Monthly archive

February 2013

A Chat With Phillip Barnett

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Phillip Barnett, the NFL editor at SportsCity and a writer for ForumBlue&Gold, joined me to talk about the NBA season. Here is a list of things Phillip and I discussed:

– The Lakers’ whirlwind of a season, their playoff hopes and the relationship between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.

– The Houston Rockets’ emergence this season, the play of James Harden and what will take to get them to the next level.

– The Oklahoma City Thunder and whether or not Harden’s absence will have a major impact on their post-season.

– The San Antonio Spurs and whether or not this is the season that they get back to the Finals since becoming Tony Parker’s team.

– Which Western Conference teams he wants to make the playoffs, the Miami Heat as title favorites, the multiple historical arguments associated with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and more!

The Heat Do The Harlem Shake

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They may have been a week late to the party, but Miami Heat put together a pretty entertaining version of the Harlem Shake, if only because it’s funny to see LeBron James go crazy and Mario Chalmers in a Mario costume.

Let’s list the participants and their costumes, shall we?

LeBron James – King

Dwyane Wade – Bear

Chris Bosh – Hipster stereo guy

Mario Chalmers – Super Mario (winner of the costume contest)

Ray Allen – Half-mime mask, red cape

Rashard Lewis – Full mime mask

James Jones – Rainbow wig (dance champion)

Joel Anthony – Bandana, Santa hat

Mike Miller – Rey Mysterio mask, sombrero

Norris Cole – MC Hammer (or a peasant)

Udonis Haslem – WWE Champion

Chris Andersen – Spooky road bike dude

That leaves us with two unknowns: Shane Battier and Jarvis Vanardo. If I had to guess, I would say Battier is other guy in a Rey Mysterio mask and that Vanardo is the guy with the spacesuit and horse face.

Steph Curry Lost A Game, Monta Ellis Won One

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at New York Knicks

Stephen Curry was the personification of flammable last night. Everything that left his hands quickly burned up on its way to the rim, like a comet shooting through the Earth’s atmosphere. It was as if Curry was a lighter and the ball a sphere lathered with gasoline, causing immediate ignition upon touching his hands, almost like he was permanently stuck in NBA Jam mode.

With David Lee missing last night’s Knicks-Warriors game due to suspension, Curry was asked to provide even more of a spark than is usually asked of him, so he did his best to become a human match. Every time that leather Spalding ball left Curry’s fingertips, creating the slightest bit of friction, I envisioned him scrapping the phosphorus head of a match against the emery on the side of the box. It didn’t take long for the nylon nets of Madison Square Garden to become engulfed in the flames that Curry’s picture perfect jumpshots were concocting.

Curry completed the most impressive game of the NBA season last night, one of the best games in the history of the most storied arena (Madison Square Garden) in the league and perhaps the greatest shooting performance of all-time. He played all 48 minutes, dropped 54 points, dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds and compiled three steals, all while shooting 18-of-28 from the field (64%) and an incomprehensible 11-of-13 from three (85%), setting a franchise record for makes from behind the arc. Curry’s night started off as a continuation of his incredible performance against the Pacers the night before – 38 points on 14-of-20 shooting from the field (70%) and 7-of-10 shooting from deep (70%) – and developed into one of the most magical displays of basketball brilliance that I have ever seen.

Curry’s place amongst the elite point guards in the league is a very interesting topic of debate during such a point guard rich day and age in the NBA and will certainly gain steam after something like last night. There’s a legitimate case to be made that Curry will wind up being the greatest three-point shooter of all-time – he’s shooting 46% from deep on seven attempts per game on the season and 45% from three on five shots a game for his career – and his silky smooth shot often overshadows the rest of his offensive game, which is also very good. And though his advanced defensive numbers are poor, Mark Jackson constantly reiterates that Curry has done what is asked of him defensively, and the eye test somewhat agrees that Curry has done well in Golden State’s revamped pick-and-roll defensive scheme.

As of right now, Curry ranks fifth in the NBA amongst point guards in PER at 20.75. The four above him are Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, four all-NBA caliber performers. If we go back to last season, Curry was sixth in the league in PER (21.23) amongst point guards, with Derrick Rose bumping Curry from the top five. I’d also acknowledge the potential for Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo to be in the top five conversation at some point in the future, so I’d be comfortable saying that Curry is definitely a top eight point guard in basketball, with the potential to crack the top five if his ankles ever mature like his game has.

