June 29, 2011

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Top NBA Free Agents

By: Rick Jarrell

NBA Playoffs are over. The draft has been completed. What now? Free agency!

The looming collective bargaining agreement, set to expire June 30, is more than likely going to hinder the beginning of the free agency period. Hopefully the owners and players can hash out their differences in a relatively short time span, but we’re still going to be forced to talk about offseason moves, even though they can’t happen yet, slightly longer this year.

The 2011 NBA free agent class is nowhere near as heralded as last year’s barrage of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee. But there’s interesting players out, a few sure to sign max contracts.

Nene Hilario

Every team can use another frontcourt bruiser, and at 28 years old, Nene will surely garner at least a four year contract. Left behind in the midseason trade of Carmelo Anthony as the only remaining building block, Nene’s performance in the second half helped lead the team to the playoffs. Putting up 14 points and 7 rebounds a game, plus a block and a steal, could turn into a solid double-double provider night in night out on the right team. Plus at 6-11, 250 pounds, the man can play both the 4 and 5 positions.

The downside, which I actually see as an upside in some respect, is how Nene makes an impact. He’s a glass man – gets rebounds, tips balls to his teammates, and cleans up the mess. Running plays designed for him consistently is not likely to pay off. But his willingness to do the dirty work outweighs, and a backdoor layup is right up his alley.

Tyson Chandler

What a difference a year makes. A season ago, Tyson Chandler was deemed expendable by the Charlotte Bobcats after his worst statistical year and burgeoning knee problems. But the Dallas Mavericks took a chance that paid off. Chandler provided a key force near the rim during the finals, limiting the impact of Miami’s Big Three.

Chandler has a similar problem to Nene, to a greater degree, in that he is not offensive minded. Aside from rebounds and put backs, his value is on the defensive end. Blocks, steals, help defense, the whole lot. Chandler has readily admitted he likes defense, that’s where he belongs. Plus, even though it feels like he’s been in the ABA merged into the NBA, he’s only 28 years old. The knee may cause some concern, but someone (possibly the Mavericks), will take another chance.

Marc Gasol

The Memphis Grizzlies have stated they intend to resign their rising star. But after paying Rudy Gay and Mike Conley last summer and Zach Randolph a couple months ago, and uncertainty regarding salary cap rules, they may not have the funds left to make a deal. Gasol will surely have a high price tag. His sweet mid-range jumper (for which he does not jump) helped power the Grizzlies past the number one seed Spurs in the first round. Rebounding and defense come in the package, as well. But despite his size, don’t expect him to post up anyone on the block and back them down. Gasol is more effective on the move, using his mid-range shot and a variety of “trick” shots, in addition to put backs.

He’s the kind of player you’d love to see on your team. No one would have ever thought the “Pau Gasol trade,” where the Lakers and Griz swapped brothers years ago, would look like a decent move Memphis.

David West

A late addition to the bunch, and another front court player! West said this week he would test the NBA free agent market this summer, likely because of the constant rumors swirling around Chris Paul’s longevity in New Orleans (more Decision fallout!). Averaging a quiet 19 points and 7.5 rebounds for another season, West suffered a potentially career-threatening ACL injury before the playoffs. If healthy, he’s arguably at the top of this group (Gasol could be, too). But a serious knee injury for a 30 year old big man causes concern. He’ll probably get a decent sized contract, assuming he passes a physical, but the tail end of his contract may become an issue.

May 18, 2011

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NBA Draft Predictions

By: Rick Jarrell

Last night was the NBA Draft Lottery. Finallysomething to distract us from the incredible postseason basketball we’ve been subjected to so far (kidding). Pre-draft coverage is often over hyped, and the draft lottery is a great example. It’s not the actual drafting of players that may or may not (probably won’t) be superstars, but a random drawing of ping pong balls to decide who gets to gamble on the most recent highly touted players in hopes they can turn around a franchise. ESPN managed to drag a process that should have taken five minutes into a thirty minute “extravaganza.” But hey, it’s not as demoralizing as “The Decision,” and for those fans currently outside of the playoffs, it provides a small shred of hope.

With that in mind, rather than perform a mock draft, as most media outlets will do in an astonishingly redundant fashion, let’s take a look at different types of draft strategy and which lottery teams are likely to employ each one.

Draft for Potential

This strategy is nearly mandatory for those fortunate enough to win one of the top picks, especially when it comes to this year’s widely agreed upon weak draft. Most years, there seems to be a few players clearly above the rest, if not a single player perceived as the hands down top pick. For this year’s draft, that player is Kyrie Irving. Despite playing only a small portion of his freshman season at Duke, Irving is seen as the only sure NBA talent with potential to become a superstar. Expect the Cleveland Cavaliers, who those around the league say love Irving, to take him first.

After Irving, the draft becomes more of a mystery. And with such a shallow talent pool, I fully endorse any team taking a huge risk on an unknown like Bismack Biyombo. The likely best case scenario for a lot of these players is a strong rotational player, maybe a starter on a decent-good team. The odds are against any of this draft class leading a team to a championship, so why not take a risk? If you’re wrong, you get another high pick next year, with hopefully a better selection.

Draft Best Available

Selecting the best available in the draft is usually a strategy most commonly used by teams who need to improve in a lot of areas. Typically that includes the majority of the top end of the draft, and this year is no different. The Cavs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards all have multiple areas of glaring weakness. Where they’re slotted in the draft now, taking the most talented player is logical.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this strategy, whether or not the best available player would be redundant on the team. You can find time to play two players, even if they play identical positions. And you can’t count on one player staying with the team their entire career. They’ll either be traded or leave via free agency. So you can also use the “redundant” player as a trade asset. But with this draft, the best available is unremarkable, and this strategy may not be as strong as it would be in most years.

Draft for Need

Traditionally, you’d see teams that seem to be one piece away from a playoff appearance, or a playoff team who acquired a lottery team’s draft pick, in this position. But the team that would have fit this mold the best, the Los Angeles Clippers, traded their pick to the Cavs (a pick that defied the 2.8% odds to gain #1). The Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and the Houston Rockets could enact this strategy, but with the 11th, 13th, and 14th picks, respectively, in a poor draft doesn’t leave them with much option. The rest of the high lottery teams are in such disarray, they are likely to select either based on talent or best available. 

The one team that may use need-based drafting that could shake things up is the Utah Jazz. A playoff team a year ago, the team was uprooted midseason as they sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Netsand longtime head coach Jerry Sloan resigned shortly afterwards. Williams is a great player, but he wasn’t the entire team. There’s still talent on the team. But the front court is currently crowded with Paul Milsap, Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, and Derek Favors, who they received from the Nets. So despite having the third pick and the ability to select Williams or Kanter, the Jazz may go for a need and select a guard to pair with Devin Harris, such as Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Every year, there are a few draft day trades – either before a player is drafted, or right after the player is drafted. In general, the NBA is a constantly evolving mechanism. But with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire this summer, it’s going to be difficult for a team to makes any serious moves without knowing what the future holds. Also, with the lack of talent in the draft (have I said that already?), teams are even less likely to take a risk. If any of the teams with higher draft picks this year is offered a future draft pick, I think they’ll strongly consider. Having said that, the Rockets are a team that is always looking to make a move, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that holds true next month. The Wizards, looking for a sidekick to team with John Wall, may have fallen just short of being able to select a talented front court player, and may be open to a trade.

The NBA Draft is June 23rd. Until then, PLAYOFFS! It’s only getting better…