Monday, January 29, 2007

Mid-Season Awards (Part III)

6TH-MAN-- This race can always be a little volatile because sometimes it can be hard to identify who qualifies as a 6th-man. Guys moving in & out of lineups from injuries or coaching decisions can make the race tricky. Perfect example is Ben Gordon, who has been reinserted back into the starting lineup recently. What do you do with him? Guys like Granger & J. Crawford are tough to gauge as well.

Gordon--Just inserted into the starting line-up, so does he count? For this mid-season report, I say yes since he has been coming off the bench for 1st half of the season. His production has been super for a 30-minute man--21, 3.4 apg & 2.7 rpg. Another thing that is encouraging is he has been more consistent in his play. The main knock on him is his erratic play, probably too much so to be a reliable #1 option. His shooting is better this year, but the turnovers are still an issue.

Barbosa--Only second to Gordon in my mind, and could be the frontrunner for the hardware at season's end if Gordon stays in the starting lineup . Basically just a 6th starter. Averaging 16.4ppg, 4.3 apg & 1spg on 46.8% overall & 38.8% from 3pt.

D. Lee--Some wonder why he's not starting over Frye, but I like the energy he brings off the pine. But I guess it would not hurt Isiah to play him 5-6 more minutes a game. One of the best rebounders in the league at 10.5 and he does this only 30 mis per. Also, shooting above 60% from the field; just one the most efficient bigs in the NBA.

Maggette--For all the crap that this guy has to go thru in trade rumors, he seems to quietly go about his business. Yes, he does have some irritating faults--dubious shot selection, bad turnovers, & subpar defense--but he slashes & draws fouls like few can and he rebounds very well from the SF position. In 28 mins per, he puts up 15.5ppg, 6 rpg, 2apg, and a gaudy 7.5 free throw attempts per. If there is any team crying for his scoring punch off the bench, it's the Spurs. Pop just has to be willing to accept Corey's faults.

L. Head--Not seeing him mentioned much in 6th-man conversations, but I think he has been a steady contributor for Van Gundy. Nice combo guard with a nice stroke (44.4% from 3pt.) & plays with nice poise for a 2nd year guy.

S. May--Has been highly productive in only 23 mis per--11.6 ppg & 6.8rpg on 49.3%. Has scuffled with injuries again this year (already missed 10 games). The rebounds don't surprise me, but the scoring does somewhat. I loved his refined footwork & shooting touch at UNC, and but I felt the combination of lack of length & athleticism would make it difficult to get good looks off in the post even with the polished skills. The main question is--can he co-exist with Okafor down the line in the starting lineup?

Korver--This year's move back to the bench has not hurt Korver's play--he is averaging 14.5 ppg, 3 pts higher than last year while playing the same exact minutes. As always lights out from deep (43.7%). Loved to see him used as the 11th-12th man on Team USA.

Honor Mention: C. Atkins; T. Lue; Stackhouse; Harpring; J. Calderon; Mo Peterson; Pargo; H. Warrick

MY PICK: For the mid-season 6th-man I have to go with Gordon since he spent most of his time coming off the pine. Followed in order by 2) Barbosa, 3) D. Lee & 4) Maggette. But if he stays supplanted in the Bulls starting line-up then Barbosa becomes the frontrunner for season's end honors with Lee nipping at his heels.
*--If Nocioni's recent switch to 6th-man sticks for the rest of the year, he could be the Bull that makes a serious challenge to Barbosa & Lee by the end of the year. Also, out in Golden St you have multiple new candidates with the way Nellie has been shuffling his lineup--M. Barnes, Ellis, & Pietrus could be contenders later on.

MOST IMPROVED: This where I think the per-40 mins stats come in real handy, & are highly useful. There's a difference between a truly improved game & just receiving more minutes and increased opportunites. Sometimes you have to be careful with 2nd-year guys because sometimes the improvement is just a natural progression or that they have more confidence/life experience on & off the court. Also, players could be playing under new coaches who play different styles that might artifically inflate numbers.

Matt Barnes--One of three Warriors on this list. Swingmen who has bounce around the fringes of the league for a couple years. Multi-dimensional wing who's scoring average is about 4pts higher than expected. But his shooting percentage has seen a significant drop, but his 3pt. % is currently 40%, way above his career numbers.

Biedrins--Playing twice as many minutes this year, and his points & boards are better than expected after adjusting for minutes played. Shooting % is the same as last year (62%), although most of his shots are within 5 feet. Uses his nice athleticism to grab boards all over the paint (9.5rpg) and to be a defensive presence (2bpg).

Matt Carroll--Another guy who had a rep as just a shooting specialist who has been a small surprise in Charlotte. Averaging 11ppg on 45%, which is 5% higher than last year. Also shooting 40% from 3pt. Believe it or not, has been called upon to be the Bobcats go-to-guy when they need some offense, even a few times in the clutch. Which is good for Carroll's career, but not such a good thing for the Bobcats, since it means they have few other choices on offense & are relying on Matt Carroll to create shot opportunities.

M. Ellis--If there is one thing that you praise Coach Nellie for, it's letting his young players play freely. Averaging 17.7 ppg, 4.3apg & 2.8 rpg in 34 mins. His points are much better than expected even with the increased minutes and his shooting averages have made significant jumps--47.6% overall (up 6% points from last year) & 34% from 3pt (up 7% points). The one negative is his turnovers which are at 3.5 per, way too high, & more than twice as high than last year.

Kapono--Has been a pleasant surprise for the Heat, so much so that he has unseated Antoine Walker in the starting lineup. Known as an outside shooting specialist, and has always been good from long-range (41% career 3pt.). But has stepped it up to a new level this year by shooting a whopping 55.5% from 3pt, which leads the league by a wide margin. Riley seems to have put more confidence in him this year, and seems to have looked the other way at his defensive defiencies. He's averaging 10ppg on 52% in 24 mins which is about 3 pts higher than what last year's numbers would skew if you adjust his minutes.

Lee--Also in the running for a 6th-man award. Brings great energy of the bench for the Knicks. Double-double threat every nite (11ppg & 10.6 rpg) in only 30 mins per. And one of the leaders in field goal % (60.3%).

K. Martin--Has a legit case for All-Star consideration. Has been the best player on the Kings in the first half of the season. Has been one of the most efficient players in the league--shooting 49% overall & 39% from 3pt. Averaging 20.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 rpg, & 1.2 spg. Scoring 6 pts higher than last year's numbers would indicate based on points/mins.

