Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Toronto Raptors 2009-10 Season Preview

After another abysmal season and rampant rumors that star forward Chris Bosh could bolt after this season in Toronto, it was clear that Bryan Colangelo needed to do something big in the offseason that stir some excitement and positive feelings about basketball in Toronto heading into the 2009 season.

Enter Hedo Turkoglu, who the Raptors brought in from the Orlando Magic to help rejuvenate the franchise. After nearly signing with the Portland Trailblazers, Turkoglu changed his mind and decided to make Toronto his home at the last minute. He helped the Orlando Magic make it all the way to the NBA Finals last season, and has plenty of big game experience that he can pass on to his new teammates. He is an excellent scorer and creator.

He has a good enough handle at 6'8'' to get to the lane and score, find open teammates, and make the right decisions. He is also a solid outside shooter, and hit plenty of huge shots late in ballgames over the past couple of seasons, both during the regular season and during the playoffs. While a lot of NBA experts feel that he might be a little bit overpaid compared to what other guys in the market were getting, he should make a big difference in the Raptors fortunes.

Of course, however, Chris Bosh is still the man, and he is one of the best players in the NBA. He is excellent both on the block and at the elbow, and can hurt you in a variety of ways. He has gotten better every year since being in that vaunted 2003 draft class. He is also in the last year of his deal, and there is a lot of speculation that he could leave the Great North for a place like New York or Miami, bigger markets where he would be seen more.

Rounding out the big 3 is Jose Calderon, one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. Since taking over the offense full-time after the departure of TJ Ford, he has been very steady. He's a great shooter from the outside, and one of the best assist men in the NBA. He won't ever be a star in the NBA, but he is a very good player, a PG that you can definitely win with. He should be able to find the scorers often, potentially making Toronto a potent offense.

While Toronto does not have enough to challenge the elite of the NBA's Eastern Conference, they should have enough talent with the acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu to be strong contenders to make it back to postseason play.

What are your thoughts on Toronto?

Philadelphia 76ers 2009-10 Season Preview

After the Philadelphia 76ers signed Elton Brand in the 2008 offseason, everyone expected them to become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, possibly challenging for a top 3 seed. That never materialized, as Brand's slower style did not mesh with the Sixers breakneck pace. The team struggled mightily out of the gate, only getting back on track once head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired and Elton Brand got injured, allowing them to fully go back to their fast style which made them so successful the previous year.

Due to financial constraints (in part because of Brand), there weren't very many additions in Philadelphia. The biggest story of their offseason was the departure of Andre Miller, the point guard and catalyst of the offense, who signed with the Portland Trailblazers. That gives the PG role to Lou Williams. He is an explosive player with the ball in his hands, but it is hard to know how he will perform as the playmaker of the offense. He great in transition or getting the ball to the basket (and getting to the free throw line), but it will be interesting to see how well he can facilitate.

Their best player is Andre Iguodala, who is solid offensively and defensively on the wing. He has come into his own over the past few seasons, and has a chance to make his first all-star game this season. He is not a great offensive player, but his athleticism allows him to fly around the court. He is an excellent finisher at the rim, and he is getting better and better shooting the basketball. Defensively, he uses his quickness to be a pest, making him one of the best wing defenders in the game.

The future of the team looks to be Thaddeus Young, a star in the making. Entering his third season, he is still only 21 years old, and made huge strides from year one to two. He averaged over 15 points per game at age 20, and looks poised to make another leap in year three. If he can continue to progress, then he can be the key cornerstone for the 76ers as they try to get back to their success from the 1970s and 1980s.

Down low, they will look to Mareese Speights and Elton Brand. Speights has a very high ceiling, as he was wildly efficient last season scoring and rebounding the ball. Elton Brand is a little harder to figure out. We know that when things are right, he can be one of the most productive players in the NBA. However, they have to fit him in their system, which was a huge problem last year. If they can, Philly will be right back in the hunt for a playoff spot.

What are your thoughts on Philly?

Denver Nuggets 2009-10 Season Preview

The Denver Nuggets were one of the biggest surprise teams in the NBA last season, finishing with over 50 wins and securing a trip to the Western Conference Finals before they finally bowed out to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. This was not at all what most pundits expected, especially when they made such drastic changes in the middle of the season, trading away Allen Iverson and getting back Chauncey Billups.

Billups turned out to be a perfect fit to add stablity and create a sense of unselfishness on a talented roster. With guys like Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, and Nene Hilario, a lot of talent was there, but there was no way to put it together with Allen Iverson running the point. That all changed with Billups. He added a new mindset to the team, and his experience winning a title in Detroit resonated with the rest of the Nuggets. The team took off after his arrival, and there was even some talk that Billups should get some MVP votes for the way that he helped turned the team around.

