Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008-09 Season Prediction

Yes, I know a few games have already been played in the season, but a season prediction is necessary. Here's how I (Moose) think the season will roll.


Atlantic Divison:
1. Boston Celtics: The defending champs get back their core of all-stars in Allen, Pierce and Garnett, and they retain most of their stellar bench. The only great losses were James Posey and P.J. Brown; the Celtics left at the top and are looking to stay there. Number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: After having a great offseason, picking up star forward Elton Brand, Philly is looking to take their young guns (Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young), their key returning leaders (Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller), and (a mixture of young and experienced) bench players to surprise in the East. Number 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

3. Toronto Raptors: After picking up PF-C Jermaine O'Neal in this offseason to fortify the inside, O'Neal must stay healthy and consistent in order for Toronto to be taken seriously, and PG Jose Calderon must deliver. But they have a good core in Bosh, O'Neal and Calderon. Number 6 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

4. New Jersey Nets: With a budding young point guard in Devin Harris, New Jersey doesn't have one current all-star on their team, but they do have a past all-star in swingman Vince Carter. With young big guys like Yi Jianlian, Sean Williams and Brook Lopez, young little guys like Harris and Chris Douglas-Roberts and just a young team in general, NJ isn't looking incredibly bad for the future. But don't expect them to make much noise this year.

5. New York Knicks: After controversially (well, among their fans it was contreversial) selecting 19 year old Italian Danilo Gallinari in the draft, the Knicks were booed for the pick. They've been booed a lot in the past few years; and don't look for the fans to be any happier this season either. Their best players are at the guard position, with Chris Duhon, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and Stephon Marbury, while they have two decent big men in David Lee and Z-Bo. The Knicks aren't looking as terrible as the other years, but they still aren't going anywhere.

Southeast Division:
1. Orlando Magic: Orlando has their core intact; Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, and the struggling Southeast division shouldn't be too difficult for the Magic to take. Somewhat deep on the bench, Orlando's center, swingman and power forward are top-notch in the NBA, and they have decent guards with Jameer Nelson and Mickael Pietrus. Number 5 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

2. Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks surprised everybody last year at how close they came to taking down the eventual champs in the first round of the playoffs, pushing them to seven games. And with most of the younger guys back (Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams) and the veterans back (Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby) the Hawks are in a good position to take the second place spot in this division from the oft-injured Wizards. Number 7 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

3. Washington Wizards: Health is a great problem that Washington hasn't even been able to overcome before the season starts, with Agent Zero out until December and center Brendan Haywood out 4-6 months and possibly the whole season. If their core of Butler, Arenas and Jamison is together, they can be deadly, but that seldom happens. Number 8 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

4. Charlotte Bobcats: The Betcats still aren't in a good position to win games, but with a solid swingman (Gerald Wallace), a solid F-C (Emeka Okafor) and a solid two guard (Jason Richardson), Charlotte looks like it has a decent starting five. But the starters can't do everything, a very weak, young bench isn't giving anybody any belief that MJ's team will win games. They have a good rookie point guard in D.J. Augustin, but coach Larry Brown isn't very fond of rookies, so the chances of him playing much are very slim.

5. Miami Heat: After selecting scoring machine Michael Beasley second overall in the draft, the Heat added another legitimate scoring threat to the starting five. Beasley will complement a healthy Dwyane Wade who showed that he can get the job done again in the Olympics, and swingman Shawn Marion. But even with this good core of scoring starters, Miami is missing players at two very important positions; they barely have a point guard or center, which is the reason why Miami will miss the playoffs and be last in the division.

Central Division:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs have a scary amount of potential this year. Perennial MVP candidate LeBron James gives them a chance to win every time they step onto the court, with almost guaranteed great all-around numbers. And with good shooting around him (Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, Mo Williams, Wally Szczerbiak, sometimes Zydrunas Ilgauskas), good defense around him (himself, Williams, Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace) and great all-around playing, the Cavs will be great this year if everything goes according to plan. Number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

2. Detroit Pistons: The Pistons are usually predicted at number two or number one in the East most years. This year is an exception. With great teams on the rise (Cleveland, Philly, Orlando) and Detroit on the slight decline, they will have to forfeit their number two seed this season. Still a great team with their used-to-be-all-stars core (Sheed, Billups, Tayshaun, Rip), these guys are aging, all of them 30 or older, barring Prince, who is 28. Their hard-working young bench shines (Maxiell, Stuckey, Afflalo), while their older, slower bench (Mcdyess, Walter Hermann) might keep their older starters in there for longer. It's hard to see these older Pistons having more speed or desire than the other younger teams in the East. Number 4 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

3. Chicago Bulls: After selecting Derrick Rose number one overall in the 2008 draft, the Bulls will start him straight away, and expectations are high for this strong young court general. He will start right off the bat; along with Joakim Noah, Drew Gooden, Luol Deng and Larry Hughes. They have a great sixth man in two guard Ben Gordon, a great scorer and shooter. But, the Bulls don't belong among the elite in the East, so don't expect them in the Postseason.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: The key moves that the Bucks made this offseason included trading for scoring swingman Richard Jefferson to complement the other scoring threat on this team, Michael Redd, and drafting SF Joe Alexander. It's a young team (Ramon Sessions, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Joe Alexander, (kind of) Richard Jefferson, (kind of) Michael Redd) but there is a good deal of talent. The Bucks look like they might make a little noise in years to come, but I highly doubt that this is a playoffs year for Milwaukee.

5. Indiana Pacers: They made a few trades on draft day, and after losing their marquee player, Jermaine O'Neal, to free agency, the team leader position has shifted and is now resting on the shoulders of small forward Danny Granger, a good scorer with excellent all-around numbers. They acquired speeding point guard T.J. Ford, who's coming off an injury, and also acquired another solid PG, Jarrett Jack, from the Blazers. The new acquisitions look all right, but the Pacers still won't make much of an impact at all.


Southwest Division:
1. New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets had a great offseason, acquiring championship machine sixth man James Posey. Posey will be a key player in the Hornets' run at a Finals this year, but the swingman will be a small piece of the puzzle compared to point guard Chris Paul. Coming off of his third year, finishing second in MVP voting, Paul is top-notch in steals, assists, points and defense. The dude is arguably the best point guard in the league (I think THE best, D-Will ain't as good as him. In MY POV, again.). They also have borderline all-stars in David West and Tyson Chandler, and great shooters in Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic. And their bench is excellent. What more could you ask for? Number 2 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

2. Houston Rockets: Health is the key for the gifted Houston Rockets, plagued by injury constantly in many other seasons. Yao Ming and Tracy Mcgrady, two superstars in the league, need to stay off the IR list in order for Houston to live up to expectations. They acquired defensive stalwart Ron Artest, an action that put the Rockets on the board for title consideration, and they are primed to make a great run in the playoffs if they can keep their health and Artest can keep his head. Number 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

3. San Antonio Spurs: Yes, they are a bit on the older side (Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan), all of these players being 32 years old or older, but the Spurs are still top-tier in the NBA. Duncan is arguably the best power forward in the league, while Parker is a stellar point guard, and Ginobili is an annual candidate for the Sixth Man Award. They tried to get younger over the offseason, but ultimately failed, still stuck with a bunch of older starters and bench guys. But age won't stop the Spurs, even in the hellacious Western Conference. Number 4 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Dallas still has their core of all-stars and borderline all-stars, with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Their bench has a good amount of young talent, barring Stackhouse, but the starters are a bit run down, all of them 30 or above, save 28 year old Josh Howard. Dallas still looks solid, but not exactly top-notch in the league. Number 8 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizz were tied for the third worst record in the league last year with 22 wins, and I don't really see them improving on that this year. There is an insane amount of talent on the young Grizzlies, with O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, Marc Gasol (well, not that talented . . . but effective nonetheless), Darrell Arthur and Mike Conley, none of them older than 23 barring Hakim Warrick's 26, and these guys are improving. But truthfully, they really won't do squat this year.

