrocious defensively last year, and Jones is a hard-nose defensive player. Can't have enough of those types of guys.
  • A lot of people really like the pick of Daniel Gibson to the Cavs at 42, but I'm not a big fan of Gibson. Not to harp too much about Gansey, but well, I didn't see much from Gibson that makes me think he's better than Gansey.
  • The other 2 second-round picks I thought were superb were the Clips taking Guillermo Diaz at 52 and the Nets taking Hassan Adams at 54. Both of these guys are talented, athletic, and can play on both ends of the floor, and both can contribute soon (especially Adams)
  • I think that I do think a lot more things about the draft, but by this point (actually that point probably came a long time ago) you don't want to read anymore. So I'll stop right now!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

NBA Mock Draft: The Lottery

I don't really have the time nor desire to do a full first-round mock, or even the full draft mock, but I'll go with the first 14 picks. Here they are, how I think it will wind up (presuming there are no trades, which is a very premature statement but one I'll make for the purposes of this post!)

1) Toronto Raptors - Andrea Bargnani - If they don't trade the pick, I think Bargnani is the guy, especially with the hiring of the GM of Bargnani's old team as the Raptors assistant. He's being compared to everyone from Dirk to Darko to Skita (all wrong), but he seems to be more like a Vladimir Radmanovic with a better inside game. I have no idea how ready he is to play right away, but he'll be a very nice player in the NBA with his inside/outside game.

2) Chicago Bulls - LaMarcus Aldridge - I think this pick will probably be either Tyrus Thomas or LaMarcus Aldridge, judging by everything I've read. I like Thomas more, I think Aldridge will be the pick, as he is the more "true" center and probably a little more ready to contribute on the offensive end, although Thomas is the more athletic player and better defender.

3) Charlotte Bobcats - Rudy Gay - As John Hollinger said in his chat, the fact that the Bobcats are looking mainly at Gay or fellow SF Adam Morrison is a little baffling, becuase Gerald Wallace was actually their best player last year, and he just so happens to play SF. I think Brandon Roy would be a great fit here, and while I'm not fully convinced they'll pass on Roy, Gay looks more and more like the pick here.

4) Portland Trailblazers - Adam Morrison - Morrison seems to be the choice here if he falls here, because he fits a need and he's the most popular player in the draft from a fan's standpoint. And he is a great scorer, but I'm not sure his all-around game measures up to being the #4 pick, but well, I have no say in it. LaMarcus Aldridge is also a possible pick here if he's on the board.

5) Atlanta Hawks - Shelden Williams - From all reports around the web, Williams is going to the Hawks, whether it's here or if it's involved with a trade. I'm not in love with this pick, and I think they should go with Marcus Williams, but S. Williams is a polished player, very good defensively (although he has a propensity to pick up fouls), and can contribute right away. Or at least, that's what Billy Knight will say.

6) Minnesota Timberwolves - Tyrus Thomas - Thomas does play basically the same position as Kevin Garnett, but I think the Wolves would really like Thomas to fall to #6. Both players are so athletic that I think you can player Thomas/Garnett at the 4/5 and not really give anything up on either end of the floor. Randy Foye is also a definite possibility here, as is Brandon Roy if he's on the board, but I think Thomas or Aldridge will be the pick if they're still on the board.

7) Boston Celtics - Brandon Roy - It's been pretty impossible to get a read on what the Celtics will do here, leading me to believe they'll just take the best player available, regardless of position. Roy would be a great fit, he can play multiple positions, and he's the most ready-to-play guy of anyone in the draft.

8) Houston Rockets - Randy Foye - The Rockets are praying for Brandon Roy, but I don't think you can be too disappointed with Foye. Foye's an excellent player on both ends. He can create his own shot (which can't be said for anyone in Houston except T-Mac), he doesn't have health problems (a la JJ Redick), and he's a good defender. With T-Mac and Yao, he wouldn't have to do a whole lot, and that'd be ok.

9) Golden State Warriors - Patrick O'Bryant - I've seen more talk lately about the Warriors possibly leaning towards taking a guy like Rodney Carney here, but I think they wind up taking O'Bryant. He's a bit of a project, but the Warriors do have Ike Diogu looking to get more minutes as well, so they wouldn't need O'Bryant to play a whole lot right away. His stock has been soaring, so much so that it wouldn't shock me if a lot of teams look at him as the best C prospect in the draft.

10) Seattle Supersonics - Cedric Simmons - I think the Sonics will be happy if either Simmons or O'Bryant falls to them here at 10. Simmons doesn't have a great offensive game, but he's a very solid defensive player, and very athletic, which is basically what Seattle needs, since they sucked defensively. I think this is a little high for Simmons, but it'd be a solid pick for the Sonics.

11) Orlando Magic - Ronnie Brewer - There's been some talk that the Magic might target a shooter like JJ Redick, but I think the multi-dimensional Brewer is too good to pass up here. Brewer's an excellent defensive player, a decent shooter, and he can play a couple different positions, which makes him a good fit on a young, emerging team like the Magic. Really nice pick here for Orlando if they make it.

12) New Orleans Hornets - Rodney Carney - Carney is not great at creating a shot for himself, but that's ok becuase he does lots of other things very well. He's a solid spot-up shooter, he can get out on the break better than anyone else in the draft, and he can be a lockdown defender. On a team with Chris Paul, this would seem to be a perfect fit.

13) Philadelphia 76ers - Marcus Williams - I've written at length about Marcus Williams, so if you read any of that, you'll know I think this would be a great pick here for my favorite team, and this would pretty much make the draft cool no matter what else happens!

14) Utah Jazz - JJ Redick - Talk has been more persistent about the Jazz going after a big man like Hilton Armstrong or Saer Sene, but in the end, I think they go with the shooter. I have grave doubts about Redick's ability to consistently produce in the NBA, but he is a great shooter, and for that reason, I think the Jazz will take him here with the final pick in the lottery.

And that's all for me. Of course, I'll have all my reactions up late after the draft, so be sure to check back then. For more draft coverage, check out Critical Fanatic's breakdowns of each position, and watch the draft on Wednesday night!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Putting my stock in Marcus Williams

Ok, you've heard me rave about Marcus Williams time and time again, so I figured now was the time to actually devote a whole column to him, to really put my reputation on the line!

Basically, I think he's going to be a really good player in this league, and one of the top 3 to come out of this draft. He is the #1 PG on Critical Fanatic's Board, but accoring to most mocks I've seen, he'll be coming off the board sometime in the mid to late lottery. Heck, Chad Ford has him falling all the way to 17! This, my friends, is not right.