The most talented player on the team is Carmelo Anthony, who is easily one of the most talented scorers in the NBA. He can shoot the 3-ball, score on the block, or take the ball to the rim. He is an excellent midrange shooter, which makes him especially dangerous in crunch time. Over his career there have been some concerns about his maturity and leadership, but he took big strides in those areas last season, thanks to Billups and to his time on Team USA. He was also much more consistent defensively last season, an area of his game that he had not shown before.

JR Smith is expected to take a big leap this season, as they hope he will be able to consistently play a lot of minutes. He has the talent and shooting ability to be an excellent scorer, and they hope he can provide that every night, not just in spurts, as he has done for most of his career. Nene Hilario had a great season last year, and they hope he can keep his efficiency and rebounding ability. Kenyon Martin also rebounded to have a solid year, and he is a guy that sets the tone for them defensively with his intensity and athleticism.

The Nuggets should again be in the mix for a division title. It is hard to see them getting back to the Conference Finals with both Los Angeles and San Antonio in the Western Conference, but with a couple of breaks, they could be there. They should be a very entertaining team to watch as always under head coach George Karl.

What are your thoughts on the Nuggets?

New York Knicks 2009-10 Preview

It seemed like the Knicks went into the offseason with one goal - create as much cap space as possible for the 2010 offseason. With guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh expected to be available, the Knicks are putting all of their cards on the table that they will be able to sign one of those guys, preferably LeBron James. In the long-term, this is probably the right strategy, as there is no other real obvious fix to their problems.

However, that leaves their roster a bit thin once again as we head into the 2009-10 season. They have some nice pieces, but they don't appear to be ready to challenge for a playoff spot. There is one certainty, and that is that they will play fast under coach Mike D'Antoni. In his second season with New York, he loves an up-tempo basketball game with a lot of three pointers, which should make the Knicks one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. This might not translate into a ton of wins, but it's an improvement over the Isiah Thomas Era, which produced bad, boring basketball.

They have no clear star, but a few solid role players. Perhaps the best is David Lee, one of the best rebounders in the NBA. His offense is perfectly suited for D'Antoni's style, as he likes to get up and down the court. He does not have a lot of offensive skills, but he can get the job done in this offense. Nate Robinson is an exciting guy to watch. He can put points on the board in a hurry and pressures the ball well defensively. He didn't get a lot of attention in the FA market, however, which leads me to think he might always just be a good player on a bad team.

Wilson Chandler grew into his own last year, and has potential as a solid wing man. Guys like Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, and Larry Hughes are all solid players. They can be very solid bench guys on good teams. However, as they will be relied on a lot this year, they might be in a little over their heads.

If the Knicks have a star on the roster, it will likely be Danilo Gallinari. He showed flashes of being a very good player last season as a rookie, and they will need him to take more steps in his second year. He has a varied offensive game that they hope he can continue to develop, and he should flourish under D'Antoni. If he can grow and become a leader for the team, they might have an outside shot at reaching the postseason. If not, it will be another year simply spent waiting for the 2010 offseason for the New York Knicks franchise.

A few fantasy basketball sleepers

As with any fantasy league, the key to winning fantasy basketball is identifying sleepers who you believe will produce much more than their draft slot says that they should produce. Everyone knows about the stars that will come off the board near the top of the draft, but it is the sleepers that are taken later that will either win or lose the league for you. Here are a few of the guys that I am keeping an eye on in fantasy basketball drafts this season:

- Thaddeus Young - the third year man for the Philadelphia 76ers looks poised to take another big leap this season. Even though he will be entering his third season, he is only 21 years old. He made marked improvements in every area of the game, posting better scoring, rebounding, and shooting numbers. He looks like he has the talent to make a similar leap in year three, and could become a very valuable top 10 guy at his position, with expected boosts in scoring, rebounding, and 3-point shooting. Look for him as a solid performer in the middle rounds.

- JR Smith - He has a ton of talent at the 2 guard spot, and should continue to get the chance to showcase it after the departures of Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza. He is a great shooter that has the green light to fire whenever he has an opening, which makes him one of the most prolific three point shooters in the NBA. Starting in an explosive offense also featuring Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, he should get plenty of good looks in the Nuggets offense.

- Manu Ginobili - Everyone knows he is a great player, but he is sneakily one of the best in the NBA when he is healthy. He is an extremely efficient player. He can get to the basket and create easy baskets for himself, he is one of the best shooters in the NBA when left open (when should happen frequently in an offense with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Richard Jefferson), and he is a great free throw shooter. After struggling with injuries for the past couple of seasons, he rested up this offseason, and appears the be healthy for the first time in years. The hunger will be there, as the Spurs look poised to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy, so you know that he will bring it every night.