Northwest Division:
1. Portland Trailblazers: The biggest question this year for the Blazers is massive seven-footer Greg Oden. A "veteran rookie", if you will, Oden is coming off of microfracture surgery on his knee, keeping him from playing in the 2007-08 season. But if he can live up to his hype, then the Blazers are in excellent shape. With a stellar starting five of Oden, Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw and Lamarcus Aldridge, the Blazers also boast a great bench (Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Joel Prizbilla, Channing Frye, Ike Diogu, Jerryd Bayless). The team of the future with most everybody under 26 years old, the Blazers even look good enough to keep up with the big guns in the West this year. Number 6 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

2. Utah Jazz: Utah is a rare team in the NBA for one reason: They have an incredibly talented, young, proven, developed point guard with poise on their squad, and they are one of two teams that boast such a weapon, along with New Orleans. To complement Deron Williams, they also have a solid center in Mehmet Okur, an above average power forward in Carlos Boozer, and a solid bench as well (Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Brevin Knight, Matt Harpring). Number 7 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

3. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets still own a pair of probable scoring leaders in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, two stellar players. They also have a few average big men with Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Nene. But they problem with Enver is that they have no "D". There is a lot of interest on the offensive side of the floor, but when the other team gets the ball, they don't hustle down, and barely play any defense at all. George Karl has been trying to stress it, but it ain't working, and without the D I don't see the Nugs making the playoffs this year.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Minny is one of those "teams of the future", stacked with talented and potential-laden young players. The Wolves are in the process of rebuilding, and they're doing a great job. With two great athletic big men, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, a great shooting, scoring swingman in Mike Miller, two quick guards in Sebastian Telfair and Randy Foye, and a few reliable forwards in Ryan Gomes and Corey Brewer, the T-Wolves look great on paper. But, they just aren't ready for the competition in the West (or the East, for that matter). Again, they're still rebuilding.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder. New city, new look, new name. But, frankly, probably no new results for the team formerly known as the Sonics. Kevin Durant, a 20 year old forward, is the marquee player, a great scorer whose strength and all-around playing is improving. Last year, the then-Sonics had their worst season ever, winning 20 games while losing a whopping 62. They have great young talent in a few places (Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, D.J. White), but it isn't gonna do them any good this season. OKC will most likely remain cellar-dwellers this year.

Pacific Division:
1. Los Angeles Lakers: Listed by many as the pre-season pick to win it all, the Lakers lack many holes in their lineup. All in all, a great deal of the season rests on the young shoulders of Andrew Bynum, a 7'1" 21 year old giant who's coming off of a season-ending injury that ultimately led to arthroscopic surgery on his kneecap. If Bynum can bounce back well and live up to his potential, the Lakers look to be nearly unstoppable. Their starters, if healthy, are among the best in the league, if not the best, with Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Bynum and Pau Gasol. And their bench is also particularly outstanding (Lamar Odom, Trever Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton). Number 1 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

2. Phoenix Suns: The Suns are another team among the powerhouse that is the Western Conference that has future, current and former all-stars. A stellar frontcourt with Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire, a stellar backcourt in Steve Nash and Raja Bell, and pretty good bench (Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, Robin Lopez, Alando Tucker) puts the Suns in it's place, close to top in the league. Tattooed swingman Matt Barnes gets the starting nod for the older Suns, something he hasn't gotten yet in his career, so he is a player to watch. STAT is looking to explode this year (yes, even more than he already has), the youngest starter at 25 years old for Phoenix. Age is a problem for the Suns; four starters are 32 years or older. But they are definitely going to compete in the West. Number 5 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: The Clip Show had a great offseason, signing all star point guard Baron Davis, formerly of the Golden State Warriors. They also traded for defensive stalwart Marcus Camby from the now and then D-less Enver, a big man who averaged 3.6 blocks per game last year. They also had a good draft, selecting two guard Eric Gordon from Indiana and forward DeAndre Jordan from Texas A&M. They have a great frontcourt with Camby and Chris Kaman, an improving soph swingman in Al Thornton, a solid veteran shooting guard in Cuttino Mobley, and a pretty good bench (Tim Thomas, Ricky Davis, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Jason Hart). The Clippers don't look as terrible as other years, but they still won't compete that well in the Western Conference.

4. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors lost their marquee player to the above mentioned Clippers, but they acquired an important player from LA as they took one from Golden State, signing G-F Corey Maggette. Maggette averaged over 22 points and 5 rebounds last year, an addition that evens out the scoring that they lost when Baron Davis signed with the Clippers. This offseason they also signed energyman forward Ronny Turiaf, with him leaving the powerhouse that is the Lakers. But the Warriors have a gaping whole at point guard due to the Monta Ellis moped incident, putting those duties on the shoulders of the young Marcus Williams. Is he up to the job?

5. Sacramento Kings: The leader of this team, shooting guard Kevin Martin, is one of the most under-the-radar stars in the NBA because he plays on a subpar team. With three real scoring threats in Martin, Brad Miller and John Salmons, the Kings are primed to struggle this year in the great Western Conference; their weak lineup isn't set to compete very well against the rest of the league. But Martin is a player to watch here, his numbers have increased every year. The Kings won't make much noise at all, but Kevin Martin just might.


Eastern Conference:
First Round: Celitcs over Wizards (5 games), Cavaliers over Hawks (5 games), Sixers over Raptors (7 games), Pistons over Magic (7 games)

Second Round: Celtics over Pistons (6 games), Cavaliers over Sixers (6 games)

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics (7 games)

Western Conference:
First Round: Lakers over Mavericks (4 games), Hornets over Jazz (4 games), Rockets over Trailblazers (5 games), Spurs over Suns (7 games)

Second Round: Lakers over Spurs (6 games), Hornets over Rockets (6 games)

Western Conference Finals: Hornets over Lakers (7 games)


Hornets over Cavaliers in 7 games. Chris Paul and his supporting all-stars will give him the right tools to lead, giving them a victory over the LeBron-powered Cavaliers. Posey will step up, delivering at the right time, like he always does, and Paul will cap off a great season with a Larry O'Brien Trophy.


MVP: LeBron James
This year, Bron will finally get the credit that he deserves with an MVP award. Kobe won it last year, but Bron is improving and only 23 years old, so James will show his incredible talent and ability to it's full this year, leading the Cavs to the Finals.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Beasley
Beasley will have a great opportunity to show his raw talent and scoring ability in Miami because he will start right off the bat, getting a better chance to prove himself than his fellow class of '08 players.

Defensive Player of the Year: Kevin Garnett
KG will keep up his defensive dominance on the best defensive team in the league this year, even though it will be close between him and new Rocket Ron Artest.

Sixth Man Award: Lamar Odom
Usually a starter on a great team, Odom has to settle on being a bench player on an outstanding team, and with his great ability (I hate to say this) Odom is the best man off the bench in the league.

Most Improved Player: Andrew Bynum
If Bynum lives up to his limitless potential, which I predict he will, he will truly deserve this award after his disastrous injury and subpar first year.

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan
Portland will be increasingly better than other years in 08-09, giving him a chance to mentor the younger players, and if everything goes according to plan, this will be well deserved.

Executive of the Year: Kevin Pritchard
The 41 year old GM of the Blazers kept the young core of the team together while saving a lot of cap space for a potentially big signing next summer. A good showing in the West wouldn't hurt this bid either.

So, there you go. I got some big predictions here, and it should be a great season.

-- Moose

Monday, October 27, 2008

I think I'm going to stop with my previews right here. There's just too many, not enough time, and I'm all previewed out. I'm pretty much writing them for an absent audience and I don't love writing enough to keep doing it under those circumstances. Also, writing isn't fun when you're writing exactly what you already know. I'm not saying I'm an NBA expert, but I follow the league enough to know who acquired who, who's hurt, who's stepping up this year, etc., and i'm not really realizing or learning anything as I write previews, except for who made the final roster spot on each team, which means nada Its a lot more satisfying when you write and all these ideas and revelations that help your writing appear instantly and your works grows into something more than you planned and you feel like you're actually presenting something unique. All this can already be found all over the internet.