The thing that makes Curry unique in my mind is that he blurs the line between point guard and off guard better than any of the other top point guards. Does Westbrook occasionally play off the ball? Sure, but teams would much prefer it to him attacking the rim. Ditto for Parker. With Curry, you have to pick your poison.

Curry can be an ultra aggressive ball-handler with the starting unit at tipoff and by the end of the game easily morph into the role of a super shooting guard when Jarret Jack is playing point. Curry is equally adept at running a pick-and-roll as he is at coming off of a screen and getting of a quick shot, which is an underrated skill for a point guard, particularly for one that plays with a secondary ball handler as good as Jack.

Here is the list of guards that have dropped 54 points or more on at least 64% shooting in the history of the NBA: Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Curry. The number of players in league history to shoot at least 80% from three in a game on 13 or more attempts is even shorter: Curry. There is an infinite amount of criteria that you can add to the query and the results are always the same: Curry had one of the rarest nights in league history last night. And describing it in historical context doesn’t even do the performance justice.

Outside of Irving and Kevin Durant, I’m not sure there is another point guard in the league capable of putting on a shooting clinic like the one Curry had last night. Watching Curry go from hot shooting night to profound display of talent was enchanting; his ear-to-ear smile, which grew with every make, enhancing the viewing experience while his version of Mark Jackson’s famous shimmy shake only slightly scarring what was an otherwise clinquant performance.

And oh yeah – I knew I was forgetting something – Stephen Curry’s Warriors lost to the Knicks, 109-105.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets
I’m sure Monta Ellis has a zombie tattoo somewhere on his body. (US Presswire)

The best way I can describe what it is like watching Monta Ellis play is to compare to watching an episode of The Walking Dead; I watch to see the next ingenious and aesthetically appealing move he’s got up his sleeve (yes, I am a fan of zombie slaying), but, ultimately, I know that even his best offensive contributions matter little in the grand scheme of things given his reluctance to defensive fundamentals and faulty shot selection (can we get a decent plot, please?). What Monta gives you in innovation, he takes back due to his lack of traditional skills and habits.

If Ellis would do something as simple as crouching down in a defensive stance on a frequent basis, he’d be an easier player to appreciate, but there is always something to mar his greatest work, whether it is on the next possession or the next night. But alas, Ellis is largely the same player he was a few years ago, wowing you with his tremendously packaged set of scoring and passing skills on some nights, while forcing you to change the channel out of anger twice as often.

Ellis put together a perfect combination of what makes him fun and what makes him horrid last night against the Rockets. As has been the case since J.J. Redick was brought in at the trade deadline, Ellis spent the majority of last night’s game playing both guard positions. When Brandon Jennings was in the game, he was the off guard, and when Redick subbed in for Jennings, Ellis ran point. Ellis did a tremendous job of getting his teammates involved last night, racking up 13 assists in a variety of ways. He got players open on straight dribble drives, ran Milwaukee’s offensive sets well, got guys good looks in transition and generally made great reads when he was looking at the game through the prism of a passer.

Of course, it’s hard for Ellis to keep his Chris Paul shades on for 48 minutes a night. There were still forced mid-range jumpers, some awkward shots at the rim and six three-point attempts despite the fact that he is shooting 24% from three. For the game, Ellis shot 5-of-17 (29%) from outside of the paint and 38% overall. Monta’s incessant heaving from 16-23 feet was once slightly defensible due to his league average field goal percentage from that distance. But now even that has gone by the wayside: Ellis is shooting a career low 32% on mid-range jumpers, and yet hes still taking 5.2 such shots a game.

Ellis was also a terror defensively, for both teams. Ellis was all over the place on the defensive end for the second straight night, racking up six steals for his second game in a row. And then there was Ellis leaving James Harden to double Jeremy Lin on a 1/2 pick-and-roll, freeing Harden for a wide open three, and Ellis wondering into the paint as a post player fiddled around, jumbling his team’s rotation and costing the Bucks three points. He giveth, and he taketh away.

