Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009-10 NBA Season Predictions/Storylines: We're Picking the Orlando Magic

Happy Opening Day, everyone. The League is back, rejoice.

As we try to predict the 2009-10 NBA season, the key word to us is "risk". In our season predictions post last October, our first storyline to watch was: "Dawn of a Dynasty: Just How Good Can The Lakers Be?"

We believed that L.A. was well-positioned for a 2009-11 threepeat, and nothing that happened all the way through the championship run in June changed our mind.

Then, the Lakers went and essentially exchanged Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest. Why add the risk when you are the favorites? Adding Artest made sense in Houston, where the Rockets needed to take a roll of the dice to become championship contenders, as they weren't talented enough without Ron-Ron.

We understand that one could question whether it's Ariza's agent or the Lakers who are responsible for the player's departure, but the reality is that L.A. has added a good deal of risk to its equation, after inserting a huge unknown quantity to what was previously an odds-on favorite to repeat. All we keep asking is why why why? Why add the risk?

Ron Artest has never shown that he has the mental toughness to make it through a successful playoff run. He's already derailed a championship contender in Indiana. You know about the Brawl at Auburn Hills, which sunk the 2004-05 Pacers, who had a chance to be the best team in the league that year. But don't forget that he also crushed the Pacers' chances in 2003-04, with a fourth-quarter flagrant foul which allowed the eventual champion Pistons to prevail in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now we're supposed to believe that Artest has matured because he didn't try to physically harm Kobe Bryant, merely making contact when he was ejected in Game 2 of the Lakers-Rockets series? Sure, by Ron's standards, that's improvement, but it still falls short of the mental toughness needed to become a champion.

Couple that with a need to dominate the ball at times and a shot selection that can be LOL bad - for a guy who needs to accept a role as a fourth or even fifth option - and we'll believe that Ron Artest helps the Lakers when we see it. We definitely think that the Lakers can repeat, we just think there's too much risk for us to predict they will.


So, who is our choice for champion? We believe, like many others, that there are five true championship contenders in the mix - Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, Magic - and we ended up picking the team which has the least amount of risk.

The age (and, by extension, health) of the Spurs and Celtics worries us, and we have concerns about how the new pieces will fit in Cleveland - not to mention our concerns that the Cavs offense could revert to stagnation after assistant coach John Kuester took the head job in Detroit.

The team which has the least risk to us - the team we feel most certain about - is the Orlando Magic, and they are our choice to win the 2009-10 NBA championship.

The Orlando roster is incredibly deep, which allows them to play essentially any style - big or small, offense- or defense-oriented. It starts with the talent of four potential All-Stars in Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis.

If you want to go small, stick in tough defender Mickael Pietrus (who can hit the three) or sharpshooter J.J. Redick (who defended surprisingly well at times in the playoffs). If you want to go big, turn to athletic Brandon Bass, or maybe the best backup center in the game in Marcin Gortat. Or maybe spread the floor with 6-10 shooter Ryan Anderson. Don't forget about scrappy glue guy Matt Barnes to bring some energy and fill in the gaps. And then there's good PG depth with vets Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson.

It's all orchestrated by Stan Van Gundy, whom we thought deserved to be Coach of the Year last season for having the no. 1 team in the league in defensive efficiency, even though the starting forwards were Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.

Where are the weaknesses on this team? Well, for many, there is the assumption that the Magic have been weakened by essentially exchanging Turkoglu for Carter. Count us in the camp who think that's crazy - Carter is a better player and this is an upgrade. Look, we understand issues that people have with Vince - we've never really forgiven him for quitting on the Raptors, and we can't really disagree with the scout who once told reporter Frank Hughes that, "I bet no player in the history of the league has gone to the locker room and come out again more than Vince Carter. In the history of the league."

In fact, in 2006, when there were rumors that Vince would sign in Orlando in the summer of 2007, we were skeptical and wrote this:
    I simply don't believe that Vince is a max-quality player is terms of being a guy who is a team leader with the mental toughness to carry a team deep into the playoffs. On such a young team, he would have to take on such a role.
We haven't changed our mind about Vince; what's changed is the way this team has developed - Carter doesn't have to be a team leader, nor does he have to carry the team. Howard is the undisputed face of the franchise, Nelson is the team leader, and Lewis is another productive player. That's the beauty of it: the pressure is off of Vince, he just needs to produce, he doesn't need to lead. And we think that he is, clearly, a more productive player than Turkoglu, still viable even as he is about to turn 33.