I will post my predictions for the standings tomorrow though. I'm also hoping to write something on experiences I had in high school with two completely different teams to basically explain the difference(s) between losing and winning.

Oh and Moose, feel free to do more previews if you'd like. I know you like to write and this is helping you polish your skills and get your stuff out, so keep it going.

NBA Pre-Hibachi Fastbreak: Sacramento Kings

Not too long ago I was wondering where this franchise was going. It didn't seem like they were really trying to build anything in Sacramento, just collecting talent that didn't quite fit together. However, with the emergence of Salmons, acquisition of Greene, Garcia's arrival and Martin's growth, they seem to be moving on up. Of course i'm not exactly listing future hall of famers here, but its a nice collection of young talent. Beno has also come a long way from his days of backing up Mr Longoria. They'll need some more firepower if they plan on being one of the elite one day, but for now they have cleared most of the vets out of the way and are allowing their young guys to go out and play. A great thing about their young guys is they aren't knuckleheads who are going to complain about minutes or buckets. They're going to play hard and really buy into what Coach Theus wants them to do. This being more runnin' and gunnin' and trust me, Greene is definitely a gunner. They also brought in a positive presence in the form of new assistant coach Shareef Abdur-Rahim. They have some nice shooters in the 2/3 positions and enough athletes to run on teams, but the loss of Artest definitely didn't help their defense, which already wasn't great. the frontcourt also needs some help since Miller is aging, Moore's a stick, and Williams is too busy with Ms. Parker to step his game up.

Garcia will be out for another 2-3 weeks due to a foot injury, but everyone else looks good to go. Here's the depth for the Kings:

Beno- Jax- Brown

Martin - Douby

Salmons - Garcia - Greene

Moore - Thomas - Williams

Miller- Hawes - Thompson

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pre-Hibachi Fastbreak: Denver Nuggets

Last Year:
Coach: George Karl (4th year with Nuggets)
Record: 50-32, 2nd place in Northwest Division, 8th in Western Conference, swept in first round of the playoffs by the Lakers

Scoring Leader: Allen Iverson
Rebounding Leader: Marcus Camby
Assists Leader: Allen Iverson
Steals Leader: Allen Iverson
Blocks Leader: Marcus Camby

2008-09 Probable Starting Lineup

PG: Anthony Carter - 6'1", 190 pounds, 33 years old
2007-08 stats: 7.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.5 SPG
Anthony Carter's point guard duties are pretty much used up by the un-positioned Allen Iverson (meaning he isn't really a shooting guard, isn't really a point guard. Didn't really know how to put that). Carter is more or less used to feed Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson while they pick up the many buckets. Last year he was given the most minutes that he's had ever in his career (20.8 per game), and he delivered, putting up career highs in every stat category except for blocks per game. He is a good shooter, passer and ball handler, and he is great defending the perimeter. Look for Anthony Carter's minutes to be lessened by potential-laden two guard J.R. Smith so that him and Iverson can be on the floor at the same time. But we won't be sure who's playing which position when that happens.

SG: Allen Iverson - 6'0", 180 pounds, 33 years old
2007-08 stats: 26.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG
Iverson is a top-notch superstar, and he has been for his whole career. Getting off shots well, he gets to the line almost at will, and he hits his free throws. Ranked third all-time in career points per game, AI has shown minute signs of slowing down since he came into the league in 1996; he is still scorin', stealin' and assistin' - just not much defendin'. There is no dispute that Iverson plays with heart and plays hard every night, but he doesn't have a huge commitment to his defense, which is good when he tries hard. But look for Denver to use him as trade bait during the season, as he has a big salary, and is a veteran superstar, something that is very attractive to a good deal of teams.

SF: Carmelo Anthony - 6'8", 230 pounds, 24 years old
2007-08 stats: 25.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.3 SPG
Carmelo Anthony is one of those 2003 draft picks that has already started to be a face of the league. Along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Anthony has been one of the top producers in this mega-draft, averaging over 20 points for every one of his five seasons in the NBA so far, one of the elite scorers in the league. With great quickness, Melo is fairly consistent with the 15-20 footer, which is improving, and he has a great post game on the offense. But he doesn't show much interest in playing defense, something that the Nuggets have very little of. But he can score from anywhere on the floor, and his court vision is impeccable. He was selected to the all-star game twice in his career so far, and look for it to become a habit.

PF: Kenyon Martin - 6'9", 229 pounds, 30 years old
2007-08 stats: 12.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.2 BPG
K-Mart is now an average NBA power forward, nothing special. Out are his all-star days of 2003 New Jersey Nets, in are the days of being just a pretty good NBA player. A terrible free throw shooter, he isn't bad in the post, playing on the offensive side or defending it. Adequate on the boards, his numbers in that category have gone down since his career high of 10 per game in 2006. Averaging 30.4 minutes per game last year, his playing time has decreased every year, so look for Renaldo Balkman and maybe even Chris Andersen to take some minutes from him.

C: Nene - 6'11", 268 pounds, 26 years old
2007-08 stats (16 games): 5.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .9 BPG
After missing almost all of last year with testicular cancer, this Brazilian big man is back to show the league that he can more than fill the absence of Marcus Camby, we won't even know he left . . . well, that ain't gonna happen, but he could surprise some people. Having the potential to be a 14 point, 7 rebound guy, Nene will probably get his chance this year with Denver's lack of good quality big men. Very bad at the free throw line, he has basic solid low post moves down low to complement his adequate shot blocking ability.

Depth Chart

Anthony Carter/Dahntay Jones
Allen Iverson/J.R. Smith
Carmelo Anthony/Linas Kleiza
Kenyon Martin/Renaldo Balkman/Juwan Howard
Nene/Chris Andersen/Steven Hunter

Bottom Line
After trading away two of their best defensive players - Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera - the Denver Nuggets even lessened their interest in playing defense for this upcoming year (hold on, I don't think that's possible . . . hm.). George Karl is trying to stress the D, but the Nuggets are looking to be Enver once again. And in the incredible Western Conference, I don't see the Nugs making the playoffs, even with their great scoring ability. I think they will win 43-48 games and will be placed 9th in the West. But Melo in these last couple years, Melo has shown that he can play with the best of them, so keep an eye over there in the mountains.

-- Moose

Pre-Hibachi Fastbreak: Toronto Raptors

Season's almost started, y'all. So we gotta get on these previews quick, because we don't have a lot of time. So don't complain about the length or quality, we're doing them as quick as we can as well as we can.

Last Year:
Coach: Sam Mitchell (4th year)
Record: 41-41, 2nd place in Atlantic Division, 6th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round to Orlando Magic.

Scoring leader: Chris Bosh
Rebounding leader: Chris Bosh
Assists leader: Jose Calderon
Steals leader: Jose Calderon, T.J. Ford
Blocks leader: Jamario Moon

2008-09 Probable Starting Lineup

PG: Jose Calderon - 6'3", 210 pounds, 27 years old
2007-08 stats: 11.2 PPG, 8.3 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG

This Spaniard's numbers have increased every year since he entered the L in 2005, and he is still on the young side and improving. Toronto has put a lot of faith into this potential-laden court general, having barely a backup to cover his butt if he gets injured or, well, just can't do the job consistently enough. Solid from beyond the arc, he doesn't really look to take the three pointer. Calderon is also a great shooter and free throw shooter (.908 in 07-08), and he can drive to the hole at will. Calderon plays great D on the outside and perimeter, and he is blessed with amazing quickness.

SG: Anthony Parker - 6'6", 215 pounds, 33 years old
2007-08 stats: 12.5 PPG, 2.2 APG, 4.1 RPG, .8 SPG

The brother of Candace Parker will be entering his sixth year in the NBA in the 08-09 season at 33 years old; he left the NBA in 2000 to play in Europe, but he returned in 2006 to be an adequate NBA starter. Parker likes to shoot the three and is above average out there, shooting .438 last year. Not very strong or quick at all, he plays averaged defense on the outside and can't defend the post very well. Parker will make a small contribution to the Raptors this year, but it will be a contribution nonetheless.

