Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Power Ranking the Best Point Guards in the NBA


      Earlier in the summer, there was a raised debate about who is the best point guard in the National Basketball Association. I read over various networks and sites that bought attention to the subject as well as comments that basketball fans around the country had made. Some people say Chris Paul, some say Rajon Rondo, some even say Jeremy Lin. Here's my list of the top 10 point guards in the NBA. There will be several acronyms used in this list, including PPG (points per game), APG (assists per game), RPG (rebounds per game), MPG (minutes per game) and SPG (steals per game). Make sure to leave a comment if you have any disagreements or your own custom list!

10. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies

2011-12 stats: 12.7 PPG, 6.5 APG, 2.5 RPG, 2.2 SPG

Overview: Conley is a solid floor general and technician. He does what he has to do and doesn't make too many mistakes. He is a big key on the Grizzlies, who are looking to make a statement in the Western Conference this season. He's also underrated on defense, as his steals per game average has risen every year. Last season, Conley had played 35 MPG and it escalated to 39 per game in the postseason. With the additions of Jerryd Bayless and rookie Tony Wroten, Conley will play less minutes but should have more rest and energy to perform well when the Grizzlies need him to. Expect another good season from Conley in 2012-13.

9. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

2011-12 stats: 18.5 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG

Overview: Last season, Kyrie Irving shined and was the obvious choice for the Rookie of the Year award. On an injury-riddled Cavaliers team, Irving found a way to thrive. Many people questioned whether or not Irving could translate his game sufficiently enough to the NBA because of his little in-game experience during his freshman year at Duke University. Irving, however, proved his critics wrong and played well, even though he suffered from injuries. With the additions of Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles and Tyler Zeller to go along with a healthy Anderson Varejao and a growing Tristan Thompson in the paint, expect Irving to grow in his sophomore season -- despite having hand surgery this summer -- and make a run for a spot on the Eastern Conference All Star team.

8. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets

2011-12 stats: 16.4 PPG, 6.6 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG

Overview: Ty Lawson is a solid, young point guard. He's taken some major steps forward into becoming the starting point guard of the Denver Nuggets, but can he take the next step to become an All Star? Due to the presences of Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook and fan favorite Jeremy Lin in the Western Conference, I don't think Lawson will garner enough votes to be an All Star. He might turn out to be like Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, who was stymied an opportunity in the All Star game last year despite having a sensational first-half of the season. With the additions of All Star Andre Iguodala and French rookie Evan Fournier on the wings for the Nuggets, expect Lawson to be an even better distributor and lead Denver to a top 4 seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs.

7. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

2011-12 stats: 18.3 PPG, 7.7 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG

Overview: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are like fine wine, because they seem to get better with age. Parker, the 2007 NBA Finals MVP, helped lead the Spurs to the top seed last season in the Western Conference and was considered by many a dark horse to win the MVP award. I expect Parker to fully take the leadership reigns from Duncan and lead San Antonio to another high seed for the NBA playoffs. At 30 years old, Parker is hitting the end of his prime, but I still believe he will be a solid, key contributor for the Spurs for several years to come.

6. Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers

2011-12 stats: 12.5 PPG, 10.7 APG, 3.0 RPG, 0.6 SPG

Overview: In his last season in Phoenix, Nash almost led the Suns to a playoff berth. Nash is easily one of the best facilitators in the league, despite being 37 years old. His defense is very mediocre, but with Dwight Howard behind him now, he won't have to worry as much. However, his offense is what makes Nash a top point guard in the NBA. He's still one of the league's best pure shooters on the free-throw line and behind the three-point line. Teaming up with Kobe Bryant, Howard and Pau Gasol on the Lakers gives Nash the best chance he's ever had to win an NBA championship. I expect Nash's scoring output to slightly decrease, but he could average the most assists per game in the NBA with the amount of weapons he now has at his disposal.

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

2011-12 stats: 23.6 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 SPG

Overview: There's no doubt that Westbrook is an athletic freak of nature. He will be the key when the Thunder play the Lakers because he can easily beat Steve Nash off the dribble. However, Westbrook is a streaky player and this is why he ranks at #5. His scoring output has increased every season, but last year he averaged nearly three assists per game less than he averaged in the 2010-11 season. Though his field goal percentage has increased, he's also taking more shots. Westbrook is an intriguing, special talent, but he must realize that he is not the best player on his team and that he has to become the better distributor that he was in 2010-11 again for his team to win the NBA Finals. It's not all his fault that the Thunder lost to the Heat, the entire team could have certainly performed better, but Westbrook cannot play at lightning-quick speed the entire game, so he must slow down the pace at times and become the creator that he's proven before he can be.