Well, he he will be coming off the board sometime in the mid-to-late lottery, but I don't see why he should fall past Atlanta at 5.

Let me explain.

For one, and what I like most, is that he has unbelievable vision off the break. Playing with a bunch of studs at Connecticut, he always put the ball where it needed to be at the right time, which resulted in lots of easy baskets for guys. This showed in the stat line, as he averaged a NCAA leading 8.6 assists per game in 33.3 minutes a game. I wrote a long time ago (or at least it feels like a long time ago!) that Williams can control games without scoring, and that's why I think he's a lot like Steve Nash in many ways. He's such a good passer that often he doesn't even need to score.

Another thing I like is that the outside jumper is improving. He shot a solid 40% from beyond the 3-point line last year, and he's a great FT shooter, shooting 86% last year and being pracitcally automatic from there at the end of games. He's not a great finisher at the hoop at this point, but he's got a very nice floater, or touch shot in the line. In addition, he's got a nice pull-up jumper from the mid-range.

If you watched UConn in the NCAA Tournament, you know that it was often Marcus Williams that kept them in ballgames late with clutch jumpers and drives. He can get it done all 40 minutes.

Like everyone, he does have negatives. He's not that great off the right hand, but he's getting better there. His jumper still isn't that good yet. He's not a defensive standout. Most importantly, he can become turnover-prone and try to do too much if he gets into a half-court game. That's why I think it's important for him to get on a team that plays at a high tempo. And of course, there's always the baggage that he carries after the stolen laptop incident.

But mark it down, if he can stay out of trouble, he's going to be an excellent PG. And the prospect of him falling to Philly at 13 makes me positively giddy.

Monday, June 26, 2006

NBA Draft: Top 5 Prospects at Each Position

With the draft just a few days away, I figured it was good to do some other type of things other than just a mock, so here's my top 5 prospects at each position, rated by how I like them. I'll just list them, then explain after each position (rated by what position they would most likely project to in the NBA).

Point Guard
1. Marcus Williams
2. Randy Foye
3. Jordan Farmar
4. Rajon Rondo
5. Kyle Lowry

I've written before about how much I like Marcus Williams, so it's no surprise I have him at #1 here (heck, I might even devote a whole column to him in the next couple days if I'm abitious enough). Basically, I love his game and the mere prospect of him falling to Philly at 13 makes me giddy. After that, Foye's the guy. Foye's tough, a scorer, and should be able to handle the ball well enough in the NBA. After that, some guys (here's looking at you Chad Ford) love Rajon Rondo's game, but I like Farmar a little more, though I may be biased. I just think he's a much better shooter than Rondo, which is why I'd go with him. Rondo and Lowry are both hard-nosed defensive players without a great offensive game. I think both will be solid pros.

Shooting Guard
1. Brandon Roy
2. Ronnie Brewer
3. JJ Redick
4. Shannon Brown
5. Quincy Douby

Everyone's favorite Brandon Roy is up at top because of his versatility and all-around game. After that, I'd take Brewer over Redick because Brewer is much more athletic and about 50x better defensively, even though Redick's obviously got the better shot. I think Shannon Brown is athletic enough to overcome the fact that he's only about 6'3'', because he can score off the dribble or from the outside. At #5, I put Douby just barely over Guillermo Diaz because of the deft shooting touch.

Small Forward
1. Rudy Gay
2. Adam Morrison
3. Rodney Carney
4. Shawne Williams
5. PJ Tucker

Yes, it's true, I like Gay more than Morrison. Morrison's the better scorer, but he doesn't do anything else real well. He's not a good defender, and not a great rebounder or passer. I think Gay has the better all-around game, and I think money's enough of a factor to keep him motivated. At 3 and 4 I'll go with the Memphis guys, although I like Rodney Carney quite a bit more than Williams, because Carney is a very good defender. At 5 I go with the surprise PJ Tucker, who's undersized, but he's hard-nosed and can get to the basket.

Power Forward
1. Tyrus Thomas
2. Andrea Bargnani
3. Cedric Simmons
4. Alexander Johnson
5. Paul Millsap

Hard to project exactly where Bargnani will play, but I put him at PF, right behind Thomas. I think Thomas is the best player in the draft because of how quickly he's improved, how athletic he is, his desire, defense, etc. I saw the makings of an offensive game as we went along in the Tourney, and as long as he keeps developing in this league I think he's a cross between Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire. At 3 I have Cedric Simmons, who seems to be climbing faster than anyone in the draft in the past couple months. At 4 I like Alexander Johnson, a freak athlete for his size, who should be a very nice player if he can be more consistent. Rounding out I go with Paul Millsap barely over Leon Powe, in the battle of "Guys who's college resumes might make you think they're better than they really are."

1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Patrick O'Bryant
3. Shelden Williams
4. Hilton Armstrong
5. Sene Saer

I guess whether or not you consider Aldridge a center depends on how liberal your definition of "center" is, but that's where I've got him. Right behind him I like O'Bryant, who in time should be a better offensive player than Shelden Williams. Hilton Armstrong is a very solid defensive player even if he's not quite that effective offensively, and Saer is another guy that is working his way up the draft board steadily.

And there you have it. Now, I do realize that there should probably be more foreign guys in the mix here (especially at SF or PF), but I just don't know enough about those guys to rank them. Anyway, expect some more NBA Draft coverage over the next couple days, including a Mock Draft at least for the lottery. Once again, the Draft is Wednesday night.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

ESPN Sports Montage Video

I don't have much to write about today as I'm currently working on some other stuff (such as an NBA Mock Draft and another big project), so I'll leave you with a video. But before I do that, I will say that if you haven't seen highlights of that Argentina goal today that gave them the win, find it and watch it. I wasn't able to find it online yet, but I'm sure it'll be up somewhere soon.

Anyway, about the video. It's an Sports Montage basically with all of the big sports moments from the 1900s, se to "Dream On" by Aerosmith. Really, it's one of the coolest videos I've ever seen, and if you can spare a few minutes, you really need to watch it. So here it is:

Saturday, June 24, 2006

We move on to the knockout round

Pool play has officially ended, leaving us with 16 teams remaining the World Cup. Here's my picks (in bold):

First Round
Germany vs Sweden
Argentina vs Mexico
England vs Equador
Portugal vs The Netherlands
Italy vs Australia
Switzerland vs Ukraine
Brazil vs Ghana
Spain vs France

Germany vs Argentina
England vs The Netherlands
Italy vs Switzerland
Brazil vs Spain

Argentina vs Italy
The Netherlands vs Brazil

Brazil vs Argentina

Ok, so it's kind of a boring pick, but I like Brazil to win it all. Sure, they've looked slightly aloof at times, and seem to think they can turn it on whenever they want. I think they'll pick up the intensity, starting with their 3 2nd half goals against Japan. Ronaldinho is the best player in the world, and for all the talk about Ronaldo during pool play, he did score 2 goals in that final game. I like Brazil to take the final, 2-1.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The NY Knicks think Isiah Thomas is a better head coach than Larry Brown

Isn't this sort of the message we're getting here?