SF: Jamario Moon - 6'8", 205 pounds, 28 years old
2007-08 stats (rookie year): 8.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.4 BPG

The former Harlem Globetrotter, Jamario Moon is an athletic freak of nature. The dude has epic hops, and he has great handles and gets rebounds well, both of these unusual for a man of his size. Not much of a scorer or outside shooter, Moon can knock down the midrange jumper fairly easily. But his defense is where he shines, a great inside stopper, outside and perimeter defender. He is a sensational shot blocker for his position/height as well.

PF: Chris Bosh - 6'10", 230 pounds, 24 years old
2007-08 stats: 22.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.0 BPG

Bosh is the marquee player on the Toronto Raptors; an underrated almost under-the-radar all star up north. Bosh has an above average basketball IQ, able to figure out the opponent's weaknesses during a game very well. His 12-15 foot jumper is usually money, and if it's not on, he'll take it to the hole. His footwork on defense is great; Bosh is good at positioning himself for rebounds and to alter the opponent's shot. Bosh was an all-star last year (self promoted; see picture above) and look for that to become a habit.

C: Jermaine O'Neal - 6'11", 260 pounds, 30 years old
2007-08 stats (42 games): 13.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 2.1 BPG

The biggest question of the year for Toronto: Will Jermaine O'Neal jump back from his injury last year and give us what he gave the Pacers when he wasn't injured? It is a big one; throughout O'Neal's career he has had injuries. But if O'Neal is fine and plays well, then the Raptors have one of the best frontcourts in the league, with him and Bosh. His all star days are gone, but his days of being effective are still here. O'Neal will be the big defensive presence this year for Toronto, and if it works out, it will be one of the smartest moves of the offseason.

Depth Chart:

Jose Calderon/Roko Ukic
Anthony Parker/Willie Solomon/Hassan Adams
Jamario Moon/Jason Kapono/Joey Graham
Chris Bosh/Kris Humphries
Jermaine O'Neal/Andrea Bargnani/Nathan Jawai

Bottom Line:
The Raptors are getting better with the improving Calderon and Bosh, and hopefully for them O'Neal will deliver. If everything goes right, I have Toronto winning 45-48 games and another 6th seed. CB4 going all out this year!


Saturday, October 25, 2008

NBA Pre-Hibachi Fastbreak: Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls...Chee-cah-go Boo-ls.....its rolls so nicely off your tongue. The Bulls are what a franchise should be. Located in a big city, a cool nickname, good-looking unis, several banners looking down. The most photogenic in-mid-air player in the league. They got it all. Except team chemistry. That's exactly what kept this team from building and improving after a good regular season and solid playoff outing just 2 years ago. They were suppose to be on their way to the good 'ol days when they were a force in the east. Unfortunately for them, Wallace didn't know the limits of his game and Gordon thinks he doesn't have any. So Wallace's time in Chicago came to an end and the same could be true for Gordon next year. This is another team that isn't going anywhere this year (really getting tired of saying saying this), but its true. Not when they have to figure out if Hinrich can co-exist with #1 pick Derrick Rose and what the future holds for Gordon. They also need to acquire a legit center and decide how to suffle Noah, Thomas, and Gooden at the PF spot, but that last part isn't exactly a bad thing to have to decide. This is one team who doesn't necessarily need a superstar because they have a collection of versatile semi-stars and a future star in Rose who can one day contribute on a consistent basis. As long as they keep their young talent together, get rid of Gordon so they can unclog the 2/3 spot and bring in true center, this team could go back to hanging more banners within a (not so fast) decade.

Deng - Nocioni/Sefolosha -Demetris Nichols
Gooden - Thomas - Cedric Simmons
Noah - Gray -Omer Asik

So far only 14 guys on the roster.

NBA Pre-Hibachi Fastbreak: Utah Jazz

I hate the Jazz. Like every other Rockets' fan out there I have to. We have memories that go back to Malone and Stockton being in the way of two rings. They were dirty then and they're dirty now, but lately they've gone Hollywood with their flops. I can't just write this from a hater's perspective though because they can ball with the best of them, Emmys aside. This is another team that seems to just be spinning their wheel in mud, but their stuck in a much better place, right behind the best in the west. Its difficult to gauge their improvement over the years since the last two years they faced an overachieving Warriors' team and an injured Rockets' team. That's not to say they've had it easy because they've battled some of the best also, but I don't think they have had the constant tests and pressure the elite teams usually encounter. Their achilles heel is without a doubt the lack of a true big man. they still manage to rebound well and use their outside shooting center as a disadvantage, but in the playoffs, you need something consistent down there, not 40% from the 3 pt line (as good as it may sound). They do have a nice roster though, with tough players who play their roles very well. Almond is a young, but promising player. Korver's a consistent shooting threat. Brewer and Millsap are impriving every year, while Price continues to surprise every one in a while. Koufos, a pick that completely fell in their laps like a gift from up above, might be the answer to their big man prayers, but he's still has some learning to do. All signs point to a bright (immediate) future, but let's not forget the Jazz spuns their wheels this summer as well. While other teams like Houston, New Orleans, and Los Angeles made improvements, the Jazz didn't really make any. At least not any that will help soon. Expect another great season followed by another 2nd round-ish exit.

Deron - Price -Knight

Brewer - Harpring - Miles

AK - Korver - Almond

Boozer - Millsap

Okur - Collins - Kufos

The 15th spot is still up for grabs and yes I definitely forgot to mention Booz. Can you blame me though? The guy has been forgettable for half a year now. We'll have to wait and see how he responds since he's up for a new contract.

NBA Pre-Hibachi Fastbreak: Charlotte Bobcats

Alright, so we still have 14 teams left to preview and only 2 and a half days left until opening night. That means we're gonna have to spit these out D'Antoni style to make the deadline in time, so here they come, faster than NBA injuries are piling up.

The Bobcats, I thought, were going to be what Portland is right now. Young, full of potential, and set for years. They had Wallace, Felton, Okafor, Morrison, Hermann, Brezec, May and Carroll. All young and talented, ready to develop together and really make some noise in a few years. Fast-forward almost 2 years later and almost all of those those guys are still there. However, with injuries to most of those guys this team hasn't had much of a chance to develop. Back then, having a team full of versatile and solid semi-stars/stars players, like the pistons, seemed the way to go. Now you need some superstar power, which these guys don't have. They have made some moves, their wheels keep spinning, but these guys are stuck in the mud, going nowhere. This season should be a decisive one for them. Who do they keep long term and who is shown the door? Morrison is finally healthy, along with May. D.J. Augustin is in the mix now after being drafted this summer. Mohammed is still solid, but old, compared to these guys. Wallace and Richardson provide a lethal combo, but are somewhat similar and don't really provide superstar punch consistently. Should they both stay? A lot of questions for this team. Here's their depth:

Felton - DJ -S. Brown
Richardson- Carroll
Wallace - Dudley - Morrison
Okafor- May - Andre Brown -Davidson
Nazr- Hollins- Ajinca

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pre-Hibachi's: Cleveland Cavaliers

Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers racked up a respectable 45 wins while losing 37 times, having a slightly inconsistent year but good enough for 2nd place in the Central Divison (behind veteran powerhouse Detroit) and a 4th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Led by their superstar swingman LeBron James, the Cavs matched up with the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year, taking them down in six games. After defeating Washington, Cleveland found themselves face-to-face with the 66 win veteran-powered Boston Celtics, the favorite over the less-proven Cavaliers. In these semis, the Cavs surprisingly took the Celtics to game seven, which at the time was the second rubber match in Boston's playoffs after being pushed to the brink by the young Atlanta Hawks. Cleveland fell to the Celtics in a thrilling 97-92 finish, highlighted by a 41 point performance by future Finals MVP Paul Pierce, and by a 45 point showing by the Cavs' LeBron James. After coming so close to the ECF and falling, Cleveland is back and ready to show who's boss in the East.

