Sunday, August 19, 2012

Raising the Bar?

I've actually been thinking of this for a while, and just hadn't had the opportunity to get around to posting it. It has to do with the NBA age rule, specifically relating to the draft, how a player is not draft eligible until he reaches the age of 19, in other words, 1 year removed from high school graduation. While our concept of high school stars making it big include the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James, we do also have to wonder if perhaps some players like Gerald Green or Eddy Curry may have rushed it a bit and would have been better served playing some more organized basketball prior to their jump to the big leagues. Many believed that high school graduates lacked the maturity to handle the rigors and difficulties involved in being a professional athlete. Thus, came the one-and-done rule. The new era of stars like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose and the most recent number one overall pick Anthony Davis all indicating that they were going to enter the draft immediately following their freshman year of college. Yet, we still hear stories about people mishandling their entrance into the professional field (i.e. Greg Oden and Hasheem Thabeet). Why? My argument is simply that the age rule is not in place to develop good basketball players that can effectively manage their lives in the limelight of the NBA and realize their full basketball potential, but rather, a lifeline to send popular cash cows to the NCAA for at least a year.

I will be frank with you, I don't really like NCAA basketball. The play is sloppy and execution is haphazard at best. It's designed the way it is partially because of the number of teams, but the game itself is not conducive to development of skill but rather last minute heroics and luck. Everyone that argues that the game is more "pure" because players aren't playing for the money fail to realize money is what almost every single player that makes college basketball enjoyable to watch is playing for. They're jockeying for draft position, because the higher it is, the more money you get. Jesse Blanchard at 48minutesofhell writes in regards to the interesting Spurs draft pick of Cory Joseph in 2011 mostly in regards to how for Cory Joseph, while his game may not have been ready for the NBA, it was better for him to enter the draft because the NCAA would have stunted his basketball growth. I'm going to say it again, NCAA basketball is not good basketball, the tournament and game formats are structured in a way to promote unpredictability, I mean, let's face it, upsets are what make March Madness interesting to most people, because in a single game, anything can happen. That being said, those kind of heroic antics hardly ever translate well into the pros. So let's face it, even if you are the go-to guy on your team, unless you are some sort of otherworldly talent like Kevin Durant, you're not going to be the go-to guy on your NBA team.

But I'm not here to write an extensive bash on the NCAA and how it's a poorly conceived system for growing players into the professional basketball arena. Rather, I'm here to propose an alternative solution. This comes also in the wake of the Olympic games where David Stern has been pressuring FIBA to implement an under 23 years old age limit on eligible participants in Olympic basketball (and likely all subsequent FIBA world tournaments). This is to help owners "protect their players" from injury due to a heavy schedule of playing both in the regular season and in the summer. If implemented, it would be a decidedly economic, unpatriotic move on the part of NBA and its team owners.

My take on it is simple, the only place where Olympic participation can be arguably waning for basketball, would be potentially the USA, but let's be honest, the US could feasibly put out a squad of borderline all-stars and still arguably contend for a gold medal. Granted with the recent development of high caliber talent overseas in countries like Spain, France, Russia, Germany, Argentina, and Brazil, I think the contest would be significantly closer than it was 20 years ago when the Dream Team first took the floor. That being said, there is no other team that could literally boast an essentially All-Star game lineup of Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis (remember this is AFTER Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Blake Griffin, among others had dropped out of the team) on the floor. That being said, while the number of players is growing from overseas, a majority of NBA talent is still from the US. So if Team USA decides that it doesn't want to field older players to help them preserve their professional career, that's USA's prerogative. Owners then have to realize that unlike in the US, representing your national team is kind of a big deal elsewhere, and if other players from other countries want to represent their countries in a global tournament (like the Olympics) then that is simply the risk involved with investing in an international player. Granted the biggest rub may in actuality be the fact that the Olympics make a ton of money off of these players that these owners are already paying for, but I'm not going to get into the greed aspect of basketball here either.

I want to talk about my solution to the above issues that have been brought up: player development, the age rule, and a strictly U23 international basketball representation. Now this is how I believe the US could most effectively handle the situation, but granted, I understand that this probably won't happen because well, frankly it could well mean the death of NCAA basketball, but I believe there may be a way around that as well. Simply put, what if to get in the NBA, there was required of each player "2 years of professional experience"? How do we do that? Well, I believe that for foreign players, that generally isn't an issue, as many of them are playing for professional clubs by around the age of 16 or so. By the time they are draft eligible, you could argue that they have had a certain amount of experience. Of course, you could require 2 years of Euroleague or some professional equivalent of play, provided that it was on an adult men's team rather than a U18 team and such. So on that front, I'm not really concerned at all. Most of our best international players (i.e. the Gasol brothers, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, etc...) have already met this criteria. 

