Sunday, November 30, 2008

Boston Celtics for 2008 SI Sportsmen of the Year

I wrote this on Sunday night and Monday morning, so when I refer to "tomorrow", I mean Tuesday. Maybe they've already made the decision and put it out, but it really won't affect the read at all.

Sports Illustrated. The cornerstone of sportswriting. Where the most advanced sportswriters go. This highly influential publication is read by 23 million adults every week, one of the top magazines in the whole country. And they officially go farther than just America with SI China, and they get many subscribers outside of the USA as well. People read it, send letters to the editor, scrutinize it, criticize it, commend it--SI is insanely popular.

There are reasons for their expansive popularity. First of all, they have many skilled and learned writers in their arsenal, doing stories on their respective specialties and producing the best work in the business (barring SLAM). Features are plentiful, with the annual year-end double issue, the annual "Where Are They Now?" issue, the annual college basketball issue--all special editions of the magazine are highly awaited by readers, myself included in this distinguished group.

But there is one detailed feature issue that is awaited more than any other throughout the year (no, I'm not talking about the swimsuit issue), and it leaves readers and writers alike trying to decide who is worthy of the honor that comes with being featured in this prestigious issue. Annually, there is shock and disbelief from a good deal of people regardless of the result, and there are also many people who feel that the choice was obvious all along.

The Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award has been given annually in December since SI's inauguration in 1954. This honor is given out to, by definition, "The athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship of achievement". Names that have been popping up this year for the cover story in this issue include NASCAR racer Jimmie Johnson, Texas Rangers' outfielder Josh Hamilton, Milwaukee Brewers' C.C. Sabathia and even President elect Barack Obama. We'll find out who wins it tomorrow, and this year there is no clear winner, with the writers' online nominations being diverse and barely similar at all.

I know that Boston sports have been given enough exposure already after numerous incredible teams and players from the area have won many a championship or individual award. I am aware that a Boston sports team or player has won this award twice in the last four years. I am also aware that the Boston Red Sox have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated 44 times, and the Celtics have done the like 39 times. The Red Sox have won two World Series' in the last 4 years. The Patriots had three Super Bowls in four years a couple years ago. The Celtics just won the NBA Finals. I am aware that people are sick of the kind of exposure that Boston sports are getting. But, I think the Boston Celtics should be able to appear on the cover yet again for this award.

Ian Thomsen, an SI Senior Writer, nominated the 2007-08 Boston Celtics as Sportsmen of the Year. And I agree with this bold idea. Is it just my crazy Celtics' fandom and loyalty that is driving me to this decisive conclusion? Or is it that I truly believe that the Beantown Boys in green epitomize the definition of the honor above? There is a good chance that a bit of both is involved in my decision. After an improbable year, the Celtics should get the credit they deserve. Why do I think that the Celtics should be presented with the award that has been given to the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Arthur Ashe?

June 28th, 2007. Draft day. The Boston Celtics had fallen short of their high expectations of scoring in the lottery. Presumably they desired, as the rest of the league's lousy teams did, the 19 year old center compared to Bill Russell, or the 19 year old point forward compared to Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. After the ping pong balls had come out to give Boston the fifth overall pick, the Celtics as a team and organization were crestfallen. Greg Oden or Kevin Durant would not be acquired, even after Boston had a 19.9 percent chance of being blessed with the first overall selection. With this bad luck presented to the Celtics, they were again an afterthought in people's minds, Paul Pierce and the rest of his team won't be good for a while.

While the semi-obvious first two picks were going down, the Celtics' organization was hard at work with the Seattle Super Sonics, trying to get more than "just another young guy" to play with alongside all-star Paul Pierce. They needed a seasoned veteran who could bring star power to the Celtics' rotation, a guy who could lead a young charge with Pierce, the team's long-standing marquee player. Soon before their choice was due, an announcement had been made: Three point specialist Ray Allen and the Sonics' 35th overall choice was to go to the Celtics in exchange for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the Celtics' fifth overall pick.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis was selected with previously the Sonics' pick, and Jeff Green was taken fifth overall by Seattle. They needed a guy that Pierce could play with, and they finally got one in Ray Allen. But, the Celtics knew that this transaction alone wouldn't be enough to nail their lofty goal of winning a championship in the 2007-08 season. A bit over a month later, Danny Ainge and the whole Celtics organization took a measured risk: in the biggest trade in NBA history for a single player, the Timberwolves' leader Kevin Garnett went to the Celtics in exchange for Boston's Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff. The Celtics traded the future for the present, all of the players sent to Minny were young and talented (barring Ratliff).

The monumental trade brought a combined 22 all star game appearances, three years of being named All-NBA First Team, four years of being named All-NBA Second Team, six years of being named All-NBA Third Team, six years of being named All-NBA Defensive First Team, two years of being named All-NBA Defensive Second Team and an MVP award. That is on another level of formal recognition, and Boston looked great on paper after acquiring backup guard Eddie House, chip-winning swingman James Posey and backup center Scot Pollard along with the two new all stars.

They were equipped with a deadly mixture of veterans and younger players on the bench to complement an all-star leading starting five. Young point guard Rajon Rondo was improving, and defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins looked more than ready to clog up the middle. On paper, Boston looked great. But could the three superstars who'd been surrounded by no-names for their whole careers work as a team? If the answer is yes, people liked the Celtics' chances. The three stars had zero Finals' appearances between them, and this year looked like they could finally get their chance in Boston.

Opening night was quite a show for the fans in Boston at the TD Banknorth Garden as the Celtics romped the Washington Wizards 103-83, Garnett leading the way, grabbing 20 rebounds. The energy in the arena was electric, and Garnett brought the intensity and excitement to the court and the stands that had been vacant for a while in Boston's home arena. They kept it up after opening night. The Celtics went on a tear, more than living up to the endless hype that had been doled out for the four months preceding the season. They won their first eight games, and Garnett, Pierce and Allen doing what they were fated to do their whole career NBA careers: win basketball games.

The kept with their winning ways, losing a diminutive three games in November and December combined, that being compared to 26 wins. It was one of the best starts in NBA history, and everyone could see that the Boston Celtics were the real deal. They got to double-digit losses only after winning 41 games, and they were the team to beat in the East coming into the playoff hunt. They cruised to a 66-16 record, with a .805 win percentage. Boston easily cliched a first-seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, and Kevin Garnett was one of the leading candidates for MVP, along with the Cavs' LeBron James, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, and the Hornets' Chris Paul. They were matched up against the young and inexperienced Atlanta Hawks for the first round, and many people predicted a sweep in this lopsided series.

Boston won the first two, and many people's and writers' original predictions looked imminent. But when Boston came to ATL, they were stunned by the ultra-supportive crowd and electric Hawks, losing both away games to the "young and stupid" Atlanta club, and they came back to Boston to show that it wasn't a fluke. The Celtics took that game, but going back to their home court would be a problem for Boston. In a thriller at the Philips Arena, the Hawks came out with the win in the last minute, 103-100, and they were sent back to Boston, unprecedentedly forcing the top-seeders into a game seven.

But, their vast effort was for naught, with the Hawks being no match for the motivated Celtics who won 99-65 in front of an ecstatic home crowd. They were then scheduled to play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with Boston maintaining home court advantage for the series as they would for the whole playoffs.

This Conference Semifinals series started out with two defensive-powered low-scoring games at the TD Banknorth Garden, both finishing with Boston on top, 76-72 and 89-73, respectively. Both teams then traveled to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, where a crowd of 20,563 hungry and eager Cavs fans awaited them. The Cavaliers answered the intense crowd with two decisive wins over the powerhouse that were the Celtics, beating out Boston by more than ten points each time. The Cleveland then went back to the Celtics' arena with confidence flying from the two wins, the series tied at 2 games apiece.

But Boston wasn't about to let Cleveland get comfortable with the series, and they answered the two recent losses by beating them twice in a row at home again, sending the series back to Cleveland so that the Cavs could try and stay alive. Boston held Cleveland to under 75 points in this one, but Cleveland's newfound D held the C's to under 70; a 69-75 finish. Boston, unbeaten at home in the playoffs, closed the door two days later in game 7, winning 97-92, advancing the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals against the versatile Pistons. The game was highlighted by 40-plus point performances from Pierce and LeBron James in the entertaining game seven thriller.

Coming into the series undefeated at home and winless away in the playoffs, the Celtics were slightly fatigued from the two consecutive series' pushed to the brink. Still having home court advantage, the persistent Celtics found themselves face to face with the ultra-experienced Detroit Pistons, who had been where they were at the moment many times before, contrary to the Celtics. They won the first game 88-79 in a great team effort led by the unsung starters (Rondo, Perkins) and the bench, but the next game would not be quite as easy, as the Celtics knew.