(Probable) Starting Five

PG: Mo Williams
Acquired in the large three team deal involving Cleveland, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, a large part of the season rests on the shoulders of young court general Mo Williams. While all of the pressure was formerly put on the Cavs' (seemingly) superhuman swingman LeBron James, Williams should take some of the playmaking and ball handling duties off of Bron so that he doesn't have to bring the ball up and other things off that sort. Not a pure point guard by any means, the 6'1" 25 year old has improved every year, having one of his best seasons in the Bucks' 07-08 campaign, averaging 17.2 points, 6.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game, stellar with the NBA's lack of great point guards nowadays. A proven scorer, Williams can also shoot pretty well, with a .385 three point percentage last year. The good ball handler also has the ability to play good defense on the perimeter. Williams should help Lebron improve, and he is a great reason for the Cavs to have hope for this year.

SG: Wally Szczerbiak
Wally Szczerbiak, the 6'7" two guard, is definitely on the decline. Getting on the older side at 31 years of age, his numbers have decreased since his best days, from about 2001-2006. Still a good three point shooter with a .365 percentage last year, it still isn't enough to save the rest of his worsening game. Szczerbiak's gawd-awful defense is enough to let any player in the NBA beat him easily, making him possibly the worst defender in the league. An upside to Wally is that he is an outstanding free throw shooter, .878 last year, and he gets to the charity stripe a good amount of times. He is also a decent midrange shooter, making him a good option on the offensive side. But don't look for his 22.2 minutes per game in 07-08 to increase at all this year.

SF: LeBron James
LeBron James is arguably the best player in the Eastern Conference (best in the league? I'd argue yes, but there are many others who would argue against that. I'm not gonna get into a Kobe-LeBron debate on this post though, OK?). LeBron highlighted the potential all-star filled 2003 NBA draft among other hyped stars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. And since he was picked first overall out of St. Vincent - St. Mary HS (OH) he has taken the league by storm. During his five years in the NBA, James has averaged 27.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game, stellar statistics. LeBron has also improved his rebounds and assists per game every year, coming somewhat close to averaging a triple double in 2007-08, with 30.0 points, 7.9 boards and 7.2 dimes per game, and for his career he has had 17 of them, 14 in the regular season and 3 in the playoffs. Standing at 6'8", big for a man of his skill and position, he uses his freakish athleticism, quickness and unusually strong upper body to blow by his opponents on offense, and to stop them in their tracks on defense. An incredible player to have on your team, LeBron already has a Rookie of the Year award, a scoring title (2007-08), two Olympic medals and four all-star appearances (two of them for MVPs) under his belt. He also holds or shares 49 Cavaliers' records, and he is the Cavaliers' all time scoring leader. Watch out for LeBron James in 2008-09, y'all (MVP?). Oh yeah, and he's only 23 years old (!).

PF: Ben Wallace
Big Ben used to be an incredible defensive player. At his peak he won four Defensive Player of the Year Awards, in '02, '03, '05 and '06, and was undoubtedly the greatest defenseman in the league at the time. Now Wallace is still an effective four man, but he is merely a shadow of his former self, being 34 years of age. At an undersized 6'7" (well, he's listed at 6-9, but he's admitted to be 6-7), Big Ben is still an unusually good stopper, playing great outside D and inside D and he is still great at stopping the penetration. But, the biggest downside to Ben is that his hair is better than his work on the other side of the floor (or worse, whatever you think, but the hair overshadows it). A disaster when he makes trips to the charity stripe, Wallace has shot .418 from the line for his career, and he can't score very well, averaging 4.2 points per game in 07-08. Still able to clean the glass, averaging a respectable 7.4 boards last year, he isn't at the point where he was getting over twice that per game (2002-03), but that is what Cleveland is going to get from Ben. His minutes have also decreased every year; he averaged 26.3 per game last year. Without an offensive game and with him getting older, this is a weak spot in Cleveland's system, and hopefully for the Cavs he can stay healthy for the whole year.

C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a great asset for the Cavs. The 7'3" Lithuanian (very) big man is the second tallest player in the NBA behind mammoth Yao Ming. Unlike other centers (except for Yao) Ilgauskas is a great free throw shooter, shooting .802 from the line last year, and he frequently takes the technical foul shots. Able to score from the post easily on smaller centers and pretty well on the bigger guys, he uses a good turnaround J and hook shot down low to his advantage. Ilgauskas can also shoot the straight up 15 footer, and he averaged 14.1 points per game last year. Zydrunas is also great at tipping in missed shots, something that is often overlooked in someone's game. Exceptionally good on the offensive boards and adequate on the defensive ones, he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game last year, a career high. His shot blocking ability is mediocre for a man of his size, and he won't take a charge. He didn't draw one offensive foul last year, becoming the only player to play at least 1,000 minutes and not do so (he played 2,226). Ilgauskas is still a quality center, but at 33 years of age, gone are his all star days. But we haven't seen many signs of him slowing down; Ilgauskas's consistency is one of his great attributes.

Key Bench Players
  • Daniel Gibson, G: Boobie is the best shooter on the Cavs, shooting .440 from long range last year, and there are only good things to come from the 6'2" 22 year old, including significant minutes; there is a good chance he will be the starting two man by the end of the season.
  • J.J. Hickson, F: Drafted 19th overall from N.C. State in the 2008 selection, the 6'9" Hickson should be a good tool for Cleveland to use; a young forward, something that they are lacking in, even though his immediate impact probably won't be very big at all.
  • Anderson Varejao, F-C: The 26 year old Brazilian flopmaster with the big hair is good on the boards, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game last year. The 6'10" backup is good to put in if you need some rebounds, but his scoring ability isn't great.
  • Sasha Pavlovic, G-F: Pavlovic is an average utility man on the bench, able to play shooting guard or small forward, but his numbers are mediocre. The 6'7" 24 year old averaged 7.4 points, 2.5 boards and 1.6 dimes per game last year in 23.3 minutes.
  • Delonte West, G: West could probably start on a good deal of NBA teams, but with such a great starting point for Cleveland, he is a great backup to have. The 6'3" 25 year old averaged 10.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game last year in 30.1 minutes, pretty good numbers, while shooting .367 from long.

Bottom Line:
The Cavaliers have a great point guard in Williams, an extreme superstar in James, a solid center in Ilgauskas, strong D in Wallace and a good stroke in Szczerbiak, making the starting five above average in the NBA. While their interior players are not that great, their guards on the bench and starting are very good, and maybe a possible midseason trade could fortify the inside. I predict 48-55 wins this year for the Cavs and a 3rd or 4th seed in the East. LeBron gives them a chance to win each night, and if Williams can give what Cleveland thinks he can give them, the Cavaliers have a chance to make it to the ECF, or to the NBA Finals. They lost to the Spurs in the NBA Finals in the 2006-07 season and almost made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Who's hungry?


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pre-Hibachi's: Philadelphia 76ers

In the 2007-08 season, the Philadelphia 76ers were pretty good. They were average. Nothing special. They managed a 40-42 record, not quite crossing the .500 line, but not a bad record nonetheless. This showing in the subpar Eastern Conference was good enough to earn the 76ers a 7th seed in the playoffs, which ultimately led to them falling to Detroit in 6 surprising games. The Sixers were still recovering from the 2006 headlining trade of Allen Iverson, the face of the franchise. This notable trade sent court leader Andre Miller, two first-round picks of the 2007 draft and Joe Smith (who has since then signed with the Bulls, traded to the Cavs and traded to OKC) to the Sixers while their mini-controversy laden guard was shipped to Denver to provide his services in the Rockies. This trade had been hard on them for the last year and a half because they lost their leader, and top player in most team and league stat categories for guards. This also left the role and label of "team leader" and "franchise player" vacant for the moment, which was thrusted on gifted young G-F Andre Iguodala, who was 23 at the time. As you would imagine, this would be a difficult spot to put a younger guy, and Dre's case was no exception. But since the trade he has shown that he is up for the job, and the rest of the Sixers team has improved dramatically. After a great offseason of signing and drafting, the Sixers look ready to contend in the Eastern Conference.

