Sunday, June 21, 2009

The FU Pre-Draft Spec-tac-u-lar

For most Basketball fans, the time between the end of the Finals and the Draft can be a bit of a bore. For days on in, we hear about players' stocks rising and falling as every aspect of their beings are measured to determine whether or not that player deserves his name to be called by David Stern in a certain spot in the order. It's like roll call for prospective millionaires. Well, I'm one of those people that enjoys the pre-draft talk, and I was conversing with two brothers (literally) about June 25th while looking through old AAU books. They asked that I do something for the draft, and I will. I won't attempt to predict who goes where, because you can go to the various Hoops sites for that. Besides, the FD crew wrote an amazing one based on their FD-ness. (Note: read the picks before you criticize the order of their draft.) I'd rather give my assessment of the individual players using some of the basic categories, mixed with some...different ones, written in that high school yearbook nominations kind of way. If you're still with me, there's more after the random picture...

Best Scorer: James Harden, Arizona State. Crafty, bearded, and deceptively athletic, James Harden is this year's Brandon Roy. Most believe that because he isn't flashy that he won't pan out in the Association. But he should be a solid starter for years to come. His game isn't as polished as B-Roy's, but it's pretty close. Or maybe people don't dig that he wore a T-shirt. I did, even though he has nothing on this guy.

Best Shooter: Stephen Curry, Davidson. Done. Next.

Best Defender: Eric Maynor, VCU. The darling of March Madness in 2006 from VCU has played his way into the first round. He isn't rated among the elite point guards, but he definitely plays the best man-to-man defense—just ask Darren Collison and former Duke PG Syracuse QB Greg Paulus. Not the most consistent shooter, but he will effectively run your team and won't cost them a game.

Most Likely to Be Kevin Durant: Jonny Flynn, Syracuse/Stephen Curry, Davidson (tie). Mr. Durant was blessed with the opportunity to be in a situation in which he was going to a team that was in flux, with little talent, and a shifty owner. As a result, he was blessed with the opportunity to be The Man right away, and not have to defer to any veterans. Plus, he's really, really good. The same goes for Flynn and Curry in this draft. This title, like every draft pick, will depend on where these two guards are taken. Meaning, which one falls to the Knicks and given the keys to Mike D's SSOL Ferrari. Both have the potential to be D'Antoni's new Maestro, and can further actualize his revolutionary schemes. It all depends on if Al Harrington is willing to share in a contract year, and if Larry Hughes doesn't play like Larry Hughes. Mike D will no doubt give whomever his new floor general is the green light until Lebron gets there next year to score and distribute to his heart's desire. And Mike D will be able to prove that is his his vision and not Nash's wizardry that was paramount in Phoenix's success.

Most Likely to be Greg Oden: Hasheem Thabeet, UConn. Thabeet is what Oden was three years ago, except Oden played well in big NCAA games, while Thabeet was constantly dominated by other low post players (see: Blair, DaJuan). He blocks shots, but is very limited on offense. He's more mobile than Oden, and doesn't have the injury history. You can't teach his timing when contesting shots, so he'll be of service if he does that.

Most Likely to Look Like Greg Oden: Sam Young, Pitt. Don't front, Sam Grizzle looks like Greg Oden's long lost son. With that obvious observation aside, Young should be a solid contributor to a contending team (Are you listening, Cleveland/San Antonio/New Orleans?). Jamie Dixon schooled him in defense, and combined with his explosiveness and "The Grizzle Fake," Sam will be in the League for awhile...even though he looks like he's signed a couple mid-level exceptions already.

Most Underrated Prospect: Terrence Williams, Lousiville. He's the most complete player in the draft, yet most people feel his Cardinals teammate Earl Clark will be the better pro. Athleticism, rebounding, passing, and leadership are the tools he brings to a franchise. Once immature at UL, he bought into Pitino's preachings in his junior year and is now twice the player he was as a freshman. The only knock is that he's a four-year player, and most scouts believe that his ceiling's too low. I believe that whoever takes him is getting the steal of the draft.