Now for the US. How would we handle this? Well we already presumably have a farm system in place, at least that's what the NBDL is supposed to be. What if we used this in conjunction with Team USA basketball to form our solution. What if, prior to entering into the NBA, each player is required to play through a minimum 2 year contract in the D-League? What I would envision is basically prior to becoming eligible for the NBA draft, all prospective players must go through a tryout process, the top 15 players are placed onto the Team USA roster (whereby helping USA meeting the potential 23 and under rule), and are required to play in through at least one of the FIBA nationals tournaments or the Olympics. Granted this is a single tournament, you could feasibly include this team as a team in the D-League, which would play against other D-League teams. Then, Stern would form 3 other non-affiliated D-League teams for the other top 45 players (presumably those that would have been drafted) on restricted 2 year contracts. Any player on this contract can be traded but cannot receive a call up if traded to an affiliate team. After the two year contracts end, all players become eligible for the draft, which would presumably include players who had been playing in Euroleague for the past 2 years. Stern could feasibly raise the age limit to 20 and this would still work.

Why do I think this would be a good idea? Well, first off, it helps develop players, the non-affiliated teams, and even the affiliated D-League teams, would have NBA-caliber coaches, be playing against near-NBA caliber competition, and playing the NBA-style game. This would help players develop their raw talent into skills that would effectively translate into the NBA. Secondly, this also allows for teams to get a better idea of what players would look like in an NBA setting or at least against professional level athletes and athleticism. The main obstacle would presumably be the difference in money, and maybe my perspective is different. While the pay may not be as lucrative as Europe, I am sure Brandon Jennings and Josh Childress can attest to the difficulty of going to Europe to play. Perhaps the NBDL salaries need to be raised somewhat, but gradually moving the players up in salary instead of throwing $5 million at the feet of a 19 year old may be more feasible in expecting them to make good financial decisions. I had a co-worker who also proposed that perhaps colleges can implement a 2-year professional athlete associates degree with classes on money management and such which is required prior to any professional play. I think that's a pretty good idea too, and frankly, something like this may keep the NCAA alive.

The NBA is already the highest caliber of play in the world, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I think something like this could potentially be an effective tool to get the most out of each player.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Room to grow

Well, no not really, I mean, Jeremy Lin is still a really good player, but you had to wonder when those turnovers would catch up with him, and I guess they did on this last 89-85 defeat at the hands of an undermanned New Orleans Hornets squad. I mean, on paper they had everything going in, but still, that glaring turnover number in Lin's stat line was something that we needed to really pay attention to. I haven't had much opportunity to review all of Lin's play, but from what I did see, I can tell what his coach Mike D'Antoni is telling him is completely on the dot:

"But at the same time, I was telling (Lin) he’s trying to make the hardest pass out there; he’s trying to make the home run pass."
Not that the home run pass isn't sweet, but let's face it, Jeremy Lin is no Steve Nash, well, optimistically speaking, not yet. I still stand by my comparison of Lin's game to veteran (and highly underrated) PG Tony Parker, who, while playing in a completely different system, plays a style of basketball very similar to our newly discovered Harvard phenom.

The natural answer to Lin's issues is that he needs to calm down, as great as those little highlight reel passes are, he's not going to get those Steve Nash contortion passes, those Penny Hardaway no-look behind the back, or even those Jason Williams street-ball-where-did-that-come-from fancy pants passes every single time. From the footage I was able to review, Lin's biggest problem more specifically from trying to hit those home run passes, is that he's trying to pass through the defense. I recall listening to Deron Williams during the 2004 Beijing Olympics training talking about Jason Kidd, he said the main reason Kidd had all these great passes wasn't because he saw lanes that weren't there, Williams saw all the same lanes, but Kidd was willing to risk those lanes, Nash is of a similar vein, but the difference is, that they were such mercurial passers that they can get away with it a lot of the time, granted Nash averaged at his worst 4.2 turnovers per 36 minutes and Kidd, 3.9, that's still a lot of turnovers. Lin on the other hand is now up to 5.4 turnovers per 36 minutes, that's a new level of not good. I completely understand that D'Antoni runs a high PG usage offense and that Lin is young and getting used to playing at the NBA level, but I also recall turnovers being an issue since Harvard for Lin, he's just finally had enough minutes in the NBA to have it start showing. I mean, 5 turnovers in a single game is already pretty bad, but to be averaging more than 5 across the season (granted he's only played really like 8 games), we've got an issue.

