Rajon’s Rage

 

For much of the season, the Boston Celtics have been lethargic at best. Their age has dictated their play in the worst way. Right now they are sitting at an uncharacteristic 7th place in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Knicks. Their defense has been stellar this season–ranking 3rd in points per game allowed with 89.4 and 4th in defensive rating ony allowing 98.4 points per 100 possessions–but it has seemed like the hoop has been as small as a button as they are only scoring 90.6 points per game according to basketball reference.

All of this hinges on the play of Rajon Rondo.  Since the middle of last season, Rondo has been considered the best player on the Boston Celtics. He’s one of the few players that can leave his mark on a game while only taking 7-10 shots in it. He’s a phenomenal passer, defender, rebounder, and very heady as a player. What’s the weakest are of his game? Scoring. Rondo isn’t the type of player to score 20 points night in a night out. 10 assists would be more like it, or maybe two steals. He’d beat you without you even knowing it.

The Knicks found that out the hard way yesterday as Rondo had a historical game dropping 18 points, 20 assists, and 17 rebounds. The first name that I thought of when seeing his stat -line was Lafayette “Fat” Lever. Lever was one of the best, if not the best, rebounding point guard’s ever. A few more names to drop into that box would be Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Oscar Robertson, and Walt Frazier.

From a historical perspective, Rondo is the only player to have a 20 assist 15 rebound game in the history of the NBA. Only Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Jason Kidd have had games where they’ve scored 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists.

Had Rondo gone at least 10-20 (7-20) he would’ve had a legitimate shot at having a triple double twice over. He would’ve been the first player since the NBA/ABA merger to achieve that feat. Wilt Chamberlain had achieved this playing for the 76ers in 1968 but the NBA had not yet merged with the ABA.

Rondo has had two triple doubles in the last four games since the All-Star break. Aside from a game where he did not score against Cleveland, Rondo has played stellar basketball. He has taken his anger out on the league, and I think it’s a result of all of the slights that have been put on him.

Rondo was put in the All-Star game, but only as a reserve. Who made it over him? Luol Deng, Andre Iguodola, and Joe Johnson who he ultimately replaced. It was a slap in the face to say the least. The NBA had made a statement to him that he was not good enough to be an All-Star after being there the previous two years and not dropping in production in the least bit. Not a week later the trade rumors had started. Rondo to the (insert team here). It was time to blow Boston up because they aren’t good enough. Rondo has attitude problems. You name it, it was reported.

The normally unassuming, buttoned up point guard had let everyone know that he was listening with his play do the talking for him instead of going to the media about these things. There was no reason. Ainge and Rivers said they would like to keep Rondo around and until further notice that’s the way that it will be.

In an interview with CSN New England Rondo had finally spoken about the rumors.

I don’t know where people are getting their information from,But it was big of Doc to come out with a statement. People are still going to say me and Doc have problems. But even after that comment and statement he made, they are still going to say what they want to say. It’s just part of life. -Rajon Rondo via CSN New England

Bob Cousy even gave Rondo his blessing in an interview with ESPN New York. Those words aren’t easy to come by from a Boston legend.

Rondo is making the decision tougher for Boston by the day. I’m enjoying this though, so please folks, keep it up.

Halfway Mark NBA Report

Baseline Basketball’s halfway mark report on the NBA. As the All Star festivities end the real fun begins. This is the part of the season when the fight to the finish line gets rough, teams are wheeling and dealing players and the teams who are for real usually separate themselves from teams that are not. Here Baseline Basketball asks NBA writers Michael Sykes and Samar Gaines a few questions. Read there thoughts below. 

1. Who will win the East this year? 

Mike: I have the Miami Heat winning the East this year. It seems like a no-brainer pick to me. There is no team with enough fire power to match them on the offensive end with their Space and Pace offense. They get in your head with their vicious traps on defense and play the passing lanes better than any team that I’ve ever seen. Miami is first in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency, according to Basketball Reference. Not to mention LeBron James is having the best season that has ever been recorded in NBA history right now. He’s posting a 32.40 PER right now which is far and away the best ever.

Samar: Barring injury the Miami Heat will win the East. The Heat’s offense is finally looking like what Pat Riley hoped for when he brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together. LeBron and Wade are two of the best finishers in the league. They have three-point shooters to space the floor with Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, James Jones and Norris Cole. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem can score inside or step out and hit the 15-18 foot jumpers. Defensively this team likes to pressure the ball handler and create turnovers. Like Mike mentioned, LeBron James is having his best season and over the last 10 games Dwyane Wade is averaging 24.5 ppg while shooting 57%.

2. Who will win the West this year? 
Mike: I have the Oklahoma City Thunder winning the West in a close race with the rest of the top teams in the conference. The West is really tight right now–there are  nine games between the Thunder and the No. 9 seed and only three-and-a-half between the third place Clippers and the ninth place Trailblazers. Right now, though, the Thunder are three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are hot right now, but the Thunder are too. They share the best record in the league at 27-7 with the Miami Heat and have a two-time scoring champion in Kevin Durant to back them up. I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon.
Samar: As good as the Oklahoma City Thunder have looked I’m going to surprise some people and pick the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have the second best record in the West despite Manu Ginobili missing major time with injuries. Heading into the all-star break the Spurs were winners of 12 of the last 13 games. According to Basketball-Reference.com the Spurs are sixth in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating. But over the last 15 or so games the Spurs defense has been much better and it’s all led by Tim Duncan. While Duncan has lost a lot of his athleticism, his basketball IQ remains off the chart, and he uses that to make sure he and his teammates are in the right spot defensively. Offensively Duncan no longer has to be double teamed so the Spurs play more of an up-tempo style. They like to get out on the run and shoot the three. Gregg Popovich has been able to get the most out of guys like Danny Green, Gary Neal, Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard.
 
3. What team should get the number one pick ?  
Mike: I believe that the Charlotte Bobcats should get the No. 1 pick. Hopefully the ping-pong balls work out in their favor because they need a dominant force in the middle like Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. Right now, their defense allows 100.8 points per game which is 27th in the NBA. This team is 29th in the league in defensive efficiency and 30th in offensive efficiency. I believe that a turn around on any team should always start on the defensive side of the ball and Davis would be the perfect center piece for that task.

Samar: I agree that Charlotte should get the pick because they really have the least talent, but how fun would it be if the Washington Wizards end up getting that pick? Think of this: John Wall at the point with a frontline of JaVale McGee, Jan Vesely and Anthony Davis. They could run with any team in the league and defensively a front court of Davis and McGee would be very hard to score on. Selfishly I want this to happen for Wall’s career. Getting Davis can help him turn this Wizards team around almost immediately.

4. Does Derrick Rose’s injuries worry you? 
Mike: They do worry me a little. If they are lingering, it would definitely put a ball and chain on the powerhouse that is the Chicago Bulls. Rose says that he should be fine thanks to his new chiropractor Stuart Yoss. With that being said, though, this makes me feel that the Bulls will make a move to acquire a more consistent threat in their front court like Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard. Rose’s teammates must be a threat for this team to thrive and last postseason it didn’t happen. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng must step up to the plate and make plays. Then Rose’s back will pose no threat to the title contending Bulls.
Samar: As a big-time fan of Tracy McGrady whenever I hear back spasms I’m automatically worried. McGrady would miss games almost every year with back spasms and the fact that Rose dealt with back spasms in high school is a bad sign that this will be recurring. While I am very concerned, Rose is a very hard worker and if anybody is going to put in the work to make sure they overcome this it’s Rose.
 