Well, it was made official today, as the Knicks fired Larry Brown as head coach as moved Isiah Thomas to that position. Makes a lot of sense. I know I'd rather have the guy that run the CBA, the Raptors, and now the Knicks into the ground coaching my team than one of the best coaches ever. But hey, you don't win 23 games with the highest payroll in the history of the league without trying.

Now, seemingly you would think the Knicks would be on the hook for the rest of Brown's contract, which is about $40 million. They, apparently, have other plans, meaning they say they don't want to pay him. Ok, so they'll be paying Allan Houston $19 million next year to be retired, Jalen Rose $17 million to continue to be a guy with his best year way behind him, they'll pay Maurice Taylor almost $10 million to probably get hurt again, and they'll pay Shandon Anderson $7 million to stay off the team. But when it comes to paying the guy they just fired? Heck no!

Personally, as a Philly 76ers fan, I heartily endorse locking up Isiah long-term. After all, I hear Wal-Mart's looking for a new CEO to run the company into the ground.

As for now, I'm with Will from Deadspin, I can't wait for the season to get underway.

You can win pretty much the best job ever

Ok, I'm not one to usually toot the horn for promotional stuff here on the blog, but I saw this the other day and it was really rather cool, and so I decided to pass the link along here.

Score the Ultimate Job at the 2006 All-Star Game

Basically, you register, and you're automattically entered to win:
  • Trip for two to the 2006 All-Star Game®
  • Tickets to all events, including the Home Run Derby
  • On-field press credentials
  • Chance to interview an All-Star player
  • Your personal All-Star Game® blog on
  • Plus $2,000 spending money!
And the best part about that, if you'd win you get to see (barring something stupid from Ozzie) the best starter in the MLB (Johan Cytana) and the best catcher in the MLB (Joe Mauer). What could be better than that?!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What to watch: Francisco Liriano vs. Roger Clemens

Now, I'm not going to presume that I have any influence in what you watch... but if I do, take my recommendation and watch the Twins vs. the Astros. Why? Well, you should always watch the Twins. But more importantly, Twins phenom Franisco Liriano takes on Roger Clemens in his season-debut.

If you didn't know (or if you haven't been reading this blog!), Liriano is close to being my hero already, as well, as being a legitimate Rookie of the Year Contender (and possible All-Star), despite not even starting all year. The numbers are very impressive: 6-1, 2.16 ERA, more than 10 K/9 innings. Let me put it this way, if Liriano had enough innings to qualify, he'd be leading the Majors in ERA.

On the other hand, you have 5 fingers. But even deeper than that, "The Rocket" will of course make his 2006 Major League debut. He wasn't overly impressive in his 3 minor league starts, but you might remember him well for his 7 Cy Young Awards (oh yeah, and he was robbed last year).

In other words, just watch the game if you can. If you regret, I'll give you your money back.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Your 2006 NBA Champion... Dwyane Wade (er, the Miami Heat)

First off, congratulations to the Miami Heat. Regardless of what I thought about some of the reffing and other things, Miami was definitely the better team in Game 6 and deserved this title, which they got with the 95-92 win. Some random thoughts on the way things progressed:

  • First, let's go to the obvious.... Dwyane Wade was incredible. Other than the final missed FT at the end of Game 6 that left the door open, he could do no wrong. 36 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists is not a bad way to end the series. One of the classic NBA Finals performances throughout for Wade.
  • After last series, I said that at the time, Dirk was the best player on the planet. After this series... not so much. Looking at Game 6, the numbers look pretty good - 29 points and 15 rebounds - but that doesn't tell the tale. Other than a few FT, he was simply uneffective from the field, missing lots of open shots. For as awesome as he was in the San Antonio and Phoenix series, he was just as disappointing here. Here's what I wrote in my NBA Finals prediction:
  • And maybe the biggest question of all... do the Heat have any chance of containing Dirk? Looking at it, I'm not sure how. Looking at starting lineups, Udonis Haslem would seem to be the guy starting on him. I'll tell you now that Haslem has no chance at sticking with Dirk on drives to the basket. Same with a guy like Antoine Walker, who's not exactly known for his defensive prowess. Off the bench, maybe James Posey? I would think Dirk could use his postup at the FT line game all day long there. I just don't see how they can stop Dirk. They don't have the athletes on the perimeter. But then, most teams don't.
  • As you can see, that thought was way off base, because Udonis Haslem was very good defensively in this series, and even contributed some offensively (more on that later). Hard to see that coming.
  • As far as on-the-floor-celebrations go, I was a much bigger fan of the Antoine Walker Shimmy than the Alonzo Mourning Hyperventilation. And somehow, I don't think I'm alone in that.
  • As TrueHoop wrote in the Game 6 live-blog, I was really looking for a potential Game 7 between these teams. But then, Jason Terry decides to go 7/25, take way too many 3-point shots (2/11 from the game), and miss all of them, including the last one. Terry had a great first 5 games to this series, but man, that was awful. And this is a guy that had hit loads of big shots over the past couple years for the Mavs.
  • The second best player for the Heat in Game 6? Not "The Diesel", Zo Mourning and his 6 blocks, or even Antoine Walker (who had 14 and 11). It was Udonis Haslem. He scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but his value went beyond that. First, obviously, was his defense on Dirk, which was solid. But the more important thing was how he scored his points. In the 4th quarter, when Dallas played more of a zone defense, which left the middle wide open. Raise your hand if you predicted this before the game - Udonis Haslem was the guy that kept the Dallas defense honest with the mid-range game. Sure, Posey hit the big 3 in the corner, but Haslem was the most consistent (outside Wade) Miami Heat offensive player. I never thought I'd say that!
  • Marquis Daniels was the Maverick player with the biggest impact on Game 6. Enough said.
  • Like Mighty MJD, I agree that the reffing should not come away as the story of the series. It was subpar at best, but hopefully the prevailing theme from the series will be Dwyane Wade's dominance.
  • I've seen like a million links to this already, but if you haven't read Bill Simmons' latest column, do yourself a favor and go read it now. As usual, good stuff from the Sports Guy.
  • By the way, if you need any Heat Title gear, well, you can get that already.
  • And so ends what was a great season and great playoffs for the NBA. For what it's worth, I'm not sure I agree with Simmons entirely that this series will set the NBA back (other than maybe the officiating drawing some casual fans away). If anything, I think a lot more people to be watching to see what guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can do. I know I will.
Until next year, you stay classy NBA.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Wonderful Weekend in the Wide World

I apologize for not posting earlier, but I can explain. I got back from my mini-vacation very early Monday morning, and then I had to work late Monday afternoon. Then, as I'm about to get off work, I get asked if I can stay a little later because we were really busy. So in other words, I didn't get back until about 2 AM, and now I'm writing. Don't think I forgot about you guys!