I'm no basketball guru, I don't play or understand the game incredibly well, and I'm not going to claim to be able to fix Lin's issues. I think one of the reasons though, that Lin is having this issue is partially because of his emphasis on keeping a live dribble. When you dribble the ball you have to keep it low, however, to come up for the pass, the straight line is through the defenders, where all those arms are swinging and legs are kicking, Lin may see an opening, but you've got to have that quarterback bullet pass in order sneak it in through there, and frankly, NBA players are just too good and react too fast in order for anything short of perfection to slip through. At the end of the day, here's my advice to Lin, stick with the easy passes, run your pick and roll, you've got to be okay with the hockey assist. If I were to take D'Antoni's spot, the last play I would run, would be a basic pick and roll with Amar'e and Lin, then have J.R. Smith and Steve Novak sitting in the corner and wing respectively for the three if it needs to be kicked out. The pick and roll doesn't have to be flashy, it just has to score two points, I know Knicks fans are asking for a show, but at the end of the day, your job is to win basketball games, and I'm sure they'll forgive you the couple of highlights lost for the W. If I were to ask Lin to model his game after someone, it'd definitely now be Tony Parker. He's not going to get the rack as fast, but he's definitely attacking as aggressively, so keep it up.

Finally, I'd say that Lin needs to play over the defense, sometimes, he doesn't need to keep the ball on the floor. Yes, I know, a live dribble, awesome, but that being said, the Knicks are an athletic team, play over the defense. Lin's greatest assists have always been when he has been keeping his passes high over the defenders' heads. I'm not asking for an alley oop every single time, but sometimes you have to trust your teammates to get to the ball, you don't always have to put it into their hands directly. Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady made a lot of their facilitating success looking over the defense, now I know Lin is only 6-3 to Carter's 6-6 and McGrady's 6-8 but still, you need to keep looking up. I'm sure as much as the team is adjusting to playing with Lin, Lin is adjusting to play with the team as well. I'm still very optimistic about Lin's career, he just needs to calm down, and play some sound basketball. If you see the bounce pass, go for it, your bigs are going to roll a lot harder to the rim because they know you can get them the ball, so don't be afraid to throw a lob, trust your guys to get to where they need to be, you don't have to be Steve Nash, and remember, as good as Nash made Amar'e, Amar'e made Nash look good by being ready for the pass and finishing, so keep your head up, both on and off the court.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Depth, not chemistry to be the issue with the Knicks

A lot of people have been asking whether or not Jeremy Lin can sustain his stellar performance or if it will be dampened by the return of the Knicks' two stars, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, to the lineup, because, let's face it, they use up possessions, quite a few of them, and each possession used up is one less possession for Lin to excel. While this may not be great for Jeremy Lin fantasy owners, the fact of the matter is, that Lin's emergence is a boon not necessarily in spite of Melo and STAT but rather, because of them.

First off, I've already said at my other blog, Fundamentally Sound that to me, Jeremy Lin's game most reminds me of Tony Parker. Now in this situation, you may be better suited with a pass first type guard such as Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio, however, I believe that Lin, like Tony Parker, will surprise us all in his ability to man the point. While Lin may not be the pass-first, high percentage shooter that Steve Nash was, D'Antoni has to be excited that Lin can see the floor and recognize the options given him. Sure, he's turnover prone, he's trying to make the fancy passes, but I think, as he learns the angles given him, he'll settle down, and hopefully get his turnovers down to a reasonable rate.

Lin's ability to run the pick-and-roll, as well as just involve his teammates make him the ideal floor general for the team. Amar'e Stoudemire got a lot of attention from his physicality and overall game, but his success came mostly from the pick-and-roll game he had with Steve Nash. This season, it was a struggle to get Amar'e involved in the offense because of how it stagnated without someone to facilitate the ball movement around the floor on the offensive end. With Lin getting the likes of even an offensive dud like Jared Jeffries involved, we can see that an Lin-Amar'e pick-and-roll combination will only bring good things to the Knicks in the future. Simply put, Amar'e will start looking like the Amar'e we expected, because he can expect those passes and those looks that he wasn't getting before.