This game showed you every aspect of Monta Ellis, which essentially boils down to a bunch of moments that make you say “Wow” in applause and disdain. As a fan of entertaining basketball, I enjoy watching Monta play in a vacuum; his brazen attitude is so out of place, especially when compared to new teammate J.J. Redick, that I find it oddly refreshing, and his ability to play so many minutes on a consistent basis is flat out impressive. But when analyzing the game, it’s impossible to see Ellis as anything more than a net negative and a player that hurts his team more than he helps it. We could hold out hope for that to change, but if that’s your stance, I can tell you that your future is full of frustration and clanked 20-footers.


After the Bucks secured a pair of clutch offensive rebounds, Brandon Jennings stood 30 feet from the basket, waving for his teammates to clearout of the lane. With 18 seconds left in a tie game, Jennings, who was on the bench for the majority of crunchtime, was preparing for a hero ball shot and a game-winning highlight to put on his resume. With 12 seconds left, Larry Sanders comes up from the weakside as if he’s going to run a pick-and-roll with Jennings; Jennings waves him off. A couple seconds later, Sanders starts towards Jennings again; Jennings waves him off once more. At this point, we know the shot is going up. Jennings is either going to win the game or send it to overtime.

Jennings stares Jeremy Lin in the eyes as the clock ticks down to single digits, stuttering his dribble to size-up Lin and the clock, conjuring up his post-game celebration in his head. But then, the unexpected happened: Lin plays sound positional defense and Jennings, who never made a strong move to get free, is stuck 21 feet from the basket with no live dribble and a man baring down on him.

But there is hope. With 2.1 seconds left, out of the corner of his eye, Jennings spots Ellis sweeping across the floor towards the top of the key. With such little time left on the clock, Ellis may receive the ball with no time left to fire a shot, but Jennings is better off not ending the game with the ball in his hands after violently declining any attempt at an actual play with the time winding down. He makes the pass to Ellis.

It’s an inaccurate toss that forces Ellis to catch the ball across his body, but he pulls it down with 1.2 seconds left on the shot clock, leaving no time to set up a normal shot.

But what’s a normal shot to Monta Ellis?

Ellis grabs the ball, swiftly squares his shoulder, leaps off one leg and fires a 28-foot three over the outstretched arms of Chandler Parsons.

The ball circles the rim, comes completely out, bounces off the back iron and falls in.

Monta Ellis’ Bucks won 110-107.

49ers Budding With Options

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The San Fransisco 49ers were the best team in the NFL last season. They may have lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl, but I think that they were the most complete and impressive team in the league. Colin Kaepernick completely changed that team’s offensive identity, and with a season under belt now, not to mention Super Bowl experience, and combined with their stellar front seven on defense for a full off-season, I believe the San Fransisco will be the best team in the league again in 2013.

And the scary part about it is, at this point in the off-season, this team is far from being a finished product. Yesterday they completed a trade that sent Alex Smith to the Chiefs in exchange for a pair of draft picks (reportedly a second rounder this year and a third rounder next year), which has brought their pick total for the 2013 draft to an unfathomable 15 picks, five of which come in the first three rounds. For an organization that has proven themselves as excellent at player development, this is a remarkable plate of assets. With such a large number of picks, and with each and every NFL draft pick carrying so much value, the 49ers are prime position to make a key move or two this off-season simply by moving some of their surplus draft picks.

The latest rumor surrounding the team involves superstar Darrelle Revis, a seemingly disgruntled star cornerback that is unhappy about his contract situation. The New York Jets realize that they’d be better off attempting to rebuild their talent base (especially offensively) than to continue to pay a ton of money for a franchise cornerback. Revis is in the final guaranteed year of his deal with the Jets and there is no way he will be accepting his $3 million player options over the next year years, which means he is looking to restructure his contract, and he is looking for the richest deal for a player of his position in NFL history.

Naturally, this makes the 49ers a perfect trade partner for the Jets. The 49ers have more picks than they have roster spots, meaning transactions involving some of their picks is a guarantee, and the Jets are looking to add prospects to their roster via the draft. To go even further, San Fransisco’s secondary got toasted late in the season, especially corner Chris Culliver and safety Dashon Goldson. Even though he is coming off of ACL surgery, Revis would be a massive upgrade to the Niners’ defense, and San Fransisco’s massive amount of picks would still allow the team to gain defensive line depth through the draft. If the price is something like the 2nd round pick they just got from the Chiefs (34th overall) and their own first round pick (31st overall), I would strongly consider that if I was San Fransisco.