Most Overrated Prospect: Jrue Holiday, UCLA. His game is smooth and he rarely plays out of control, but he didn't dominate during his only season in Westwood to be worthy of Top 10 consideration. Is that a sign of how good he can be, or how shallow the player pool is? I just know that he was fifth-leading scorer on his team, and three of those players won't come close to being drafted. He only scored in double figures in 14 of his team's 35 games. Conversely, Tyreke Evans didn't score in double digits only five times, and was the difference in his team's success once he moved to the point. At 6'3", Holiday is that dreaded "undersized combo guard," but he isn't the scorer like Ben Gordon, or the explosive player like Rodney Stuckey. He should develop nicely, if given the opportunity. If...

Prospect We Love Today That We'll Hate in Five Years: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma. I mean, he's going to the Clippers. That alone will invoke Olowokandi jokes. Moment of silence for the Blake we one knew...followed by a video montage to remember him before they rob him of his soul....

Prospect We Hate Today That We'll Love in Five Years: Gerald Henderson, Duke. He went to Duke and still has that Krzyzewski odor on him; but I'm slowly seeing that he is different from the typical Blue Devil aristocrat player (I'm looking at you, J.J.). He wants to run, loves playing through contact, and he's internally gritty. Plus, he elbowed Tyler Hansbrough right in the nose, taking him down a peg. A +1 to you, Mr. Henderson, for that; even though I side with the Tar Heels. Let's hope he can shed the shadows of Coach K and succeed where DeMarcus Nelson couldn't.

Best Basketball Comment (Probably Ever): Brandon Jennings, Compton/Italy. When asked, "What position do you play?" Jennings responds in only someone with that much inner belief in his own awesome can—by replying, "3-guard." That deserves it's own HOF plaque, and should be his slogan if/when he gets a shoe deal. Hopefully, his struggles overseas has grounded him and he'll be able to harness all that ability he possesses. And yes, he has way more upside than Ricky Rubio.

Prospect We Know Followed In College That We'll Forget in Five Years: Tyler Hansbrough/Ty Lawson/Danny Green, UNC (tie). Part of this is where they're projected to be selected, and part of it is history. The 2005 Tar Heel championship team had three studs on it as well, and right now, only Ray Felton is semi-relevant; and that's almost gone as soon as Larry Brown realizes DJ Augustin is better than him. The same appears to hold true for UNC's most recent triumverate, with Lawson being the most relevant in the future—simply on Felton comparisons alone. Green, while talented, will most likely be picked in the 2nd round and doomed to the end of someone's bench. This brings me to Psycho T. His sheer will may keep him employed for a long time; and by most scouts' account, he's underrated skill-wise. His case is the most curious of all the prospects—even more so than Curry's—because he's already being written off as a solid backup. Maybe he'll rise up. Maybe he won't.

Prospect We Knew Little About That Will Amaze In Five Years: Marcus Thornton, LSU. Thornton nearly single-handedly derailed UNC's title run in the second round. As a 6'4" PG, he's everything Chicago thought Ben Gordon would be, and he's five inches taller (you can't tell me Gordon's 6'1"). Portland should take him at #24, because he's what they thought Jerryd Bayless would be.

First-Round Pick That Should Be A Second-Round Pick: Dejuan Summers, Georgetown. Good at a lot, but not great at one thing. He's like fellow Hoya Jeff Green, but not nearly as good or as high a basketball IQ. I can't think of a moment that propelled him into the first round, but I guess that's another testament to how weak this draft really is.

Second-Round Pick That Should Be A First-Round Pick: Dionte Christmas, Temple/Lester Hudson, Tenn-Martin. Christmas is the best shooting, um, shooting guard in the whole group. Catching and releasing is his game, and he's above average at creating one off the dribble. But it's Hudson I'd like to talk about. If he were 20, he'd be Rodney Stuckey and climbing up everyone's draft board. But since he's 24, he's stuck in the second round, and will probably have the stars align for him to get NBA minutes. Nevertheless, his college stats are absurd, and I've seen him play a couple times. He literally did everything for the 6'4". Someone please give him a chance. If given the right situation, he'll be like Ramon Sessions.