On the flip side, we have to wonder about Melo, sure the ball gets stuck in his hands a lot, but quite frankly sometimes you need a player like that. Regardless of what people say about Melo and whether he deserves his contract or not, the fact of the matter is that he can put the ball in the bucket. Melo is probably one of the best, if not the best, pure scorers in the league. I would argue that with Lin manning the point guard position, Melo can focus on doing what he does best, scoring, rather than trying to do something he's not comfortable doing, facilitating. While Melo may be the most popular and well-paid (though it's arguable now with all the Linsanity stuff), and he may ultimately be the face of the franchise (again, caveat with the Linsanity), he's not really the natural leader of the group. I believe that, at least on the floor, deference to Lin will be a good thing for him, because Lin will try to energize the rest of the guys (i.e. Imam Shumpert and Landry Fields) to get into it. Melo is one of those high efficiency scorers when he's on, remember, he averaged about 26 points per game playing NEXT to Allen Iverson, who averaged I think 23 (I'm too lazy to look it up), helping a relatively successful Nuggets make the playoffs. With Lin getting all the other role players involved, I think this situation is much better than that.

The main "chemistry" issue I sense is the possibility of discontentment from Baron Davis when (if) he gets back. However, I don't find that to be a major issue, because, provided he's healthy, figuring out how to split time between Jeremy Lin and a healthy and motivated Baron Davis is a luxurious problem I'm sure Mike D'Antoni wouldn't mind having. What does concern me though is the frontcourt rotation. While Stoudemire and Chandler look to eat up most of the time on the floor, I don't know that Novak and Jeffries necessarily are going to take them the distance. I like how they are getting involved, and Novak really to me has taken the sort of Matt Bonner of the Eastern Conference kind of role. That being said, I still think the Knicks need to figure out a way to add some size. I don't know who would be a good center for the Knicks, maybe it involves cutting Mike Bibby, maybe it involves trading Toney Douglas, I don't know, but I think that, way more so than any chemistry issues on the court with Melo, STAT, and Lin should be the primary concern of the Knicks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An open letter to Jeremy Lin

Dear Jeremy,

I hope you don't mind if I call you Jeremy.

First things first. Congratulations, because you made it.

This will probably be a drop in the bucket compared to all the stuff being written about you by Knicks bloggers, by Warriors bloggers, and just by surprised sports bloggers in general. You've had two big games, and hey, you don't have to listen to me, because frankly, you make almost 20x more than I do a year in salary (which I believe you will be getting guaranteed soon). Regardless of all that hype, regardless of the cheers or jeers of the fickle fans in Madison Square Garden, know that at the very least, you're the hero of every Asian-American male under 35 who used to pretend he was [insert favorite NBA player here] on his 8 (maybe 7) foot rim in his driveway. You are someone we can point to and say, "See, you don't have to be a doctor or computer programmer to make money." That's a lot of pressure, but you made it. You've shown that you don't have to be a 7-6 freak of nature from China to make it. Despite all the adversity, you made it, and we're proud of you.

Now you don't have to listen to a single thing I say, in fact, you probably won't even read this, but I'd like to give you a little bit of perspective (from where I'm sitting). You're going to continue to be scrutinized to a high degree, because well, NBA bloggers are diligent about what they do, and Knicks fans are well, generally crazy. People are going to continue to draw Steve Nash comparisons because well, you play for Mike D'Antoni, and you're breaking the "Asian man can't ball" stereotype like Nash broke the "white man can't ball" stereotype. Now I'll be the first to admit that I suck at basketball, and honestly, I don't watch it enough either to call myself anything more than a slightly-less-than-casual fan. So I don't have great credibility when I talk about technical basketball things. I could say how I think you've got a great feel for running the pick-and-roll, and I can talk about how a guy like Tyson Chandler must be a nice big target for you. At the end of the day though, people more credible and knowledgeable than I will be talking about your explosive first step, your creativity at getting to the rim while questioning your iffy jumper and athleticism. You probably hear enough of this stuff from your coaches and trainers. I know you've worked hard to get to where you are, and I'm glad you've taken a hold of this opportunity to shine.

I'd like to give you some more practical, personal advice. Now, I don't know a whole lot about being an NBA player, in fact I know absolutely nothing. Frankly, because I don't trust 2K Sports or EA Sports to make a game with any semblance of reality built in, and well, because at the end of the day, the people with the most experience, like Charles Barkley, are really just paid to say funny things that sound like they're related to basketball. I applaud your passion for the game, but also, I applaud your passion for Christ. People might (especially New Yorkers) get annoyed or offended that you try to glorify God in every interview that you have, but I appreciate your faith and your trust in how God has provided for you. Never lose that. Whether you become the next Steve Nash or the next Steve Blake, I hope that you never lose your passion for your faith. While I think you know better than I whose game you should emulate (maybe Jason Kidd?) on the court, I would ask that as you take a step back and consider, that you would emulate your career after the likes of David Robinson (Tim Tebow is also I believe someone whom you could look up to, though it is football). Now that you've made it, lots of doors open up for you, I hope then that you take the opportunity to meet with said people and get perspective. I know you're basketball game will keep growing, but it's how you grow with that game that's going to make the biggest impact of all.