H. Warrick--Has been overlooked in the Most Improved race, but quietly having a solid year off the bench in Memphis. Has increased his average from 4.1 ppg in 11 mins to 12.4 in 25 mins. Also, has seen his shoooting percentage go from 44.3 to 51%.

L. Walton--He came out of Arizona as a spotty shooter, and this was a big reason for him lasting until the 2nd round. He lived up to this rep his first few years, but this year he has made a huge jump in his shooting--47.8 overall (41.2 last year) & 39.2 from 3pt. (32.7% last year). Also, putting up 12, 5 rpg, & 4.2 apg and one of sweetest spin moves in the NBA.

Honor Mention: Deron Williams; Al Jefferson; A. Bynum; L. Deng

Have to go with K. Martin. He pretty much seems to be the consensus pick right now & I totally agree. Kmart is followed by 2 Warriors, M. Ellis & Biedrins.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The NBA on ABC: My Issues

True Hoop guest maestro Kelly Dwyer pointed to a two-part series on Sports Media Watch (Part I | Part II) about how ABC's poor coverage of the NBA has played its part in helping drive the ratings into the toilet.

SMW has had problems with these aspects of ABC's coverage, among other things:
-Technical style
-Al Michaels
-Broadcaster lineup inconsistency

It's a very good read in general - if anything, I feel comforted to know I'm not the only one who noticed things like ABC/ESPN's odd habit/fetish of cutting away to bouncing breasts in the stands after a good play in their first couple years.

That said, I'd like to note a few other major TV-related factors which I think have helped kill the ratings in the ABC years:

Regular Scheduling/Timeslots
Back in the '90s, you knew that if you tuned your television to NBC on a late Sunday afternoon from around the NFL Conference Championships through the end of the season, there would be an NBA game on. KNEW it.

In my mind, ABC really devastated the NBA in its first couple years by skipping weeks and jumping the timeslots around all over the place. It became hard enough for *hard-core* NBA fans to figure out when the games were on, much less casual fans.

Equally bad, they showed a preponderance of games in the 1 p.m. ET timeslot. It's always preferable to have later timeslots for live sports, to fully maximize the West Coast audience (NBC got to the point where they showed a lot of 5:30 ET games on Sunday). And it's especially ridiculous to have early timeslots for the NBA because, last time I checked, California was a pretty good NBA market, up and down the state.

Take a look at the ABC schedule from the 2003-04 season, its second year:
Some of the insanity of this schedule:
-There were only two (!) start times later than 10 a.m. on the West Coast between Jan. 17 and Apr. 4.
-Insult to injury, the Kings-Mavericks game (arguably the NBA's most entertaining two teams that season) merited a 10 a.m. local start time for Sacramento viewers on Jan. 25.
-Games were skipped every other week between Jan. 18 and Mar. 7.
-One of the weeks which was skipped was Feb. 1, Super Bowl Sunday - unconscionable! One of my fondest memories as a fan growing up was that SB Sunday would always start with a huge marquee NBA matchup.
-Doubleheaders were rare, as opposed to being common in the NBC days.

It was always odd to me that ABC, which was floundering in the ratings overall a few years ago, didn't embrace the potential for the elusive young male audience that the NBA offered. ESPN cut the deal with the NBA, and it was like ABC resented having to deal with it.

Thankfully, they have appeared to improve both of these aspects this season:
-No skipped weeks between Jan. 21 and the end of the season.
-Consistent 3:30 timeslots; consistent doubleheaders except for March, which is understandable because the NCAAs dominate.
-Would prefer to have this week's matchup - Suns-Cavs - on SB Sunday instead of Pistons-Cavs, but they've improved, so I won't complain.

Let me first note that NBC had no shame in the late 90s in showing the Bulls damn near every Sunday - they'd cycle through the main intriguing teams and players in the league vs. CHI.

Let's go back to 2003-04. That season, there were two overarching storylines that potentially appealed to the casual fan, in my mind:
1) Lakers superteam with GP/Mailman + soap opera with Kobe/Shaq
2) LeBron enters the league
Now take a look at that 2003-04 schedule again.
-Out of 12 weeks, the Lakers appeared 5 times. I know that seems high, but really, with so few draws in the league, they should have been shameless and aired L.A. about 9 times.
-And the fact that LeBron was only on once was somewhat mindboggling. I know that he was an unproven rookie, but all signs pointed to this guy being a potential torch-carrier, and it was worth establishing and exposing him. I don't understand how a LeBron-Kobe matchup didn't make it on there.

Once again, the matchups appear to have gotten better on the '06-07 slate.
That said, the teams still seem a little spread out. With so few national/casual draws these days, I'd have gone to the well with these matchups almost exclusively (based on where things stood in the offseason, when the schedule was set):
-heavy doses of LAL and PHO
-Kobe v LeBron
-Kobe v Shaq/D-Wade
-LeBron v D-Wade
-LeBron v Carmelo
-Yao v Shaq

One thing I should note as a negative for NBC is that I still haven't forgiven Dick Ebersol for airing 67-63 games between the Knicks and the Heat 12 times a year in the late '90s/early '00s. Those games set the NBA back decades, esp. with so much interesting young talent coming into the league at that time.

Playoffs Confusion
Again, regarding the Playoffs in the '90s, there was a certain simplicity for fans both casual and hard-core: If it was a weekend day, the Playoffs were on NBC; any other times, the games were on TNT, possibly TBS. Until about Game 3 of the Conference Finals, and then all games were on NBC. Like clockwork.

Now I - again, a huge fan - have largely no idea what Playoff games are on which networks when. I can deduce that they follow the regular season sked of ESPN on Wed/Fri and TNT on Thu, but beyond that I'm lost. Weekends are completely confusing, with games on ABC, ESPN, or TNT.

Must See TV
You can never underestimate the impact on the ratings that NBC got simply by running promos for each Sunday's games during its all-powerful Must See TV lineup on Thursday. That near-perfect promotion just can't be matched by anything.

Other Random Thoughts
-At a certain point, ABC's ratings are perhaps feeling the effects of bad karma stemming from not installing Marv to his rightful place as lead play-by-play man from day 1. Convicted felon, convicted shmelon.
But yes, don't worry, I am eternally thankful that the Al Michaels era is over.
-Music - I actually thought that Justin Timberlake was a pretty decent choice, and the Black-Eyed Peas weren't terrible, either. I think that those kind of artists with crossover appeal - Beyonce, Mariah Carey - fit pretty well. Now, Tom Petty? Not so much.