5. How far will the Knicks go this season? 
Mike: The Knicks will simply go as far as Carmelo Anthony, not Jeremy Lin, takes them. At the end of the day Carmelo is the best player on that team. At the end of the games when it’s time for the money ball they’re going to go through Carmelo. Lin must focus on beating the traps that are going to be thrown at him and cut down on turnovers. If they can do that then the Knicks are as good as any team in the NBA. I believe that they’ll be the sixth seed by the end of the season and play Philadelphia in the first round. I think they’ll be able to get by them, but get eliminated by the Bulls in the second round. But who knows, if the team’s chemistry can improve by that time then they could be in the finals.
Samar: It all depends on the seeding at the end of the season. If they are a seven or eight seed this team will be one and done. But if the Knicks can get the sixth or higher seed and avoid the Bulls and Heat this team is talented enough to beat a three, four or five seed. The Knicks have been a better team with Jeremy Lin playing the point guard position, but as anyone who saw the game vs. the Heat on Thursday, great defensive teams can completely take him out of games. This team still has major problems with the inconsistent play of Amar’e Stoudemire, the turnover problems and they have better chemistry with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. I have serious doubts that they will be able to fix these problems this season.
 
6. Do you see Dwight Howard moving soon? If so, to where? If not, why not?
Mike: I don’t see Dwight Howard going anywhere through the rest of the season. The reason why is that no team seems to have enough to give the Orlando Magic back for Dwight. His top suitors right now are Los Angeles and New Jersey depending on what report you’re reading. In Los Angeles, you’d likely get Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum back in return. Gasol is coming into the twilight of his career soon and he won’t be able to reciprocate half of what Howard was able to do for Orlando. Bynum will be able to, but with his shady injury history you’d also want some other pieces and draft assets in return. The Lakers don’t have that. With New Jersey you would only get back Brook Lopez and a few draft picks that would lose value because of the combination of Deron Williams and Howard. Unless you can swing a third team into this deal, which is possible, I don’t think the Magic pull the trigger.
Samar: I really think Dwight is getting moved right after all-star weekend. I  think the only reason he has lasted on the Magic this long is because the all-star game was in Orlando. It just makes too much sense for the Lakers to make a move for Dwight now and if you’re the Orlando Magic why wait and lose him for nothing? If I’m Orlando and LA wants him so badly they will have to send Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to Orlando and Orlando can send  Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson to the Lakers. Orlando gets Bynum and Pau, whom they can flip in the offseason if they’d like too, while shedding Turkoglu and Duhon’s contracts off their books. The Lakers get Howard to anchor the defense and some much-needed outside shooting with Anderson and Hedo.
 
7. Share a hypothetical trade idea. 
Mike: My trade consists of the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic. Pau Gasol gets sent to the Houston Rockets, Dwight Howard is shipped to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum would go to the Orlando Magic. The Lakers would get Luis Scola in return for Gasol and get Howard back from the Orlando Magic. The Magic would get Kevin Martin from the Rockets, which would give them another threat on the wing and would keep them competitive with Bynum down low. Quentin Richardson and Ishmael Smith would be sent to the Lakers and Rockets respectively to fulfill salary cap requirements. The Rockets and Lakers would be able to stay competitive while the Magic would have a nice centerpiece for the future barring health issues and also a new trade piece in Kevin Martin.
SamarI know things are going well for the Philadelphia 76ers but this team has two major holes. One is the health of Spencer Hawes and the second is that this team doesn’t have a true go-to scorer. Lou Williams has done a great job off the bench, but wouldn’t this team look better if they traded Evan Turner to the New Orleans Hornets for Eric Gordon? I know Eric Gordon is on the New Orleans Hornets and how difficult it is to trade with them, but he didn’t sign the extension with the Hornets and they could lose him for nothing. Instead of letting him get to the open market trade him to the 76ers for another young shooting guard in Evan Turner. Once Eric Gordon and Spencer Hawes gets healthy this trade makes the 76ers true contenders.

Putting a Lid on the Linsanity

As everyone has seen by now, there has been a new basketball phenomenon to hit the Big Apple. The man’s name is Jeremy Lin and he’s riding a huge tidal wave that most people would like to call “Lin-Sanity”.

Lin has been amazing in his first five games logging significant minutes. In games where Lin has logged 30 minutes or more he is averaging 27.3 points per game along with eight assists per game via basketball-reference. Along with those monstrous numbers, and setting an NBA record for points scored in his first four starts with 109 points, the Knicks are also on a five-game winning streak. Just to let you guys know, after Carmelo went down and Lin emerged I stated that they would go on a 5 game winning streak. It was tongue in cheek, but I’ll still take credit for that nonetheless.

I digress. Lin has emerged as a hoop hero throughout the world; captivating audiences with his admirable performances seemingly from out of nowhere. Even though some of us knew that he could play, I think I can safely say most did not. Just the week before he was in the D League playing for the Reno Bighorns and putting up some pretty decent numbers. He had reportedly been sleeping on his brothers couch in New York and was about to be cut after the Knicks had called him up. Then he gets the opportunity to shine and does just that.

Getting to the point and out of the Lin-(insert pun here), I got a chance to watch Jeremy Lin last week when he played the Washington Wizards. Lin and Wall were going at it, just as they did in their summer league showcase during their rookie seasons. As a Wizard fan, I took notice of Lin during that game. I was surprised that he went undrafted because I remembered a game where Lin hung 30 points up on UConn with a relatively unknown cast of players at Harvard. You can view that video below if you’ve never seen it before.

As you can see, Lin played a lot of off guard in college but he also ran some point too. He wasn’t just a point guard at Harvard but he was allowed to control the ball a lot. Creating for himself was his main goal because that was his role with the lack of talent that he had around him. I don’t want to make the Steve Nash comparison here, but I can’t really help it. While Nash was a good passer of the ball at Santa Clara, he was primarily a scorer on that team. There are some striking similarities between their playing styles that you can’t help but notice.

Above is some video of Lin going at it with John Wall. Even though Lin’s team didn’t win the game, be pretty much out-played John Wall. He went 6/12 in that game for 13 points and a few dimes. He did a hell of a job on John Wall too. If I can recall, Wall went 4/19 from the field in that game. For an undrafted player vs the number one pick in the draft, Lin held his own.

You could always tell that Lin had talent. He was just never given the opportunity to play–especially since he was picked up by the Warriors and the Rockets who have heavy guard rotations. There just wasn’t any space for him on their roster, and that’s fine. Even though Lin has played very well in all of the games that he’s received significant playing time in, he is still stoppable. I believe that he is an above average point guard in the NBA, but I don’t think that he will crack a top 10 spot anytime soon.

I hate to be a buzz kill to this awesome story, but I think that there are some holes in his game that could possibly hurt him in the long run. There is room for improvement in every player, but right now I’m going to nit pick.

Lin has a real feel for the pick and roll. Of course, in a lot of eyes it looks simple, but the pick and roll is really an art. You’ve got to feel the defense around you and feel your teammates around you. If you run it correctly it is the most powerful offense in the league, no doubt. There is almost no stopping it depending on how you run it. That’s what Lin has done in these past few games.