(Probable) Starting Five

PG: Andre Miller
Andre Miller is one of the most underrated players in the game of basketball. YES, he may be a bit out of shape, YES, he is getting on the older side at 32 years, YES, he isn't as fast as he used to be (though he still ain't slow). But this guard is special in the sense that his decision making is near-flawless, and he is also one of the best transition players in the league, a part of any player's game that is often casually overlooked. Standing at 6 foot 2 inches and 205 pounds, he has great scoring ability, averaging 17 points per game last year, although he isn't a great shooter. He doesn't take three pointers at all, but his ability to hit the pull-up jumper is another one of the sometimes overlooked features of Miller's game. He is also a superb rebounder for a point guard, averaging 4.2 boards per game for his career. He is an average passer, and he picks up a good deal of dimes, holding the 13th spot all-time for career assists per game at 7.5. Andre can also throw up the alley-oop better than most everyone, finishing third last year in dunk-assists at 149 behind Steve Nash and Chris Paul. YES, Andre Miller is aging, but the iron horse (averaged 36.8 MPG last year while playing in all 82 games) can still get the job done as well (and often better) as anybody.

SG: Andre Iguodala
The second Dre on this Philadelphia team, Iguodala signed a six year deal with the Sixers worth over $80 million this August. It's big money for the young gun, but from what we've seen, the dude is more than worth the investment. Moving from his regular spot at swingman to the two guard to make space for the budding Thaddeus Young, Iguodala, the 6 foot 6 207 pound jumpmeister out of Arizona, was picked 9th overall in the 2004 draft, and so far it has proven to be a great pick for Philly. With outstanding scoring ability, averaging 19.9 points per game in 07-08, Iggy is good all around in other categories, averaging 5.4 boards and 4.8 dimes per game as well, and also adding a superb 2.1 steals per game, ranking 6th in the league in that category. He isn't terrible at shooting the long ball, averaging .329 in 07-08, though it could be better and it is improving. A slasher who can do it all on offense has a game to match on the other side of the court as well. He is an adequate shot blocker for a guard, and he averaged .6 rejections per game last year. But his perimeter, outside and transition D is outstanding, and his quickness is incredible on both ends of the floor. This athletic wonder is (one of) the marquee player(s) on the young Sixers and up is the only way that he can go.

SF: Thaddeus Young
The beginning of the endless potential of the Sixers starts at swingman Thaddeus Young. The second year player out of Georgia Tech, drafted 12th overall in the 2007 selection, is a fan favorite for his defense and hustle. Standing tall and lanky at 6 foot 8, 217 pounds, the 20 year old is starting for the first time in his career this year, and expectations are high for this rising star. Last year, in 21 minutes, he averaged 8.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and a steal, getting the bulk of his minutes afer Kyle Korver was traded to the Jazz, splitting the time with fellow youngster Reggie Evans. But his game on offense can't touch is game on D, which is where Thaddeus prides himself. Young does a great job of halting penetration of the lane by opposing players, and is a great defender on the transition. Not much of a shot blocker, his ability to stop the open shot from happening is a skill that Philly should cherish. Given an opportunity this year, Thaddeus Young has a chance to impress, and the signs show it is more than likely that he will live up to his limitless potential.

PF: Elton Brand
On July 9 of this offseason, the Sixers signed power forward Elton Brand to a five year deal worth $82 million, a pickup that ultimately put the Sixers on the the radar to be Eastern Conference contenders. Last year, in his final season playing on the LA Clippers, a ruptured left achilles tendon left him out for the season but eight games, not nearly enough time to make an impression on the year at all. But, even with him coming off of a big season-affecting injury, there isn't much question that Brand will bring an immediate star presence on the floor. For his career since the 1999-2000 season, Brand has averaged a stellar 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 2.7 assists per game, great numbers, especially for a man of his role. An undersized four man, short (for his position) and stocky at 6'8", 254 pounds, he makes up for his lack of height with his strength and wingspan, both being great assets of being such a superb shot blocker and post offender as he is. A deadly low-post threat on both sides of the floor, Brand also sports a fairly reliable 18 foot jumper, keeping the defense honest. The addition of Brand improves their half-court game dramatically, a problem of the Sixers' that was revealed in the first round of the playoffs last year against the Pistons. Something that is of small concern in Philly this year with Brand is that there's a chance he will slow down their fast break, which they rely on heavily; they averaged 18.2 points per game off of it last year. But the Brand signing was a great move by the Sixers, adding a great star power to the team.

C: Samuel Dalembert
Samuel Dalembert is one of the most underrated defensive big men in the league. He has flown under the radar for a good deal of his career, while averaging 10.5 points, 10.4 boards and an outstanding 2.3 blocks per game last year, which is certainly worth recognition. The 6'11" 27 year old's numbers have increased year by year since he came to the NBA from Seton Hall in the 2001-02 season. On the offense he has subpar post moves, though he is a somewhat capable scorer. Terrible at driving to the hoop, handling the ball and passing, he isn't really an offensive guy. Remember, I only called him an underrated defender. But on the defensive side the dude is a great shot blocker, a good post defender and good on the glass, averaging almost as many boards as he did points last year. He is a good presence inside because of his above average strength. Dalembert is a pretty decent big man, and the frontcourt of him and Elton Brand should be up there with one of the best.

Key Bench Players
  • Louis Williams, PG: The 21 year old 6'2" speedster is one of the young players on the Sixers who is quickly on the rise, averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 assists per game in 23.3 minutes last year. He is also great at penetrating the lane on offense.
  • Reggie Evans, PF: Another undersized four man at 6'8", the 28 year old is a good backup for Brand and is a great rebounder, taking Philly from the worst rebounding team in the league to the top 15 in 2008-07.
  • Royal Ivey, G: Standing at 6'4", the 26 year old combo guard brings a fairly good three point shot to the bench, something sorely missed by the Sixers.
  • Kareem Rush, G: At 6'6", the 27 year old two guard is another attempt at a three point shooter; he shot .389 from long range last year.
  • Theo Ratliff, C: The (semi) ancient Ratliff has been in the league since '95; he carries loads of experience and good shot blocking (2.6 per game average for his long career) to the bench.
  • Marreese Speights, F-C: Standing at 6'10", the 21 year old rook from Gainseville has impressed in the Summer League; now let's see what he can do in the real one.

Bottom Line:

After a great offseason of signing Elton Brand and re-signing youngsters like Louis Williams, the Sixers look ready to take the the East by storm. With a great bench and good guards and post players, their biggest weakness, and it is a big one, is their outside shooting. Last year, for the second straight year, they finished last in three pointers made, sinking just 302 out of 952 attempts. Iggy was the leader on the team, hitting 101 of the 302, and he was ranked 58th in the league. Very unsatisfactory in this category. But the Sixers have a great starting five and are one of the deepest teams in the league with a great bench, and are attempting on improving their shooting. So, for the Sixers I predict 2nd in the Eastern Conference, with a great chance at a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. There, I said it. You read it right. Yes, over Cleveland, Detroit and Orlando. Yes, it's a bold prediction. But watch it happen, y'all!


NBA Pre-Hibachi: Portland Trailblazers

THE OLD: Von Wafer is now trying to make the Houston roster, James Jones opted out and signed with the Heat, Josh McRoberts and Jarret Jack were traded to Indy on draft day, Taurean Green was also traded, but during the middle of the season.

THE NEW: Where do I start ? Oden, although he was a draft pick last year, is still new to this team as he returns from injury to play his first season. Rudy Fernandez comes off great play in Beijing to join this squad as well. He was traded for last season, but played overseas this past season. Nicolas Batum, from France, was aquired on a draft day trade. As if that weren't enough talent, they stole Jerryd Bayless from Indy, as well as Ike Diogu, in exchange for their original pick (Brandon Rush), Jack, and Roberts. Luke Jackson, Shavlik Randolph, and Jamaal Tatum also join the Blazers this pre-season in hopes of making the final roster (good luck).