But, of course, they're no Tesh. "Roundball Rock" has not been adequately replaced, I grant you. That said, don't sleep on the NBA on CBS theme - it's still my favorite.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mid-Season Awards (Part II)

In Part II, we'll deal with the Defensive studs and Rookie-o-Year candidates.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: This list is a little bit more difficult to assemble because at this point I probably have not watched enough games for certain teams to have a totally comprehensive take on all defensive play (even if you could possibly have a totally comprehensive take on individual def. play anyway). So take this list with a grain of salt at this point.

Camby--Always felt this guy was underrated, it's not just his shot-blocking ability, but the 2.9bpg do help his case. Personally, I think he guards Duncan better than anyone. 2nd in the league in defensive boards. Camby's having an All-Star caliber year, but it will be tough for him to crack the line-up in the West.

Hinrich--This guy usually gets the assignment of defending the opposition's best guard. Works his tail off every nite. No one guards Wade better in my estimation, and that in itself is huge.

Battier--Mr. Fundamental. Combination of great technique, smarts, & dogged determination. Super on-the-ball or as a team defender--one of the best in the league at taking charges. Constantly beats his man to the spot. Every team needs a Shane Battier.

Okafor--It not just the blocks (2.93, 2nd in NBA), its the way he changes numerous shots per game. The amount of the area he covers is amazing. His help & recovery is good as any big in the league. Simply a force in the painted area, and has erased any lingering doubts if he can guard centers. Another guy who works his tail off every nite.

Garnett--Sometimes overshadowed by Ben Wallace, but I always thought he was on the same level, and now that Ben has tailed off, KG can jump back onto the 1st Def. Team instead of Ben. #1 Def. rebounder in NBA.

Josh Howard--The best defender on the Mavs. A great individual defender, but also a tremendous help defender as well. Basically, the Mavs' version of Scottie Pippen. Love those long arms.

Honor Mention: B. Bowen; Ginobili; Duncan; J. O'Neal; Dalembert; Prince; D. Howard; T. Hassell; D. Stevenson; Dev Harris

I am going with Okafor. Every game I watch him, I always come away satisfied with his defensive effort.

ROOKIE-O-YEAR: This has to be most uninspiring R.O.Y. race that I can remember, probably more hapless than the '00-'01 season. This year it's like having to pick the best song by Nickelback, I mean technically one song has to be the best, but really what's the point. I found it really difficult to just come up with 5 guys who deserve consideration; I have no idea how Stern & Co. are going to pick 8-10 guys for the Rookie-Sophs game. The one constant that stood out when sifting thru the Rooks was that they are struggling miserably with their shooting. Well if we have to, here's the list:

Bargnani--Getting a little bit more burn than I expected, & has responded fairly well--3rd in scoring for rookies. You can see where he can be a terror in the high pick/roll for years to come. But no surprise his defense needs works, and rebounds could be better.

Garbajosa--Also getting more burn than I thought, probably better suited as a reserve. But his jack-o-all-trades game has translated well and his vast pro experience has made his transition easier. Might be the best all-around rookie. Averaging 8.4ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2 apg, 1.2 spg and per usual savvy defensive play. Not shooting the ball too well & the NBA 3-pt line seems a little too long for him. Has tailed off the last few weeks.

Morrison--Definitely has been given the best situation to take home the award, but his shooting has been way off the mark--37.7% overall & 32.4% from deep. Is second in scoring for rooks at 13.5, and has recently been looking to pass more, which is nice considering his cold shooting & his underrated passing skills. No surprise that opposing teams look to go right at him when he's on defense.

Foye--If he was on most other teams he'd be seeing more minutes, but on a team with a lopsided roster filled with combo guards, it's hard to get serious burn. Only getting 20 mins. per, but still managing 9ppg & 2.3 apg. His shooting is nothing special, but is not bad compared to other rookies (42.7% overall & 34.5% from 3pt.).

B. Roy--If not for the foot injury, he would most likely be running away with this award. Leading scorer for rooks at 14.7, to go along with 4.3 rpg, 3 apg & 1.3 spg. But like as with every other rookie, his shooting has not been that special (43.7% overall) Can't miss too many more games if he wants to be considered for the ROY award at season's end in my mind. Already missed 20 games.

Rudy Gay--Was my sleeper pick for Rookie of Year & not doing too bad--9ppg, 4 rpg, & 1 spg. But just like everyone else, he can't hit his shots--40% overall & 29% from 3pt. Still think he has the most upside of any player in his draft class.

Shelden Williams--Has been nothing spectacular, but is the leading rebounder among rookies at 6.2 per. But not really having the immediate impact on defense that was wished for by the front office. Never thought he would ever be much of an offensive threat from what I saw at Duke, and looks like he will be a role-playing big, like expected. Not really what you want from a #5 pick, especially with Marcus Williams & Sergio showing glimpes of being special.

*--Special note--Even though they aren't really candidates because of low minutes, I have been impressed with Marcus Williams & Sergio Rodriquez in the small doses they play. I think both PGs can be very good down the road & both guys show great passing ability. Also, Utah's Paul Milsap has been productive in limited minutes and looks like he can be a beast on the boards in the future. But he will never get to take off in Utah as long as Boozer is around.

MY PICK: Like the mid-season Coach-o-Year award, I don't feel too strongly about this pick, but I guess I will go with R. Foye. He has shot the ball slightly better than his counterparts, which gives him a slight edge in my mind. But I think you could easily make a case for Bargnani, Garbajosa, or Morrison. I would definitely give it to Roy if I could, but 20 missed games is too much at the mid-season point. If he can keep his missed games to about 8-10 from here out, he should walk away with the award at season's end.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mid-Season Awards (Part I)

Since most NBA teams are at the 40-41 games played mark & we are in the middle of entertainment industry award season, I thought I would slap together some mid-season award lists. I broke this up into a 3-part opus that will deal with the MVP & Coach-o-Year candidates today. Then I will deal with the Rookie-o-year, Most Improved, Defensive, & 6th-Man later. Time to crack open the bubbly & toast the nominees. But since it's only mid-season it does not deserve Dom, something a little bit more mid-range like Korbel will do. Nash can toss back a Molson, which basically is the champagne of Canada.
*--(Records & stats are as of Monday)

MVP: (Alpha order)

Arenas--Has had some explosive performances & also a handful of game-winning shots so far. Shooting the 3-ball great (39.3%) & 2nd in the NBA in scoring. But has not been quite as consistent throughout the year like you would like a MVP-candidate. Don't forget the first month of the season he was awful on the road, and he recently had a subpar week before returning to form last week.