Despite a 26 point effort from P Double, Boston barely fell to the Pistons at home, 97-103. This arose the question: Could the Boston Celtics win at home in pressure situations? If they wanted to win the series, that's exactly what they would have to do. The answer came two days later with Boston winning by a decisive 14 point margin victory at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 94-80. The Pistons weren't about to let the Celtics get them twice in a row at home, and they dominated the next game, beating Boston 94-75.

Coming back to the Garden off of a loss, Garnett and the C's wanted it infinitely more than Detroit did. Garnett had 33 points and Rondo dropped 13 dimes in a 106-102 home victory, putting the Celtics a game away from the NBA Finals against longtime rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pistons aren't a team to go down without a fight, but despite having the homecourt advantage for game six, a thorough team effort from Boston sank Detroit 89-81 to close out the ECF. The Celtics' next matchup: The NBA Finals against their longtime foe, the Lakers.

In their intense pursuit of banner number 17, Boston took on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol right from from the start. With their confidence sky-high at the opposition's arena after winning away from home twice against Detroit, their confidence was fully intact at home as well. In the first game of the 2008 NBA Finals, Kevin Garnett took it away and did his business, scoring 24 and taking down 13 rebounds in the Celtics' 98-88 victory at the Garden. It was highlighted by the return of a seemingly injured Paul Pierce late in the game, hitting back-to-back three pointers in the fourth and finishing with 22 points; Willis Reed comes to mind when watching this tape.

In game two the Lakers came to play, jumping out to an early first-quarter lead. But Boston's scoring built throughout the game, having a comfortable 24 point advantage with just over eight minutes to play in the fourth. But the Lakers are not known to go down without a fight, and they came back within two--only to be stopped short by clutch free throws from Posey and Pierce late in the game to bring them down, 108-102. The star of the game was second year energy bench man Leon Powe, scoring 21 points in 15 minutes of play, all the while shooting more free throws than the entire Lakers' squad for the whole game.

In game three the Celtics looked kind of flat, with the hometown crowd at the Staples Center willing a win from their Lakers. League MVP Kobe Bryant paced the win for the sharp Lakers, scoring a stellar 36 points. Paul Pierce went 2-14 from the field in a great defensive effort from LA. The Lakers continued their streak of being undefeated at home in the postseason after dominating the Western Conference Playoffs, but that streak wouldn't last as long as they hoped.

With a new hunger in the clubhouse and their hearts, the Celtics came energized for game four at the Staples Center, leading the series 2-1. Boston came ready to win. Not if the Lakers had anything to say about it. LA scored a superhuman 35 points in the first quarter, an NBA Finals record, and they led by as much as 24 points all the way through the third quarter. Led by bench men, the Celtics went on an improbable 21-3 run, and with 4:07 remaining in the game, Eddie House took the lead with an eighteen footer that stuck for the rest of the game. The Boston Celtics took game four in the largest comeback in the NBA Finals since 1971, and they were put on the brink of a championship, with a 3-1 edge over the head-hanging Lakers.

Staying at the Staples Center for one last game, the Lakers put on their survival gear for game five, looking to be the only team in NBA history to come back from a 3-2 deficit in the Finals. Led by Pau Gasol's balanced leadership on the court, finishing with 19 points, 13 boards and 6 dimes, the Lakers maintained their composure throughout the contest, finishing the game with a close 103-98 final score.

Game six was back at the Garden. The Celtics were looking to close it out in front of a sold out home crowd, capping off a great season with a Larry O'Brien Trophy. And, quite plainly with this game, Boston wanted it more. After an unsteady first quarter, the Celtics took it away. For the rest of the game Boston maintained a lead of over 25 points in front of an ecstatic and gleeful hometown crowd. Ray Allen, coming off of a small slump, came back in full, breaking the NBA Finals record for three pointers in one game with seven, finishing with 26. Garnett chipped in with his own 26 points, and he also grabbed 14 boards. Pierce had 10 assists and Rondo had 6 steals as the Celtics dominated the TD Banknorth Garden.

They set a Finals record with 18 steals in one game, and the 17th banner was set to be raised for the Boston Celtics. The final score was 131-92, finishing with a 39 point deficit over the seemingly dead Lakers, and they broke the record for largest margin in a championship game. Confetti streamed through the Garden, Kevin Garnett acted like the maniac that he is . . . it was pure bliss for a Celtics fan. And they were talking about a repeat for next year.

This season was undoubtedly one of remembrance for Celtics fans and non-Celtics fans alike. In this incredible record-breaking season, Boston had the biggest win-loss turnaround in NBA history, turning from a 24 win team into a 66 win team without more than an offseason in between. It was a courageous and daring move of Danny Ainge and the Celtics organization to make the transactions, but the real shine comes from the players in these instances.

These guys were not used to playing much like a team, with a competitive team. They were making a combined $368 million, that's money that potentially gives the player the mindset of "I'm making the money, I'm scoring the points. Gimme the damn ball and get the hell outta the way." These players didn't do that. In a league of selfishness and one-on-one non-team basketball, a squad full of stars were an exception, and they won it all.

They were true team players, very selfless, and, at times, maybe a bit too selfless, as coaches and writers have pointed out. Their main goal was to win a championship. And that is just what they did. They were the first team in 59 years to win a championship with an overhauled roster and have two new players in their top three scoring leaders. Allen and Pierce committed to defense for the first time in their career, giving the Celtics the fire to play on both sides of the court.

They took backseat roles when they needed to, they let up for each other. But the reason why the Boston Celtics deserve to be the Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year does not just lie in the Big Three. James Posey, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis--the bench played a big role in this year of team offense, defense and winning.

The purest team play came from the Boston Celtics this year. Is it just my team loyalty? Or is it what I really think? Again, probably a little bit of both. We'll see if SI agrees tomorrow.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

My All-(fill in blank) Team

We all have favorite players, and we all have players that we dislike. Here, I reveal my picks to all of you guys. Tell me what you think, if you agree/disagree, all that stuff. ****DISCLAIMER****: All of the "Hated" players are still respected by me. I respect anybody who plays in the NBA, and I know that I'll never be able to take them, ever. But I do know that I don't like how they play on the court, off the court, things like that. Here are my "All-(fill in the blank) First Team (with two runner-ups included every time)", and I hope you guys all agree. Or not. Whatever. Just tell me what you think, you know? Here is my opinion on basically all aspects of opinionship in the NBA.

My All-Favorite Team: Retired
These are my favorite players ever. I try to emulate every single one of them, and I look up to them as role models. Yes, you are, Charles.

PG: Magic Johnson
Magic was amazing. Of course, I wasn't around for when he played, and I know that I'm supposed to hate all of the lakers being a Celtics fan, and I'm supposed to think that Bird is better with all my heart, blah, blah, blah . . . but I don't and I think that Magic is the best. I mean, if you are 6'9" and the best point guard EVER? Come on. I mean, the tallest point guard that we have in the league who is legitimately a star is 6'4", and he doesn't really play like a point guard all of the time (Gilbert Arenas). Magic won 5 championships, going to the Finals 9 times. NINE. And winning five is pretty incredible. Magic has my respect. Especially from the NCAA National Championship that he won in 1979, the three MVP awards, and the Hall of Fame induction. The twelve all star appearances, nine time NBA All First Team and 3 time Finals MVP are just background. Oh yeah, and he's a two time All Star Game MVP. Magic is the best point guard ever, and that isn't changing for a while. He is truly my favorite point guard ever. And, he always kept the mood light with that huge smile of his. Runner-Ups: Gary Payton, Oscar Robertson

SG: Michael Jordan
Yes, Michael gets a lot of attention already. But he is truly a role model for me on the court, as he should be for everyone else. Jordan is the GOAT, no question in my mind. I'll let the achievements do the talking. Six time NBA Champion. Six time Finals MVP. Five time NBA MVP. Fourteen time NBA All-Star. One time Defensive Player of the Year. Nine time All-Defensive Team. Ten time All-NBA First Team. 1985 Rookie of the Year. Two time Slam Dunk Contest Winner (Nique should've won both times, though). I can't name all of them, he won a bunch of other stuff in college and after he retired. But he was just amazing. Versatile everywhere. There is not ONE hoops player or fan who does not look up to Jordan and his abilities, or wish to play like him. His turnaround jumper, his hops, his defense--and his winning ways. They're all made to emulate. SIX rings. That's a lot of, well, winning. Jordan was a winner, and he had a gift. But he was also the hardest worker the NBA had. Do you think there's a correlation there? I do. Runner-Ups: Clyde Drexler, George Gervin