THE TRUTH: Portland is now a force in the west. All-star cast. Playoff team. NBA Champs within 3 years, count on it. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiit a minute. I know there's a lot of buzz surrounding these guys and I definitely understand why. They are one of the deepest teams in the league, possible THE deepest. Their team is extremely young, so they have plenty of good years ahead. However, these guys still have to get paid. This year they're set, but what about the next few years? LaFrentz and Francis' huge contracts come off the books after this year, which gives them a big opening. Miles and Przybilla should clear out in 2010 (Joel has an option for 2011). Those are the guys that won't be part of their future, which may be an expensive one. Webster, Frye, and Diogu only have qualifying offers after this season. Outlaw and Blake will be free agents. Oden, Aldridge, Roy and Rodriguez are down to team options for next year. Do they try and wrap up Oden, Roy, and Aldridge long-term early? Do they let Rodriguez go and risk Fernandez feeling homesick after his fellow Spaniard is gone? How much will Webster, Frye, and Diogu settle for? How much cap room do you save to re-sign Bayless and Rudy in 2010 ? Does Rudy even re-sign? Batum is pretty much locked in for no more than 2.1 mil until at least 2012, but if he blossoms along the way, how much do you have left to give him? That's a lot of questins to answer. Fortunately, nothing has to be answered just yet, and that should give the blazers time to see who fits in and who doesn't. I know a lot of fans wish this team could stay together, but I just don't see that happening. Roy, Aldridge, Bayless, and Oden all have almost sure all-star potential. That's 4 guys who all could possibly deserve the max. Other guys may not get the chance to blossom to their full potential with these many players and decide to leave. For now lets just enjoy this team and hope they'll put together a solid season and become the Atlanta Hawks of the 2009 Playoffs.

Here's the projected depth:

Blake- Bayless -Rodriguez
Roy- Rudy - Luke Jackson
Webster- Outlaw - Batum
Aldridge - Frye- Diogu
Oden - Przybilla - Steven Hill

That's a nice starting lineup and solid back up at each spot. Roy's a solid contributor, Aldridge is becoming consistent, Oden will definitely contribute and so will Webster, Blake and Outlaw. I think Bayless is too talented to back up Blake and may eventually win the starting job. However, he's more of a two-guard so keeping him on the bench for a scoring punch isn't a bad idea. Rudy's athleticism and confidence will make him a fan favorite. Batum is too raw and won't be getting much PT. Frye, Joel, and Ike are all solid big men. Jackson and Hill aren't locks to make the team and should pretty much have no effect on the seaso. For now, Blazers' fans should enjoy the youth and talent of this team because they'll definitely provide some highlights and topple some of the best in the league throughout the season, but keep in mind things may not stay the same for long. Of course they'll keep a core of at least Oden and Roy. Aldridge more than likely. After this it gets tricky though. Perhaps they may be able to keep most of this guys since they all have limits on how much they can make and being young guys, that won't be a lot compared to older players of the same talent. Who knows if that's long enough for them to make some noise in the playoffs or even win a ring. Either way, they'll still have a core that will eventually make them one of the best teams around. I'm predicting a playoff spot, but only a 7 or 8th seed, some nice play in the first round, but not enough experience to beat the best in the west.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pre-Hibachi's: Orlando Magic

Last year, the Orlando Magic surprised the doubters with a satisfying 52-30 record which left them at the top of the less-than-stellar Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. After being slurred by media and fans alike during the offseason of 2007, they delivered, led by the thundering game of center Dwight Howard and the breakout year of swingman Hedo Turkoglu. Finishing third in the East, the Magic went on to defeat the Raptors in 5 games, and proceeded to take on the thoroughly more experienced Detroit Pistons, who were fresh off a victorious struggle with the Sixers. The Pistons took the series fairly easily in 5 games, with some added controversey in game 2 on a questionable Chauncey Billups three pointer. But last year is last year. With Dwight Howard hungrier and improving, and with Turkoglu back to prove that the 07-08 season was no fluke, the Magic look poised to make another playoff run.

Probable Starting Five:

PG: Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson is the co-captain of the Orlando Magic. Once you hear that, you are probably thinking, "Why Jameer Nelson? Why not Hedo Turkoglu? Or even Rashard Lewis?" Yes, it may seem like an odd choice to have Jameer Nelson share this honor with big man Dwight Howard. The 26 year old 6 footer has career averages of 11.7 points, 4.4 dimes and 3 boards a game, nothing incredible. But the Magic must have faith in their young court general, whose averages for rebounds and assists are growing every year, even if his points are declining, making him a reliable choice to feed the big guns in the middle. Nelson can also shoot from long, with a percentage of .416 last year. But with guards Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling gone to greener pastures ($$$), Nelson will have to step up his mediocre game.

SG: Mickael Pietrus
In Golden State Pietrus, the 26 year old French two guard didn't get incredibly significant minutes for coach Nellie, averaging 19.9 per. While being on the bench for the Warriors Pietrus had been on par with the rest of the league in his role averaging 7.2 points, 3.7 boards and a steal per game. But with Orlando this upcoming season, Pietrus' minutes will increase dramatically, giving him the opportunity to show the rest of the league what he's got, or at least show the Magic that the good money that they're paying him is worth it. Standing at 6 foot 6, Pietrus will make an impact defensively, with Orlando putting him in the role of guarding the likes of Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johson, as they have confirmed. Orlando was lacking a defensive-minded player last year, and they got it with Pietrus. But whether he's up to the important pressure-filled job or not is a different question.

SF: Hedo Turkoglu
Last year, Hidayet Turkoglu (more commonly referred to as Hedo) had a breakout season, to say the least. Averaging 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game was enough to earn the award for most improved player, and deservedly so, never averaging more than 14.9 points, 4.5 boards and 3.2 dimes per game before last year. The 6 foot 10 swingman, the first Turkish player to reach the NBA, playing the way he played was a great boost for Orlando, adding another superstar-like presence to the starting five to complement Howard and Rashard Lewis. He has the outstanding ability to score from almost everywhere on the floor, be it taking the ball to the hole or shooting the three (shot .400 from long last year, averaging 2 per game), which are assets that make you incredibly hard to guard when you are a bigger player like the 6'10" Turkoglu. But with all of his sensational offense, his work at the other end of the floor is a bit below average. His D is of some concern, though is offense is top rate.

PF: Rashard Lewis
Lewis brings to the table another outstanding scoring threat and long range shot for the Magic that forces teams to stay on their toes. In his first year in Orlando in 2007-08, Rashard averaged 18.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, great scoring numbers and mediocre rebounds numbers for a power forward. Also not very typical of a power forward, Lewis can shoot three pointers well; he shot .409 from beyond the arc last year. He also isn't afraid to take it, having had attempted 553 shots from long in the 07-08 campaign. A great shooter from most parts of the floor, he is also an outstanding free throw shooter, although he doesn't get to the charity stripe as often as a lot of other players. The 29 year old drafted out of high school in 1998 is not a perennial all star, though he is a very solid offensive player, even if his defense isn't as outstanding.

C: Dwight Howard
Call him a freak of nature. Call him an athletic accident. Call him superman. Call him anything, but the dude can ball. The 6'11" big man is only 22 years old and on top of the NBA, starting in the All Star game in 2007-08 (his second all star appearance) and included in the MVP talks. And you better get used to it. Playing only three years in the NBA so far, his numbers and dominance are increasing every year. Last year, Howard averaged 20.7 points, 2.2 blocks and 14.2 (!) rebounds per game last year, leading the league in boards. He was the youngest player in the NBA to reach 3,000 and 4,000 rebounds and was drafted first overall out of high school (Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy) in 2004, and it has proven to be a smart pick. He is also the youngest player to lead the league in rebounds, to record 20 rebounds in one game, and to average a double-double. And, not that it means anything, he also has the highest field goal percentage in all star game history, shooting .810. His performance in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest was also incredible, showing that him, being a big men, can jump like the smaller guys. This is a trait that is almost never owned, except for by Howard and Shawn Kemp. Dwight's defense is also top-tier in the NBA. He is great at every aspect of defense, barring the perimeter, and also posses great shot-blocking ability, averaging an almost Mutombo-like 2.2 blocks a game. And that is one of the many stats that are improving each year. Dwight's ability has not been fully realized yet, and it will probably be almost scary when it is.