So that's concluded the FU 2009 pre-draft spec-tac-u-lar. If there's any debate, omissions, or additions, feel free to let me know in the comments.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Superhero Mindstate

I have been away for awhile. I had dropped off a post about which Beltway player will get a ring first over at BeltwaySportsPage. Had to support the DMV movement.

So this year's Finals, like in recent years, have been anti-climactic. The Orlando bandwagon is all but empty; and even if you believe the Magic will stave off elimination tonight, most will agree that Kobe will end it at Staples in Game 6. But this post isn't about the series; or Kobe's validation with a championship, or how Lebron's still numero uno despite the Mamba's impending ring (foreshadowing to a future post). It's actually a journey into the mind of the elite player and how he approaches a big game/series. More after the random picture goodness...

You see, the reason why the Elite are the Elite, aside from being supernaturally gifted, is their intrinsic ability to rise when situations are most pressurized. Very rarely will the Elite play terribly when his team needs him the most. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that they will win everytime—as evidenced by Lebron's play against the Magic—but it will take the perfect storm from the opposition in order for the Elite to be defeated. But there's a process before the Elite decides to unleash his ultimate fury. If you're still with me, the first level is after the second random picture...

Observation State. If you play Basketball, regardless of level, then you are aware of the "feel-out" process that happens at the beginning of each game. The intensity isn't as high, and the tempo's a little slower than normal. People are still trying to loosen up get into the flow of the game. In this situation, the Elite will not force the issue offensively. Rather, he will sit back and attempt to get his teammates involved and into the game. This usually applies to perimeter, isolation-type players as opposed to big men. Post players always need a pass, but even they can decide to look opposite and dish out of double teams, or do this to set the tone. Now, the Elite's initial deferment does not mean he's isn't aggressive. It just means that he won't take those impossible shots that mere mortals wouldn't dare try, at home or otherwise. The Elite will remain in the Observational State as long as he feels his team doesn't need his heroics just yet. Then, he makes his progression to the next mental state...

Assimilation State. In the Assimilation State, the Elite will begin to assert himself offensively. He knows that his team will need his amazing abilities, regardless of whether the team is ahead or behind. He'll start breaking sets and looking for more isolation opportunities. He won't shoot every possession, but he will try to get himself in a rhythm on offense for the latter parts of the game/series. He will see how and where the extra defenders are, which way they play him off the pick-and-roll, and how much space the initial defender gives him on various parts of the floor. He gathers all this information he has collected and analyzes it at halftime/when the series' scene shifts. He then reaches the next mental state...

Weapon State. Every team makes adjustments at halftime/when the series changes arenas. The Elite will see if these changes will greatly deter the plan of attack he has created. If not, then thre's a smooth transition to the fourth mental state. But if the Elite is forced to somewhat rethink his plan, he then briefly retreats back and combines both the Assimilation and Observation states and just plays a "regular game." There may be some scoring, there may be some assisting. but he will be more aggressive and look to begin bending the game to his will. On to the fourth mental state.

Destruction State. At some point, the Elite will have enough of the opposition believing it has a chance of victory, and he will begin to go all Super Saiyan. It's at this point that all jokes will cease; and the elite will show why he his vastly better than the billions of people that have ever picked up a basketball. The second half of Kobe's "81" game, Wade in 2006, and Lebron in Game 7 last year are all examples of the Elites of the game unleashing their full fury. This can lead to some gaudy stats at the end of the game, as well as the overstanding of why they are who we thought they were...word to Dennis Green. And even while the Destruction State will usually result in victory for the Elite, there is yet another, more devastating region in the Elite's psyche that only surfaces during the Destruction State.