SF: Julius Erving
Dr. J was one of the most entertaining and high flying players ever to pick up a basketball. He had a good deal of hardware, although he can't really touch everybody else on this list in that category. The reason that he's on this list is because he was entertaining, really. I mean, he was cool to watch, a real throwback. The reason sounds lame, but that's all there is to it. OK, let's go to the history. Dr. J won two ABA Championships and one NBA chip as well. Five time ABA all star, eleven time NBA All-Star. Three time ABA MVP, one time NBA MVP. Four time All-ABA First Team, five time All-NBA First team. A spot in the Hall. Erving was one of those first players to come over from the ABA to the NBA, and he did so seamlessly, as I have just told you, kind of. He dominated at both levels of competition, and he is the only player to have his number retired for two teams: Number 32 with the Nets (ABA) and number 6 with the Sixers (NBA). The face of a defunct league, he was also the face of an active league. Oh yeah, and he could dunk, too. Runner-Ups: Dominique Wilkins, Scottie Pippen

PF: Charles Barkley
Who doesn't like Chuck? Barkley is entertaining on the court (or he was, anyways) and at the moment he is entertaining in the studio. With the humor, controversy and play style, Barkley is an easy choice for my list of favorite players (as you see here). Standing at 6'6" (not at ALL . . . he was really 6'4", haha) he was one of (if not the) smallest power forwards in the game. He used his chiseled frame to his advantage . . . hold on, he used his big butt and fat gut to be in position for the boards, in the lane for the dunk, or behind the arc for the three. He could jump out of the gym, and he had the humor to be a household name not just with sports fans, and he made the All-Interview Team in each of his last 13 seasons. Incredibly outspoken (one of the reasons why I love Charles), he USED to be a well-known republican . . . now he wants to run for governor of Alabama. As a democrat. Wow. Oh yeah, the "I am not a role model" advertisement. This is one of those things that make you wonder about him. First of all, I don't agree with that statement, because here I am, typing on the computer, telling all of you guys who my role models are. The Round Mound of Rebound says whatever is on his mind, and he doesn't care what you think about it. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I don't you get used to him. He was the best player to not win a chip, but he did win an MVP award, two gold medals, an All-Star game MVP, and eleven all star selections among other achievements. Runner-Ups: Karl Malone, Shawn Kemp

C: Bill Russell
Russell was one of the first dominant forces in the NBA, and he was definitely the first black superstar in the league. So let's get down to business on Russell's accomplishments. He won ELEVEN NBA Finals'. ELEVEN. At one point, he won eight in a row. EIGHT IN A ROW. Talk about a dynasty. Russell was average height for a center at the time (6'9" or 6'10"? We don't know . . .), but he wasn't an average player. Five time MVP. Twelve time All-Star. ELEVEN NBA Finals. I can't say that enough. He did a lot of other stuff too, but those were the highlights. He wasn't the nicest of fellows to people who weren't his teammates, friends or family, and he didn't exactly like the media. Apparently, based on what Tom Heinsohn has said, Russell had a sense of need to win, and he routinely threw up before games. He did this so often, in fact, that his teammates were worried when he didn't. This man had almost seven thousand more boards than he did points in his career, and he averaged 15.1 points. He averaged 22.5 rebounds for his whole career. That's insane. Runner-Ups: David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon

My All-Favorite Team: Current
This team is basically my favorite players as to how they play, how they act offcourt, things like that. I just really like this next team, they are definitely role models.

PG: Baron Davis
Baron Davis is one of those rare players who is larger than life. He hasn't won a ton of awards, he hasn't brought home a Larry O'Brien, but his sense of humor is untouchable. The co-founder of has made at least one hilarious video that I'm sure most of you have seen, you know, the one with him and the Clippers jersey at the restaurant? Anyways, there's always a smile on this point guard's face. Big for his position at 6'3", 214 pounds (almost EXACTLY Deron Williams' dimensions), Baron can dunk over anybody, most notably Andrei Kirilenko (2006-07 playoffs). Baron is extremely fun to watch, has a warm aura about him, and that makes him a fan favorite, even with fans outside of LA. BDiddy has averaged 17.1 points, 7.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2 steals per game over his ten year career (ten and a fifth, I guess, with the 2008-09 season counting). He is looking to bring the Clips back to life, the face of the franchise. Well I don't see that happening, but Baron will keep chugging. Runner-Ups: Deron Williams, Devin Harris

SG: Dwyane Wade
Watching Dwyane Wade play basketball is like watching Rocky Balboa in the ring with Ivan Drago in his fourth movie. Rocky goes in there and basically gets pummeled constantly by a man who killed another in the ring just months beforehand. Dwyane's game is similar. Wade drives to the hoop, scores, falls down, stays there for a minute, stands up, hits the free throw, three points for the Heat. And he does it all night. And, if he's got teammates around him, he'll pick up 22, 7, 5 and 2 per night. Wade is a warrior, he sacrifices his body routinely to win, be it in the NBA Finals or midseason. I love his effort, that's why he makes this list. He's a great finisher, and his shooting is improving. He would be a good point guard in my opinion, even if he is 6'4", but he doesn't like it. His position is "drive-n-score". I love watching Dwyane Wade play basketball. Oh yeah, one other thing I like about D-Wade: I like how you spell "Dwyane". Took me forever to figure it out. Runner-Ups: Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy

SF: LeBron James
Some of you know that I'm very passionate about defending LeBron James. I have an example. SLAM had a contest about two and a half months ago. We had to write about how LeBron James shows a passion for the game. The prize was limited edition colorway LeBron Zoom Soldier IIs. Me being the type of guy who loves LeBron, I won the contest. So, without going more into all of that stuff, here was my entry: "Lebron shows a passion for the game in everything that he does on the basketball court and off the basketball court. He shows a passion for the game by respecting its past, present, and future. In his own words, lebron is “a mixture of old school and new school”. lebron shows a passion for the game by respecting his opponent, never trashing them after wins and never making excuses after losses. he shows a passion for the game by winning with humility and losing with grace. lebron shows a passion for the game by representing his home country, something that he clearly wants to do. lebron shows a passion for the game by not hogging the ball, but spreading it around to everyone, just like how basketball is supposed to be played. lebron shows a passion for the game by playing hard in every minute, taking every opportunity. Lebron shows a passion for the game by being generous with his hard earned money, giving to charities and giving money to support his beliefs. lebron shows a passion for the game on a daily basis." That is, in a nutshell, why LeBron is my favorite small forward. Runner-Ups: Stephen Jackson, Rudy Gay

PF: Al Jefferson
Big Al is under-the-radar. People know him as a big star, but he doesn't routinely come up in the superstar talk. But he is. He has a lot of free reign in Minny, and I like how he plays, his post moves are just insane. I don't know why I keep telling you guys that I love how they play, because that's why I put them in here. Wow. Sorry about that. Anyways. Al Jefferson is playing a bit of center for the L-Wolves at the moment, but that's because they are short and undersized, and his true position is power forward. It took a little while for him to pan out, but he has shown everybody that he's the boss in Minnesota. And, he's still young. He hasn't won any awards, he hasn't made the all-star team, yet last year I think he should've. He averaged 21 points, 11.1 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and .9 steals per game, all career highs. OK, I guess he shouldn't have made the all-star game, that was a good call. But he was still sick, and he's on the rise. Jefferson's a beast. Runner-Ups: David West, Chris Bosh

C: Dwight Howard
Howard is just like Jefferson, as in he is a very young big who is already dominating the league. Just there are a few differences between Howard and Big Al. Howard is a year younger, and has a lot more hardware then Jefferson, even if they are only titles. Howard was the youngest player in the NBA to do all of the following: reach 3,000 rebounds, reach 4,000 rebounds, average a double-double, record 20 rebounds in one game, and to lead the league in rebounds. He also has the highest career all-star game field goal percentage, not like that means anything. He has made two all-star appearances, and he has made the NBA All-Defensive Team last year, that coming with an all NBA First Team selection as well. Dwight averaged 14.2 boards per game last year. Being 22 years old? OK, Howard, cut the crap. But this guy is for real. Last year he averaged totals of 20.7 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 1.3 assists per game, dominating, well, everyone. He won a gold medal in Beijing this summer, and that's only adding to his stacked titles and whatnot. Of course, he won the dunk contest in 2008, that certainly being a memorable one. He also has a great sense of humor, his favorite movie is "Finding Nemo", for example. And, of course, the Superman cape. Dwight Howard's just a beast. Runner-Ups: Amare Stoudemire, David Lee

So those are my favorite players. Those needed more detail, whereas the other teams that I'm about to put up require less, although there will be some explanation. Here we go.