Anyway, bad alliteration aside, it was a very nice weekend in the wide world of sports, with the NBA Finals, World, lots of baseball, etc. Let's get it started off right, with Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

I must confess I was not able to watch any of the first 3 quarters of the game, but thankfully, I did get to see the 4th quarter and OT. In other words, all the good stuff. Basically, it was everything you'd want from a basketball game. The stakes were enormous, the great players were making plays, the coaching was good, the intensity was there... what a perfect setting.

The star of the game, obviously, was Dwyane Wade. In a game where he did not have his best jumper (only shot 11/28 from the field), he still found a way to score 43 points by setting an NBA Finals record by going 21/25 from the line, including the 2 biggest ones with 1.9 seconds left.

For the Mavs part, Dirk Nowitski once again had a tough go about it, but did make some big plays, including the assist to Dampier near the end of regulation and then the jumper to put Dallas up 1 with about 9 seconds left. But other than that, it wasn't a great game for him. He scored 20 points and had 8 rebounds, but once again he missed a key FT. The best player for the Mavs, yet again in this series, was Jason Terry, who managed to get 35 points. Although, much of the credit for that goes to Gary Payton, who is just not a good on-the-ball defender at this point in his career.

Now, about the reffing. First off, let me say I agree with the refs that the Mavs should have been assessed that timeout. To me, it looked like Howard signalled the timeout more than once as he was walking toward the bench, which would mean he wanted the timeout now. Maverick Moneyball has Howard's side of the story, but to me, this isn't even all that debateable. Avery obviously didn't want the timeout there, but it was called.

However, I wasn't quite so fond of the reffing during the play. First off, Dwyane Wade should have been called for a backcourt violation. There's no going around this. The video evidence is there. He was established in the frontcourt, and jumped into the backcourt as he catching the ball. No debate about that. Now, about the foul. Personally, I'm of the opinion that in that situation, that is not nor should it be called a foul. It was ticky-tack at best. And here's my best evidence - even Hubie Brown was skeptical. I think that's the first time throughout these playoffs that I've heard Hubie voice anything less than full agreement with a foul call. And that's evidence enough!

Anyway, the bottom line is the Heat win 101-100, so the home team has won every game. This is a trend the Mavs hope continue, as Games 6 and 7 will be in Dallas. And yes, that's a prediction. Mavs aren't done yet.

The other big story, of course, at least in this neck of the woods, was USA holding out hope to advance in the World Cup after they tied Italy 1-1. Ok, so there's still a lot of doubt about the officiating, but the important thing is that with a U.S. win over Ghana couple with an Italy victory over Chech, the USA can advance to the knockout round. One thing is certain, I'll be up early Thursday morning watching. And another thing is pretty certain, we might be seeing more soccer games on the primetime channels after the US/Italy game on ABC did well in the ratings.

The most important thing of the weekend, of course, was that the Twins won 7 in a row to get back to .500 at 34-34. They're still a long ways out because the Tigers have been doing rather well, but this is a start. I must admit I don't write too much about the Twins here (well, probably more than most people want!), but for more Twins action, you can always check out the new blog: Thank You Brian Sabean.

That's all for me. Don't get hurt jumping on the bandwagon, new Dwyane Wade followers.

Friday, June 16, 2006

See you next week!

Let me apologize in advance to my one reader (whoever you are), and let me say that I'll be gone for the weekend! I believe that this will actually be my longest break for the blog since I started up, which means hopefully the traffic won't completely die!

I promise I'll be back next week, until then, go U.S. on Saturday, go Twins, and a thanks to all my readers, because you're the people that makes writing here fun.

Never bet against Dwyane Wade

Well, it's one thing to be wrong. It's another to be dead wrong. And that's what I was when I predicted Dallas would win Game 4 in Miami. Instead, Miami cruised to a 98-74 win.

Before I go any further, let me give credit to Steph from Steph Surfing, who made the following comment on my post yesterday:

I don't know...somehow I got this feeling like Miami is gonna run away with the game tonight. I'm not really a Miami guy, but I feel like these playoffs are all about momentum and clearly Miami has something going for them after the last game.

Well done, because that's about what happened. Dwyane Wade scored 36 in 40 minutes. The Diesel scored 17 and had 13 rebounds. And they had some role players step up, as James Posey had 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and Antoine Walker chipped in 14.

Add all of this along with a subpar (to put it kindly) game from the Mavericks, and that's why we get the 98-74 final. Dirk was 2/14 from the field. Stackhouse scored 16 off the bench, which is nice, but the only problem was that it took him 18 shots to do it. 31.6%? 3/22 from downtown? It's a wonder the Mavs even kept it within 24.

So yes, I must admit that I was dead wrong. It's amazing how much better the Mavs looked than the Heat in the first 2 games, only to have the opposite be true in Game 4. Hopefully we get back to the close games we've been used to from these playoffs once we get to Game 5 on Sunday night.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mavs/Heat Game 4 Prediction

First off, I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.

Now that I got that out of the way, let's move on to Game 4 of the NBA Finals, with the Mavs currently sporting a 2-1 advantage. As you know Dwyane Wade was pretty much perfect in Game 3, allowing Miami to have a reasonable shot in this thing.

But I'm not convinced.

Ih sure, I believe in the Power of Wade, but consider that their third best player (by far) is Antoine "I'm a Volume Shooter" Walker, and after that you can have your pick of "White Chocolate", James Posey, or Udonis Haslem. That's doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Which is why I like Dallas in Game 4. Considering that the Heat were in front of a pumped home crowd in a must-win game, with their supserstar having an off-the-charts game, and they only won by 2 and got a little luck from Dirk missing a free throw. Don't get me wrong, they deserved this victory, but that's a lot of things happening for a 2-point win.

