The Darkhorse MVP Candidate

With less than a 1/3 of the season left, it’s time to start thinking about who might end up with the MVP award. I think I’ve discovered a darkhorse candidate that might walk away with the award. He’s been toiling in obscurity in the mid-west, and many of you may not have even heard of him. His name is LeBron James.

Unlike the front runner for the award, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James doesn’t have that last second killer instinct, which is likely to cost him a few votes. This non-coastal newcomer has a different strategy that seems to be ruffling the feathers of the NBA establishment. Kobe has been following the tradition of allowing the opponent to stay close in games, only to make a shot in the final seconds to secure the victory. Instead James is attempting to win by scoring in the first 47.5 minutes of the game. The difference can be viewed by using the advanced stat called “points per game”. LeBron James leads the league with 29.8, while Kobe is a comfortable 4th with 27.9. James’ early game strategy shows up in even more obscure stats like rebounds per game (7.1 to 5.4), assist per game (8.5 to 4.6), blocked shots (1.0 to 0.3), and FG% (50.2 to 46.3).

I’m sure the mainstream media is barely aware of these new fangled stats (since they tend to vote solely by watching ESPN highlights), and James’ lack of dramatic shots will certainly hurt him in the polls. Another strike against him is his lack of having a superior surrounding cast. Bryant’s ability to whine about his teammates, threaten to leave to a rival team, ask for a trade, and force the team to break-up its dynasty has made the franchise build a team around him with the best talent available.

The best LeBron James can muster is to wear a Yankee hat. No wonder Kobe has an All Star center in Pau Gasol, former DPOY Ron Artest, and the most winningest coach of our generation Phil Jackson. Meanwhile James has a 37 year old Shaquille O’Neal and that guy on the Simpsons who is always trying to kill Bart. The Cavs would be a middling .500 team with Kobe in lieu of LeBron, a clear sign of James’ lack of team building skills.

I might be wide-eyed thinking the media might actually vote for the statistically superior player, but despite all the other evidence the numbers are clear on this one. It might be unpopular to say, but LeBron James should win the MVP award this year.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the West?

Los Angeles Lakers (Vegas odds to win title: 5:2)
Unlike the East, the West has one clear favorite. Since trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers have appeared in two straight Finals winning it all last year. Not content to let it ride, Los Angeles upgraded from Trevor Ariza to Ron Artest. This would be a gamble for most teams considering the Queensbridge native’s history, but Phil Jackson has always been able to keep individual personalities from ruining a team.

San Antonio Spurs (6:1)
In an attempt to keep up with the Lakers, the Spurs bolstered their roster in the off season. San Antonio added Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess which should give them a stronger rotation. But ultimately the Spurs will only go as far as their top 3. Last year the team suffered injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and if they lose either of them (or Tony Parker) they’ll fall short of any title hopes.

Denver Nuggets (8:1)
The conventional wisdom is that teams that finish strong are likely to have a momentum that continues to the next season. This seems logical since many great teams go through phases of success before winning a title. However there’s little evidence to support that claim, and many teams just get lucky in a playoff series. The 2009 Denver Nuggets will probably avoid the fate of the 2007 Warriors or the 2008 Hornets, as they are likely to see the second round in 2010. However I think Vegas is way too kind to their odds, and I would bet against them to make the Western Conference Finals, nevertheless win a championship.

Last year per-minute stud Chris Andersen had a monstrous playoffs, however over the last 3 years each of the Denver bigs (Andersen, Nene, and Martin) has missed nearly the whole year due to injury. And while the other teams in the conference improved this summer Denver merely tread water, losing Kleiza and adding Ty Lawson. Unless they get another playoff boost from a great per-minute shot blocking/rebounder buried on the bench, they’re not likely going to be able to compete against the Lakers for Western supremacy.

The Field (starting at 10:1)
According to Vegas, the Trailblazers rank 6th in the West, however Portland deserves a higher ranking. They had the West’s second highest expected winning percentage last year (68.4%), which correlates well with winning percentage the year after. Portland also had the NBA’s best offense powered by their fantastic rebounding. The Blazers return with their rotation in tact plus Andre Miller. Although not the ideal fit for the team, Miller provides an upgrade over Bayless & Blake. They’re much better than their 12:1 odds would indicate.

Ahead of Portland are Dallas and Utah at 10:1. The Mavericks added Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, and Tim Thomas. Marion’s production slipped in Miami and Toronto, and Dallas is hoping that their offensive scheme will better fit his talents. Meanwhile the Jazz matched the offer sheet for Paul Millsap, and are hoping that they can collectively stay healthy. Finally the New Orleans Hornets swapped Chandler for Emeka Okafor, which could make them relevant in the West again.


2009 Report Card: Jared Jeffries

It’s hard to believe that Jared Jeffries averaged a half a game’s worth of minutes (23.4 mpg) for the Knicks last year. It’s hard to blame D’Antoni because Jeffries was able to defend multiple positions, and the Knicks have been short on defenders at every position. Prior to the season start, D’Antoni wanted Jeffries to play center, but that never materialized. At some point during the season, the Knicks used the 6-11 forward to cover fast point guards. The idea worked for a short while, as Jeffries’ combination of length and quickness was able to disrupt the rhythm of smaller players. However it was short lived as eventually they just sped past him to the basket.