Boozer--Alongside Nash & Dirk, might be the most consistent player game-in, game-out this year. What goes underreported is what a terrific passer he is & he is a wonderful facilitator of a Jazz offense that moves the ball only second to the Suns. 4th in the NBA in rebounds (11.8) & 8th in FG % (56.2).

Bryant--Another MVP-caliber season for Kobe even though the knee surgery seems to have robbed him a little bit of his hops. 4th in the NBA in scoring with 28 per & dropping 5.5 apg & rpg. Really has embraced his leadership role with Odom out and is basically the wise elder statesmen for the Lakers.

Duncan--Seems to be purposely pacing himself waiting for the playoffs, and Pop seems to be encouraging this mentality by limiting his minutes to 34 per. His scoring is down to 19.8ppg, but he is shooting close to 54% & is 7th in blocks. Gets bonus points for being the best defender on this list; still goes woefully underappreciated as a defensive player.

KG--Even though the Twolves are .500, KG has done what he is suppose to do on both ends of the floor. Leads the league in rebounds and the Minny fans can count on him every night. Also, averages 4.3apg, 2bpg, & 1.2spg.

James--Not sure why he has been getting passed over in MVP conversation lately, not sure how you can put Gil ahead of him. His scoring is down a few points from last year but his shooting percent is nearly the same as last year. Although, has scuffled a little bit lately and has been inconsistent with his shot in January.

Nash--Some people might not be ready to except the idea of 3-time MVP from the Great White North, but he's playing as good as ever and his 19.3 scoring average is his highest of his career. His ridiculous shooting percentage of 53% overall & 49% from 3pt are also career bests. No surprise he's the NBA assist leader (11.5), but also 2nd in the NBA in 3pt. FG% & 13th in FG%, which the highest for a guard. Also, Jackie Earle Haley's recent surprise Oscar nom could be a good omen for Nash.

Nowitzki--I would say he is hitting his peak. Looking to pass the ball more this year & is shooting at a 50% clip (his highest of his career). Not the defensive liability he's made out to be, has become an adequate defender the last few years under Avery; better in the post. Best player on the best team.

Wade--Playing just as well as last year, if not better, and is just as good as Arenas & Bron. A fair amount of media types are not mentioning Wade enough because the Heat are below .500. But it be will funny when the Heat get on a roll when Shaq gets back, & Wade's name will start to be back in contention in their minds, but his production will probably be the same as now. Turnovers do need to come down & his 3pt shooting is still a sorespot, but he wisely does not try to jack up too many.

MY MVP PICK: Dirk, but Nash is nipping at his heels. Then I would bunch together Arenas, Bron, Kobe, & Wade in any order you want right below Nash . Can't really separate those 4 at this point. Then I would have Boozer followed by KG, then Duncan.

COACH-of-YEAR: Right now there is no coach who has really distinguished himself above the fray; I can't think of a team who has wildy exceeded expectations. Dwayne Casey would have been on this list but the Wolves' brass inexplicably fired him. Let's look at the candidates:

Brian Hill--The Magic have been slightly better than one would expect and have been one of the East leaders for most of the season until a recent cold snap. Have to hand it to Brian Hill for being able to grind out wins with significant time missed by Jameer, Hill, & Hedo. Coach Hill has slowed the tempo knowing he does not have much offensive firepower even when healthy & relied on tough defense based around his bigs, which is the key to their early success.

P. Jackson--Has the Lakers currently at 27-15, which would be the best record in the East right now. He has done this with Odom & Kwame missing a ton of time. Although, he has been helped by having a schedule skewed toward home games. The Lakers have one of the deepest teams in the NBA in my estimation, which has made things easier on Phil. One knock against Phil is that the defense has not been that great, and the quality will vary wildly from game-to-game.

Sam Mitchell--How bout a little love for Sammy. Although Sam seems to be a lame duck coach, he needs some props for having his Raps playing near .500 ball & fighting for a Sh-Atlantic title. Consider he had to integrate alot of new players around Bosh--4 of his starting 5 is new arrivals, and don't forget about Bargnani & Fred--and the defense has slowly improved throughout the year. Also, the Raps have played 4 more road games than home so far and Bosh sat out 12 games.

Bryon Scott--Might be doing as good as job as last year by having the Hornets only 3.5 games out of the West 8-seed. Injuries have ravaged the Hornets as bad as any team in the NBA: David West (30 games missed), Peja (26), Paul (12), & Bob Jackson (21). I thought the Hornets did not have much of a bench at the start on the season, but guys like Rashual Butler, Pargo, & D. Brown have really stepped up their play.

Sloan--Doing the typical things that Sloan teams do--great ball movement, good shot selection, and gritty defense. Although, the defense is a little too gritty--the Jazz have a great Def FG%, but they sort of cancel that out with fouling way too much (Utah is #1 in fouls committed). Having his roster much healthier than last year explains some of the Jazz's early season success, but I think the Jazz are somewhat better than I expected even with a healthy roster.

Van Gundy--Another solid job by one of the best coaches in the NBA. Yao has now missed about a month, & McGrady has missed 8 games and once again he gets max effort from his squad on the defensive end, where the Rockets are clearly the best defensive team. Van Gundy does this every year no matter the talent he's dealt. Currently the Rockets are 25-16 and have played 5 more road games than home.

MY PICK: I guess I am going with Sam Mitchell, believe it or not. This pick might be slightly loony, but then again I can't really make a strong case for any other coach. Like mentioned above, Sam has had to get use to 4 new starters, his best player missing 12 games, & playing a schedule with 4 more road games so far. All of this with the rumors that he's just warming the seat for Marc Iavaroni. Brian Hill is my close runner-up.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Week in Review (Jan 15-21)

Hot Teams:

--Here comes the Nets that we expected--4-0 this week, 7 of their last 9. Similar to last year where they got hot in January. But have a big test of a 5-game West Coast road trip starting this week and they just found out that Jefferson will be on the shelf with ankle surgery, so this could be a make or break trip for the Nets. What has helped the Nets' fortunes lately is the increased input of their reserves. Mikki Moore has brought great energy all year, Ed House has been Vinnie Johnson Jr. the last few weeks, Uncle Sliffy has brought his heady play since returning from injury, and Boci Nachbar has been a steady contributor. Another big key has been the turnover situation. The Nets started off the year having one of the worst TO margins, but they slowly have evened out the difference (they forcing more TOs lately) & they had a -6 TOs margin per game this week.