All-Hated Team: Current
These are the players that I dislike most in the NBA. Check the disclaimer above again, I don't have much against these guys. I just don't like how the play or act. I fully respect every player in the NBA, just these are the ones that I don't like very much. At all. Don't think I'm a hate machine or anything, these players just annoy me.

PG: Stephon Marbury
Starbury needs to cooperate in order to get what he wants in New York. Things are going slowly, and it's just leaving me annoyed at him for all of it. He needs to stop whining and cooperate. I used to like Steph, but he's making that harder and harder every time I see him in a headline. I hope he gets this worked out, but for the moment, I don't have much love for Marbury. Runner-Ups: N/A

SG: Kobe Bryant
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Black Mamba. But, I'm a Celtics fan. A LeBron jockrider (admittedly). I prefer Shaq. I also think that rape is a serious crime. Everything lines up for me to dislike Kobe, and it all works to be that way. I will never like Kobe Bryant, but again, my respect is unwavering. He's still my second least favorite player in the NBA. Runner-Ups: Josh Howard, Ben Gordon

SF: Lamar Odom
A lot of you guys know how much I hate Odom. I have made this very clear. He plays dirty (sometimes). He plays like he doesn't care often. He never has his shirt tucked in (show respect, dude!). He's always got that smirk on his face when he's shooting free throws. He just annoys me. Need I say more than that last sentence? Runner-Up: Bruce Bowen

PF: Dirk Nowizki (no, I didn't spell "Rasheed Wallace" wrong)
Nowitzki is another one of those guys that annoys me. Most of the bigs who shoot three pointers just seem unnatural to me. I just don't like Dirk. Again, need I say more? Runner-Up: Pau Gasol

C: Joakim Noah
I kinda feel bad for Noah. Because I'm not the only one in this boat. Dirty player, annoying hair . . . and not very good. Just annoying. Runner-Ups: N/A

All-Undervalued Team: Current
The underrated gems at each position that people have overlooked for a while. These guys can be role players or undercover stars, but they do more than people think they can.

PG: T.J. Ford
Ford isn't a big-time name in the NBA, and I'd say that he's known to about 70 percent of the casual fans. But he's doing the job without being known for it in Indiana, where Ford's averaging 15.1 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds and a steal in just over 34 minutes per game. Who knew? Ford is not ranked where he should be on the point guard list (whoever's writing that), and I think he's in the top half in the NBA at his position. Definitely. Runner-Up: Rajon Rondo

SG: Joe Johnson
Leading the young Hawks to a presumable playoff spot isn't easy. They have Johnson in control of all that. He's the undercover all-star in Atlanta. He's averaging a superstar-like 23 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.4 threes per game during the season so far, and he's an elite player. Is he recognized as one? The dude's definitely overlooked. If the Hawks keep all of this up, he shouldn't be for long. At least he deserves to not be. Runner-Up: Brandon Roy

SF: Hedo Turkoglu
Turkoglu gives Orlando what they need: a baller that has a diverse game and can do it all. They have passing in Jameer Nelson, three pointers in Rashard Lewis and a dominant big in Dwight Howard. Then they just need one player to tie them all together. Howard gets the spotlight for the Magic while Turkoglu is as steady as running molasses. This year he is averaging 16.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.5 threes and 1.1 steals per game. All purpose. And undervalued. Runner-Up: Gerald Wallace

PF: David West
Chris Paul gets the headlines in N'Awlins. So does Peja Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler and, most recently, James Posey. West gets headlines and attention too, just not nearly enough. Despite being one of my favorite players, all biases are aside: West is an elite power forward. He hasn't even picked up his game yet this year, but he's still averaging a nice 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. If the Hornets are going to win in the playoffs, West will be the key. Runner-Up: Paul Millsap

C: David Lee

Lee plays for the gawd-awful New York Knicks. Most likely, he knows that his team won't win. He knows that when he matches up against Kevin Garnett he doesn't have that much of a shot. At least he knows all this in his heart. But David Lee is the hardest worker in the NBA. He hustles back on defense. He hustles back on offense. Lee is a true workhorse, and demands your respect. As for being undervalued, try being undervalued by your team. 12.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists warrants more than 31 minutes per game. Wake up, Mike.

I'm all "All (blank) Team"d out right now. All of this is unedited, so pardon if I made a mistake in here. The mistakes can be related to grammar or something else like that. And if I made a basketball mistake, just know that I know the truth to it, OK :)? Tell me what you think, and maybe give me your teams down in the comments section as well. I got some serious writing coming up in the next week, so stay tuned. As always, I'm taking requests. Later, everyone.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

808s & Heartbreak Review

Kanye Omari West. Ten-time Grammy Award winner. MTV's Number One "Hottest MC In The Game" last year. Slightly controversy-laden with the Rolling Stone cover, the Bush comment while he was helping out after Hurricane Katrina, and his whole beef with 50 Cent. Kanye's debut album was "The College Dropout", which was a great album, in short. West's rep was increased dramatically after being on Jay-Z's "The Blueprint" for a couple songs after this creative outburst.

His second CD, Late Registration, was a breakout, with hits such as "Gold Digger" (which was a MONSTER), "Touch the Sky", and "Heard 'Em Say". Rolling Stone magazine chose the CD as the best album of the year on their list of "The Year's 50 Best Albums". West was put on the radar as an elite lyricist, one of the few that hail from ChiTown (I'm not saying he's the only one there, though). It was also Grammy-nominated for "Album of the Year" and won "Best Rap Album of the Year" in this ceremony.

In 2007 he put out "Graduation", an all-around just plain great album. He scored a mega-hit in "Stronger", and big hits in "Flashing Lights" and "Good Life". Everybody knew by now that Kanye is a bit flashy, and cocky, but can back up his mouth. Self-control is not a strength for West; the flashy, creative Kanye got most of his fans from this aspect of him.

And here comes 808s & Heartbreak. Not exactly the flashy, cocky Kanye. But, rather, the controlled and rather sad Kanye. I'll let the song breakdown say it all. I'm breaking down the whole CD at the end, y'all. So don't just read this!

1. Say You Will - Kanye shows right off the bat that he has the ability so sing, and he sets the somber tone for the song right at the beginning. It's got an interesting beat and synth pattern, but with the repetitive lyrics and beats it gets kinda boring after a little bit of listening to it, obviously making it less interesting. In the middle there he stops singing abruptly, leaving the synth beat to go on for the three minutes that's left in the song, leaving you sitting there feeling a bit stupid. The song is sad, just like all of the other ones. But compared to the other songs on the album, it's pretty good.

2. Welcome To Heartbreak featuring Kid Kudi - At the beginning there, the beat sounded kind of Linkin Park-ish, kinda like "In The End". Or maybe that's just me. But whatever it is, it's a cool synth beat. Kanye starts singing behind the synthesizers, making his sorrow seem slightly distant and away from the song. Showing his sort of regret at his life in this song, just like all of the others, these depressing lyrics include: My friends showed me some pictures of his kids/And all I could show him was some pictures of my cribs. The title says a lot. Welcome To Heartbreak, indeed. His heart, I mean. I'm sorry, Mr. West.

3. Heartless - The chorus is hooky, kind of in "Can't Tell Me Nothing" territory, it sounds good. And whoah! Is that Kanye rapping? It is, and it sounds great. Why didn't he just make the whole CD like that, huh? But the lyrics were still somber and all, "But in the end it's still so lonely". Kinda depressing stuff. But it's got a nice hook, and the bass/synths sound good in this one, especially because there aren't many on his voice this time. One of the best tracks on this album. But, still, repetitive with the lyrics and music.

4. Amazing featuring Young Jeezy -The beginning of this song is catchy, but he gets off saying "It's amazing" too many times, with the little Jeezy noises in the middle. Y'all know what I'm talking about. A ton of synths on his voice, again. I don't like the Jeezy parts in between the "It's amazing"s, or his part in the end there. But I don't really like Young Jeezy anyways, so don't take my word fo that one. Again, it's a sad song. And repetitive. Again. Those are some themes on this CD.

5. Love Lockdown - This was the first single, and it's catchy. Again, he's going through a ton of synthesizers and it's a bit depressing. The first line says it all, "I'm not loving you/The way I wanted to". Nevertheless, it's catchy and has a nice hook. But, it's repetitive again. Kind of annoying. Oh yeah, and it's kinda cute how he over-synthesizes his voice when he says "system overload". Funny.

6. Paranoid featuring Mr. Hudson - Wow. Kanye's rapping. For ONE verse. And it's GREAT. Thanks for that, Mr. West. Showing us how good the album could've been. Sorry for all the negativity, guys. I just miss Kanye's raps that were great. All this singing stuff for him is kind of an acquired taste. Even though it sounds happy-ish, it's still a sad song, and repetitive again. It's got a nice beat there at the beginning, but it tapers off into a kind of cheesy bouncy beat, even more un West-like than the rest of it. But the first verse is great stuff.