His vision has been amazing. He has taken the proper angle when running PnR almost every time. His hesitation dribbles are a large reason for that also. He’s mastered the dribble so early in his career so count on him improving and doing a lot more with it. The key to anyone’s hesitation is to freeze the defense and then make your move. Some players hesitation freezes just one or two defenders on the PnR. Lin has the type that can freeze up three to four defenders at a time. That makes a PnR that much easier to score on–especially when you’ve got a big as skilled as Tyson Chandler on your side.

His passing skills also come into play here. You have to be honest on the pass as a defender. You don’t want to just let your man get an open look for a three so you stay home. Meanwhile, the lane is wide open for Lin to come down and score or Tyson to dive and get an easy two. You can see this in the video below that I grabbed from nbaplaybook.com.

Now sure, those teams are some of the worst defensively speaking. However, the same concepts still apply there. You’ve got to respect Lin off of his hesitation and you have to respect his floor vision. This is how these wide open lanes are created for him to drive down or deliver a pass to his big.

Being able to stop and go at any moment is also key here. Lin is very good at stopping his forward progress, hesitating, and then moving once again. This will keep his defender guessing, if nothing else, and allow Lin just enough space to get by and get to the rim. This is not what you want in this case because he finishes well at the rim.

There are multiple ways to counter this. You could play under the screen to give Jeremy less space to get by you. This will also tempt him to take jumpers and that’s probably how you’d want to let him beat you. He’s shooting less than 30 percent from beyond the arch as a Knicks starter. So when he’s above the arch you could go with the trap and see how that works.

When doing this, though, you must make sure that he goes to his left. Lin has real problems finishing from his left. If he isn’t allowed to switch over to his right hand he has a problem seeing the defense and it forces him to take more dribbles than he’d like. When running the PnR every dribble has meaning and should create space. That is what separates the good point guards from the great ones. When you take too many dribbles it allows the defense too much recovery time. That’s what happens when Lin uses his left hand.

Above you can see Lin was more focused on trying to control his dribble than anything else. He looked uncomfortable going to the left side and his head wasn’t up for him to hit Tyson Chandler at the rim. He also threw up a difficult finger roll that barely hit the backboard. This was a bad play for Lin, but as you can see it didn’t come from going under the screen. It actually came from a trap. It was a weak trap, but a trap nonetheless. This was the case in both instances vs the Nets and the Jazz in the video. That’s the best way that I see fit for dealing with Lin.

If you trap him and take away his right hand, he will have little place to go with the ball. Until Carmelo and Amar’e get back, you want to force the other Knicks to beat you. Take the ball out of Lin’s hands and force the offense to be run by someone else other than the emerging point guard. If you can get the ball out of his hands early in the clock and disrupt the play after about 5 or 6 seconds it gives the Knicks less time during the reset to find a suitable play or PnR combo. If they try to find Lin and get him the ball back, it will take even more time off of the clock. He’ll force something up and it will be a failed possession for New York. You can see that situation below.

Defenses will begin to play Lin more like this in the coming weeks, even after Stoudemire and Anthony return. The point guard is the most important player in the Mike D’Antoni system. This is why you need the ball to be out of his hands and into anyone elses. If the ball stops, they struggle. It’s as simple as that. Look for people to trap off of him more and try to force some turnovers. Young guards usually struggle with this, but maybe Lin will excel. He has done that so far in his short tenure as the Knicks starting point guard. I look forward to seeing it.

A Decade of Misery

Willis Reed

Let me start this off by posing a question to you all: Do you remember? Do you remember the days of Willis Reed and Walt “Clyde” Frazier? Do you think of one of the most famous games in NBA history? Game 7, 1970 NBA Finals. Reed fights through the pain in his leg after tearing a muscle in his right thigh early in Game 5. The Knicks lost Game 6 so it was all or nothing at this point. Willis knew that and went through the wire for his once proud franchise. Willis limped on the court and scored only 4 points that day. That was enough to push his team through the top. Willis was the only player to win NBA MVP, Finals MVP, and All Star MVP in one season. He also catapulted New York into another championship year in 1973 over the Los Angeles Lakers.

How about Bernard King? Bernard, one of the most resilient players to ever touch an NBA floor, has been through it all. Hailing out of Brooklyn, New York, King had always struggled between alcohol addiction and knee injuries. Many critics doubted him and what he could do after both unfortunate circumstances with addiction and health. Bouncing from team to team, Bernard had some of his proudest moments as a Knick. This man–proudly suited in a Knicks uniform–responded to critics by being one of the best scorers of his era. The four-time All-Star finished his career with 19,655 points, the comeback player of the year award in 1981, and also two 1st team all NBA awards.

Bernard King

After all of that, do you think King was satisfied? No. He was disappointed he couldn’t finish his career in the 20,000 point club. He was disappointed that he couldn’t win any championships at any point in his career. All of this after fighting through the struggles that life had to throw at Bernard.

How about Patrick Ewing and his New York Knicks? The same Knicks that went to war with Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Reggie Miller’s Pacers. The same New York Knicks that were an 8th seed to make the NBA finals? They’re still the only 8th seed–to this day–to make it that far in the post season. That was during a season where the players were locked out for the majority of it.

Even though Ewing wasn’t apart of the team that actually played in the Finals, they still has his Knick spirit and pride within. They eventually lost to Tim Duncan and the Spurs, but their unforgettable run just showed the toughness and swagger that New York embodies.

The next time you take a trip to the Garden, think of how much history has gone through that building. Some of the most magical moments in the history of basketball have happened there.

Think about that city. What is New York? As a basketball fan, its one of the cities that you dream on going to; an absolute basketball Mecca. When you think of hoops, you think of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and North Carolina. Those are places where basketball thrives. It runs through their citizen’s veins; some of the greatest hoops legends have been made in these areas.

Which city has the most clout? It has to be New York.

New York has been host to some of the best basketball talent that we’ve ever seen. There was a reason that Durant went off for 66 in the Rucker. Kobe and LeBron play their hearts out every time they visit Madison Square. Why? Because its NEW YORK!

That lesson leads me to this. One of the most glorified franchises in NBA history has been driven into the dirt. As a basketball junkie, lover, hipster, whatever you want to call me, it hurts me to the inner depths of my soul to see this once proud franchise become an absolute mockery in the NBA.

Let’s go back, post Patrick Ewing era. Ewing was traded to the Seattle Super Sonics in September of the year 2000. In the 2001, Jeff Van Gundy had decided to call it quits after 7 years in New York. The Knicks weren’t off to a stellar start, but had recently won a few games to get above .500.He didn’t have the drive anymore and he didn’t want to short change the Knicks team at all. Instead of putting on the facade of a coach who was still willing to be in the business, he took his hand out of the cookie jar.

“I didn’t feel my focus was at its best. I didn’t want to hurt our team. I certainly don’t regret the effort I put forth. I just think it’s time to step back and let the team move on.” – Jeff Van Gundy via Pro Basketball Talk. 2001.

Van Gundy Directing his sqaud

Of course, maybe the Knicks aforementioned Patrick Ewing trade had something to do with that. Maybe, like many of us, Van Gundy wanted to take some time off with his family after the September 11th tragedy that terrified our nation. You can’t blame a man for needing a break; being overwhelmed is no good to anyone. For whatever the case, though, Van Gundy removed himself from the New York Knicks franchise and moved on with life.