Again, I'm glad you made it. I don't know that you'll read this, I don't know that you don't already know everything I've just said. That being said, I've had a blast watching you and hope to see much more. Great job Jeremy.


A fan

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An end to all this Melodrama

The Knicks did it.  They finally got Carmelo Anthony.  And Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams and Corey Brewer.  Oh, and they get Renaldo Balkman back too.  Who'd they get rid of?  Well, finally Eddy Curry's fat contract, but also Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, and Raymond Felton.  Curry and Randolph go to Minnesota while the balance of the players end up in the Mile High City.  On paper, it looks okay... I guess.  Why then do I still have this bad taste in my mouth?  Growing up in upstate New York sort of makes me a de facto Knicks fan, and frankly, I can't really say I like this trade, any of it.

Do I think Melo is a bad player?  No.  Do I think Melo won't help the Knicks?  No.  But to be honest, I don't see Melo making a big difference.  Sure I can make this team on my Playstation, average 36 and 28 ppg respectively with Amar'e and Melo and then go undefeated and win championships, but this isn't a video game.  The Knicks didn't really need Melo and Melo honestly didn't need the Knicks, from a pure basketball perspective (I know there are other factors).  I could be proven wrong, maybe Melo will learn to pass, Billups and Amar'e run a super effective pick and roll, but instinctively, I want to flinch at this trigger happy trade.  Yes, we've been talking about this the whole year, but I can't help but think the Knicks gunned it a little too fast on the green light.  First, let's consider the pre-Melo Knicks:

PG - Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas
SG - Landry Fields, Bill Walker
SF - Danilo Gallinari, Shawne Williams
PF - Amar'e Stoudemire, Wilson Chandler
C - Ronny Turiaf, Timofey Mozgov

With Kelenna Azubuike still out with a bum knee, players like Bill Walker and Shawne Williams have stepped up admirably, so they've been getting by admirably.  The Knicks were a decent team, but not one that could get over the top, so here's what happens after the trade:

PG - Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter
SG - Landry Fields, Corey Brewer
SF - Carmelo Anthony, Shawne Williams
PF - Amar'e Stoudemire, Renaldo Balkman
C - Ronny Turiaf, Shelden Williams

While Melo is the obvious upgrade over Gallo, but Billups and Balkman are both steps down from Felton and Chandler respectively.  Additionally, there's no guarantee that Brewer will be a more positive contributor than either Walker or Williams (who are both still on the team) or if he'll even play if/when Azubuike gets back.  Furthermore, as productive as Shelden Williams has been, he's no center, and he won't compensate for the lack of defense provided by Melo and Amar'e.

Honestly, it's not that I don't think Amar'e and Melo won't work, but rather that it won't work as effectively as people might surmise.  Both can score, but both require more isolation sets to do so.  However, that being said, these are two of the most respected players offensively in the entire world.  They have a decent core, but any core with Chauncey Billups as a major cog leaves the window very short, and frankly, even in his prime, I don't know Billups could've made up the difference that is between a Melo/Amar'e combination and the remaining elite teams of the league.  Of course, Billups did say earlier that if he got traded he may retire, which may be a good thing for New York, not in the short term, but perhaps it means they can go after something they need in free agency.  Frankly, all in all, New York got its big name, but is it going to put them over the top?  Not really.  Seriously though, Melo, prove me wrong.  Please.

It finally happened...

New York got Melo.  It looked like this.

I'm still iffy, I'll give you my personal take a bit later.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Who needs Melo? Who does Melo need?

Amidst all the trade talk circling the player that is Carmelo Anthony, and regardless of what you have to say about the pundits who are circulating these stories, how you think Melo is handling the situation, how you think Masai Ujiri is handling the situation, if you think he will leave, if you think he will stay, regardless of all that, we've kind of been overlooking a pretty major question.  There's not much doubt to me that Melo will ultimately get what he wants, or at the very least go into free agency and sign where he wants to play.  So maybe this question is moot, but it's a legitimate question all the same: which team needs a player like Melo? or in converse, what kind of team does Melo need around him?