Key Bench Players
Tony Battie, PF-C: The experienced 32 year old 6'11" big man will provide good insurance off the bench for Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard.

J.J. Redick, SG: The 6'4" Redick did not get very significant minutes with Orlando last year, and has yet to prove himself after a great stay at Duke two years ago.

Courtney Lee, SG: Another 6'4" two guard, the rookie left Western Kentucky as the all time leading scorer. He was drafted 22nd overall in the 2008 draft.

Anthony Johnson, PG: The career journeyman won't get significant minutes, but it will be nice for the Magic to have him in their arsenal.

Adonal Foyle, C: The 33 year old 6'10" big is again another older guy who won't play much, but will give the Magic insurance in case of disaster, and to give Howard a rest.

Bottom Line:
This year, Orlando is poised to have another great season with the core of Howard, Turkoglu and Lewis. But with the rest of the East improving as much as the Magic, I don't see it much different than last year. With their fairly strong starting five and (potentially very) weak bench, I see the Magic winning 45-55 games and a 3rd or 4th seed, and again I see them getting past the first round to the second and falling. The Orlando Magic are ready, and watch out for Dwight Howard!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

SLAM Fantasy League

UPDATE : As of right now there's 3 spots left. Hursty, DP, Tad, Jukai, Mykal, B Long, Lz, Teddy and myself are in. We'd like to have an even number of team so hopefully at least one more person will join, if not 3.

Draft is set for this Sunday at 10 pm central, but i may have to push it back due to late sign ups. However, if one more person signs up and they and everyone else checks in by tomorrow, then we'll just play with 10 teams instead of 12.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pre-Hibachi's: Minnesota Timberwolves

Lemme start this off by giving myself my own introduction. I am Moose (as you probably figured out by now), and you might know me as a regular commentor from slamonline.com (where I go by the name Moose as well). I am the newest member to Hibachi 2.0, and I am a Celtics fan, though I keep the biases out of the writing. So I'll be writing on here from now on, you guys'll probably get to know me a little bit more on here. So let's get rollin' . . .

Last year, the Timberwolves were . . . well . . . let's just say that they were not as good as some other teams. It was their first year without the freakishly athletic power forward Kevin Garnett, and at 22 wins and 60 losses, the Wolves had close to the worst record in the league. And to add insult to injury, the team that they had traded the face of their franchise to, the Boston Celtics, went on to have one of the best seasons in the history of the game. They were, and still are, a young team without a great deal of playoff experience. But that is to be expected when the average age of your probable starting lineup is 24.4 years. But with these young players being some of the most gifted sophomores/rookies/third year men in the league, the Wolves are on the rise. Still in the rebuilding process, not playoff caliber yet, but on the rise nonetheless.

(Probable) Starters:

PG: Randy Foye
One of the Timberwolve's best reasons to hope for the upcoming season is Randy Foye. Missing the first 43 games of his second season last year due to a stress reaction in his left knee, the 6 foot 4 combo guard was hurting Minny with his absence. They went 8-35 while he was injured, and when he came back they went 14-25. The numbers don't lie here. With Foye (hopefully) in there for a full season, Minnesota's record could improve significantly. And shooting .412 from downtown, the man can shoot the J as well, and has a knack for scoring, an attribute that is found to be greatly respected when you have a job in the NBA. His defense is about average, but that will probably pick up as he gets more significant minutes. Foye is looking great, and is certainly in a good spot for a breakout year.

SG: Mike Miller
Getting Mike Miller, a 28 year old veteran with a Rookie of the Year award and a Sixth Man award under his belt was a great move by the T-Wolves. Acquired from the Grizzlies in the post-draft trade that sent O.J. Mayo to Memphis for Kevin Love and him, the 6 foot 8 shooting guard brings a great three point shot, shooting .432 from long. Adding Miller added on to their already great outside shooting, and it also added a veteran presence to the young Wolves. Averaging 16.7 points per game, 6.7 boards per game and 3.4 dimes per game in the 2007-08 season, Miller brings to the table a great variation of skills for the rebuilding T-Wolves. Miller will get the solid minutes that he has gotten for his whole career in Minnesota, and they will be happy that they picked him up. A lot of this season has to do with if Miller is up to the task of being a leader on the young team.

SF: Ryan Gomes
Ryan Gomes is another player acquired from the Celtics in the Great Garnett Deal of '07. At 6 foot 7 and 250 pounds, the muscly 26 year old does not exactly typify a swingman, yet he will most likely be starting at that position for the T-Wolves this year, and getting a lot of shared time with Corey Brewer. Last year Gomes averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 29.7 minutes. Showing good footwork and ability to score from most parts of the floor, Gomes is a good multi-purpose swingman who will only improve.

PF: Al Jefferson
The marquee player on the young Timberwolves, Jefferson has been hyped since high school, averaging 42 points and 18 rebounds per game at Prentiss High School in Prentiss, Mississippi. And since his high school days, not so long ago, Big Al has delivered. Acquired from the Boston Celtics in the massive Garnett trade, last year the 23 year old power forward showed what he was made out to be, averaging 21 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game, while playing in all 82 games and averaging 35.6 minutes per. There is more to come from this young star, maybe including a starting all star slot in the 2008-09 season (I'll predict that, and you can hold me to it). He has great post moves, and he finishes well around the basket. His offense is great, but his defense his another story. It isn't that great, to make a long story short. But the Wolves are giving him flack for his D, and they are making him work at it, so expect an improvement this year. Watch out for Big Al Jefferson in 2008-09, baby!

C: Kevin Love
Sent to the T-Wolves alongside Mike Miller for O.J. Mayo soon after the draft, the 20 year old Center-Forward out of UCLA will more than likely be placed right in the starting lineup for Minny. Standing sturdy at 6 foot 10, 255 pounds, Kevin Love is the son of 1970s NBA forward Stan Love, who is an inch shorter than Kevin. Love shows a great basketball IQ, and shows good decision making. He is also a great passer, famed for his greatly accurate and quick outlet passes, and for his full court chest passes into the hoop. (If you haven't seen it, go to youtube). He has great post moves, and he also showed a good college three pointer at UCLA, but he'll probably have to settle for the midrange in the pros, because of the difference in three point line. He will probably rebound well, because he has a great body frame for it and knows how to get good positioning. His defense is on par, and it should improve as time goes on, seeing that he's only 20 years old.

Key Bench Players: Sebastian Telfair, Corey Brewer, Rashad McCants, Craig Smith, Rodney Carney
The Wolves' bench is similar to their starting lineup in a few ways. One, the players are again quite young and without much experience, and two, the potential is great. Sebastian Telfair, standing at 6 feet tall, is a 23 year old guard who has been greatly hyped up since high school, and has yet to live up to his hype, but his potential is sky high. Corey Brewer, 22 year old swingman who stands at a wiry 6 foot 9 inches and 185 pounds, will most likely be the backup for Ryan Gomes. A sophomore out of Florida, his defense is of note. Rashad McCants, a 6 foot 4 24 year old 2 guard also has a pretty reliable three ball, shooting .407 last year. Craig Smith, the 24 year old undersized forward-center, standing at 6 foot 7, 272 pounds, also provides good insurance off the bench. And, pretty much last on the list of key bench guys, we have Rodney Carney, 24 year old swingman that they acquired from the Sixers in the offseason.

Bottom Line:

The Timberwolves are still in the rebuilding process, and in the hellacious Western Conference, don't expect much out of Minny this year. I predict 25-35 wins, and an improvement from the younger guys. But with defensive improvement, breakout players and younger guys living up to the hype, they just might surprise us. Don't expect much this year, but the Wolves look to be going in the right direction.

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