Don Chaney took over as the interim coach of the Knicks and it wasn’t a galvanizing run to say the least. The Knicks finished 30-52 that season and were left searching for answers. For the first time in about 15 years the Knicks had failed to make the playoffs.

The pieces seemed to be picked up after the Knicks hired former Detroit Piston hall of fame point guard Isiah Thomas as the team president. Isiah seemed to bring a certain swagger to the Knicks that they had been lacking for years.

In truth, this is where a lot of the turmoil started.

For whatever reason, in a shock to much of the national media, the Knicks had extended Don Chaney’s contract the previous season before Isiah was hired. It was probably because he was told to coach a team that honestly wasn’t very good and was asked to do it on such short notice. Naming a few–Antonio Mcdyess, Penny Hardaway, Dikembe Mutumbo, and Tim Thomas.

Then all of a sudden, in a power move only about one month after his hire, Isiah decided to Fire Chaney and bring in Lenny Wilkens. This came in as a shock to the national media even though Chaney had only led the Knicks to a 15-24 record.

The newly retooled Knicks had made the post season in the 2003-2004 season only to be swept away by the New Jersey Nets, a new power in the Eastern Conference that had experienced some playoff success in recent years. Not to mention that David Chaney had been let go after only 39 games. Even with the franchise making the playoffs, this was not Knicks basketball. They were winners and they had a standard to live up to. The feel that the franchise wasn’t going in the right direction was increasing throughout the National Media. All eyes were on them.

The next season, Isiah put the Knicks through another coaching carousel once again. He eventually fired Wilkens as the head coach after going 17-22 on the first half of the season. Herb Williams came into the fold as the interim head coach and wasn’t very good at it either. The Knicks had gone 33-49 after that season and were faced with a lot of adversity. The Media was already on the Knicks for picking up a personality like Stephon Marbury. He was shipped out of Minnesota for having chemistry problems with Kevin Garnett. Many thought that it wasn’t wise for the Knicks to pick up someone with a destructive personality like his.

The Knicks proceeded to make bad move after bad move. They brought in center Eddy Curry and drafted center Channing Frye 8th overall in the NBA draft in 2005. Thomas was looking for a new center piece, like Ewing, and would pay any amount of money to acquire it. That showed in his signings of Eddy Curry–who was said to have weight and heart issues, and also clashed with John Paxson in Chicago–and Jerome James.

Also, Thomas blew up the Knicks draft chances in his trade for Eddy Curry. He sent the Bulls unprotected lotto draft rights in 2007’s draft and also sent them 2007 and 2009’s draft pick. He put too many eggs in a small childs Easter basket and it was bound to burst.

In 2005 Isiah had hired NBA and NCAA Champion coach Larry Brown to help resurrect the franchise. Remember that Easter basket that I was talking about earlier? Yeah, it exploded. The Knicks ended up finishing 23-59 this season–not to mention they had one of the most expensive payrolls in the league. There was really no excuse for all of the deficiencies of this franchise besides the fact that the Knicks had an extremely bad team. After going through this debacle of a year, Isiah Thomas proceeded to buy out Larry Brown’s contract–about 18 million down the drain.

With Brown out of the picture, Isiah decided to take over the reigns of the head coach seat himself. The team’s win total only increased by 8 the next season. More and more people started questioning whether or not Isiah knew what he was doing. He had been through so many coaches, he had overpaid so many players. When was all of this going to pay off? Time for change was obviously needed in New York.

Isiah Thomas

What’s more is that Isiah was being charged with sexual harassment. This was about as low as the Knicks could go. He was now an embarrassment to the organization and could no longer represent the city of New York. There was no turning back now; Isiah had to go.

In 2008 the New York Knicks owner, James Dolan, had decided to relieve Isiah Thomas of his duties as team president and head coach soon after their 23-59 season. He had seen enough of this miserable team and was tired of losing. He wanted to instill a winning culture in New York so he needed people who had won to do just that. He also hired Donnie Walsh, who had a lot of success with the Indiana Pacers for a little longer than a decade and a half, as the team president. Then, in turn, Walsh hired Mike D’Antoni as the head coach of the Knicks. Coming off of a successful tenure with the Phoenix Suns, this seemed like a no brainer for the Knicks. Things looked to be turning around.

There still needed to be overhaul in the roster. In 2009 the Knicks shipped Stephon Marbury out to Boston, who was a contender at the time. They also shipped Jamal Crawford out to the Golden State Warriors for Al Harrington, who’s contract would soon expire. The organization was moving forward with young centerpieces like David Lee, Danillo Gallinari, and Nate Robinson. Robinson was eventually traded because he and D’Antoni’s had bumps along the road, but the point is that they were moving forward for one big reason. What was that reason? The Summer of 2010.

As we all know, the big name free agent class was coming and teams were making room. There were stories in the national news about LeBron James possibly going to New York. Even if they didn’t land him, there were names like Amar’e Stoudamire, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade out there for the taking. Initially, it looked like James was going to choose New York. Instead, he went to Miami and formed the royal triumvirate of Bosh, Wade, and James.

However, New York didn’t leave the best free agent class the league has ever seen empty-handed. They left the pool with Amar’e Stoudamire, who had signed a big deal with New York. Amar’e stated “The Knicks are back!” and it really seemed like they were. The Knicks had their swagger back under new coach D’Antoni and with new pieces that actually can co-exist they were making a name for themselves in the league.

Enter, Melo-Drama.

James Dolan, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudamire

There had been a proposed toast at Carmelo Anthony’s wedding. New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul, Stoudamire, and Anthony had supposedly proposed a toast to make their own big three in New York. Eventually, after a lot of bickering and fence-strattling, Carmelo was traded to the New York Knicks. Many were happy about it; they thought that the Knicks had their swagger back. Coach D’Antoni had warned the organization about Carmelo Anthony, though. He didn’t believe that they should give up so many pieces in order to get him because then the team wouldn’t be very deep at all. Dolan made the move anyway, and enter Carmelo. The proud Brooklyn native looking to be the next Bernard King.

This was Dolan’s plan as soon as he hired Walsh; the greatest free agent class of all time was coming and he knew he had change to play with. Then again, here the Knicks are putting all of their eggs in one basket. As we can see the rival franchise of the New York Knicks are the poster-child of success with 2 top 10 players and three of the top 30 players in the NBA.

The Miami Heat have had a finals appearance in their first year of acquiring their big 3. New York? Not so much. They could only manage to be swept by the Boston Celtics, who would soon falter to the Miami Heat.

Donnie Walsh resigned from the position as the team gutted the roster for Carmelo Anthony. They traded away Danillo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mozgov for Carmelo Anthony. That’s an awful lot of players for a guy who isn’t very versatile in his game or making his teammates better.

This takes us to the present day. The Denver Nuggets are having a lot more success than the New York Knicks right now. They’re currently the 2nd best team in the Western Conference with the pieces that the Knicks willingly gave up to them. Meanwhile, in New York heads are being called for and people want bodies to roll out of Madison Square. The Knicks are currently talking lottery and are out of the playoff picture right now.

This team has a lot of problems that go beyond Amare and Carmelo not being able to coincide with each other. There is very little depth to this team, even after dumping a load of money on NBA champion center Tyson Chandler. The problem is not the defense, the Knicks are ranked 10th in defensive efficiency according to Basketball Reference. They can’t score points, shockingly, because of their lack of depth and their lack of good point guard play.