The reason this trade isn’t likely to happen is that Revis would be asking for a huge pay raise from the 49ers from the day he arrived and San Fransisco has not made a habit of committing long-term salary to players not developed within their own organization. Assuming they are unwilling to shell out a record deal to make Revis a 49er long-term, they’d be paying too hefty a price for a rental player, especially since, at the end of the day, Culliver and Goldson are not horrible. That said, I really think that Revis is a foundational piece worth paying for, particularly in the 49ers case, as the combination of his lockdown coverage skills and that devastating pass rush would make them an impossible team to score on consistently. And who wouldn’t love the Richard Sherman-Revis post-game meetings after Seahawk-Niner games?

Another star player on the trade market that has been connected to the 49ers, at least by way of the media, is Percy Harvin. There were some reports this off-season that Harvin and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier didn’t see eye-to-eye, and with Harvin being in the last year of his deal with the team, he is believed to be available for the right price. Adding Harvin would have a similar effect on San Fransisco’s offense as Revis would on their defense. While San Fransisco already has a rising star in Michael Crabtree as their number one wideout (by the way, he’s up for an extension this year or next, too), but they lack a clear number two wide receiver. Randy Moss may have a little bit left, but he’s best as a spell #2 receiver and not an every down guy, and Mario Manningham was one of the more disappointing players in the league last season.

Harvin is such a dynamic and explosive player and he has a ton of experience running the spread read-option offense. He put up a pair of 1,000 yard seasons as a scat back that played all over the field when he was at Florida with Tim Tebow, and I think Harvin could have a very similar role within San Fran’s Kaepernick-centric offense. He can split out wide, in the slot or in the backfield and make plays from any of those positions. Harvin’s shiftiness makes impossible to tackle in space and forcing defenses to account for his speed in addition to a running quarterback, a dynamic number one like Crabtree and that powerful run game would be quite unfair for the rest of the league.

San Fransisco could actually acquire both Harvin and Revis before the draft and be able to proceed this season under the cap. The problem is that both of these guys want extensions, and the 49ers are unlikely to be willing to deal those out to a pair of outsiders, especially with Kaepernick, Crabtree, Culliver, Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith and a couple of other in-house products due up for their own extensions in the next 24 months.

Former Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a logical target if the 49ers trade up in the draft. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

While a deal for Revis or Harvin would have the most immediate impact on the success of their club, San Fransisco is more likely to package their picks to move up in the draft to get a higher selection. I presume there’s an off chance that a team in the top 10 would be willing to take a deal that involved a few valuable picks, but the more likely scenario is San Fransisco trading up into the 10-15 range to grab one of the top defensive backs or defensive linemen in the class.

Dee Milliner is the top corner in the class, but after running a 4.37 at the combine, he’s a shoe-in for a top 10 selection. That makes Xavier Rhodes an intriguing prospect for the 49ers. The Florida State product can play bump-and-run coverage at 6’1″ and ran a very solid 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a big player that fits into the physical style that Harbaugh’s defensive group loves to play. I really like Rhodes as a fit for the Niners because I think you can stick him on the outside right away and mold him into Culliver’s replacement in the event the team chooses to part ways with him.

Another corner that the Niners can move up to get is Desmond Trufant, the brother of longtime NFL corner Marcus Trufant. Trufant has speed and size along with the ability to cover in space and could fit in right away as a slot corner and work his way towards starting on the outside in the near future. Trufant impressed at the combine and also showed well at the Senior Bowl, which means his stock will be on the rise as we get closer to the draft. He may end up inching closer to the top 10 by then, which means the 49ers would have to pony up to have a shot at him.

If San Fransisco is inclined to take a young safety in this draft, then trading up for UT’s Kenny Vaccaro is a very good option. Vaccaro really impressed me on film as someone that can cover the field from a deep position and in man-to-man scenarios. He was also a very physical player that wasn’t afraid to get involved in the run game. And if the Niners instead want to bolster their defensive line, there are three players with top-10 talent that will be available in the middle of the first round for various reasons: Barkevious Mingo, an extremely talented 3-4 prospect with attitude questions, Star Lotulelei, a stud defensive tackle that was once thought to be the best prospect in the draft had his stock drop when a heart condition was discovered during his physical at the combine, and Jarvis Jones, who has a medical condition with his spine that may cause a few teams to pass on him on draft night.