4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

2011-12 stats: 21.8 PPG, 7.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG

Overview: Last season was an injury-plagued year for the 2011 Most Valuable Player. Rose performed similar to his MVP campaign at the start of last season, but once he suffered his first injury, it went downhill for the stud point guard. Rose played in only 39 games in the lockout-shortened season. In the playoffs, his knee took a turn for the worst when he tore his ACL against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was clear that when Rose returned from his first injury that he was not the same player. Rose's game runs on his incredible athleticism, so it will be interesting to see if he returns with that same kind of athleticism later this upcoming season. I have no idea what kind of production to expect from Rose this season -- I don't believe anyone does -- but I do believe that he will come back with an intense vengeance to prove he is still a capable superstar who can lead his team to the promised land. Rose can be the top point guard in the NBA, but until he proves he can thrive after an injury, he will stay at #4 on my list.

3. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

2011-12 stats: 11.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG

Overview: This was an incredibly tough choice to place Rondo at #3, but I think I have a good enough argument for him to be placed here. In the past, Rondo has said he believes he is the best point guard in the league. However, I do not. One reason is because he's an atrocious shooter. According to Hoopdata, which breaks down the court area into five ranges of 0-2 feet, 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, 16-22 feet and 23+ feet, Rondo shoots about 10 percentage points lower than the league average in all areas except the 16-22 feet range, where he is nearly one point better than the league average. I'm not trying to disrespect Rondo by any means, these are just statistical facts. I do believe, though, that Rondo is the best distributor in the NBA, which makes up for his shooting stuggles. He is also stellar on defense, as he's been named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2010 and 2011. Rondo is arguably the most dangerous force on the Celtics and will be a great contributor for Boston this season in their pursuit for another championship.

2. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

2011-12 stats: 21.0 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG

Overview: I was unsure to put Deron Williams this high, but I'm giving Williams the benefit of the doubt because he played on a depleted, not-so-talented New Jersey Nets squad. Even if the Nets were fully healthy, it'd be hard to argue that they were better than the Jazz during Williams' tenure there. Say what you want about Williams -- like how he's turnover prone or that he shot 40 percent from the field last season -- he's what ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith calls a "baller." Williams is the perfect blend of size and speed. He thrives in transition, but he also has the size to post up against smaller guards. Williams also has some of the finest dribble moves in the Association. He's gotten better defensively under Nets coach Avery Johnson and I expect Williams to have an impressive season while leading the Nets to a playoff berth during the franchise's first season in Brooklyn. He now has the talent (on paper, that is) to complement him and I believe he will prove any doubters wrong.

1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

2011-12 stats: 19.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, 3.6 APG, 2.5 SPG

Overview: Paul is the quintessential point guard and there's absolutely no other way to define him. He's a legitimate threat to average 20 points and 10 assists every season and is a perennial member of the Western Conference All Star team. When Paul played for the New Orleans Hornets, he did indeed average 20 PPG and 10 APG in two separate seasons. He's spectacular on defense, as he's averaged over two steals per game in six of seven NBA seasons. He's also been a crucial member of Team USA for the past two Olympic Games and helped the United States win gold medals at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. Paul is almost as decorated as any point guard in the history of the NBA, except he's never won a championship. Paul is the best player in the Hornets' franchise history as well as arguably the best point guard of this generation. If he wins a championship during his career, it will certainly cement his status as a Hall of Famer. That's how great Chris Paul is.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Analyzing the Revamped Bench of the Brooklyn Nets

      For their first season in Brooklyn, the Nets have a revamped bench with new players at nearly every position. Besides keeping young swingman MarShon Brooks and retaining Keith Bogans for the veteran's minimum salary, the Nets have a bench comprised of many new faces. Let's take a look at the options the Nets will have on the bench this season including overviews and projections for each player. Some acronyms that will be featured in this article are minutes per game (MPG), points per game (PPG), assists per game (APG), blocks per game (BPG), steals per game (SPG) and rebounds per game (RPG).