7. RoboCop - It starts with that interesting beat, kind of sounds like industrial metal for a second there. But then it turned to pop-like stuff, and I just didn't like it. The strings part is reminiscent of Viva La Vida by Coldplay (that new hit), and it didn't really work with the song very well. Again, it's somber and repetitive. Notice a pattern?

8. Street Lights - Kanye's singing again. And I'm still getting used to it. This song is pretty reminiscent of male pop singers, One Republic comes to mind, mostly. It's just got that depressing element like all the others, and repetition of lyrics and music.

9. Bad News - This one has a cool beat, and I tend to like most of the beats/bass in this album. Just there's more sadness. Man, this is depressing. The title says it all. The song is about bad news. Parts of it just go on and on and on . . . and it follows the old patterns.

10. See You In My Nightmares featuring Lil Wayne - Wow, Kanye and Weezy in the same song! I lean a little bit closer to my computer screen for this one, and I am entranced by the catchy beat at the beginning . . . only to hear Wayne start doing the same thing that West has been doing the whole album. Disappointing. It's kind of hooky, and the main line is: Tell everyone that you now/That I don't love you no more. How sadder can you get? And Weezy comes close to an exciting lyric with: I got the right to put up a fight . . . only to have it finish with: But not quite, because you cut off my light. DAMMIT!

11. Coldest Winter - Where's the happiness, y'all? It all got sucked out with this song. These songs keep sounding the same now. And it's making me mad. OK, now I'm writing out of emotion. I should stop this. I'm done now. OK, again, it's sad and kinda repetitive.

12. Pinocchio Story (freestyle live from Singapore) - You should look up the lyrics to this song and see them for yourself. There is so much emotion in it I don't know where to begin. And I have to point out one thing: If he wants to be the said "real boy", then why doesn't he retire and step down from the stage right then? performing isn't going to help him. This song is truly heart wrenching.

Mr. West can sing. We have just learned that. Yes, he's going through a bunch of synths, but he can do it, and he did. This album was truly brave. Gone is the college dropout bear, and he's dropping the out-of-control moniker for the moment for some serious stuff. Very depressing music. He had a long, disappointing year, and he took out his sadness with this album. We get a real look into Kanye's thoughts and views, and, yes, his sadness. I did say that a bit too much in my explanation, so I'm sorry if I did. But if anyone here is contemplating suicide, don't get this album.

It does put you into a bad mood, so you better be really sad already or TOO happy to listen to it. It's kind of an acquired taste, and I don't really want to acquire it. I liked the old West. He'll come back. We'll see the rap/hip hop West in a year or so. This type of creativity was something that he needed, and it's truly interesting. We see his raw sadness and emotion displayed here, and it seems like he doesn't care what you think about it. This CD is very self-explanatory. The icy beats and synths are there throughout, and you should listen to some of the songs even if you don't buy it. It's interesting enough. It was a bit of a disappointment to me, though.

We'll see the old Kanye after this creativity passes. I hope. Anyways, here's a song/video that y'all should see if you haven't already. Here's the link:
COOL OUTRAGEOUS LOVERS OF UNIQUELY RAW STYLE! Haha. I'm out like whoever's playing the Celtics on the day you're reading this. Peace!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Basketball Fitness

So I’ve been away for awhile now, but I'm back for now. I don’t expect to write too many more basketball-only pieces, if any, maybe some Rockets’ game notes or stuff like that. This article though is mainly about fitness and health, but it still is applicable to basketball. Fitness is my field, so it’s something I’m more passionate about when it comes to writing and tying it to basketball makes it that much better. I know there’s a possibility some of you guys reading this still play ball, and whether you’re a YMCA regular or a teenager looking to play in the NBA one day, this information should be of some value. I’ve included a little bit of everything, from tips and workouts directly from the pros, to some more general advice that is helpful to anyone, even the non-hoopers.
I think the biggest question out there is how to gather information. Obviously not everyone has the time and money to hire Kobe Bryant’s trainer or Carmelo Anthony’s chef. The best advice I can give you is to look it up yourself. There’s nothing better than researching it on your own because not only are you learning as you go along, but you’re making sure all the information is from a credible source, and not from your best friend’s cousin, who got it from a co-worker, who thought he heard it from a trainer at his gym, who use to train either Kevin Willis or Bruce Willis, but he can’t remember which. So google away and learn as much as you can, just remember to check it twice and not believe just any blog you run into because you never know who’s writing it. So make sure they have some credibility. “I workout on my own” or “I played ball when I was younger” is NOT credibility. An ex-college athlete may know how to train for that sport since he’s done it before, but may not necessarily know about nutrition. A lot of these ex-athletes also don’t keep up with the latest research or workouts, so that’s a problem also. If you can’t figure out if someone truly knows what they are talking about, check other sources and see if his info checks out. That being said, I’ve done some research for you already.

To start with, these are clips I found online of different basketball related workouts/tips, with some comments:

Amare has some good points in this one. He mentions how in high school you basically pick up the ball and play. That’s the workout. I’m sure most schools are already doing some type of cardio and weight training, but lately there are more and more high schools doing what the pros do. That includes using resistance bands, balance boards, various forms of stretching, and weight training that targets basketball movements. It’s not just your typical bench, squat and pull-up anymore. If you want to keep up with the best, train like’em. Another good point is adjusting your diet. You may be lean and in good shape due to how much ball you play, but eating well makes your body efficient and keeps it running smoothly. Do you want your body to be occupied with fighting off and adjusting to all the bad stuff you consume, or do you want it to concentrate on keeping your body charged and your muscles strong? Changing up a life-long diet can be difficult, but at least try to change little things here and there, like opting for chicken instead of beef, wheat/whole grain bread instead of white bread, water instead of sugary drinks, etc. You don’t necessarily need to start eating grass and flowers or anything crazy like that.

A lot of people seem to think Dwight is some kind of bodybuilding freak. I always hear people write or speak about how huge or muscular he is, but like Dwight said, he’s not trying to be a bodybuilder. His muscles actually aren’t as big as people think. He just has wide shoulders naturally, which didn’t come from lifting. Now that doesn’t mean he’s not a strong guy. Notice how all of the exercises he is doing don’t involve bars that force you to use both limbs at once. He’s working out each limb individually, giving each its own amount of weight to work out. This is great because it keeps both sides even, there’s no way one side can do more work than the other, so both benefit equally. That’s a great advantage in basketball when you have to be able to use either arm to create space or either leg to jump off. Just like you don’t want opponents thinking you can’t go left or right, you don’t want them thinking you’re physically weaker on one side. Training each side individually not only gives you this balance, but also forces your body to use the smaller muscles (which Dwight talks about) since they don’t have the other leg/arm to help out. Instead of just one main muscle doing all the work and benefiting from it, the smaller surrounding muscles also pitch in. This is in part how Dwight can become a lot stronger without needing larger and bulkier muscles.

I’m sure some of you have seen this one by now, T-Mac’s workout. This isn’t all good folks. Compare this workout to Dwight’s. Howard’s movements are more controlled and don’t use momentum, while many of T-Mac’s movements are forced and use momentum. T-Mac also uses a lot more bars and exercises like the leg press and leg extension, in which you use both legs to lift the same weight, and not individually like Dwight’s. Let me point out that this does not mean using bars is always bad and doesn’t work. They can be beneficial, but there’s always the risk of muscle imbalances. Notice how Tracy’s bar leans to one side on the bench press. McGrady’s movements are also very quick and use momentum to lift the weight. Quick reps aren’t bad though. Sometimes it’s good to be able to move weight quickly. Especially when you need explosive power like he does. However, the weight he’s using is too heavy because he can’t move it without using momentum. He should drop the weight, keep the speed fast, but always be in control of the weights and not let momentum take over. The other stuff he does without weights looks good to me.

Kobe’s Team USA workout, good stuff.

Here’s part of Wade’s workout. I was very impressed at how explosive and quick he looked in the Olympics. He also seemed a lot stronger and I guess this is why. The guy he’s working out is Tim Grover, who is best known for being MJ’s trainer. Notice how Wade and others not only workout with weights, but also use only their own body weight for some exercises. It’s important to workout using movements you’re likely to use during the game. For football players, size and strength are a lot more important to their movements since they need to push guys around or keep them away. In basketball, there really isn’t a need to move more than your own body and the ball. So the best thing to do is master moving your own body weight in different directions, learn to balance it and control it.