Carmelo and Amar’e came back from the lock-out induced offseason out of shape and weren’t ready to play the number of minutes that they have been entrusted with.

Too much responsibility has been left on two players that are only scorers in particular, not creators. That’s what’s wrong with this team. These guys don’t mesh on the floor and it shows every time they play. They need someone who can properly run the show and distribute the ball well enough to make things right.

No coach can fix that problem without the proper personnel. This is why you don’t build your team through players that you don’t really have a feel for.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and it says that these guys can’t play with each other on a team with a lack of depth and no point guard in particular. They aren’t guys who create for others, but they can score the ball as good as anyone. What you’re stuck with here is two scorers and ball stoppers; where is the distribution coming from?

You’ve got them playing with a bunch of back-ups and borderline starters. Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries, Mike Bibby. Who are these guys?

Of course, Tyson Chandler helps plug up the middle. That’s why this team is better defensively. The true problem here is something that New York has been seeing for the past decade; this team doesn’t mesh at all.

This is a page ripped right out of the Washington Redskins book. The Skins always used to look for the big name free agent and splurge as soon as it was time. No matter what the fit, as long as the player was good it didn’t matter. They’d figure it out right? Wrong.

Building a team takes more than one player’s skill. In no team sport has one player ever won a championship on his own; it takes the whole team’s effort. That’s what is missing in this situation. There is no team. This team is not good. The Knicks are an incomplete project right now and the whole world can see it.

Now–fans of New York–I grieve with you. This franchise has gone from Willis Reed and Bernard King to being the laughing-stock of the NBA. If I were you I would be totally embarrassed at the effort that this organization has given over the last few years and the amount of time that has been waisted in building a perpetual loser. There is no excuse for not having won a playoff series in over 12 years.

This is one of the NBA’s marquee franchises; anything but winning is not acceptable here. This franchise has the highest standard in the NBA. It’s NEW YORK! The media is cold and unforgiving and so are its citizens. They’ll turn on you like a rabid dog in very little time at all. That’s what has happened with the Carmelo Anthony situation and I can’t blame any New York fans.

These are the New York Knickerbockers. Act like it.

Michael D. Sykes, II

NBA 1st Quarter Report

Welcome to the Baseline Hoops NBA First Quarter Report. Here, we take a look at what has been going on through the season thus far by answering a few questions that we’ve come up with ourselves. There have been exciting moments, bad games, bad performances, and elite numbers. Overall, this season has really been a fun one so far. We don’t really know a lot about the teams and the competition that they have; what we have been able to see, though, is the fundamentals of the game of basketball factor in to the NBA more than ever. This is a season where you can really learn the nuances of basketball at its finest. With that being said, lets dig in.

Who is the best team in the NBA right now?

Mike: For me, I’d have to say the best team in the NBA right now is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have easily been the most consistent team in the NBA, even without their star player, and reigning MVP, Derrick Rose. They have the best record in the NBA right now at 13-3 and they have earned it. They’ve had the next man up mentality all year while being faced with injuries to key players on the offensive end like Rose and Richard Hamilton. According to basketball-reference the Bulls are first in the NBA in rebounding, third in the NBA in total assists, and second in the NBA in total points. Also, this team is 8th in offensive rating and 2nd in defensive rating. The back to back games aren’t having any lasting effect on the Bulls because of their depth. According to Basketball-reference the Bulls went 6-0 in their two sessions of back to back to back games. In their 5 sessions of back to back games the Bulls are 7-3. This is a well-balanced team that shares the ball and that’s why they’ll make a run come playoff time. With another year in Coach Thibs system these guys are playing the best ball the Bulls have seen since the Jordan era.

Samar: I’m going to say the Miami Heat. They haven’t been as consistent as the Chicago Bulls or the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that could be attributed to the fact that they haven’t had the team together as a whole yet. Dwyane Wade has missed time with foot and ankle injuries, LeBron James with an ankle, Mike Miller is just now getting back to the court, as is Eddy Curry. According to Basketball-Reference the Heat are second in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating. LeBron is playing the best basketball I’ve ever seen him play. James this season is averaging: 29.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 7.6 apg, 2.0 spg, 56.3% shooting, and 47.4% three-pointers. Chris Bosh has seemed a lot more comfortable in his role in the offense and his game has improved because of it: 19.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 bpg, 51.9% shooting, and 72.2% free throws. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has allowed his team to play at a faster pace this season allowing the Heat to get easier looks this year. The team is ranked second in offensive pace this season. Defensively this team excels at pressuring the ball handler with Mario Chambers, rookie Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Wade, or James which create turnovers that leads to fast-break opportunities. This is a top-tier team offensively and defensively that can get stops when needed and run teams out the gym. They’ll only continue to improve once they get Wade back from injury. Look for this team to play deep into the playoffs.

Who is the worst team in the NBA right now?

Mike: I’d have to say the Washington Wizards take the cake in this category. This is an easy pick; they have the worst record in the league and have absolutely played like it. From goaltended free-throw shots to facing 30-plus point deficits, this team has done it all. They are 22nd in defensive rating in the NBA and 30th in the NBA in offensive rating. They can’t stop anyone and they can easily be stopped. That’s the worst combination of attributes for a team to have. Not to mention that John Wall has been in a shooting slump for most of the season. Wall is shooting 37% on the season so far according to ESPN.com’s statistics and is currently posting a PER of 15.85 which is average. Wall is easily the best player on the Wizards so you know it doesn’t get better from there. Lately Wall has been playing well so if he keeps that up we can change this pick in the next quarterly report.

Samar: I’m going to have to agree with you here. The Wizards have been the worst team in the NBA so far. This team is a mess on the offensive end; sloppy passing, selfish play, bad decisions, and missed shots. Defensively this team can’t seem to get stops, they rotate poorly on defense, and the big’s fail to hedge on the pick-and-rolls. This isn’t a Wizards team that lacks talent, but this is a team that lacks leadership.  From the head coach to the players it seems like leadership is missing and I’m starting to worry that Flip Saunders isn’t the right coach for this young Wizards team.

Who is your MVP of the season thus far?

Mike: I’m going with LeBron James here. He’s been the most dominant player of the season so far. Even with the caveat of the playoffs in waiting, LeBron has looked like a man on a mission thus far. He’s putting up career numbers and we all know how impressive LeBron’s career has been so far; he’s a two time MVP. Right now, LeBron is averaging 29.8 points per game while shooting only 1.3 three point shots per game. His stat line bleeds efficiency; he is shooting 57% from the field which is a career-high for him. He’s also shooting a TS% of 64% which is also a career high. He’s doing all of this while averaging 7.9 rebounds per game and 7.6 assists per game. He’s been beyond dominant with the Heat this year. LeBron has a PER of 34.2 right now which is well above average; as a matter of fact if he can keep this up it may go down as one of the all-time greatest seasons in NBA history. That would shatter Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 31.84 according to Basketball-reference. If that isn’t MVP worthy then I don’t know what is. The real question here is can James keep this play up? Also, to make more of a case for LeBron, he is 5-0 with no Dwyane Wade in the lineup. Just saying.

Samar: So far this season I don’t think there is a case that could be made for anybody other than LeBron James. Mike has said it perfectly there is nothing I can add. Simply put James is playing the best basketball I have seen since Michael Jordan.