We're taking Magic over Lakers.


Storylines we're most interested in:
- Who will be the "first to 5"? / How will the Big 5's moves work out?
During his draft-night interview, Shaq talked about being the "first to 5", a reference to the fact that he, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have all won four championships. They were the best three players of the 2000s, and now they are members of three of the five championship contenders - it doesn't really get more elemental than that.

In general, it'll be most interesting simply to see how the provocative moves from the arms race of those five teams - Lakers (Artest), Celtics (Rasheed, Marquis Daniels), Spurs (Jefferson, McDyess, Blair), Magic (Carter, Bass, Barnes, Anderson) and Cavs (Shaq, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, Powe) - pan out this season.

- Young bigs in the West
We mentioned it as one of our storylines of the 2010s in general, but the development of Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum could be a crucial x-factor in the 2009-10 season as well.

Both players were reported to look markedly better in the preseason. An improved Bynum could be enough to offset any crazy that might arise from Ron-Ron. An improved Oden could accelerate the Blazers' timeline, and turn the Big 5 championship contenders into a Big 6.

- Emerging from the cesspool of the West
Last year's Western Conference was weighed down by some terrible teams at the bottom, yet several of these teams should either be on the rise (Oklahoma City, LA Clippers) and/or have some of the most interesting young players to watch (Golden State, Minnesota, even Sacramento). And then there's the Grizz, who will be fascinating to watch as they try to share the rock among eight gunners.

- Rookie point guards to watch
2009 offered what appears to be a weak draft class overall, with the notable exception of the point guards. Even with Ricky Rubio staying in Spain, it's a fascinating collection of players with wildly diverse playing styles, with Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, and Brandon Jennings plus Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans expected to get some run at the point. And don't sleep on young Rodrigue "Roddy Buckets" Beaubois in Dallas, who impressed in summer league with freakish athleticism. While it takes time to develop at the PG at the NBA level, it should be fun to see which players emerge as keepers.

- The LeBron Narrative
We said it last year, and we'll say it again:
    The question is fairly definitive to the course of the NBA in the 2010s: just how great will LeBron be? Just how far up the ladder of all-time greats will he go?
After an MVP season and an insane 37.4 PER playoff performance in 2008-09, it's clear that there is essentially no limit to how high LeBron can go. The last piece is, of course, a championship. Don't forget that MJ didn't win his first until age 28. LeBron turns 25 on Dec. 30.


Here are The Painted Area's 2009-10 NBA season predictions, with summaries by Jay Aych:

1. L.A. Lakers
2. Portland
3. San Antonio
4. Dallas
5. Denver
6. Utah
7. New Orleans
8. Phoenix

-First Round: Lakers over Suns, Blazers over Hornets, Spurs over Jazz, Mavs over Nuggets
-Conf. Semis: Lakers over Mavs, Spurs over Blazers
-Conf. Finals: Lakers over Spurs

Summary: The Lakers are on a tier in the West all by themselves and could make a run at 65 wins if they can stay relatively healthy (physically & mentally). We'll take the Blazers to edge out the Spurs for 2nd because of a younger, deeper roster and Pop's propensity to sacrifice some wins in the reg. season to conserve his vets, with S.A. turning the tables in the playoffs.

Dallas and Denver both have the goods to make runs at the respective division titles, and both teams should only finish a few games out of first place. Expect Dallas to be a better defensive club with Carlisle having a 2nd training camp with this team under his belt. No doubt Dallas should crush the glass with above-average rebounders on the perimeter.

The Jazz & Hornets are pretty tight in our minds - where they could change seeds depending on getting players back in the lineup. Utah is dealing with a depleted wing rotation with CJ Miles, Korver and Harpring ailing. N.O. fans must be a little skittish considering Okafor's questionable status. The Hornet wing rotation has a lot to prove as well.

We were leaning toward the Clips to edge the Suns for the 8th spot, but with the last-minute news of Griffin's bum knee, we moved back to PHX. Suns can probably pile up 45 wins in the reg. season playing their run/gun style, though we don't see any improvements on the defensive end, where they were horrid last year. The Suns should get chewed up in the interior and on the boards just like old times.