Finally, remember to get a complete physical and medical examination prior to starting a workout plan. If you have insurance coverage through an employer take advantage of it and get a full physical. For you young ones use your parents’ family plan if available. It is better to be safe now than sorry later, especially nowadays with so many kids discovering they have life-threatening heart conditions.

Let me know if this was helpful or informative at all, if there’s a positive response I may make it a weekly thing. Questions or subjects you would like to be discussed are also welcomed.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Never Too Early For the MVP Race . . . Rankings!

My stream of consciousness about the MVP race at the moment. Bear with me. Oh yeah, and I wrote this a few days ago, so the stats might be a LITTLE bit off. I bothered to update the team records, just not the stats. Bit too lazy for that.

Winning the NBA Finals is usually the main goal for all NBA players. The ultimate thought of succeeding is coming out on top after a tough playoffs against other great teams is the best feeling for these players, at least hopefully. Everybody wants their team to win the Larry O'Brien. The NBA Finals is where everybody wants to be.

But, if you can't win a championship, why not win the MVP award? This is second to a chip, but it's a nice award nonetheless. And, it's never too early to say who's winning in the race. Yes, even now. So here're my top 10 MVP rankings.

1. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
Bron is doing his thing, man. As predicted, he's carrying his team, and they're winning. The Cavs are 10-3 and are second only to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. He's still got his playmaking ability (big surprise) and he's leading the league in points, with 29.6 per game. He's also got 7.8 boards and 6.9 dimes per game, coming as damn close as you can to a triple double per game. Bron also has 2 steals per game, doing it on both ends. He's the obvious number one so far, and if his team keeps winning, that spot ain't going nowhere.

2. Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat
OK, I know that the MVP award has to be given to a guy who leads his team to victories while getting good numbers and all that, blah, blah, blah . . . but D-Wade is an exception. He is important to his team because he . . . well . . . he IS their team, so he's pretty valuable there. He's got ridiculous averages of 28.2 points, 7.8 assists, 5.1 boards, 2.5 steals and 2 blocks per game. I know his team kinda sucks, but that's insane. He's second in the league in points and steals, and he's just getting everything done except for winning, which the team needs to do (they also need a point guard and a center for that one).

3. Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers
Everyone on here knows I'm a Celtics fan. I hate Kobe Bryant, as you might have guessed. And I'm wicked scared of the Lakers. Kobe, Bynum, their bench (ain't nobody scared of Gasol) but they're scary. And they're led by Kobe. With great averages of 24.3 points, 5.1 boards, 3.9 dimes and 1.7 steals per game, which isn't exactly incredible for the Black Mamba. His numbers aren't exactly terrific compared to some other dudes on here, and he hasn't had a game where he exploded for 40+ points, but his team is 10-1 and has won all of their road games and nearly all of their home ones, and they're just incredible. As the leader on this great team, he deserves the spot. I hate to say it.

4. Dwight Howard - Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard is just a beast. There is no other way to put it. An incredible defensive player, leading the league in blocks per game so far with 4.0 (!) his Magic are a pretty good 9-4 and looking steadily good. With 21 points, 13.5 boards, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals, and, of course, the 4 blocks per game, Howard is cruising. Yes, he's better than Yao (Hursty and RV, don't get that started :) ). Occording to John Hollinger, the Magic are third in defensive efficiency. And Howard defines defense at this stage. He deserves this spot for the moment.

5. Chauncey Billups - Denver Nuggets
Now here's a guy who you weren't expecting to see here at the beginning of the season. But the Nuggets are 7-1 after the Iverson trade, and it looks like Chauncey has brought the "D" to Denver. It LOOKS like it. If it stays, then FINALLY! No more Enver! But Billups has shined for the Nugs, and bringing a win against the surging Celtics on the home court was totally unprecedented. With averages of 17.5 points, 6.2 boards, 3.5 dimes and 1.7 steals per game, he is pretty good numbers. But it's the team success that puts him here. If Chauncey keeps this up and brings Denver to the playoffs, he'll be seriously considered for the spot.

6. Chris Paul - New Orleans Hornets
Doing what he's supposed to do in N'Awlins. With averages of 20.7 points, 11.9 assists, 5 boards and 3.1 steals (!) Paul is back and better than ever. The Hornets are starting off slow at 7-5, but expect bigger things from the Hornets this year. Hopefully they can defend my preseason pick. If the Hornets were doing better, he'd be higher, but for now we'll keep him at 6. He had a record seven straight games with 20 or more points and 10 or more assists (passing, ahem, Oscar Robertson), and that was great. His supporting cast needs to pick it up, though! Hey, Tyson! Is 20 points, 15 assists and 4 steals from your point guard good enough for you? I guess not, because they lost at home to SACRAMENTO after this great Paul effort. But other than that, CP is doing his thing.

7. Chris Bosh - Toronto Raptors
Dude's producin'. With the dynamic duo of Bosh and Jose Calderon, the Raps should be doing better than 6-7. But they're not. But Bosh is doing great on the offensive side. With 25.5 points, 11 boards and 2.2 dimes per game, Bosh has been stellar on the offensive side. But on D, eh, he's been OK. He's averaging only .9 blocks per game, and he needs to step that up to get ahead of the guys above. But if that improves and his team improves, everything should work out for CB4, and he'll be top 5 soon. He's exploded a few games this year with nearly 50 points and 20 boards a few times. Do that nightly and he'll have it wrapped up. But he won't, so for the moment he's at number 7.

8. Paul Pierce - Boston Celtics
Pierce is the number one player on the number one team (at least in the EC). That alone gets him to this spot. But it doesn't because the dude is averaging 20.2 points, 7.2 boards, 3.7 dimes and 1.2 steals per game, deserving of some love in and of itself. He's hit many clutch shots for the surging 13-2 Boston Celtics, one being a game-winner. He's been getting to the charity strip an insane amount of times of late, and he's shooting .822 from there. That's nice stuff. Oh, and I forgot to say: The Celtics have DUPLICATED last year's season start. And, I believe we won the NBA Finals last year. Just pointing that out. But Pierce and the C's are cruisin'.

9. Joe Johnson - Atlanta Hawks
I see you, D.J. Law. Joe Johnson is doing more than expected for the 8-5 Atlanta Hawks. The young guns are led by Johnson, who at the moment is averaging 24 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 boards and 1.5 steals per game, gaudy numbers. The undoubted leader for ATL, he's looking to take the Hawks far in the playoffs, and he's on the right track. Johnson's doing it on both ends of the floor, just an efficient player. Somewhat under-the-radar, Johnson is making a strong case here.

10. Amare Stoudemire - Phoenix Suns
STAT is strutting his stuff for the 9-5 Suns. With a stellar 23.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, Black Jesus is definitely leading the 4th place (in the West) Phoenix Suns. And happy 26th birthday, Amare! Stoudemire will be flirting with the top 10 for the rest of the season, but if him and his team keep this performance up, he might even crack the top seven. Or six. Or five. Or four. I'm stopping there, but STAT is looking to be big for the rest of the year.

Runner-Ups (in no particular order): Carlos Boozer, Jose Calderon, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Roy, Danny Granger, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose (yes, he is), Pau Gasol

This is an intriguing story line, obviously. And who knows? Maybe we'll find Rajon Rondo at the top of this list in a few weeks. But this was just my take on it so far, just my stream of consciousness taking over, this wasn't my good writing. It's unedited, y'all. As always, if anyone has a request for my next piece, hit me up in the comments section. I'm out like the Raptors this afternoon. Peace!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

The 'Dont' forget about ME' Post

What up everyone. Its been a long, long time since I posted here. Almost 2 months now since I've produced anything.... and we have to waaay back to the off season to find anything of literary merit that I've produced.

A few points:

1. Jose Gonzalez (pictured above) is one of the best folk/alternative musicians I have ever heard. He's been around for a while and I've always liked his music, but DAMN I love what he's doing right now. I guess it's one of phases I'm going through right now. But, if you're inclined, google 'down the line' by Jose, that'll take you to a bunch of other links of his music. The man is just something else. His album is called 'In Our Nature'. Check it out.

2.Ron Artest is struggling. Badly. He hasn't found a groove yet and is shooting a terrible % from the floor. Something like 35% as of right now. his D has been there so thats a positive. I was worried about Yao there for a bit with him missing the Mavericks game but he seemed ok against Washington last night.

3. Metallica's album 'Death Magnetic' is ridiculous. It's like someone has said 'ok fellas, you can go back to 'And Justice for All' and 'Master of Puppet's' ". Its great to hear that sort of stuff again.

4. Opeth is definitely leading the alternative metal/progressive rock charge right now. Their new album 'Watershed' is just insane.