Combine freak Margus Hunt would be a nice rotational defensive end in San Fransisco’s system. (ESPN)

Another player to keep an eye on with the Niners around draft time is defensive end Margus Hunt, and this isn’t someone that the 49ers will have to trade up to acquire. Hunt moved from Estonia to SMU to join the track team, which was shut down right before Hunt could start competing. Luckily for Hunt, his track coach encouraged him to try out for football, and it didn’t take much for Hunt to convince June Jones to add him to the team. Even though he’s only played the sport for the past few years, Hunt showed solid instincts during his time with the Mustangs and he was an exceptional blocker of kicks because of his rare combination of explosion and timing.

Hunt is a 6’8″, 277-pound monster of an athlete that ran a 4.6-40, the third fastest amongst defensive ends, and tied defensive tackle Brandon Williams for the most bench press reps at the combine with 38. He is one of those LeBron type athletes that is just a level above his competition, and though his skills and fundamentals may need some fine tuning to make him an NFL caliber starter, I don’t think Harbaugh and his staff would have much trouble finding a way for Hunt to contribute.

I know for a fact that Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers are still kicking themselves over missing out on some opportunities to become Super Bowl Champs last season. But while John Harbaugh’s Ravens squad was certainly a one-hit wonder riding a wave of emotion and momentum to a title, Jim’s team is a sure bet to be a top the NFL over the next several years. And what they choose to do with their bevy of draft picks this off-season will have alot to do with how much success the team will have going forward.

49ers Trade Alex Smith To Kansas City

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After losing his job to Colin Kaepernick as he sat out with a concussion, Alex Smith had to see the writing on the wall. As Kaepernick led the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl with his exciting and innovative style of play, it was all but set in stone that Smith would be moved in the off-season.

There was some belief that San Fransisco would just release Smith at some point, but instead the organization got a major return for a back-up that no longer fit in with their offensive identity. According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Kansas City Chiefs have agreed to send their second round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional mid-round pick in the 2014 draft to the 49ers in exchange for Smith. The trade cannot be official until March 12, but the two sides have agreed to the deal.

Seeing a former first overall pick that have been perceived as a bust for the majority of his career be replaced by a more productive young back-up is not necessarily surprising, but the irony is that Smith was actually starting to develop into an NFL caliber quarterback under Harbaugh. Smith had a carousel of coaches come in and out of the lockerroom over his first few seasons as a pro, making it tough on him to ever get comfortable in a 49er uniform. Once Harbaugh arrived, Smith had a noticeable uptick in production and, perhaps more importantly, confidence. That game-winning touchdown run in the playoffs against the 49ers seemed like a turning point in Smith’s career, and he came out this season as one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league.

At his best, which was this season, Smith was still a gamemanager type, but he was managing the game so well that you could hardly argue with him being your starting quarterback. Smith never forced anything, understood his realm of possibility and never took the 49ers out of games. The problem was that Smith was still not much of a difference maker, which made it hard for the 49ers to win games that they didn’t get the immediate upperhand in. While Kaepernick was more prone than Smith to put you in a 14-0 hole, you could put up with that because you knew Kaepernick had enough big play ability to get your team back in the game. Smith could play well and still lose because if San Fransisco’s defense wasn’t tremendous, Smith wouldn’t be able to win an offensive battle.

I think Smith is still capable of being a solid starting QB in the NFL, though. Smith completed 70.2% of his passes in 10 starts in 2012, posting the seventh highest QBR in the league at 70.1. According to Football Outsiders’ advanced numbers, Smith ranked 10th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), which is a stat that measures a players impact on a per play basis, last season at 14.9%. Kaepernick was the third most valuable player on a per play basis in the league, which is understandable given how many big gains he had, but Smith ranking 10th on the list is impressive, particularly when his DVOA the two seasons prior to Harbaugh’s arrival was in the negative.