Wizards--Exciting week for the Wiz with two buzzer-beating victories (Jazz & Knicks), an overtime win (Celts) & a pounding of a division rival on the road (Magic). The Wiz are now tied with the Cavs for best record in the East. Their 3 All-Star candidates (Gil, Caron, Jamison) were huge this week. Although, for the Wizards to make a serious run in the playoffs the defense has to be modified. The Wiz are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, & this week they were not too great, & they continued to have problems on their defensive glass (69% Def Rb % is not good).

Mavs--Same old song-n-dance. Best team in the league, with impressive wins over the Lakers & Rockets.

Suns--Basically the same as the Mavs.

Not Hot Teams:

--0-3 this week, 7 losses in a row & 2-14 over the last month. Injuries have really tortured this team all season long. Although, some bright spots are starting to emerge with the recent strong play of guys like Jefferson, Rondo, Delonte, & even a promising week by reserve Allen Ray. Still not totally out of the running in the Sh-Atlantic, but need Pierce back real soon if they want to catch the surging the Nets.

Magic--0-3 this week, lost 5 in a row & got blasted at home in a big division tussle with the Wizards. As has been the problem all year, this team does not have much offensive firepower. Dwight is nice, but he's still somewhat raw in the post, & is really not ready to be a first option yet. And right now there is no real dynamic offensive player on the perimeter. The Magic are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, but they shoot a pretty good percentage which is slighty perplexing. But that perplexion (is that a word? I guess today it is) gets cleared up when you find out the Magic are #1 in turnovers, & the Magic averaged 19 TOs per game this week.

Players of the Week:

--Tri-MVP-o-Week with Howard & Dirk. Came back with a vengence this week after poor play last week. Gil threw up 29.8, 6.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, 14/33 from 3pt. and surprisingly kept the TOs minimal. Was huge in the Utah game with 51 pts & buzzer-beating 3 to win.

Josh Howard--Tri-MVP-o-Week. Making a strong push for a spot on the Western All-Star team. Great week for Josh--27.3 ppg, 9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 spg, & 53.2% shooting. Also have to consider what a great all-around job he does on the defensive end.

Nowitzki--Another MVP-caliber week (Tri-MVP-o-Week)--26.3, 10.3, 3.3apg on 50% shooting, 'nuff said.

Wade--The Heat struggled this week after a strong run last week, but it was nothing that DWade did--31.8, 7.8 apg, 7 rpg, 2.8 apg on 49% overall.

Okur--Memo equaled the play of his perennial Player-o-week listee teammate, Boozer. Okur was just as important as Booze in the Jazz's 3-1 week all on the road. Okur put up 38 & 9 rebs on 13/22 (4/8 from 3pt) in a near miss loss vs. the Wiz--Memo averaged 27, 7.5 rpg & 51.4 % shooting for the week.

C. Butler--Another player who has been overshadowed all year by an MVP-caliber teammate is Caron. I feel he should be on the East All-Star team as a reserve, the only SF better in the East is Bron. Caron has probably been more consistent nite-2-nite than Arenas has this year. Butler was huge in the Wizards' 1-point win vs. the Knicks with 27, 10 asts, 5 rbs on 11/22, not to mentioned the game-winning basket. Caron averaged 23, 7.5 rpg, 6 apg, & 2.8 spg this week, pretty much in line with his season averages.

Al Jefferson--Really starting to find his bearings the last month or so, & turning into a constant double-double threat. Al was a beast this week in the painted area--21.3, 12.7, & 2 bpg on 50% shooting.

Brand--After a rough few weeks to his season, Brand is starting to approach his productivity of last year. Big E put a hurting on the Warriors with 27, 11, 5 blks, 3 assts, 2stls & 11/13 from the field.

Okafor--Emeka was a all-around force this week with 18 ppg & 13.3 rpg (5.5 off. rpg). The best part of Okafor's play this year is his shooting percentage of 51 %--he shot 70% this week. His shooting percentage was always way too low for a post player in his first two years. He still seems to be too mechanical in his movements & has bad touch on his shot. But there is nothing to complain about on defense where he is a force & Emeka averaged 3.5 bpg this week.

Honor Mention: Boozer; QRichardson; Kidd; Vince; Nash; Amare; Marion; Hinrich; Joe Johnson; D. Lee; Curry; Marbury; McGrady; Jamison; Iverson; Gordon; Cassell; B. Roy; Kobe; Bosh; Gasol

Games of the Week:

Suns @ Wiz (Tues)
--The Suns try to seek revenge for one their 2 losses in their last 31 games.

Rockets @ Spurs (Wed)--Rockets are nipping at the heels of the Spurs in the Southwest, and this game could mean the difference between a 3 seed & 5-seed down the road.

Suns @ Cavs (Sun)-- The Cavs try to seek revenge after the Suns mauled them in Phoenix recently.

Spurs @ Lakers (Sun)--Two teams fighting for the 3-seed out West, & the Spurs would like to redeem themselves after dropping a close game vs. the Lakers at home this week.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sports Guy Blinded by the Suns

--Sports Guy's love letter to the Suns: I know Bill lets his emotions overtake rational thought sometimes, but his recent Wednesday column went a little overboard. He could not stop gushing about the Suns, basically saying the Suns can't be stopped this year, and will cruise thru the playoffs. The Suns do look scary right now, and I have mentioned their defense is pretty solid this year and although their overall rebounding is poor, their defensive rebounding is probably adequate enough. Even so, I am not real sure how he could just gloss over the Mavs, and say the Suns are easily the favorite in a playoff series.

Um Bill, the Mavs have the best record in the NBA, have been equally as hot, and oh by the way...the Mavs are 2-0 vs. the Suns this year. And during their recent hot run, it is interesting to see the one team to trip the Suns up besides the Wizards, were the Mavs. Random chance during the regular season? I don't think so.

Also, the Suns are 2-8 vs the Western elite this year (Mavs, Spurs, Lakers, Jazz, Rockets), and the Rockets are the only team they beaten, although they struggled to put away a Yao-less, McGrady-less Houston this week. One of their two losses to the Jazz was without Nash, so I guess that cancels out the recent Houston game.

Plus, the Suns have to prove they can translate their solid defensive play over to the playoffs, something they have not proved in the last two years. Their defense was middle-of-the pack in both the '04-'05 & '05-'06 reg. season, then was awful in the playoffs, especially in the interior for both years. And the Rockets, Lakers, & Spurs all have the ability to punish questionable interior defenses.