Which rookie has had the best impact in the league?

Mike: I’m going with Kyrie Irving right here. So far this season he’s averaging 17.7 points per game and 5.2 assists per game. That’s pretty good for a rookie player on a team that broke the record for losing consecutive games last season. Kyrie has the Cavaliers at 7-6 currently and that’s more than enough proof, to me, that he’s going to have a lasting impact on this franchise. He also has a PER of 21.8 according to Hoopdata.com. The Chris Paul comparisons, as of right now, are more valid than ever.

Samar: I’m going to take Ricky Rubio. This season Rubio is averaging 11 ppg, 8.3 apg, 4.6 rpg, 2.4 spg, and most surprising he’s shooting 40.6% from three. After his poor play in Spain the last few years most felt that Rubio was overhyped, but so far this season he’s showed that his game is more suited for the NBA. He has the ability to make the players around him better and has even been able to hold his own the defensive end. Rubio has this Timberwolves team playing better and for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era the future looks bright in Minnesota.

Which player has shown the most improvement this season?

Mike: Kyle Lowry has been the most improved player in the NBA and it isn’t even a close race. Per Basketball-reference, Kyle Lowry has averaged 17.3 points, 8.6 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game this season. All of those are career highs for this young, up-and-coming point guard out of Villanova. Lowry has been slowly and steadily improving every season of his NBA career. Last year he finally got moved into the starting lineup without having to look over his shoulder after Aaron Brooks was traded to the Phoenix Suns; Lowry hasn’t looked back since. He has a PER of 24.2 with only a usage rate of 23%. That’s awesome for a player who, only last year, was averaging 13 and 6 with a PER barely over 16.

Samar: James Harden, to me, has been the most improved player in the NBA. Looking at his numbers 16.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.1 apg don’t tell the story. Harden is not the starter and he only plays 29 minutes a game, his stats per 36 minutes tell a different story though; 19.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.7 apg. Hardens PER is currently 22.2 which is well above the league average of 15. Harden is a key player for the Oklahoma City Thunder he provides them with bench scoring and playmaking. Look for his role to improve with the injury to Eric Maynor.

Who is your first time all star? 

Mike: Once again I’m going to have to go with Kyle Lowry. Right now Ricky Rubio has more votes than him so hopefully I can do a little campaigning to get him in there. He has easily been the best point guard in the Western Conference. He averages more assists than Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, and Russell Westbrook and more points than Steve Nash. He obviously also brings pretty good rebounding numbers to the table with 6.6 as I said before which none of the other top point guards in the Western Conference can say. He’s been playing out of his mind and if he keeps it up I believe that he will earn himself a spot on the reserve squad behind Paul.

Samar: My first time all-star is Lamarcus Aldridge. Aldridge played well enough to make it last season and this season he is playing even better. Aldridge is posting 23.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, shooting 49.3% and a 23.57 PER. But more importantly he’s been able to keep this Portland team competitive without Brandon Roy who was forced to retire because of knee injuries and Greg Oden who’s still out with a knee injury.

What player has regressed the most thus far?

Mike: I would have to say that Joakim Noah has regressed the most. His numbers are down across the board; right now he is averaging 7 points and 8 rebounds after averaging 11 and 10 last season. Also, according to hoopdata.com Noah is shooting 49 percent after shooting almost 62 percent at the rim last year. His PER right now is totally sub par at 13; he has played only 26 minutes per game this season because of his lack of production. If he can’t get out of his slump the Chicago Bulls could be facing a major problem come playoff time. With that being said I like them to still make it to the conference finals. I think this is just a blip on the radar for Noah. Once he gets his body used to playing so many games and gets back in shape he’ll be fine.

Samar: This one is easy for me Amare Stoudemire is the pick. Amare is averaging 17.6 ppg, while shooting 41.3%. He is posting a PER of 15.1 the lowest of his career.  I do think Amare can get back on track and help the Knicks turn the season around because he is too talented to continue to struggle like this.

The Celtics have played terribly all year long. This team appears to be fools gold right now and Danny Ainge has said that he is willing to blow it up. Do you think that this would be the right move by the Celtics from office?

Mike: People are probably going to think that I’m nuts for saying this, but I don’t think that Boston should blow their team up this year. I know they’ve played way below standard together even with the Big Three together, but there is really not much that you would get out of trading them. Remove the name Kevin Garnett from the No. 5 jersey. He’s a power forward that averages 13 and 7 who is over 33 years old and an expiring contract. What value are you going to get off of him? The same things goes for Paul Pierce. The one with the most worth right now is Ray Allen and he has the opportunity to produce, because of his style of play, for years to come. I think that Boston just lets this year play out, let KG walk, keep Allen around for a year or two longer and trade Pierce. Build around Rajon Rondo through the draft and get players that can score and defend. This team will be young, but could be competitive for years to come still; especially at the rate that they are playing right now.

Samar: If I were Danny Ainge I’d have to say no. They simply don’t have the pieces anyone would want to trade for. Unless this team is willing to part ways with Rondo, who else on this Celtics team is worth trading for? Kevin Garnett is no longer the guy that can anchor a top-tier defense and Paul Pierce hasn’t shown that he’s still capable of carrying an offense. Ray Allen is a player that will have good trade value because his skill set has value to every contending team in the league, but I doubt you’d be getting back equal value. This team’s best hope is to stay the course, hope that this team can make a run come playoff time, and patiently wait for Pierce, Allen, and Garnett’s contracts to expire and the cap flexibility that comes with it.

For Mike: How do you fix the Washington Wizards?

Mike: I would have to say that it all lies within the front office. If I’m Ted Leonsis, Washington Wizards owner, I dump team president Ernie Grunfeld and see what other candidates are out there. He has been around the organization for years now and has never produced a true winner in DC. I think the fans and the organization need a new fresh face in the front office. The highlight of the Wizards in the past three years has been handing Andray Blatche a long-term deal. That’s something that speaks volumes to how the team operates. I think Blatche is a potential cancer for the Wizards young players and I get rid of him too. The Wizards need a post presence and Blatche is bad with his back to the basket. If the Wizards had a true dominant post player then they would be able to get a lot more open looks and better spacing for up-and-coming star John Wall to work.

For Samar: The Philadelphia 76ers have started this season looking like true contenders, is this team a legit contender? 

Samar: I’m going to surprise people annd say that I have no idea right now. Coming into last week the 76ers had a four-game stretch that I thought would answer a lot of the questions I had about this team, but it only added more. I now find myself questioning just how good Spencer Hawes is. He missed three of the last four games with back and achilles injuries, the team looked completely different without his rebounding and post passing. The 76ers went 1-2 without Hawes with losses coming to the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat. The lone win without Hawes during the last three games came versus a Hawks team missing there starting center Al Horford. The 76ers are fourth in offensive rating and first in defensive rating. Those numbers could prove to be misleading as the 76ers start to play the upper echelon of teams, and they start to take the 76ers more seriously. Look for those numbers to slide. Right now it’s too early to tell if the 76ers are a legit contender or not. By the next quarterly report the answer should be more clear.

Hope you all enjoyed this first quarter of basketball as well as our post. We’ll be back with more soon.

Written by Michael Sykes and Samar Gaines

Kobe Bryant is not Playing Winning Basketball

Yes, you did read that right. Kobe Bryant is not playing winning basketball.