C.J. Watson

Overview: Watson is arguably one of the best backup point guards in the NBA. Last season, he filled in admirably for the Bulls during Derrick Rose's multiple absences. He averaged almost 10 points per game to go along with four assists and two rebounds. In the NBA Playoffs, Watson saw his points average drop to just over seven per game, but he averaged 5.5 assists in the first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Jordan Farmar, last year's backup to Deron Williams, had several nice performances, but suffered a season-ending injury like several of his teammates did last year. At times, the Nets would be giving too many minutes to fringe NBA players in Sundiata Gaines and Armon Johnson. Watson is a significant upgrade over Farmar, Gaines and Johnson and has proven in the past that he could step in to start and help his team during the biggest moments, as evidenced by this shot. He also comes in at a nice bargain after accepting a minimum-salary deal.

Projections: 20 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.1 RPG

MarShon Brooks

Overview: Last year, the Nets rookie shined and earned a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Brooks is a flat-out scorer. Some people have nicknamed him "The Young Mamba," because his ball-dribbling moves are Kobe Bryant-esque. I think that's a stretch for a comparison since Bryant is an eventual Hall of Famer and Brooks is just growing into his own. Brooks will most likely be the sixth man for the Nets this season, but he will still see significant minutes. I can see him sharing time with veteran All Star guard Joe Johnson like San Antonio guards Danny Green and Manu Ginobili do. Brooks will be coming off the bench now that the Nets have added Johnson into the fold, but he's still a budding, young player. With proper mentoring, look for Brooks to continue to improve.

Projections: 24 MPG, 12.7 PPG, 2.9 APG, 4.4 RPG

Can Brooks make strides of improvement in his second season
despite having All Star swingman Joe Johnson in front of him?

Mirza Teletovic

Overview: Teletovic has greatly impressed during the past several years in Europe, so the Nets have decided to take a chance on the Bosnian star. Most recently in a FIBA Eurobasket tournament, Teletovic averaged more than 24 PPG and nearly 11 RPG. He's known for his long range and ability to score both on and off the dribble. Where Teletovic's game lacks, however, is on defense. I think head coach Avery Johnson will prepare Teletovic well and help him carve out a role on the Nets' bench. Teletovic might have some growing pains as an NBA rookie, but Deron Williams will get him open shots.

Projections: 18 MPG, 7.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG

Reggie Evans

Overview: Evans is a rugged, tough man on the glass and that's pretty much it. But, he's good at it. Evans is one of the best per 48 minute rebounders in the league and last season averaged nearly two points per game to go along with five rebounds per game in limited minutes. He was a fan favorite on the Los Angeles Clippers for his demeanor and was a crucial member of the team during their playoff run. Don't expect Evans to be on the floor too much, but expect him to play hard when he steps on the court.

Projections: 14 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.3 BPG

Andray Blatche

Blatche posing in all-Brooklyn attire
after signing a deal with the Nets.
Overview: If anything is a hit-or-miss for the Nets this season, Blatche is probably it. Two years ago, Blatche had a career season with the Washington Wizards, averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds a game. Last season, Blatche dealt with injuries as well as on-court problems, which led to the Wizards amnestying him. Blatche has always been a mysterious talent, but his attitude has hurt him. With the Nets, he'll be given a second chance by being one of the first big men off the bench. Although he's not a natural center, he could step in if Brook Lopez were to get injured again. I think Blatche, in a new, exciting environment, will bounce back and prove his critics wrong.

Projections: 22 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG

Josh Childress

Overview: The swingman with the funky afro haircut will be playing in Brooklyn this season. Last week, the Nets rounded out their roster by signing Josh Childress to a one-year contract. Childress is the only natural small forward behind Gerald Wallace but could see some playing time. He adds depth to a spot where the Nets lacked very much last season.

Projections: 12 MPG, 3.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 APG

Tyshawn Taylor & Tornike Shengelia

Overview: These two rookies will probably not see much playing time, but instead will learn how to succeed in the NBA. Taylor has two solid point guards in front of him from whom he will learn how to efficiently control an NBA offense, while Shengelia will learn from multiple players and coaches how to adjust to the NBA. Both players had exceptional Summer League performances, however, expect the Nets to use them in garbage minutes or in case of an injury.

Projections for Taylor: 8 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG

Projections for Shengelia: 6 MPG, 2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.6 APG

Keith Bogans & Jerry Stackhouse

Overview: Last season, Bogans played five games for the Nets until he suffered a season-ending injury. Stackhouse was at the end of the Atlanta Hawks' bench and did not see much playing time. Bogans, whose game is predicated on defense, was once a daily starter for Chicago. He could be a solid mentor for MarShon Brooks. Stackhouse will be more of a player-coach and will help in the development of the younger guys on the team. Don't expect either Bogans or Stackhouse to see much time on the court.