The Suns still have much to prove in the way of ratcheting up their defense in the late stages of tight games. I remember in their first meeting vs. the Mavs this year, they could not get stops & let up some crushing off. rebs. down the stretch that killed them. The Suns are just no way that much better or even better than the Mavs, and not much separates them from the Spurs & Rockets right now, either. Also, the Jazz & the Lakers are capable of giving tham problems in a 7-game series. The Suns lack of size behind Amare is still a minor issue that needs to be addressed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Week in Review (Jan 8-14)

Players of the Week:

--MVP-o-Week & I feel pretty confident he has to be the consensus pick for MVP of the season (so far). The Bavarian Bomber was huge with 32.5, 8.5, 3.5 apg & 53.8% shooting for the week. And crucial in 3 tough road victories: 43 & 12 in OT vs. Pacers; 38 on 12/18 & 7 rebs vs. the Jazz; 38, 11, 5 assts, 3 blks, & 2stls in I-point victory vs. the Raps.

Wade--Led the Heat on a somewhat surprising undefeated week on the road. DWade was huge this week averaging 28ppg, 10.7 apg, 5.3 rpg & getting to the line 16 times per game. In a big win on the road in Utah, Wade dropped 32 pts, 10 assts, 6 stls, 2 blks & was 21/23 on the line. He almost had a triple-double in a win at Golden St. with 22, 10 rbs, 9 assts, & 3blks thrown in.

Nash--Making another strong push for a possible 3rd MVP. 18 ppg, 13.3 apg, 4 rpg & 56.8% overall (7/15 from 3pt) for the week. Was vintage Nash in a Thursday bashing of the East-leading Cavs with 21 assists.

Mutombo--Definitely did not think he had much left in his tank, so recent play is pleasantly surprising to me, and probably much appreciated by Van Gundy. Is still a physical presence in the painted area--averaged nearly 16 rpg & 2.5 bpg this week. Since being inserted in the starting lineup on Dec. 26 after Yao's injury, has rebounded in double figures in last 10 games out of 11, and has been his usual deterrant defensively.

R. Allen--Even though his team is not playing very well, Ray has been playing all-star caliber ball the entire season. Ray gets props for dropping 54 pts, 10 rebs & 5 assts on the Jazz for a big Sonics win. Ray hit 8/12 from long-range in the game & was 14/32 from 3pt. for the week. Ray averaged 36 ppg, 7 apg, & 6 rpg for the week.

Boozer--Although it was a rough week for the Jazz, this can't deter Booz from his serious run at the MVP. Booz kept up his uber-efficient play with 30 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.3 apg & a blistering 63.8% shooting.

N. Collison--Absolutely exploded this week for 25 ppg after only totaling 27 points last week. Nick also averaged 14.3 rpg & a ridiculous 71.4% from the field. Nick was huge vs. the Suns with 29 pts, 21 rebs (8 off.), 4 assts, 3 stls on 12/18 shooting.

Garnett--Made a strong case for back-2-back MVP-o-Week awards, but I guess that should not be that surprising. 26.3, 14 rpg, 4.7 apg, 3.7 bpg & 50% shooting for the week.

Ben Gordon--This one actually stings me a little because I decided to sit him this week on my fantasy team. His usual erratic shooting always makes me feel uneasy, but he has been really consistent in his play the last few weeks, and this week was his most impressive. Ben averaged 24 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.5 rpg & a great 16/22 from 3pt. And the best part was he shot 56.4% overall & kept his turnovers to a minimum. Now can he keep up the shooting & turnovers down for an extended period of time? Not sure. Let's say I'm still uneasy putting him in my lineup.

Ricky Davis--Has been quietly a pretty solid second banana to KG lately, and has teamed with Mark Blount as key figures behind KG in the Twolves' recent hot streak. Ricky had a nice week with 22.7, 5.7 apg, 5 rpg & 50% shooting. If Ricky & Blount can stay steady, the TWolves have a great shot at a playoff berth.

Honor Mention: McGrady; Rip Hamilton; Randolph; Josh Howard; Battier; Bron; Kapono; R. Butler; Pargo; Bosh; Maggette; Jermaine; Tinsley; J. Terry

Hot Teams:

--Very impressive week with 4 wins vs. good comp (Chi, LAL, Den, Sac), with 2 road games on the 2nd nite of a back2back. And the defense was once again stifling--allowed only 87.8 ppg & held their opponents to a combined 37.8% from the field. Sick. This team has won 9 out of their last 10, and also have played 6 more road than home games so far. Had great contributions from multiple sources this week. Luther Head has been quietly having a soild year off-the-bench & is one of the top 6th-men in the league. Battier was superb this week with his all-around savvy play & timely shooting. I mentioned Mutombo above. Also, Juwan Howard has been dipping into the same magical elixir that Dikembe has been, because he's played very well of late. I had this team straddling the line between top tier (Suns, Mavs, Spurs) & 2nd tier (Jazz, Lakers, Nugs), and now I feel comfortable placing them in the top tier. But that pretty much all hinges on the precarious health of McGrady's back.

Heat--Have to give them kudos for their undefeated week, all wins on the road. The Heat shot the ball well overall & were very good from downtown (32/66). Got solid play from J.Williams, Alonzo, Walker, & especially Kapono. Kapono is shooting the shit out of the ball (55.7% from 3pt, leads NBA) & it's scary to think how he can play off Shaq when the big guy returns.

Mavs--Keep chugging along, but were definitely tested this week. The Pacers played them tough for the second time within the span of a week (Mavs won 115-113 in OT), & needed a last second Josh Howard shot to finish off the Raps. They also proved their mettle by holding off the Jazz in Salt Lake. But this is what serious title contenders should do.

Suns--Not much more to add since they appeared on this list last week. Made quite a statement by blasting the Cavs.

Not so Hot Teams:

--0-3 this week, starting to fall back to the pack a little, but still look strong enough to win the Northwest. A fair amount of people have been skeptical of Utah's early start, but I am not quite as negative, I think they are pretty legit. I still think they have an outside shot at winning the West. Their offense is as smooth as anyone's & they are 2nd in the league in Fg% & assists per game (trailing the Suns in both). They have a legit MVP candidate in Carlos Boozer. The Jazz are #1 in rebounding. And their Def Fg% is pretty good. But what's really holding them back is a propensity for fouling. They are #1 in fouls per game & the #2 team is nearly 2 fouls less (there is no more than 1 foul per game spread between any other team). These fouls really cut into all the good things that come from their 44.6% Def FG% & strong def. rebounding. But I can't see this really changing because this has always been a staple of Jerry Sloan's style. Also, the turnovers are somewhat of a problem, & they were a problem this week--+3.3 TOs per for the Jazz.