In the midst of Kobe’s popular “Kobe System” commercial, Kobe Bryant has strung together some massive games. Over the past 4 he’s gotten over 40 points in each.

The Lakers, in the past few games, have been on a roll. They won 5 straight games after losing to the Portland Trail Blazers and failed to get a 6th last night vs the Los Angeles Clippers. Most of those wins came by the skin of their teeth. Although the scores don’t indicate that they were close games, the opposing teams were actually in the game. The Lakers, even with all of their talent, probably could’ve lost some of those games; I would say at least three. That’s because the rhythm of the team is off right now. The ball isn’t being put in the right spots and that is because it seems like Kobe Bryant is making it a mission to score 40 points a night ever since we began to question his shot selection after te Denver game. He’s noticeably taking note of the things that people are saying that he can not do anymore and saying that he isn’t the player he used to be. Most notably, the ESPN #NBArank where he was ranked the 7th best overall player in the league. After going for 48 on the Phoenix Suns Kobe took a shot at the rankings. “Not bad for the 7th best player in the league” he said, making sure that we know that he knows.

Kobe has come into this season with a huge chip on his shoulder and is going to do whatever he needs to do to get it off. For the Lakers, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. We saw that last night during the Clippers game when Kobe went 14 for 28 and ruined the rhythm of his bigs in the low post; or even when he went 6 for 28 against the Nuggets for only 19 points. Think about when he almost blew that game in Utah that went into overtime. He shot terribly in the 4th quarter and overtime. If not for the work of Andrew Bynum on the inside and Pau Gasol’s 3 point shot the Lakers lose that game without a doubt in my mind.

The problem here is that this obviously isn’t sustainable, winning basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers; instead it is predictable because you know where the ball is going each and every time down the floor. When Kobe touches the ball he looks determined to shoot; just like the Kobe of 06-07 who was on a team with much less talent than the one he has now. They missed out on the playoffs but Kobe sure did look great with his stretches of immense scoring. The problem is that Bryant isn’t setting anyone up with his looks. Its more iso-ball than anything; one side of the floor gets cleared for him to go to work. The problem is when he draws the double he pounds the rock and shoots instead of patiently dribbling out and finding the open man. He has the best Center in the NBA at finding deep position early in possessions and one of the best low block players in the NBA. Why not feed them the ball?

Sure, 4 straight 40 point games at 33 with a bum wrist look awesome. It is awesome when you think about it. This is why Bryant will undoubtably go down as one of the greatest players of all time. But right now, if he wants to win another championship, he needs to play within the system that Mike Brown has in place. He can get a lot of better looks by playing inside out with his bigs. If he worked off of them he could score a way more efficient 40 than he is now. That’s how sustainable, winning basketball works.

Right now, those bigs are struggling to find rhythm with those shots. In the games that Kobe has scored 40 points or more Andrew Bynum has averaged about 11 shots per game and 12.7 points per game. Pau Gasol has averaged 15 shots per game and only 15.7 points per game. Instead of being what makes this team go they are reduced to the oil that prevents the 16-year-old cogs of the machine known as Kobe Bean Bryant from rusting. In the past 4 games, Bryant has averaged 30 shots rather easily. He leads the NBA in scoring but he also leads the NBA in field goals taken by a long shot according to Basketball-Reference.com. Kobe Bryant has taken 351 shots and the next closest player to that is Kevin Durant with 233. Of those 351 shots Kobe Bryant has only made 163 of them. The next closest player to that wouldn’t be far. According to Basketball-Reference once again, Lebron James has the 2nd most makes with 119. In comparison to Bryant’s attempts, James has only taken 206 shots. Kevin Durant has made 118 of his 233 shots. They are scoring and being efficient; that’s why Miami and Oklahoma City are 2 of the best teams in the NBA. The LA Lakers are not.

Feeding the beasts down low will put the Lakers in the upper echelon of teams in the NBA. The Lakers know this, Kobe knows this, and the fans need to know this to. While all of his games have been amazing, and its great to watch him make all of the bad shots that he takes, in the end it will be more damaging to the Lakers than it will be helpful.

Instead of focusing on the Kobe System, maybe they need to play in the Lakers System. Then they will be a championship contender.

When The Stars Don’t Align

Over the past few seasons the NBA has seen an increase in its star power; the national media has given the league the moniker of the “Star Driven League”. It has been assumed for years now that without at least two to three star players in your grasp you have no shot of being a winning franchise in the NBA. During the Free Agency period of 2010 that notion was given even more emphasis as Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. took their destiny into their own hands (which they have the right to do as NBA players) and tested the Free Agent Market.

After Miami’s big three formed there was a pressing need for every franchise to try to get their hands on a star player. Whether that was through the draft or through the market of NBA players didn’t matter. Players, i.e. Joe Johnson, were vastly overpaid as they chose a destination, old or new, to take their talents to. It didn’t matter. If a player is an All-Star caliber talent in the NBA he is going to get paid and rightfully so. They’ve earned that contract and they deserve it.

There has been seemingly no end to the star-search trend that the Boston Celtics created back in 2008 when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were brought into the fold to team up with Paul Pierce. That team won a championship using that method; the rest of the league is doing their best to follow suit. As I said earlier in the piece, Miami has their big three. The Nuggets lost their star in Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks through a different fashion than the Cavaliers or Raptors. Anthony forced his way out of his situation into New York with current teammate and friend Amare Stoudamire. Since the Melo extend and trade we’ve seen very similar situations with the free agent class of 2012. Chris Paul has already made his move out of New Orleans, after being traded to the New Jersey Nets from the Utah Jazz all eyes are on Deron Williams, and we all know what’s going on with Dwight Howard in Orlando.

It seems that as the league grows star power becomes greater. There is a pressing demand for stars that the league just does not have. There are 30 teams in the league but there may not be close to 20 true star players that can win you a championship. If you’re a small market team it has been proven that you’re usually out of luck when chasing these “Star Children” of the NBA. If they are all trying to join forces on a few select teams, how are all of the teams in the NBA going to compete? The answer seems simple; they can’t. The thing is, there are a few teams in the league right now that are proving to us that they can. They are beating the best of the best without the help of any star talent. They are emphasizing team ball and playing the game the way they know how; everyone contributing one thing that makes the unit a collective juggernaut.

The Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers are clear playoff teams in the NBA right now. They are both playing superb basketball after losing their own beacon’s of hope for their respective franchises. They are giving small market teams hope that they can eventually build a team of players who love the game of basketball. They use players who know their roles and play them well; they never play outside themselves or try to exactly “take over a game.” These guys play basketball with the word “We” constantly on their minds and that leads them to victories.

In both situations teams are being coached by guys who are marquee coaches in the NBA. Their players just love playing for them and they know how to motivate their teams. They play to their teams strengths and know exactly the right buttons to push. George Karl, the coach of the Denver Nuggets, has been through it all. He and his son have gone through Cancer and the players love the fight that he brings to the team every day. If he can get through that, why can’t they play a game of basketball for him? They’d go through the wire for him and rightfully so.

Nate McMillan, the Trail Blazer’s coach, has played in the NBA before. The players love a guy who has been through what they’ve gone through as players; he understands what they go through in practice and all of the troubles that could come upon them as players. They trust in him that he knows what he is doing and the results don’t disappoint the players. The trust factor is key in all of this.