Oblivion. While in the Destruction State, the Elite has come to the conclusion that he will not be defeated without using all of his powers to prevent it. But the moment, the Steve Buckhantz "dagger" that is the final blow, is what Oblivion is. The Elite, like all great assassins, recognize that a killing blow must always be delivered. It doesn't necessarily have to be a game-winning shot or a dunk; but it's always a play that only the Elite can make. It's a play that is a microcosm entitled, "I'm Than You: You Know It, I Know It." If you need a visual example, it's all of the plays in the "Where Will Amazing Happen?" ads that ran throughout the playoffs. Those are the moments that leave the opposition in a state of head-scratching shock, followed by deflated acceptance.

So there you have it. That's the journey through the mind of an Elite player. Bear in mind that in some instances, the Elite will go immediately into the Destruction State; but the path to it usually follows the aforementioned methods. Remember that as you watch those players throughout their careers.


Monday, June 1, 2009

His Reputation Is Expanding Faster Than The Universe

I didn't want to do a Finals preview; and even if I did, but Shoals already masterfully did that. And rather give predictions and such—or join in the chastising of Lebron for both not reaching the Finals and having royal sour grapes—I'd like to just focus on The Most Interesting Man In The World. More after the random picture...

No basketball player is more polarizing than Kobe Bean Bryant. For example, he's the only player that you either love or hate. You won't meet anyone that's "just okay" with Kobe. I've already let you know that Kobe is driven by his natural human infallibility; and is a demigod because of it. He is the Perfect Shooting Guard, and has calculated angles in ways that not even MJ could grasp, especially at this age. Now he isn't the impulsive acrobat that Jordan was; but his spontaneity is so complex that something that seems lucky is made to look easy. He differs from Lebron in two aspects. First, where anything Lebron does has a hint of faith-summoning inevitability to it despite gigantic levels difficulty and awe, Kobe makes the impossible looks so easy, even though he's the Game's hardest worker. He pisses off (on?) adversaries by being devastatingly cold-blooded with the precision of a sniper and the weaponry and tactics of a shinobi; while somehow making it look effortless. He's a Swiss-Army knife if every gadget was lethal and constantly sharpened. Lebron inspires the fear of a deity, but Kobe brings about fear of a man possessed by his own inner desires.

Honestly, I'm not sure what makes Kobe so polarizing. I lean towards his duplication of His Airness. The one element of his legacy he can't seem to add to his formula is power over the masses. Yes, he leads in jersey sales; but Lebron, Wade, and Howard seem to illict more smiles. Kobe makes you respect him because of his showmanship through mechanization. Never has a reverse layup or turnaround, 18-foot fadeaway looked so orchestrated. Kobe lives vicariously through himself; a self whom wants to and does live directly through the Ghost of Airness Past. Even though it seems to have limited his career legacy by following so closely to the Jordan Method, he compels respect because he's done so and kept his sanity.

Another main reason why Kobe is so divisive among Basketball fans is approach to leadership as a veteran. He's the last superstar that believes that the best way to maximize a supporting cast is to be a disciplinarian. Other elites like Lebron, Paul, 'Melo, and Durant recognize that lesser players tend to be more fragile mentally; so constant berating may be too much. Kobe believed that if his teammates watch him work, then they'd be inspired to do the same. But he seemed to overlook that even with that, they're still not as good, as driven, and as focused as he is. And that's where this new, Big Brother Mamba has unveiled. Kobe, the walking variable—constantly seeking to answer all the Y's with various X's—became friendlier to the lesser Lakers; complete with daps and hugs. Genuine or contrived, it's led to back-to-back Finals appearances. Yes, the previous two years' worth of Laker teams have had more talent, while before then there was Kwame and Smush (moment of silence for Smush). He had to appear human and incorporate cooperative emotions like trust and companionship to achieve his ultimate goals. That rebuilding period was the awkward moment he had; but not so he could see how it feels. Kobe had to experience trial and tribulation to further exponentially increase his will to win and propel him to the highest of heavens. Like I tell Kobe supporters, no one called Kobe The Best in the Association until 2005—the first of those mediocre years.

With the Realm of Basketball sharpening the Game's most complete weapon, Kobe's legacy went from lock Hall-of-Famer to top ten player ever. Love him or hate him, respect his Mamba. Stay thirsty, my friends.