Kings--Have to be one of the biggest disappointments of the season to go along with the Clips & Nets. I really thought they would be better than they are, specifically on defense, but that has yet to materialize. Can't really explain why this team is struggling so much--they have plenty of offensive talent inside & out, and they have a coach with a rep for defense, but they just have not clicked.

Games of the Week:

Rockets @ Mavs (Tues)
--Two of the hottest teams meet.

Suns @ Rockets (Wed)--Second tough test in two nites for the Rockets.

Lakers @ Mavs (Thurs)--Lakers starting to even out their schedule with more road games. Last time they made a road trip to Texas they got blasted by the Rockets.

Wiz @ Magic (Fri)--Battle for supremacy in the Southeast; at least until Shaq comes back.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Week in Review (Jan 1-7)

Players of the Week:

--MVP-o-week. KG led the TWolves to 4-0 week, and dropped 27, 17 rbs, 7 assts, & 3blks on the Spurs for a victory. KG laid down 27.5, 14.5, & 5 apg for the week.

D. Nowitzki--Dirk's week rivaled KG's--Dirk put up 29, 10.8, 2.5 apg on 51.2% shooting--but had to give the edge to KG for the undefeated week. Dirk was the best player on the floor in the Spurs-Mavs tilt (36 & 8 for Dirk), and I loved his aggressiveness late in the game where he was looking to penetrate when Duncan was matched up on him.

T. McGrady--T-Mac has been professing the skills of his new back specialist lately and whatever manipulation that dude did to TMac surely worked wonders this week--Tracy laid down 35.3, 7 rpg, & 4.3 apg this week, including 44 & 9 rbs in a 14-point victory over the Jazz.

C. Bosh--Another guy coming back from injury, Bosh returned to action on Monday after missing the last 12 games. And he seems to have not missed a beat--Bosh had 23.7, 11.3 rpg, 3.7 apg & 52% shooting for the week. This is a great sign for the Raptors who lead the Atlantic right now, and have a very favorable schedule coming up.

Luol Deng--Continues his highly efficient play this week: 23.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, & 58% shooting. You love this type of rebounding & shooting percentage from your SF position--Deng is currently 13th in the NBA in FG%, for primary perimeter players only Ruben Patterson is higher.

Manu--After starting off the season struggling with his shooting, Manu has settled into a nice groove lately. Manu was the one bright spot for the Spurs this week--22.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2 spg, and ended the week by going 10/15 overall for 34 pts vs. the Grizzlies. Manu went 12/23 from long-range this week, including 6/8 on Sunday, and increased his season 3pt. % to 44%, which puts him in 8th-place for 3pt. %.

Caron Butler--Everyone wants to pile the praise onto Gilbert, and he rightfully deserves kudos for his play the last few weeks, but Caron has probably been the most consistent Wizard for the entire season. Another nice week for Caron: 26.7, 6.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, & 67% shooting. Caron is shooting 50% on the season on top of 21 ppg, 8 rpg, & 4 apg; great numbers for a SF. Butler needs to get heavy consideration for the All-Star game. Besides Lebron, no one is playing better in the East at the SF.

Mark Blount--Yeah, I really never thought I would ever have to put his name on this list, but he was vital to the TWolves' undefeated week. Mark has been playing with more fire lately--has scored over 15 per the last 6 of 7 games--and continued the play this week with 21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, & 56% shooting (Blount is currently 12th in FG%). The most promising fact of his recent play is his rebounding, which has always been woefully inadequate for a center. Maybe Coach Casey has finally gotten thru to Blount.

Drew Gooden--Might have been the most consistent Cav this week with Bron having a subpar week (for him). Drew was his usual force on the glass (11 per this week) & two games with 6 off. rebs (one of the top off. boardmen in the NBA), but it was his scoring that was a refreshing jolt for the Cavs--18.8 ppg on 58%, including a 31-point game & a 21-point performance.

Honor Mention: Arenas; R. Allen; T. Allen; Artest; Bibby; Boozer; Brand; Crawford; Curry; B. Davis; Gasol; R. Hamilton; Al Harrington; Josh Howard; M. Miller; Nocioni; J. O'Neal

Hot Teams:

--Talk about a team that is flying under the radar. They continue to be one of the stingiest defensive units in the league under Coach Casey. Although, the TWolves need to improve their 3pt shooting, but that might be hard to do internally with only Mike James being a viable long-distance threat.

Suns--Showed this week they could finish off close games, something they couldn't last year. The defense has looked better the last few weeks as well, and was solid this week (44.4 Def Fg% in 4 games). This definitely bodes well for the playoffs. Even though the Suns were outrebounded by an average of 4.5 per, their defensive rebounding was pretty good, and has been solid for the season--another factor that is an encouraging sign for the playoffs.

Lakers--Big win at home vs. the Mavs (snapping their 13-game win streak) to cement their place on this list after a 3-0 week. The Lakers averaged 118.7 ppg this week on an impressive 51.8%. The Lakers also had a 44.4% Def FG% for the week, including holding the Mavs to 42.2%. Of course Kobe led the way--25.3 ppg, 8.3 apg, 7.7 rpg this week--but the Lakers also got great input from the likes of A. Bynum, Smush, B. Cook, Turiaf, & Mo Evans. But Luke Walton was the key supporting actor--he put up 18.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.3 rpg, & 58% shooting for the week.

Not so Hot Teams:

--Thought I'd never see their name on this list, but they had a rough week. 1-3 this week with tough losses to Minny, Clev., & Dallas. Although, the losses to the Cavs (82-78) & Wolves (103-101) were on back2back nites on the road. But the Mavs' game was a tough pill to swallow considering it was at home & the Spurs were leading for most of the game. They just could not finish the Mavs off. Duncan's foul shooting did not help things down the stretch (6/13 for the game). Also, it was apparent that the Spurs missed the services of Elson, who is probably the best defender on Dirk. Another thing that became a glaring issue this week, was the lack of scoring punch beyond the Big 3 of Parker, Manu, & Duncan. I can see why the Spurs are considering a deal for Maggette--they could really use his scoring pop off the bench.