Now Smith is being forced to deal with another coaching change and another playbook. The good news for him is that he is going to yet another coach that is praised for his ability to get the best out of quarterbacks: Andy Reid. I’m happy that Smith will be going to a situation that should suit him well. Reid gets the most out of his quarterbacks and it has become apparent over the past couple of seasons that Smith does have some talent, even if he won’t ever be an elite quarterback. Reid has also shown that he has an eye for offensive talent, and with Jamal Charles and Dwyane Bowe already in tow, I think the former Eagles coach has a shot to build a solid offensive system around Smith.

And finally, Smith’s arrival in Kansas City will reportedly cue the end of Matt Cassel’s tenure with the Chiefs, as the team reportedly plans to release him. Cassel had a huge season in 2008 when filling in for Tom Brady which earned him the franchise tag from the Patriots. New England then turned and flipped him (and linebacker Mike Vrabel) to Kansas City for, coincidentally, the 34th overall pick in the draft. Though his first and last seasons with the Chiefs were awful, his 2010 campaign was solid, as he ranked 14th in the league in DYAR and 16th in DVOA. Cassel was in a very poor situation for a quarterback last season and I think he can still produce if the right teams signs him. Although, with the Patriots shopping Ryan Mallet, wouldn’t it be something to see Cassel return to be Tom Brady’s back-up again?

Our New Digs

in Featured by
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Readers,

As the founder of the But The Game Is On Sports Network, I am proud to announce the uniting of all of network sites into this snazzy new format that will make it easier for our writers and their content to reach your brain. By eliminating the need to go to each individual site to make edits and such, I’ve put everything into one place, and that will increase the productivity of everybody involved with the network.

I am also proud to announce that we are adding a sister site to the But The Game Is On Sports Network: The Red Carpet Register. As its name implies, this new site will focus on the goings on in Hollywood, giving us a perfect blend of content about the two most popular American pastimes: sports and entertainment.

Two of my former high school classmates Kimmie Kasperitis, who is the lead writer, and Brandon Mendiola, who has partnered with the site and will provide us with unique multimedia content on a weekly basis, have joined me on this venture and I am excited to see where it goes. Though it is in its infant stages now, soon The Red Carpet Register will have their own site just like ours, which will strengthen the brand identity we are trying to create. As a warning, given their differing subject matter, the RCR will be a bit more PG-13 than this site.

In addition to these two major changes, I am also introducing a few new features for the site today:

– Brett Koremenos and I will be doing a weekly podcast every Monday to breakdown the latest happenings in the NBA with a focus on the X’s and O’s.

– Our podcast network in general will be more active going forward thanks to some new recording equipment, and I am looking into making Google+ Hangouts a regular part of our content rotation.

– Facebook commenting is something we’ve toyed with over the past few months and now we have integrated it fully into the site.

Lastly, I would like to thank all of the readers for making this site a venture worth continuing and our robust success since launching the network in the past calendar year has been overwhelming.


Mark Travis

Founder of the But The Game Is On Sports Network

Grandy Goes Down

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As most of you have probably heard by now, New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson will miss 10 weeks thanks to a broken arm. Obviously, we all wish him a speedy recovery, but, at the moment, it is also interesting to think about how the Yankees will replace him for the beginning of the season.

Last season, Granderson hit 43 home runs with 106 RBI. Of course, his batting average dropped down to .232, but when you’re producing that kind of power, a low average is somewhat more acceptable.

Obviously then, this is a rather large hole to fill. They need a centerfielder, but they also need a run producer. However, Granderson will be back eventually, so it is not necessarily worth going after a superstar replacement. If they pursue that course of action, Granderson’s eventual return would lead to a bottleneck.

Now that we have set the scene, what options might be out there?

One that immediately comes to mind is Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano. He is also a high power, low average hitter who has played in New York before.

Would the Cubs be willing to trade him?

It is quite possible. Chicago is looking towards the future right now with a younger class featuring Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, so I would be willing to bet that a 37-year-old would not fit into those plans. This would not be a bad pairing.

Another interesting option could be Vernon Wells of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

He is not going to have a lot of room to contribute with the Angels this year, so I am sure that they would like to get rid of at least a portion of his large salary.

He would probably not be nearly as productive as Soriano, but he does provide a little bit of power for what would probably be a very low price. For about a month and a half of regular season service, that might be all that the Yankees need.

Whatever they do, losing Granderson for 10 weeks is going to hurt. He is an All-Star centerfielder who has carried their offense right from the top of the lineup.
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Why The Wizards Are Winning

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The Washington Wizards are surging! Well, relatively speaking, of course.