5. Gotye is going to blow up in a few months. I put him in the same category as Jose re. the folk/pop/alternative type of music. If you haven't heard his stuff in the States, it's only a matter of time. Same goes for 'Dead Letter Circus' and 'The Butterfly Effect'. Aussie Bands represent.

6. Yes. Kanye West can apparently sing. Never mind that his voice has been electrified and synthesised on 'love locked' but I am (still) going to get his new album '808's and Heartbreaks'which brings to a close his series of college themed albums and gives rise to something else entirely.

7. The Knicks made 2 big moves today. Sending Crawford to the Warriors for the frustrated Al Harrington and Randolph to the Clippers for Mobley and some other bloke called Tim Thomas, who, apparently was good at one stage. (Yeh, I know who he is). Dude balled for D'Antoni in the '06 season (after leaving the Bulls(?) after not recieving a buy out. The suns called him 'the rental' but he proved his worth over the last 40+ games of the season and into the WCF.

These trades mean:

a) the Knicks have officially started going for the 2010 sweepstakes

b) they have around 30 million $ in cap space.

c) they lose their two best players (Marbury doesn't count).

d) David Lee is going to get playing time again.

e)...... They are still going to suck.

8. Ginobli could be coming back in the near future for the Spurs, who have somehow managed to stay around 50% without him and Parker. George Hill is going to be good someday. So is Ian Mahimi (sp?). Roger Mason Jnr! Stepping up big time.

9. Aaron Brooks for MIP! AND/or 6th man.

10. I am coming last in the slamonline fantasy league. I blame Ron Artest and Jukai for this.

11. I am doing my HSC this year, which is, for those in the States, the final year of High School and the associated exams. This is a period of flat out lunacy for the next 12 months for me, so excuse the lack of posts here and on slamonline. I hope you understand..... :)

12. Fleetwood Mac is pretty damn good. Respect. So was Jeff Buckley. Such an untimely death. RIP.

13. Poor Leandro Barbossa. My heart goes out to him and his family. It's tough to lose family members and he is one of the shining lights of the League right now regarding humanity and and community work.

14. Thats twice (!) that Chris Bosh has had 40 point games and lost this season. Both losses came to teams that have high flying shooting guards in the Heat and Nets.

PS- Vince can still get up (see the game winner yesterday? That was nuts.) So was the tying 3 ball at the end of regulation. I remember him doing it last year off of Kidd on an inbounds (or was it 06'07?) and Dwight did it too. Thats how you make an inbounds play folks.

As always, stay well, stay safe.

Peace, Hursty.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rookie (Surprise) Of The Year (If He Keeps It Up)

Shooting like there's no toMorrow.

One of the reasons why basketball is such an exciting and beautiful game is because of the plethora of surprises and unexpected happenings on all levels on the competition, and this intriguing element can be delivered in many interesting ways. Sometimes there is a surprise team, a squad that does unprecedented things and exceeds minute expectations. And, sometimes, within these teams there is a surprise defensive or offensive unit, an important part of a team that is supposedly weaker on one side of the floor than the other (Denver Nuggets?). And, something that happens slightly less, sometimes there is a surprise transaction in the NBA, a questionable trade, firing or something of the sort.

But the most common NBA, NCAA or high school surprise is a player. One man rises above the rest and is recognized as an elite player, a guy that can play with the big boys even though they're not supposed to be able to. This slept on player soars to heights that are not originally recognized as reachable for this particular baller, and certainly quiets the doubters. Maybe nobody has ever heard of the obscure surprise player, and maybe they are a former star who isn't predicted to do what he did long ago. These entertaining breakout players are one of the key reasons why the NBA is such a great competitve center, and these types of ballers come annually with extreme anticipation, us not knowing who they will be.

We expect these types of players every year, and coming into the 2008-09 season there were (and still are) many predictions about who these distinguished players will be. After two and a half weeks into the season we have a small sense for the league, i.e. the Lakers seem infallable, the Celtics are still good, and the Thunder are gawd-awful. The breakout players take a little longer to develop and for us to realize them as a surprise player and a legitimate threat. So far, only one has seriously come on the radar as a possible surprise player. "Playing" (that last word is very ironic) alongside predicted breakout player Marucs Williams in Golden State, two guard Anthony Morrow looks like he has the potential to be a permanent season-long surprise player.

Anthony Jarrad Morrow was born September 27, 1985 in Charlotte, North Carolina to his parents, Larry Mayhew and Angela Morrow. He was raised in the Charlotte area, and he attended Charlotte Latin High School when he was of age for that education level. Anthony played hoops there for all four years of his attendence, lettering annually, and serving two years as team captain.

As a Junior and Senior, he led his school to two state championships in the North Carolina 3A Independent Schools division, his most glamorous of which came when he was a Senior in 2003 at Charlotte Latin. He was named North Carolina's "Mr. Basketball" while averaging 22.4 points, 9.8 boards and 3.1 assists per game while his team went 27-4, with Morrow winning the MVP award for the state tournament.

Anthony Morrow wasn't very highly regarded as a college recruit, the highest he got in the rankings on "" was 42, despite playing in the Charm City Classic in Baltimore, Maryland, and playing for Team USA in the Global Games in Dallas, Texas. In the end, he decided to attend Georgia Tech, a college that at the time had a thriving basketball program. In his first year, without incredibly sufficient minutes, Morrow averaged 8.2 points per game in the Yellow Jackets' ACC and NCAA Tournament games combined while shooting 41.2 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Anthony was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, dropping 11 in the national championship against powerhouse Duke, above average for him. Morrow had a good handle throughout the season, and he turned the ball over only 16 times in 392 total minutes, him being one of two GT players to average less than two per 40 minutes of play.

His sophomore year as a Yellow Jacket was one of considerable improvement for Anthony Marrow, getting more minutes and being the only player on his team to start every game for that 2005-06 season. He led his team in points, averaging 16 per game while scoring in double figures in 24 games that year. He quietly led the ACC in three point percentage at 42.9 percent while ranking either first or second in that category for the complete year, while ranking third in three pointers made per game at 2.79.

Winning ACC player of the week honors once that year, he led Tech in scoring for the season. Morrow also had four of the highest scoring individual games for Georgia Tech that year, and Anthony also hit half of Georgia Tech's 154 three pointers, and he also took nearly half of their attempts (182 of 399). He was a stellar free throw shooter, but he didn't get to the line often. He only attempted 71 free throws, but he had an excellent percentage of .887, which remains a Yellow Jackets' record. After being awarded All-Atlantic Coast Conference Honorable Mention, Anthony Morrow came back for his Junior year at Tech with plans to improve on the year before.

He started out with an injury, a stress fracture in his back which caused him to miss three weeks of practice and a good deal of weight work in the fall. It was a somewhat disappointing season after a great soph year, only being Tech's third-leading scorer and coming in only fifth in minutes. In this 2006-07 season he averaged 12.3 points over his last twenty games and 10.6 points per game against the ACC. His turnovers decreased dramatically (27 as a Junior, compared to 64 as a Sophomore), and that was a bright spot for Morrow. But Anthony was looking to show that his Junior year was no fluke, heading strong into the 2007-08 season at Georgia Tech.

Leading the team in minutes per game with 29.7, he bounced back after his minimal sophomore year. Morrow averaged 14.3 points per game, good enough to lead the Yellow Jackets, and that put him 15th in the ACC in this category. He also led the Atlantic Coast Conference in three point percentage with .448, and that made him 14th in the country. Anthony Morrow was named ACC Player of the Week on November 11 at Tennessee State, posting career high stats of 31 points, 10 boards, 4 assists and no turnovers in his 33 minutes of play. Against his conference, he hit 45.3 percent of his shots from the floor. This Senior year was a great one for Anthony Morrow.

As a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, Anthony came in 19th place on their all time scoring list with 1,400 career points. His career three point field goal percentage of 42.1 ranks third all time, and he averaged 40.4 against the ACC. In his last 41 straight games he made at least one three pointer, the longest active streak in ACC history. As I mentioned already, he does hold the school record for free throw percentage, and he would've been third all time in the conference if not for the fact that he was four free throws short of the minimum for this record. He is tied for third all time in Georgia Tech history for three pointers made, and he is 16th in ACC history with this stat.

Morrow went undrafted out of GT after this stellar college hoops career, but he was signed on July 25, 2008, by the Golden State Warriors. Morrow showed promise in practice and the summer league, and he made the team. On November 15, barely two weeks into the season, Anthony started his first game in the pros, scoring an incredibly unprecedented 37 points, grabbing 10 boards and turning in 1 dime in a monstrous 42 minutes of play to lead the Warriors over the LA Clippers. Morrow broke the NBA record for most points in one game by an undrafted rookie. The next game he started again, scoring 25 points, taking down 4 boards and picking up a steal in 36 minutes to prove that his first start wasn't a fluke. He also became the first Warrior rookie since Marc Jackson (in 2000) to score 25 in back-to-back games.