There is no substitution for team basketball. You will almost always make the right play when thinking team first; hero ball is out of the question. There is no me, there is only we. The results will do the talking themselves. Per Basketball Reference, Portland Trail Blazers are 13th in offensive rating and 4th in defensive rating out of the entire NBA. They are also the 3rd fastest team in the league which is a contradiction to the style that the Blazers have played in recent years. They played a more slow-paced game for Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, and Greg Oden when healthy. Now that these guys are out of the fold the Blazers have gone from being the 30th team in pace to being the 4th. This is because the Star player doesn’t have to hold the ball to find a shot to bail the team out. This team feels that they don’t need to be bailed out because they play within themselves each and every possession. Their new “Big Three” as the media would usually call it is Gerald Wallace, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Raymond Felton. Neither guy eats up clock when they possess the ball. They can create but they don’t feel the need to have to. Felton would be the only one really creating and when he does that it’s mainly to keep the ball movement going. Jamal Crawford is somewhat of a ball stopper from off of the bench but he doesn’t really go to far outside of the team philosophy either. That is limited because he only is playing 24 minutes a game according to Basketball Reference. He’s taking the shots for the 2nd unit which is at times offensively challenged; the players fit together like thoroughly allocated pieces of a puzzle.

These guys have knocked off teams like Oklahoma City and Los Angeles; the argument that their schedule has been weak is thrown out of the window. Those are teams that are expected to make a run at the Western Conference title. The Blazers handled them easily; the same can be said for the Nuggets.

Denver, since losing their star, has lost the stigma of a team that never played defense. Back then, and even to this day, Carmelo Anthony has never been known as a defender around the NBA. His defense has always been lack luster. George Karl couldn’t coach around his Star’s playing style so he had to adapt. The Nuggets were known as a run and gun team that liked to put shots up early in the clock. That isn’t always a bad thing until you start putting up bad shots early in the clock. This is one reason why the Nuggets were eliminated in the first round all of those years during their Carmelo days. Now, according to basketball reference, The Nuggets are the 7th team in defensive rating and the 9th team in offensive rating. This team is very well-balanced and it shows in their play. They work together to get a shot, playing within themselves just as the Blazers do. Both teams are playoff teams and possibly even title contenders.

It seems like these teams have been better off losing their stars in the short-term than the long-term. They give hope to teams like Orlando and New Orleans; they show that if you play your cards right and bring in talented players who love the game of basketball you can still be successful. By love, I mean players who eat, sleep, breathe, and live basketball. They have the ultimate respect for the game and because of that the teams play better. Maybe the Blazers will stumble upon a new age Tim Duncan in Lamarcus Aldridge, or the Nuggets may find a budding great point guard in Ty Lawson. The way that those guys play still won’t change. They’ll always play within themselves and not make the bad play or take the bad shot to hurt their teams. Great coaching goes a long way in the NBA; remember that.

These teams give hope to franchises like the Indiana Pacers, and the Philadelphia 76ers. You don’t need to find top 20 players to win in the NBA all the time. When you invest time and effort into building a team patiently and you make sure your guys play the game the right way you’ll be just fine. Sure, a star is always nice to have, but everyone can’t get one. There aren’t that many to go around and they don’t come cheap either. Building a team the hard way can pay off also. It just takes time and effort.

What’s wrong with John Wall?

Last season John Wall was drafted number one overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2010 draft. He is supposed to be the god send for the Wizard’s franchise after the failed project of Gilbert Arenas and the passing of previous Wizards owner Abe Pollin. The Wizards drafted him and basically gave Wall the keys to the franchise. Last season Wall was a spectacle to behold by all averaging 16 points and 8 assists per game. He won the Rookie Sophomore game MVP and broke the assist record in that game with 22 dimes. He would’ve easily won rookie of the year had Blake Griffin not been considered a rookie because of him being injured for the entirety of his original rookie season. Wall looked like the absolute right pick for the Wizards and it looked like they were going to be headed in the right direction for the next few seasons.

For these past few games, though, Wall has played as timidly as a child going to school for the first time. He looks like a shell of himself from last season. Wall has shot 32 percent in 6 games this season and has taken less shots. He has settled for way too many long 2 points shots and is shooting 42 percent at the rim this season according to Hoopdata.com. When you read his body language he seems like he isn’t interested in the game at times. Wall has improved on defense but when he gets beat he doesn’t try to recover more often than not. All of Wall’s numbers have been down thus far early in the season.

In no way am I using these numbers as an indictment to Wall’s season. They all just lead me to this question: What is wrong with John Wall?

When you look at 2nd year players its normal for them to have a slump; the problem is that Wall just looks like he has no enthusiasm and energy on the floor. You can see it when the Wizards play. Wall just plays out of control at times and I think it is from the frustration of being on the worst team in the NBA. When he has the ball he presses to get things done; there are a lot of ball stoppers on the Wizards who take the ball from Wall and limit his possessions. When you limit your most talented players possessions he’s going to press to get things done. Just to give you an example, Jordan Crawford’s usage rate is at 26.9 on the season, Nick Young’s is 25.9 and ; John Wall’s usage rate is at 24.2 according to basketball-reference.com There is no reason why a player of Wall’s talent should get less touches than Crawford or Young on this team. Especially when Jordan Crawford is the sixth man. Being a Wizard’s fan, it is extremely frustrating for me to see the ball out of Wall’s hands possession after possession. His teammates will freeze him out at times and just chuck the ball up for some of the worst shot choices you’d ever see.

One thing that worries me about Wall is his leadership capability. As I’ve said before, there are a lot of players who limit the touches Wall gets per game.  Wall needs to take charge of the team and let them know that he is THE guy for the Wizards. It all starts with him; when he is at his best we win. If he doesn’t let the players know that then things will never change. This is where leadership comes into play. I’d have to give Wall a failing grade as a leader thus far in his young career. Colin Cowherd brought up some excellent points on his ESPN radio show “The Herd”. Michael Lee, of the Washington Post, wrote out his comments in an article right here.

Listen, you fell in love with Tebow, and I said get out of the emotion game, get into the common-sense game. You can’t throw like that and win big games in the NFL. Same with John Wall. The numbers don’t lie. Real talented guy, but not a real leader, and that’s what your point guard has to be.”- Colin Cowherd

Could Colin have a point? So far in his career Wall has shown all of the flashes of being a star, but he hasn’t shown us any indication that he’s a great leader. Sure, he’s taken charge of games before. He’s been in situations where he’s gotten in teammates faces before about the things that they’ve done on the floor. The thing that I’m looking for is the production from the team that shows that his leadership is really playing a role in winning games. Wall gives maximum effort to the Wizards but the rest of the team has yet to do so. If Wall can’t convince them to one way or another, is he really a good leader?

When you look at point guards taken with the number one overall pick in the draft you look at names like Magic, Rose, and Iverson. Those guys had it all together during their second year. They were wooing people with not only their skills, but also through their leadership and their ability to take control of their respective teams. I haven’t seen that with Wall just yet.

While I think it’s too early in the season to write wall off now, I think that it is key that he picks his game up. He must take control of that Wizards locker room and willingly be the face of this franchise. Wall is the only guy who can turn things around for the Wizards. Once he takes over the controls from the rest of the team I think he will be back on track.