As we get closer to the All-Star break, the Wizards have put together a nice little 10-7 stretch that has included wins over the Thunder, Nuggets, Bulls, Clippers, Knicks and Nets. Sure, they’ve lost a few games to subpar teams during that stretch, but they have finally get over the late game issues that prevented them from winning some of their close early season games.

Though their win against the Thunder did come without him, the main reason that the Wizards have been able to rattle off some impressive performances is the return of their star point guard John Wall.

Wall has not lived up to the hype as he received as the number one pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, but you certainly can’t knock him for that. When Wall was drafted the last two #1 overall picks were Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, who set the bar the bar incredibly high for those that came after them. Not only that, because Blake Griffin broke his kneecap in a pre-season game before the 2009-10 NBA season, Wall was forced to compete with him for the Rookie of the Year award even though Griffin had a whole year to get used to the NBA culture. And as if it couldn’t get worse, then the Cavs drafted Kyrie Irving with the #1 pick last year and he set the world on fire in his rookie campaign, thus making Wall’s production look worse by comparison.

But things have turned around for Wall this season. Though he has only been back for 16 games, the Wizards have thrived with him on the floor, and he seems like a completely different player than he did last year.

Since returning to the team, Wall has played 450 minutes according to BasketballValue. Though it is a small sample size, the Wizards’ offense has seen a substantial jump of 7.01 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor. Wall’s impact on the team’s improvement also extends to the defensive end: When Wall is on the floor, the Wizard’s only surrender 96.07 points per 100 possessions, an elite mark, compared to a defensive rating of 102.97 when he is off the floor. Overall, Wall has a net rating of 13.91 points per 100 possessions. As time goes on and the sample size grows, you can expect that number to shrink, but you can count on Wall continuing to have an overwhelmingly positive effect on his team.

Wall is perhaps the fastest player in the entire league in transition, a player capable of rocketing past opposing defenses that think they can jog back when he is on the floor. Wall can elude defensive players that are in place, too, as his whip-quick dribble and incredible body control combine to leave the opposition in the dust anytime he is on the break. Wall’s ability to get out on the break gives some relief to the Wizards offense, which, while improved since Wall’s return, isn’t the most effective halfcourt offense in the league.

It is funny how much better things feel with Wall back in the line-up for the Wizards. His return has a had a ripple effect on everybody else on the team. Spot-up shooters are getting more good looks with defenses having to collapse to stop Wall’s drive, big men are getting more space to operate off of pick-and-rolls and Bradley Beal has gone from a completely overwhelmed rookie to a very effective sidekick.

If you want to see how important a point guard that can be a threat is to a team, especially one that was playing without a post threat until Nene came back, then the Wizards are a perfect example. Watching A.J. Price and Shaun Livingston run this team is comical compared to the way the Wall runs it. Defenses actually have to gameplan to stop Wall in the pick-and-roll game, and it opens up things for his big men to become threats after setting screens, which wasn’t the case when Wall was out. Just watch how much room there is for his big men to operate because teams have to help so much to stop him from getting to the rim.

Beal is the player that has benefited the most from Wall’s return. Baptism by fire doesn’t even begin to describe what Beal went through at the beginning of this season. Not only was Beal given a starting role in the NBA fresh off his freshman year in college, he was asked to be their number one scoring option and often times their primary ball handler. With a natural point guard like Wall in the fold, Beal can shift to his normal position of shooting guard, and the two have developed some fine chemistry in a very short amount of time.

While they have only played 10 games together since Wall came back, the numbers about Wall’s effect on Beal are staggering (stats via the NBA StatsCube).

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These stats must be presented with a caveat about the sample size, but the eye test matches these numbers. Beal isn’t going to continue to shoot 52% from three when Wall is on the floor, but because he is getting much better looks and looking more and more comfortable as a shooter, his overall field goal percentage is going to go up drastically. Now that Beal is the second most dangerous perimeter player on the floor and now that Wall is handling the ball the majority of the time, Beal is being presented with more efficient looks. Take a look here at how Wall’s ability to breakdown a defense and his underrated passing skills extract the best out of Beal.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Wall is scoring 0.978 points per possession in isolation this season. While he’s only had 45 such possessions, he’s shooting a robust 51% from the field when he is faced off in a one-on-one situation. Wall can get by the majority of point guards in the league with ease and he is equally effective going either left or right from the top of the key. Wall isn’t the kind of player that you isolate on one side of the floor; it’s too easy for defenses to help on him if he’s attacking at an angle. But when he has his man on an island from the top of the circle? He’s deadly.