Other than defensive versatility, Jeffries doesn’t bring anything else to the table other than offensive rebounding (3.5 oreb/36). He doesn’t block a lot of shots or rebound well enough for a 6-11 guy. His scoring is dreadful, both in volume (8.1 pts/36) and efficiency (ts% 47.3%). By the way, if you hear rumors that Jeffries is working on his jumpshot this offseason, don’t get excited. Last year reports came in that Jeffries practicing his jumper, and he shot 26.9% on them, almost identical to the 26.7% the year before. New York could use to move Jeffries this season because it would give the team an extra $6.9M in free space next summer, but even D’Antoni’s offense can’t make Jeffries look good.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 1
Defense: 3
Teamwork: 2
Rootability: 1
Performance/Expectations: 1

Grade: F

Similarity Scores:

.000 Jared Jeffries 2009 NYK 9.4 .473 .441 8.1 3.5 6.3 2.2 1.3 0.9 1.8
.067 Joel Kramer 1983 PHO 8.8 .459 .423 8.0 3.2 6.9 2.9 1.2 0.5 1.7
.077 Danny Vranes 1986 SEA 7.8 .475 .461 6.9 2.6 6.4 1.6 1.4 0.7 1.3
.096 Reggie King 1985 SEA 6.9 .477 .423 7.0 1.8 5.1 2.2 1.2 0.5 1.8
.112 Keith Askins 1995 MIA 12.3 .493 .442 9.7 3.6 8.3 1.6 1.5 0.7 1.1
.113 Eduardo Najera 2004 DAL 11.5 .483 .451 8.8 3.3 7.8 1.2 1.7 0.9 1.4
.124 Mark Madsen 2003 LAL 9.3 .458 .423 8.0 4.0 7.3 1.8 0.7 0.9 1.2
.137 Johnny Baum 1974 TOT 11.6 .480 .450 12.1 2.4 5.9 1.8 1.1 0.5 1.4
.142 Jaren Jackson 1995 PHI 8.7 .446 .397 9.8 2.5 5.9 2.7 1.3 0.7 2.4
.144 Jabari Smith 2005 NJN 8.4 .482 .422 9.2 1.6 6.2 2.1 1.4 0.8 2.2
.145 E.C. Coleman 1978 GSW 9.1 .493 .475 9.3 2.3 7.5 2.0 1.3 0.5 1.9

Looking at the year column on this list, there aren’t a lot of players of Jeffries’ mold these days. Perhaps the almighty dollar has taught youngsters that developing scoring (at least in volume) is more important than other abilities. Or perhaps this list shows us that if you’re really tall, you contribute almost nothing and still be in the NBA. The difference between Jared Jeffries and Eduardo Najera or Mark Madsen is that they were fortunate enough to play on good teams. Had the Knicks been a great team in the last 5 years, trading Jeffries probably wouldn’t be as difficult.

And I’ll end with a quote from 2002:

Question: Is there a player in the NBA right now who you can compare your game to?

Jeffries: I’d say Danny Manning, a Dirk Nowitzki-type. I’m 6-11, so there are a lot of different things I can do as far as handling the ball and shooting, passing.

I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

2009 Game Preview: Knicks at Rockets

Houston (23-15) hosts New York (13-21)

New York Knicks-Offense 98.1 105.4 49.5 15.8 23.7 20.6
Rank 1 20 14 17 28 27
Houston Rockets-Defense 89.9 103.9 48.2 14.2 25.5 19.3
Rank 23 6 6 27 9 2
New York Knicks-Defense 98.1 108.7 51.8 15.2 26.9 20
Rank 1 19 28 18 17 5
Houston Rockets-Offense 89.9 106.8 48.4 15.7 26.1 25.6
Rank 23 16 19 16 19 7

Injury Report

Ron Artest will likely miss tonight’s contest while he rests a sprained ankle.  Tracy McGrady may be able to play though he has missed time of late  with a sore knee.  Shane Battier is questionable with a sore knee.  Brent Barry missed the previous game dealing with a personal matter.  It is unknown whether he will be available tonight.

Gallanari is not likely to see action due to his sore back.  Jerome James is out with swelling of the everything, and Roberson is unlikely to see action due to a sprained 3 point jump shot.

What to watch for: Defense.Houston is not an especially strong team on offense.  Houston’s pace is in the bottom third of the NBA (89.9, 23rd), Houston’s efficiency (106.8, 16th) and eFG% (48.4, 19th) are right near the league average.  This by no means excuses New York from playing defense.  Houston has talented offensive players in McGrady, Yao, Alston and New York training camp casualty Von Wafer.  So New York needs a strong defensive effort designed to keep Yao out of the paint.  New York also needs to stay near the Houston 3 point shooters.  Wafer is hitting 43.5% of his 3s (Donnie, Roberson is only hitting 33.8%- I’m just saying).

What to watch for 2: Pace.  Tonight Houston plays its sixth game in nine nights and the second of a back-to-back.  New York has to really get into its running game and attempt to wear Houston down.  If Artest cannot play, Houston will be without its strongest defender.  Yao should be somewhat neutralized on defense since New York relies on outside shooting rather than post scoring or drives to the paint. 

Furthermore, if the injury report holds up Houston will be pretty thin.  The recent schedule, thin roster, and fast pace may tired them down.  Run, run, run.

What to watch for 3: Yao.  Tall, good footwork, and a soft touch means trouble for New York’s front court.  While Jeffries is likely to draw this defensive assignment, I would like to see if Curry can entice Yao into picking up a few fouls in the post.  With proper spacing, Lee and Duhon could create trouble for Yao on the pick and roll.  If New York can get Yao on the bench, things should be easier for the team on defense.