These are just a few college basketball sleepers that I see. By identifying them and a few more guys that you like on draft night, you could put yourself in position to have a great fantasy basketball season. Who are your fantasy sleepers?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009 NBA Offseason Reviews: Southeast Division

Heading into last season, everyone assumed it would be either the Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers that would represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Nobody told the Orlando Magic, however, and they made a surprise playoff run all the way to a series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, they weren't content to simply stand pat, and they made a couple of moves to try to make their team better. The biggest was the acquisition of Vince Carter, who will replace Hedo Turkoglu (who left via free agency). Carter had a great year last year, and should be an improvement from Turkoglu when it comes to outside shooting, defense, and athleticism. The Magic also signed big man Brandon Bass from Dallas, who should add some athleticism and beef to a front line that was sometimes think behind Dwight Howard. The Magic are again the favorites in the division and one of the favorites in the Conference.

After the Miami Heat made the playoffs, there was a lot of buzz that they might get a guy like Lamar Odom or Carlos Boozer, who would help entice Dwyane Wade to stick around after next season. However, the biggest pickup for the Heat was Quentin Richardson, who is solid though not a game-changer. They will hope that the improvement of guys like Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley will take them to the next level.

The Atlanta Hawks have slowly become the fourth best team in the East, simply by letting their talent grow and get better. Once again, they didn't make any big moves... their biggest was signing Joe Smith to add some depth to the front line. They will just hope the continued improvement of guys like Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams will help them challenge the big boys in the Eastern Conference.

The Charlotte Bobcats are still looking for their first playoff berth in franchise history. They traded Emeka Okafor, who has long been a centerpiece for them, to the New Orleans Hornets for Tyson Chandler. This will improve their defense and athleticism up front, but they will have to to find ways to make up for the offense lost. They are also a very young team, and we have to figure that Larry Brown will get them at least close to a playoff spot. Optimism is high that they could finally get over the hump.

The Washington Wizards struggled with injury problems all of last season, and wound up 19-63. The biggest thing for them is getting back a [mostly] healthy Gilbert Arenas, who is the center of the franchise when healthy. They added Randy Foye and Mike Miller from the TImberwolves via trade (the #5 pick), and added Fabricio Oberto to help the front line. If Arenas is truly healthy, then the Wizards believe they can contend for playoff spot, possibly even in the top half of the bracket.

2009 NBA Offseason Review: Central Division

The Cleveland Cavaliers owned the best record in the NBA at the end of the 2009 regular season, and they looked poised to deliver LeBron James his first championship. However, the team's weaknesses were exposed in a serious loss to Orlando. Namely, they couldn't stop Dwight Howard and they had a lot of trouble with the quickness of the forwards for the Magic. These were areas they needed to shore up in the offseason, and they appear to have made strides to do that.

The biggest move was the trade for Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns. If he can stay healthy, he should be an offensive presence on the low block, as well as be able to slow down Dwight Howard somewhat. Howard was too fast and strong for the Cavs bigs last year, and they hope O'Neal can stop that. On the wings, they signed Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, two plus defenders who will help slow down guys like Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu, guys who killed them in the playoffs last year.

The Chicago Bulls were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA last season, the rookie year for Derrick Rose. He will be called on to do even more this year, as the Bulls chose not to resign Ben Gordon, their leading scorer from last season. The onus will fall on Rose to be even more of a leader, as they will run much of the offense through him. He will need to be the one to create and bail them out as the clock winds down, a responsibility that fell on Gordon last year.

The Detroit Pistons snuck into the playoffs last year, but they made some wholesale changes. Gone are long-standing performers Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, and in are guys like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, completely changing the identity of the team. They should be able to put points on the board, but will they be able to stop people? Maybe not enough to make it back to the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers struggled to a 36-46 record last season, and they are trying to build around Danny Granger. They made a lot of low key moves, signing Dahntay Jones and Luther Head, and drafting Tyler Hansbrough. They are building slowly with youth and trying to hit singles with low-risk acquisitions. They might not be a playoff team yet but they should be improved.

The Milwaukee Bucks had an interesting offseason, sending forward Richard Jefferson to the Spurs in a cost cutting move and not resigning guard Ramon Sessions. They also will be looking to their young players to perform, and will likely let guys like Joe Alexanders and Brandon Jennings play big minutes. They won't be contending this year, so they will simply see what they have in their young talent, and their offseason aim seemed to be freeing those guys up for minutes.