Keep in mind, this is Wall beating defenders off the dribble that know his only way of scoring is getting to the rim. Teams can attempt to concede the mid-range jumper to Wall and still end up allowing him looks at the rim. And now that he has incorporated an effective runner to his arsenal he’s even more difficult to contain. Of course, there is room for improvement with Wall – mainly that shaky jumper – but Wall has even made strides there, knocking down 36% of his 16-23 foot jumpers so far this season. He’s still not not any kind of a threat from beyond the arc, but he is slowly becoming a more efficient player, which is just as important.

It’s too bad that the Wizards had to wait to so long to get both Wall and Nene back this season. With the Boston Celtics losing Rondo and the Philadelphia 76ers being without Andrew Bynum for half of the season, Washington could be contending for a playoff spot right now. That said, even though they will be a lottery team again this season, I feel as if it will end up being a successful year for Washington. Wall, while he still has a lot of room for growth, has looked better than ever now that he’s surrounded with a more veteran and professional cast, and with the addition of another lottery player, Washington should contend for a playoff spot as soon as next season.

A Chat With Brett Koremenos

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Brett Koremenos, a writer for Grantland and Hoopspeak and a X’s and O’s guru, joined me on the podcast to discuss the Lakers’ mess of a season, Boston’s offense without Rajon Rondo, Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes, who the best in-game coach is and much, much more.

The Birdman Migrates To Miami

in NBA by

After giving him a couple of 10-day contracts, the Miami Heat announced yesterday that they have signed center Chris Andersen for the remainder of the season, giving Miami a full 15 player roster with everybody on guaranteed contracts.

This may seem like an irrelevant addition for Miami, but I have a feeling that Andersen may end up playing a role for the Heat this season. Miami has struggled with the center position ever since the big three era began, and even though Erick Spoelstra has a place in his heart for Joel Anthony, Anthony’s offensive ineptitude and relatively poor rebounding make him a tough player to put on the floor.

While Andersen is also a limited offensive player, he’s much better than Anthony because his hands are made of skin rather than stone. Over his past handful of seasons in the NBA Andersen has been a very efficient offensive player, and his understanding of the game’s spacing on the offensive end has improved greatly. Andersen can’t really do anything but dunk, but he makes himself effective by contributing as a pick-and-roll threat, an offensive rebounding presence and a dangerous off-ball cutter. When Miami spreads the floor offensively, they can count on Andersen being able to use all of the interior space to establish offensive rebounding position or to feast on help defenders that have to cut off LeBron or Wade’s drives to the rim.

But who am I kidding? As long as Andersen actually catches the ball when it is passed to him, the Heat will be happy with him on offense. The real reason that the Heat are hanging on to Andersen is his defense.

During his last full season in the NBA – 2009-10 with the Nuggets – Andersen led the NBA in block percentage at 6.34%. While that may not be as high as some of the astronomical numbers that Sergee Ibaka and Larry Sanders are throwing up, it is still pretty impressive and a good indicator of Andersen’s ability to protect the rim. Andersen has also always been a solid rebounder, with his usual rebound rate being around 17%, while Joel Anthony’s usually sits around 11%.

To be more specific, it is Andersen’s mobility defensively that makes him a coveted piece for the Heat. The linchpin of Miami’s defensive scheme is the hard trapping that they do on pick-and-rolls and Andersen is capable of moving his feet laterally in order to get in sound defensive position to trap ball handlers while still being able to recover to his man on the roll and do an effective job rebounding.

Though he has only played a few games for the Heat, take a look at how well Andersen has handled his new role as an aggressive pick-and-roll defender so far.

Mobile bigs don’t grow on trees, and one with the defensive instincts of Andersen is even more rare. Oddly enough, Anthony possesses these qualities, but, to use an evaluation system coined by Bill Simmons, Andersen and Anthony both bring that to the table, and Andersen takes fewer things off for the Heat, which should make him a usual suspect in Spoelstra’s rotation for the remainder of the season.

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