So what do I see in Game 4? Well, we'll see more of the same defensively on Shaq, especially if no one else (other than Wade, of course) steps up. If Jason Williams or James Posey can hit a couple 3s early things change, but nothing they've done so far leads me to believe that'll happen.

Dallas - 97
Miami - 90

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gary Payton made a jumpshot.

That's pretty much the storyline of the game. At this point, I don't care when GP makes a jumper, and I don't care the situation, I'm going to applaud every time Gary Payton is still able to make a jumpshot. Case in point, Payton is shooting 22% this series, while scoring 1.3 points per game in 22 minutes per game. I think the fact he made a jumper is more significant than the Heat winning the game! But I digress.

The other big story, of course, was that Dwyane Wade can be pretty much unstoppable. 42 points, 13 rebounds against an athletic, solid defensively Mavs team? Unbelievable. Combine that with some actual help from his teammates (3 others in double figures), and we have a series again. Gatorade Dump says this is one of the best efforts in NBA Finals history during his live blog, and well, it's hard to argue with those numbers and the 4th quarter performance.

Dirk once again led the Mavs with 30 points, but he missed the FT that counted. Which was quite a surprise. He's a 90% FT shooter, and he's been clutch throughout the playoffs. I suppose he was due for a miss, but I don't think that'll make him feel any better. Regardless, I'm sure he'll be able to put it behind him and get ready for Game 4 in Miami.

The good thing for Miami? They made this a series again. The bad thing for Miami? If Wade doesn't do something like this in Game 4, then once again the series is just about over.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

USA loses to Czech Republic; Big Ben hurt in motorcycle crash

If you follow sports at all, these were pretty much the stories of the day (unless, I guess, you follow hockey). Anyway, these have probably been rehashed a fair amount, but I'll give my word and hand out some links to some guys who are doing to same and probably doing it better than me.

First, the World Cup. How disappointing. All this talk about how this was the best U.S. team ever, and how Czech was good but old, etc. And what happens? Chech scores a goal in the first 5 minutes. First off, what's a 6'7'' guy doing playing soccer? Second off, isn't it probably good to put a little pressure on the guy passing the ball? But I digress.

Now, I'm not a soccer expert by any stretch of the imagination, but from my POV, the player of the game was Pavel Nedved, the 34 year-old who apparently came out of retirement just to help the Czech in the World Cup. He controlled the tempo of the game and just made some great passes.

As The Sports Pulse writes, this was probably the worst possible outcome for the U.S. They're just getting momentum, getting more confidence, etc. and they get outplayed badly by the Czechs. Don't get me wrong, Czech Republic is obviously a great team that should make a deep run, but it's got to be a tough pill to swallow for the U.S. to have all this hype, all this waiting after the quarterfinal run in 2002, and then come out and get beat 3-0.

The other story of the day, of course, was about Ben Roethlisberger getting into a motorcyle crash, not wearing his helmet, and suffering serious injuries. As Deadspin reported, the debate about Roethlisberger riding the motorcyle isn't really anything new, but now, well, it came back to bit him.

Jason from CF has no sympathy for a guy riding a bike and not wearing a helmet, and that's a good point. First off, I really have no idea why a pro athlete would be riding a motorcyle at all, especially after the things that happened to Jay Williams, Kellen Winslow, and others. Second off, riding without a helmet is just stupid. It doesn't matter how good of a driver you are, chances are, there's a bad driver someone else that could hit you. And while I don't know exactly who's fault this was, I'd say that's what happened.

The injuries are pretty gruesome to read about - broken nose, broken jaw, missing teeth, lacerations to the back of his head, and damage to his knees (not sure how series that is yet).

Apparently, even Terry Bradshaw was smart enough to tell him not to do ride motorcyles - especially with no helmet - while he's still in the middle of his career. And let's be honest, if Terry Bradshaw's smart enough to know that, everyone should be smart enough to know that.

All kidding aside, hopefully Ben gets well and these injuries aren't as serious as they sound. He's a bright young star in the NFL, and you always hate to see something like this happen.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Mavs run away with Game 2

2/5 FG. 5 points, 6 rebounds in 28 minutes. I think that pretty much does a good job of summing up Game 2.

If you don't know, those happen to be Shaq's numbers. Yes, the most dominating big man of his era, the most quotacious player in the League, being shut down in an NBA Finals game.

Let me put it this way - when Erick Dampier is outscoring The Diesel, that's usually going to be trouble for the Heat.

How did the Mavs do it? Well, constant double teams helped. Add on another poor performance by Shaq from the FT line (1/7), not much help in the way of role players, and this game wasn't even as close as the 14-point margin would indicate.

Dirk was Dirk, scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds for the Mavs. Jason Terry didn't have quite the impact that he did in Game 1, but he didn't need to. He still ended up with a nice, efficient game to go with his 16 points and 9 assists.

Dirk scored 26, Stackhouse scored 19, Terry scored 16, Howard had 15, and Harris had 11 points for the Mavs. And this really illustrates the difference in these teams. In Game 2, Shaq scored 5 points, Wade was 6/19 from the field, and the Heat got creamed. In Game 1, Dirk and Howard struggled for Dallas, and they still won by 10.

Before the series I predicted Dallas in 6 because of their speed and depth, and for the most part, I think I was right. The only wrong part was that it doesn't look like it's going to take these Mavs 6 games to finish Miami off, not the way they're playing.

Because as Maverick Moneyball says, they're making this look easy. Shaq may transform into his old self for a game or two in this series, but the fact remains, Dallas is just too deep, too fast, and too balanced to lose to Miami.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Weekend Link-O-Rama

We had some exciting sports happenings on Saturday, mostly in the form of the World Cup, but since I know next to nothing about soccer (although I did watch what I could of Argentina/Ivory Coast, and it was really entertaining), I won't bore you with my thoughts. So here's some good stuff to read while you wait for the NBA Finals to resume!

The ArmchairGM has some grades up for day 1 and 2 of the World Cup, which is nice if you're just looking for a quick summary of what's been going on so far.

Barry Bonds the 10th most popular athlete? We tend to agree with MJD over at Deadspin about that... that poll is not so good.

Sportolysis has what you're looking for (if you're looking for World Cup or French Open stuff). With nice, easy to read updates, he's where I'm going to for some nice World Cup updates.

The Sports Pulse will also be a source of World Cup news, as he's also pretty excited for the game (as if you can't tell).

Sometimes, I wish Johan Santana or Francisco Liriano could start every game for the Twins. Maybe then they wouldn't be giving up 9 runs in a game. *bangs head on wall*

Maverick Moneyball has links for everything concerning the NBA Finals, including predictions, postgame commentary, etc.