Sonics--The season is slowly sliding away in soggy Seattle. Granted, this was a tough week for the Sonics with 4 games in 5 days, they still have to be criticized for getting pounded by an average margin of 13.3 points per game. I understand Rashard is out and they had 3 road games this week, but to get rocked by 18 at home to the Knicks is unacceptable. Seattle kept up its bargain as one of the worst defensive teams in the league by letting their opponents shoot a combined 48.2% for the week, and compounded problems on the defensive end by allowing 16.8 off rebs. per game for the week--the Sonics had a 61% Def. Reb. percentage for the week, which is absolutely dreadful. But this is not too surprising since Seattle is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league and the 3rd worst def. rebounding unit in the NBA.

Games of the Week:

Rockets @ Bulls (Mon)
--You want defense, you got it. But who will the Bulls put on red-hot McGrady? You might see a healthy dose of Sefolosha.

Mavs @ Jazz (Tues)--Last time these two teams played in Salt Lake on Dec. 11, the Jazz crushed the Mavs 101-79. The Jazz did a great job on defense & the boards & Boozer was a force. Will see how the Mavs respond after their recent loss to the Lakers.

Lakers @ Rockets (Wed)--The Lakers go on the road to prove their mettle after having a cushy early season schedule heavy on the home games.

Cavs @ Suns (Thurs)--Both teams were undefeated this week, and the game has a decent chance for being a preview of the NBA Finals.

Magic @ Suns (Sat)--Tough second nite of a back2back (Lakers on Fri) for a hot Magic team. Always love watching the Amare-Dwight matchup, two of the freakish physical wonders of the NBA.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Someone Get Yao a Dr Jack; G.F.O.S. reccs.

Hey everybody, Happy New Year, I'm way behind on this, but I've been meaning to comment on an informative post from David Friedman a few weeks back regarding an in-studio passing demonstration from Bill Walton (on ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast), which included the Big Redhead saying that passing was one area in which Yao Ming could improve.

I've actually always thought that Yao was both an able and a willing passer (he has said in the past that Arvydas Sabonis was one of his favorite players growing up, which I think gives an indication of his mindset), and one can't underestimate how much Yao needs a Dr. Jack Ramsay of his own to help tap and utilize his passing skills.

I've always thought that Jeff Van Gundy deserved a fair share of the blame for not better developing/utilizing Yao's passing skills, and frankly, JVG has disappointed me as a fan.

I still remember the first time I saw Yao play, against Team USA in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. From reading about him prior to the Games, it was hard to picture his game. I imagined him as something of a plodder - something like a 7-5 Peja Drobnjak of a better version of Mengke Bateer.

But then, when I saw him, I got it. His playing time was very limited due to foul trouble, but three things stood out to me: 1) even though he wasn't a stunning athlete, he moved with enough fluidity to look like a basketball player, rather than a plodder, 2) he had that soft shooting touch, and 3) he had a great feel for the game as evidenced by a few gorgeous passers he made to cutters. When I thought about it, I really felt like Yao was potentially a 7-5 Bill Walton with a better shooting touch.

I was really optimistic when JVG got the Houston job. I admired the job he did with the Knicks and, most importnat, I thought he was truly cut from the Pat Riley cloth. By that, I thought he would adapt to his personnel as Riles did - play Showtime ball when you have fast-break talent in L.A.; play ugly, dirty defensive-minded ball when that's the card you're dealt in N.Y.

As it turns out, to the detriment of fans everywhere who love free-flowing basketball, JVG apparently only knows the latter game (though, to his credit, he knows it quite well - Houston is one of the top-rated defensive teams despite having several players with subpar reputations as defenders), that he learned under Riles in N.Y.

And he's basically turned Yao into another Patrick Ewing (even bringing in Patrick to help tutor Yao in previous years). That's all well and good - I still believe Patrick was underrated overall, and Yao has become the best center in the game, but I still think there's a-whole-nother dimension to Yao's game that we could be seeing that would make him a true all-time great.

I really wish that Dr. Jack and Walton had been guiding Yao through the past few years instead of JVG and Ewing - I truly believe Yao could be the hub of a team as beautiful to watch (and as overachieving) as the Walton Trail Blazers were, and I feel robbed as a fan that we don't get to see anything close to that style of play out of Yao.


R.I.P. G.F.O.S.

I haven't had to post since the untimely passing of Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Dynamite, the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown.

This isn't a basketball post I know, but basketball is a game of soul and rhythm, and I firmly believe that hoops and R&B/soul/funk/jazz/hip-hop music have a symbiotic relationship. And basically all of those forms of music, save jazz, owe a good chunk of the entirety of their underpinnings to the Godfather, so I'm going to offer a few of favorites, which I believe that any true hoophead could appreciate.

I've been especially bummed b/c I had tix to see JB perform in San Francisco in Feb., and many of these records have been helping me through my mourning (though I've been heartened to see flags at half-mast around the country in James Brown's honor ;-)...).

For more, I highly recommend checking out the essential soul-music blog, Soul Sides, which has links to the best appreciations along with a handful of wonderful MP3's, accompanied with analysis.

4 CDs, 71 songs of brilliance. You may think you don't need this much, but I'm telling you: you do. If you want a greatest hits package, don't get one of those 20 Greatest things, get this superb studio package, a truly essential five-star collection if there ever was one. It's a steal on Amazon currently, at $41.99.

Live concert perfomances were the essence of James Brown. An unbelievably tight band under his direction, with a master showman out front. The release of this show, recorded at the Apollo Theater in Harlem - essentially JB's "home court" - truly put him on the map as a star. It's only about a half-hour long, but it's a half hour of raw soul music.

This two-disc set is my favorite live JB package. His band is more mature and polished and generally in its prime. The slow burn, 19-minute version of "It's a Man's Man's World" is classic.

One-disc set of his original band, teh Famous Flames, in their funky prime. Can't have enough live material from this period, in my opinion. Nice interlude in the middle where the band, led by my main man Maceo Parker, plays a few instrumentals - I could listen to their version of "Tighten Up" about 100 straight times and not get tired of it.

Another classic one-disc live show, this time with his JB's band, which included Bootsy Collins.

SOUL ON TOP (1970)
I was introduced to this gem based on this post on the Soul Sides blog. The Godfather recorded some of his hits and a few standards with a 20-piece big band. It's "big-band funk" really - pretty cool. He had never performed these songs live in this style until a concert last Sept. at the Hollywood Bowl - I've rarely been so jealous at being unable to attend a show in person.

There you have it. One fan's opinion. Treat yourself. R.I.P. G.F.O.S.