At the moment Anthony Morrow is averaging 17 points per game and 4 rebounds per game in 23.6 minutes per contest while shooting .647 from long, and although it is too early to call that stat anywhere near legitimate, he has gone 11-17 from three point land so far and is  leading the league in this statistic. With Monta Ellis out for a good deal of time, and him playing on a subpar team, the minutes should keep coming for number 22 (even in Nelly's system), and he will have his opportunity to show the league, it's fans and his team, the Golden State Warriors, that these couple of games were no fluke.

As a player, Morrow's obvious strength is his shooting, from beyond the three point arc, from mid-range and from other parts of the floor. At a wiry 6'5", 210 pounds, Morrow has textbook form on a stellar jump shot, complete with a stunningly quick release when needed. The 23 year old's skills will increase with more experience in the NBA, as to be expected, and the opportunity is there. Can Anthony Morrow be the headlining sleeper that the league is looking for in the 2008-09 season? It certainly looks like he could be.

But if he keeps up this work that is head-and-shoulders above the rest, he will be slept on no more.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

What's The Deal With Devin Harris?

Swish. Two points are rained in from semi-long range in the first quarter of the New Jersey Nets at Atlanta Hawks early season match up. You look over to see who had just pulled off the nifty shot, expecting to see talented high-flying Vince Carter, or maybe your eyes deceive you, seeing recently traded swingman Richard Jefferson -- but it isn't one of these constant scoring threats of the Nets that unleashed the jumper. The player is a quick, young, skinny point guard by the name of Devin Harris.

Devin Lamar Harris was born on February 27th, 1983 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the son of Terry and Julie Harris, and he was born and raised in Milwaukee. As high school came around, Devin was an outstanding athlete, starring in basketball and volleyball at Wauwatosa East High School. Even though he was a superior volleyball player, Harris only played the sport for one year, a year in which he gained all-conference honors before giving it up to focus on his favorite sport, hoops.

After his sophomore year he was nagged constantly by injuries, forcing him to miss many camps, tournaments and games that are essential to the college recruiting process. Because of his lack of participation in these sorts of competitions, Harris flew somewhat under-the-radar throughout high school. But Devin bounced back, leading the Red Raiders to an undefeated season while setting school records along the way.

That season definitely put him on the radar, prompting Devin's school to retire his number 20 in 2007 and him to be named Wisconsin's "Mr. Basketball" for 2001. Harris accepted an offer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to play for the Badgers soon before the 2001 school year began. As Wisconsin's most coveted recruit, Harris started right off the bat for the Badgers, seeing as they were an unheralded team that didn't have much to lose. They unexpectedly won the Big-10 championship (shared with Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State) after being projected to come in 9th place in the conference.

His sophomore year was a slight breakout year for Harris, after averaging 12.3 points, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a frosh. Alongside fellow sophomore Mike Wilkinson and senior Kirk Penney, Devin led the Badgers to another Big-10 championship, taking them to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. People realized how magnificent of a player Harris was that year, and he was put on the radar as one of the nation's top young point guards. 

After an equally as stellar junior year, receiving Big-10 Player of the Year honors, as well as being named Second Team All American and winning the Silver Basketball Award, Harris decided not to return to Wisconsin to attend for his senior year, and instead declared for the 2004 NBA Draft, a selection that was highlighted by the likes of Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Al Jefferson. Harris was drafted by the Washington Wizards and subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks. The plan for Harris was to develop him slowly under the mentor that was top-tier court general Steve Nash, but that plan ended up ruined when Nash left the Mavs to go to Phoenix through free agency.

During his rookie season, Harris was left without a good share of the minutes in Dallas at the point guard position, averaging 5.7 points, 2.2 assists, 1.3 boards and 1 steal per game in 15.4 minutes of play. He was quietly second in the NBA in steals per minute at 3.15 behind the Wizards' Larry Hughes. He came back for the 2005-06 season as an improved baller, fans and players alike recognized his speed and quickness, comparing him to the likes of Leandro Barbosa and Dwyane Wade in that attribute. His minutes increased, but not significantly, averaging 9.9 points, 3.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and .9 steals in 22.8 minutes per contest.

Devin's minutes continued to increase during the 2006-07 season, with him improving in every statistical category possible. He averaged 10.2 points, 3.7 dimes, 2.5 boards and 1.2 steals per game, outstanding numbers for a player with only 26 minutes per game. After 21 games in this season Harris was named starting point guard for the Mavericks, even if he didn't play significant starter minutes, and he began 61 games for Dallas that year.

He and league MVP Dirk Nowitzki led them to a stellar team record 67 wins that year, only to be upset by Baron Davis and the eighth-seeded Warriors in an exciting first round playoff. Harris came back to the Mavs for the 2007-08 season, named co-captain of Dallas alongside Dirk, and while playing for them he averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 assists, 2.3 boards and 1.4 steals in 39 games, again improving on almost all of his key stats.

On February 19th 2008, Harris was involved in a mass trade, sending him, Keith Van Horn, Trenton Hassell, DeSagana Diop, Maurice Ager, $3 million and 2008 and 2010 first round draft choices to the New Jersey Nets for Jason Kidd, Malik Allen and Antoine Wright. The Nets traded their franchise player, one of the top point guards in the league (he once was, at least) for Harris and the other players, and the Nets' plans of rebuilding were evident, trading the present (and past) for the future, putting the starting point guard job straight into the eager hands of Devin Harris.

With increased minutes playing for the Nets the rest of that season, Harris exploded, averaging 15.4 points, 6.5 dimes, 3.3 boards and 1.4 steals per game, again beating out his averages of past years. The Nets didn't play very well for the rest of that season, the younger players being without experience and, well, ability, and they missed the playoffs for the first time in the last seven years.

But Harris was given (and still is given) a great opportunity, and is considered the present and future of the struggling Nets. They drafted potential future stars in center Brook Lopez, forward Ryan Anderson and point guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, and with their core of Harris, Vince Carter, Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons, the Nets look decent for the future (that is, if their young dudes can live up to potential).

This year, Harris is sure turning heads. At the moment he is averaging 23 points, 6.2 assists, 4 boards and a steal for the semi- subpar New Jersey Nets, exploding for three games (in a row) scoring 30 plus points, the best showing of these three being a 38 point performance against the Detroit Pistons on an ankle that was discovered after the game to be sprained. He is being recognized as one of the top point guards in the NBA, and we are all bringing up one question: Can we put 25 year old Devin Harris in the Chris Paul-Deron Williams argument?

Harris is definitely a great point guard on his way to becoming a top-tier court leader (if he isn't already), but he doesn't deserve to be penciled in as among these players for a few reasons. The first reason, the outstanding things he's done hasn't been consistent. He needs to keep up these outstanding and unusual scoring numbers alone AND average four more assists than he already does. This is impossible because he just doesn't have the same amount of passing and playmaking skill as Paul and Deron do, and he doesn't have the supporting cast.

At the moment the Nets can't come close to keeping up with the Hornets or the Jazz, and with elite scorers around the other two (West, Stojakovic, Chandler (kinda), Boozer, Kirilenko) and not as outstanding scorers around Harris, the assist numbers won't be able to touch D-Will or CP3. Harris can still be a top-rate point guard, he just doesn't have the ability to perform at the level of the other two.

As a player, Devin Harris has a solid ability to score, as he has displayed greatly so far this year. At 6'2", 185 pounds, Harris doesn't have incredible girth for a point guard, and has slightly below average strength. At 25 years old Harris is one of the fastest players in the NBA, and that helps him rack up the steals. He is an excellent defender from all parts of the floor barring the post, and for a point guard he is average on the defensive boards.

He is an average shooter and superb ball handler, and he is great driving to the basket, getting to the charity stripe almost at will, where he thrives (.829). He is an about average passer, and this part of his game is improving. Harris isn't oustanding from behind the three point arc (.320), but it isn't horrible. Devin is great on the fast break and in transition, able to throw down or finish with a layup and soft touch. Harris is young and improving, and he's the brightest spot on the (rising, but still borderline terrible) Nets. And if he keeps up his great play, an all-star selection is not out of the question.

So when you watch the Nets play basketball and you see a jumper fall through on New Jersey's offensive side, or a player cut to the hole and dunk on the seven footer, don't just assume it's Vince. Move over, Chris Paul. Move over, Deron Williams. Move over, Steve Nash.

There's a new kid in town who's ready to join you.


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