Finally, the affiliate sponsor BabyBoomerTrips is always there for your needs!

Great sports stuff coming up in the next week! We have the NBA Finals continuing, the World Cup going on (with USA playing Monday morning), as well as the Super Regionals of NCAA Baseball heating up. Should be a great week in sports!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The best catcher in the MLB? 23 year-old Joe Mauer

At age 23, his 3rd year in the MLB, one thing is clear about Joe Mauer - he has become the best all-around catcher in the MLB.

The proof is in the pudding. With a batting average of .384, he leads the MLB. After Friday's game, he has a .984 OPS, which is almost .100 points better than any other catcher in the MLB. That number is also #8 in AL.

His homerun power is not great at this point - he has 5 HR this year and is on pace for 14, but he has hit 117 doubles, which puts him at 7th in the AL, and on pace to hit 49 for the year. Showing his athleticism, he's even gotten 6 SB this year. He's got a great eye at the plate, with 24 BB against 21 K, which has his OBP sitting at .440, #3 in the American League behind Jason Giambi and Travis Hafner.

Defensively, he's thrown out 11 of 27 base stealers for a 40.7% clip, which is 5th in the MLB. He's got a RF of 8.02 (2nd in the MLB, which gives a little taste for how mobile he is behind the plate.

Put it all together, and at age 23, Joe Mauer is the best catcher in the MLB.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dallas gets first blood in the NBA Finals

Dirk was 4/14 from the field for 16 points. Josh Howard was 3/14 from the field for 10 points. But in the end, it didn't matter, as Dallas pulled out the stops defensively for a 90-80 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

With the score at 70-68 heading into the final frame, Dallas tightened up their D and held Miami to only 12 4th quarter points. Tey had built up an 82-72 lead and looked to be ready to bump it up to 12 when Jason Terry's dunk/layup missed, and 7-0 Miami run cut it down to a 3-point game, but it would get no closer. For more 4th quarter goodness, Give Me The Rock liveblogged it.

Despite the missed layup for Terry, he carried them offensively in Game 1, with 32 points on 13/18 shooting, including 4/7 from downtown. They also got a nice contribution off the bench from Jerry Stackhouse, who had 13.

For Miami, the story was missed FT and no help from the bench. On the FT part, only two Heat players took trips to the line, and they were Shaq (1/9) and Dwyane Wade (6/10). 7/19, 36.8%. That right there was more than the final margin. Off the bench, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, and James Posey combined for 2 points in 49 minutes. And those 2 came from James Posey, who was 1/3 from the field. Uh yeah Shaq, looks like you're going to need a lot more than 17 points and 7 rebounds to win games here.

On a final note, I said my only complaint about the NBA Finals was that they were on ABC instead of ESPN, and apparently someone else agrees with me. From The Mighty MJD:

And I’d also like mention real quickly… if any of you find yourselves concerned about tuning in to the games early to catch some of ABC’s pre-game show… just don’t. Use that time to do something a little more informative and intelling, like heading to a nearby truckstop and reading the things that drunk truckers have scribbled on the urine-stained walls.

And on that note, Game 2 will be Sunday night in Dallas. Let's hope for a little more well-played game.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I must be losing my mind!

This is the realization that just came to me, when I realized that I'm actually pretty excited for the World Cup. Now, I'm not going to do anything crazy and starting watching MLS or anything like that (!), but in the past, you could lump me firmly in with the guys Sports Pulse is talking about here.

I've never really been a soccer guy, but maybe that was because I was never any good at it (I was more of a basketball guy), but after the World Cup run in 2002 by the U.S., my attitude has changed. The United States is not projected to get out of pool play, but now I'm looking forward to the games and thinking how cool it would be if they can get a couple upsets and advance, whereas in the past I honestly couldn't have cared one way or the other.

The Gatorade Dump calls is a crossroad for American Soccer, which is interesting. Sportolysis has also provided plenty of other World Cup links for your viewing pleasure.

But I do know what thing that makes this World Cup unique from all other World Cups... I actually care! And I never thought I'd really say that and believe it about soccer.

See you June 12th for the United States' first match!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

NBA Finals Prediction

Well, after many months, 3 great playoffs series, and the revitilization of the NBA, we're down to 2 teams. The Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat.

Mark Cuban and the Mavs are playing the disrespected card, while Pat Riley and the Heat know they haven't won anything yet, which makes for intriguing stories all around.

The first big storyline, how can the Mavs stop Shaq? Well, there's a couple ways. One, they've got the big bodies to bang with him down in the post, namely Desagana Diop and Eric Dampier. But the most effective way to take Shaq out of the game is to get him in foul trouble. Of course, getting someone into foul trouble is never as easy as it sounds, but the Mavs have the capability of doing this because they should be able to get to the rim all day against the slower Heat defenders on the perimeter, leaving them driving against Shaq, who's bound to commit fouls sometime on the defensive end. If they do that, it takes away the equalizer the Heat have.

The second question, how can the Mavs stop Dwyane Wade? After all, he's arguably even more dangerous than Shaq Fu. Once again, the Mavs have a multitude of options, a testament to their depth. Adrian Griffin will probably be back into the starting lineup (replacing Devin Harris), and will presumably start on Wade. But make no mistake, Wade will see plenty of Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels over the course of the series, along with whatever schemes Avery Johnson has up his sleeve. I have no doubt that Wade will get his, because he's just that good, but he'll be working for it.

And maybe the biggest question of all... do the Heat have any chance of containing Dirk? Looking at it, I'm not sure how. Looking at starting lineups, Udonis Haslem would seem to be the guy starting on him. I'll tell you now that Haslem has no chance at sticking with Dirk on drives to the basket. Same with a guy like Antoine Walker, who's not exactly known for his defensive prowess. Off the bench, maybe James Posey? I would think Dirk could use his postup at the FT line game all day long there. I just don't see how they can stop Dirk. They don't have the athletes on the perimeter. But then, most teams don't.

But the best matchup might be between the coaches. In each of the last two series, Avery Johnson has made huge adjustments (Devin Harris, Desagana Diop) which obviously have had huge impacts, and he has the roster to be flexible. Meanwhile, as TrueHoop says (he has the Heat in 6), Riley did something to bring this team together, and they're playing their best basketball at the most opportune time.

However, everything in this series for me points to the Mavs winning it. They have the best player on the court (right now, Dirk is beyond anyone else), they have the coaching, they have the depth at all the right positions (down low to guard Shaq, on the wing to guard against Wade), and they have the home-court advantage.