Projections for Bogans: 6 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.5 SPG

Projections for Stackhouse: 3 MPG, 1.2 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.3 APG

      Several people have criticized the Nets' bench unit for various reasons, but I would throw most of it out the window since it's a new team with an incredible amount of hype. The Nets, as an organization, are focused on winning a championship in the near future. Multiple players on their bench, including C.J. Watson and Andray Blatche, have signed lower-salary contracts because they've bought into the idea of Brooklyn hanging up a banner soon. It seems to me, at least, that each player on this team is excited about the opportunity in Brooklyn and is serious about succeeding in the short term by making the playoffs and winning the NBA Finals. If they're serious about Brooklyn, then why aren't we?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nets Update: Free Agent Rumors, Uniform Unveiling and More..

      As the summer winds down to a close, the Brooklyn Nets are still making headlines. Here's the latest of what's going on around the franchise...

1. Free Agency

- Earlier in the week, it was reported by multiple sources that the Nets agreed to a minimum salary, non-guaranteed contract with former Sacramento Kings forward and Syracuse Orange alumni Donte Greene. Unfortunately, it turns out that Greene suffered an ankle injury while working out in Charlotte and his pending surgery has put his expected signing with the Nets on hold. Greene and his agent, Chris Luchey, have expressed high hopes that the 6'11" athlete will be in a Brooklyn Nets uniform this season. Will the Nets take a chance on Greene though? Stay tuned for more details.

- In the aftermath of discovering Donte Greene's fractured ankle, the Nets have ventured back to the free agent market to find another small forward. Brooklyn has been linked to several players, including swingmen Sam Young and Josh Childress, as well as the oft-injured Damion James. Young has played with the Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers, while Childress has played for the Phoenix Suns since his return from playing basketball in Greece. Damion James was acquired in a draft-day trade by the Nets two years ago, but had been injury prone during his time in New Jersey.

- The Nets are still searching for a natural center to play behind Brook Lopez, with several rumors being connected to Eddy Curry. Curry, 29, played very little minutes during his tenure with the NBA champion Miami Heat last season. He has also played for the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls during his career. He's a big body down low, but weighing in at 295 pounds might be too big (in a bad way). Curry has been criticized for his ineffectiveness lately, but with the Nets he'd be nothing more than insurance to Brook Lopez. Could Curry be headed back to the Big Apple?

- In the growing search for a center to play behind Brook Lopez, according to ESPN, Nets head coach Avery Johnson has reached out to Andray Blatche, 26, who was amnestied this summer by the Washington Wizards. At 6'11", Blatche has the height and talent to play at the center position, but his maturity issues and questionable off-court behavior have crumbled his career with the Wizards and the interest of several possible suitors. If the Nets offer him a contract, it will be a minimum, non-guaranteed deal with a camp invite where he'll have to earn a spot on the roster.

2. Uniform Unveiling

- The Brooklyn Nets' highly-anticipated uniform release will be on September 28th, the last Friday of the month.

- Could this be the Nets' newest home jersey? A toymaker from McFarlane Toys' NBA figurines leaked a picture of a Deron Williams figurine in a Brooklyn Nets jersey. Since the figurines have official NBA licenses, this could be what the Nets will be wearing in their first home preseason game against the Wizards next month. The Nets' first preseason game will be on October 13th in Atlantic City against the Philadelphia 76ers.

3. Projections for the Nets

- In a recent magazine interview, Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov called out New York Knicks owner James Dolan, labeling him as "that little man." Prokhorov stands at 6'8", while Dolan stands at a mere 5'6", so Prokhorov does have some leverage there. Prokhorov remains optimistic about his team, stating that the Nets will win a championship in the near future.

- ESPN NBA analysts project the Nets to be right in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but the only team they think can challenge the 2011-12 NBA Champion Miami Heat are the Boston Celtics. However, the Nets are projected to make the biggest turnaround in the NBA. Joe Johnson, the Nets' newest shooting guard, is ranked as one of the best newcomers and worst newcomers in ESPN's Summer Forecast series. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Johnson neglected the analysts' opinions and offered his own, saying that he expects the Nets to compete for the title. Check out the full Q&A here.

      This summer has certainly been one for the ages for the Nets franchise. The Barclay's Center is almost complete, the roster is nearly filled and the team will be a safe bet to be contending for the playoffs in the upcoming season. With only one month remaining until training camp starts, the hype around this organization might be higher than it's ever been.