If Shaq plays like the did in Game 6 against Detroit all series, that's about the only way I think Miami can win. Well, that or Wade goes from great to Superman, and scores about 35-40 a game. But against the improved Mavs defense, I don't see it. These Mavericks are too fast, too deep, and playing too well right now.

NBA Finals Prediction: Dallas Mavericks in 6.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

2011 All-NBA Teams

I got this idea directly from the mighty mjd sports blog. He wrote about this idea a couple weeks ago, and I thought it was really cool, but it took me a while to finally get the time to write it. A lot of my picks are similar to his, but then we obviously have a lot of differences (as you'll see). I tried to keep the positions as best I could, but some maybe be a little off.

First Team

PG Chris Paul - Tough call early on, but I think Paul is the best PG of the future. The jumper needs work, but that's true for most rookies. He still can score, he's a great passer, he's unselfish, and he doesn't turn it over. His 3.34 A/T ratio was 6th in the NBA last year. Also snagged 5 boards a game, which is nice to get from a guard. Add in the fact that he nearly led his team to the playoffs as a rookie, and well, here he is.
SG Dwyane Wade - Does it all. Averaged 27 points per game, over 5 rebounds, and nearly 7 assists as a 2 guard. He's a solid defender, very athletic, and he shot nearly 50% from the field this year. By 2011 (actually, even earlier than that), I suspect he'll be the 2nd best player in the NBA behind the next guy.
SF LeBron James - We all know about him, so I'll be brief. Most athletic player in the NBA. Best finisher at the rim in the NBA. Great passer, solid rebounder, and always gives maximum effort. He's got to improve his jumper some more, and become a better on-the-ball defender, but those are small complaints in comparison to everything that he does so well.
PF Dwight Howard - Just an absolute monster on the glass, and he can't even drink yet. His 12.5 rebounds per game were second in the NBA. Improving offensive game, upping his scoring average by almsot 14 points a game in his second year. Explosive around the rim, shoots a great percentage (53% last year). Oh yeah, did I mention he's only 20 years old?
C Yao Ming - He gets ragged on a lot for some of the things he doesn't do, but the truth is, he's a great player. Upped his scoring average each of his first 4 years, scoring over 22 per game last year. Feathery touch around the basket, and he's almost too unselfish at times. Not a great rebounder, but grabs over 10 a game down there. At times he's unstoppable down low, and when he get that consistency down, he'll be even more of an unstoppable force down low.

Second Team

PG Gilbert Arenas - I had a very tough time choosing between Arenas and Paul for the First Team PG spot, but went with Paul there, but that's no slight to Gilbert. He's a great scorer, averaging 29 per game last year. He's a solid distributor with 6.1 assists a game, but he was #1 in the NBA last year in turnovers, which is ultimately why I took Paul over him. Best second round pick ever. That sound you hear is Warriors fans trying to stick their head in an oven.
SG Kobe Bryant - Obviously he showed us all the things he can do with the vastly different styles of play in the regular season and playoffs. Unbelievably skilled, and should be entering his prime now. He showed during the season that he can score lots of points on anybody, but then showed during the playoffs that he's a great passer. Tough call between him and Wade, but I suspect that in 5 years when Kobe's lost a step Wade will overtake him, but Bryant will still be a star.
SF Carmelo Anthony - Looking beyond his poor performance in the playoffs, he was one of the most improved players in the NBA last year. He learned to be more consistent last year, and got to the hoop more (nearly 150 more FT last year than in 2005). The results? An increase in scoring and lots of game winners. He needs to help more on the boards, and he needs to get better defensively, but don't forget, he only just turned 22.
PF Dirk Nowitski - Along with Kobe, the senior member of this group, but I believe he's taken the next step this year to become to more complete, superstar player. Unbelievable shooter, whether he's taking a running three or a fadeaway from the elbow. Not a great defensive player, but he's improving under Avery Johnson. Always been a good rebounder and good passer. Doesn't rely so much on athleticism, which is why he'll still be very good in 5 years.
C Greg Oden - Obviously the most controversial pick here, but he projects to be a star player. From all reports, he's a great rebounder, great defensive player, very good inside scorer... the only question marks are that he hasn't played against great competition. Let me put it this way, I'd be more surprised if he's not on at least the All-NBA Third team than if he's on the All-NBA 1st Team.

Third Team

PG Shaun Livingston - I absolutely love Livingston's game. He a tall PG, at 6'7'', ut he's quick enough to guard the small point guards (such as Steve Nash during the playoffs), which gives him the potential to be very good defensively. Offensively, he's very quick, good off the dribble, a great passer, and pretty unselfish. He's not a very good shooter right now, but he's only 20 years old, and his physical skills are so good I'll give it a pass for now. As a scrawny guy coming off the bench to play 25 minutes a game, he averaged 4.7 RPG in the playoffs.
SG Kirk Hinrich - If you would have told me I would put Hinrich on a list like this when he was coming out of college, I would have told you that you were crazy. But the more I watch Hinrich, the more I like him. He's a good scorer at 15.9 PPG, a good passer at 6.3 APG, and he takes care of the ball. But he's also a very good defensive player. He's always in the right spot, which makes him so good even if he's not overly athletic. I love his game, and he's the forgotten 5th man from the 2003 Draft (taken 7th overall).
SF Boris Diaw - Ok, so he's not really a SF. I admit, I had to lie a little to fit him in. At age 24, he does a little bit of everything. He can score down in the post, he can hit the midrange jumper, and he can take bigger guys off the dribble (just ask DeSagana Diop). But he's also a good rebounder, and a great passer who always finds the open man. He's an efficient weapon, and too good to leave off.
PF Amare Stoudemire - The hardest player to project because of the injury. If he's fully healthy like he was before the knee injury, he's probably on the first team over Dwight Howard (or Yao, if you consider him a center). However, there's no way of telling how he'll be when he's back. Microfracture surgery has diminished Jason Kidd's skills (although he's still a good player because of his other skills), and Stoudemire depends more on his athleticism than Kidd does. I think he'll still be a great player when he comes back, but I'm not sure if he'll have quite the explosiveness, which is why I put him here.
C - Chris Bosh - Ok, so maybe he's not officially a center, but you get the idea. He's too good to leave off. He can score in the post or in the midrange, he's a solid rebounder, and he's excellent when he gets to the line. And the best part? He's still only 22, despite having 3 quality seasons under his belt. Last year was the first of many All-Star games for this guy.

So, how does it look? Am I way off here? What changes would you make?

Monday, June 05, 2006

My only complaint about the NBA Finals...

... is that it's on ABC instead of TNT. Now, it's done like that for obvious reasons, but count me in among the many (read: everyone I know) that prefers TNT's coverage to ABC or ESPN's coverage.

Let's start with the in-game coverage. For starters, let me say that I do like Mike Breen and Hubie Brown. Sure, Hubie's old, he speaks in 2nd person, and there has never been a foul or timeout he disagrees with. However, he's knowledgeable, and he'll tell you what's going. Breen is solid all-around.

But the trio of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, and Doug Collins was superb in the Western Conference Finals, I though. Marv is great at carrying the game, and he's funny. Steve Kerr is the best color man in the business. He well-spoken, funny, and has great insight. Doug Collins, while he was never really a good coach, is a solid 3rd man in the booth. I can live with Breen & Hubie, but I'll take TNT's trio everyday.

The postgame/halftime crews, well, there's absolutely no comparison. ABC usually has some combo of Dan Patrick, Mark Jackson, and Scottie Pippen, who are stiff and usually provide little substance. TNT's three-man crew of EJ, Kenny, and Charles is the best in the business. The NewRepublic Online calls it the best Sports Show on TV, and this is very true. The three have great chemsitry, they're not afraid to go out on the edge or criticize anybody, their smart, and they're really quite humorous. Sir Charles is laugh out loud funny, while Kenny and EJ are more subtle, which I can appreciate. Sometimes they bring in Magic Johnson, and while he doesn't really bring much, he's not awful. And in between all the basketball, they'll do things like have Charles Barkley try to hold his breath underwater.

Other than this small factor, we should be in for a great NBA Finals. Two different styles of play, lots of superstars, lots of good coaching. I just wish it'd be on another network.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How the West was won... defense?

It seems hard to believe, especially after Game 1, which I described as a "really entertaining pickup game." But in Game 6, the clincher for the Mavs, it was all about the defense.

After one half, the Suns were up 51-39, but they were basically getting any shot they wanted. In the 2nd half that changed, as the Mavs were better at guarding the pick & roll, got out on shooters, and made Phoenix work for every shot, limiting the Suns to 42 2nd half-points (only 15 in the 3rd).

For the second straight game, Dirk Nowitski led the offensive firepower in the 2nd half, but the MVP for the Mavs was undoubtedly Josh Howard. He was great on the glass with 15 rebounds, he scored 20 points, but most of all he was fabulous defensively. You may remember him taking over and guarding Steve Nash in the 2nd half, which shut down the pick & roll game (as outlined by Steve Kerr during the broadcast), but his height and quickness didn't allow any easy or open shots for Nash. But when looking at Howard's defense, don't discount him drawing Boris Diaw's 4th foul with a charge in the 3rd quarter, which bogged down Phoenix's offense even more.

And so it ends for the toughest team in the NBA Playoffs. Yes, a finesse team (that featured Tim Thomas no less!) was the toughest team. Consider this, by the end of the Mavs series they had a 7-man rotation. 1 of those 7 was Raja Bell, who was basically ineffective the final 2 games because of the calf injury. Another of the 7 was James Jones, who was just awful throughout these playoffs. Meanwhile, the Mavs are so deep that Devin Harris, who was the difference in the Spurs series, played only 12 minutes in Game 6. The Suns are an extremely talented bunch, but with the minutes that some of these guys were forced to play (and factoring in the pace of pla), it's amazing they were able to go this far.

TrueHoop said Phoenix looked tired, and that is true, they did. But I can't blame them for it. Raja Bell had to play 35 minutes on one leg, and he didn't score for the first 47 minutes of the game. And they were still ahead going into the 4th quarter.

So it's with remorse, Phoenix Suns, that we say goodbye to you. It was fun watching you this year. See you next year.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Heat will be playing in the NBA Finals

In a disappointing, not overly-competitive game, the Heat have advanced to the NBA Finals are their 95-78 victory over 2-time defending Eastern Conference Champion Detroit in Game 6.

Let's get one thing straight before we go any further - This series wasn't about Detroit "not showing up." It wasn't about Detroit thinking they could turn it on when they wanted. It was about Miami simply playing a lot better basketball than the Pistons did over 6 games.

Not that Miami, save for Shaq Fu and Jason Williams, played all that well in Game 6. Dwyane Wade was sick with the flu, and was only able to contribute 14 points on 6/15 shooting. Antoine Walker scored 11 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, and the bench combined to score only 13 points (though that was better than the Pistons' bench scoring 9). None of it mattered. Behind Shaq's 28, "White Chocolate's" 21, and the poor shooting from Detroit, Miami built a 5 point lead after the first quarter and it slowly kept building.

The Pistons were able to get plenty of open looks, but they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Collectively, they shot 33.3% from the field, but only 6/21 from downtown. The indiviual numbers weren't so impressive either:

Ben Wallace - 7 points, 7 rebounds, and getting abused down low by the Big Aristotle. But on the bright side, he was 3/4 from the charity stripe.
Rasheed Wallace - I suppose this was the fitting ending for this series for Rasheed. 4/12 shooting, 10 points.
Tayshaun Prince - Had been so impressive all series, but couldn't get it going today. 3/9 shooting, 10 points, 7 rebounds.
Richard Hamilton - Managed to score 33 points, but it took him 28 shots to do it.
Chauncey Billups - Over the past couple years earned a rep as one of the clutchest players in the NBA. In Game 6, however, he was 3/14 from the field (0/3 from downtown) for 9 points. He did have 8 assists, but that wasn't nearly enough to make up for the dreadful shooting.

So now the intriguing story for the Pistons - was this Ben Wallace's final game in Detroit? Chris Sheridan says Wallace is "coy" about his future. On Kevin Antcliff's site, you can already vote on what Detroit should do. Either way, Joe Dumars has put himself in an extremely precarious position. He already made one of the big draft blunders ever taking Darko (although I like Darko's potential), and then he shuffled him off for cap room to be able to resign Wallace. But that was before Wallace's postseason struggles. Personally, in hindsight, I think the Pistons would be a lot better off long-term if they had kept Darko and gotten rid of Big Ben after this year, but that's neither here nor there. Wallace is still a premier defensive player, but his offense is awful, and his game is predicated on energy, which is bound to slow down a little bit as he gets older. That and the fact that he's going to be possibly wanting $12 million a year to stay, well, that doesn't bode well for Motown. The problem now for Dumars is that there's no one on the FA market that could come close to replacing him.

As for the Heat, they now await the winner of Dallas/Phoenix, both teams that present big problems for Miami (more on that at a later date). But for now, they can soak up the sunshine for a couple days, as they prepare for their first ever NBA Finals Appearance.