1. Orlando
2. Cleveland
3. Boston
4. Atlanta
5. Washington
6. Philadelphia
7. Chicago
8. Miami

-First Round: Magic over Heat, Cavs over Bulls, Celtics over Sixers, Hawks over Wizards
-Conf. Semis: Magic over Hawks, Cavs over Celtics
-Conf. Finals: Magic over Cavs

-NBA Finals: Magic over Lakers
-MVP: LeBron James, Cavaliers
-Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans, Kings (last-minute change due to injury - sorry, Blake)

Summary: Obviously a big drop-off from the Big 3 to 4th. Each of these three teams should easily win its division. Went with Orlando because they might be the deepest team in the NBA, and have 12 guys who can play meaningful minutes. Placed Boston in the 3rd slot because they have the most question marks of the Big 3, considering four of their top six players are 32 years or older, with KG coming back from the knee injury. Though, the Cavs have some issues to sort out with Delonte West's status. And don't let the playoff performance fool you, this team is still a very capable defensive unit. They might struggle with pick/roll when Shaq on the floor, but overall this team has been rock-solid defensively the last few years.

Things get a little blurry after the top three seeds in the East. Feel pretty comfortable that the Hawks are basically as good as last season, which should be good enough for 4th place. The Wizards' collection of raw offensive talent would be potent in almost any coach's hands. You let Flip Saunders tinker with this talent, and there is a good chance you will have one of the best offensive teams in the league. Now the big question is whether Saunders can make the Wizards into at least a middling defensive unit.

Adding Kapono is a step in the right direction for the Sixers, but this team still does not spread the floor well enough. Having a healthy Brand back is not quite as exciting when you realize Elton will likely have extra defenders in his lap with Iggy, Young and Lou Williams on the perimeter. The cuts and movement built into Ed Jordan's offense will help get a few desperately needed buckets, but I still expect a fair amount of ragged play in the half-court offense for Phillly. They will need to push pace once again to get easy buckets. Do expect the defense and rebounding to be solid, which should let Philly hover around the .500 mark.

The last two spots could be had by either Chicago, Miami, Toronto, Detroit or Indy. Miami is a solid defensive unit that can produce TOs, but offensive firepower falls off mightily after Wade. Beasley needs to be locked in early, especially on the offensive end. If Wade has to sit for even 7-8 games this team's playoffs chances take a huge hit because Miami won't be able to score. Raptors can spread the floor as well as any team in the NBA, sometimes playing with five guys with range out to at least 20 feet. The offense could be fun to watch this year and should not be the problem for the Raps. Where we're reticent about Toronto is on the defensive end--they project to be rather lousy, near the bottom in the East. We'll see if Coach Triano can squeeze a middling defense out this roster. Highly doubt it.

Let's get it on. Tip this baby off!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

TrueHoop Network 2009-10 Preview:
10 NBA Questions for the 2010s

• More Painted Area 2009-10 Previews:
NBA Season (Orlando FTW) | Basketball Books (20+ books!)
• NBA Decade 2000s Review:
Players (Duncan is MVP) | Teams (Lakers are Team of Decade)


At the dawn of a new decade, we take a stab at some key questions which could define how the NBA’s story of the 2010s gets written, and what the league might look like over the next decade.

1. Where will LeBron James be?

Let’s not mess around here. There is one question that stands far above all others: What team will LeBron be playing for? Power in the East, and possibly the league overall, hangs in the balance.

Smart money still says it’ll be Cavs or Knicks, with the Nets perhaps back in the mix if an infusion of Russian cash can jump start the proposed move to Brooklyn.

Would LBJ be less likely to leave his home region if he delivered its first pro sports championship since 1964? Or would he be more likely?

For presumed contenders Cleveland and New York, where LeBron signs could determine whether their franchise spends its 2010s springtimes in pursuit of becoming the team of the decade, or the right combo of lottery ping-pong balls in Secaucus.

2. How will Greg Oden/Andrew Bynum develop?

Two enigmatic 21-year-old centers –- Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum -– may end up being the biggest X-factors in determining the balance of power in the West in the 2010s.

Both players have the potential to the own the painted area defensively, yet both also have serious questions about whether they can regain and retain the health of their knees.

If Oden can own the lane on D, Portland could enjoy a long run atop the Western Conference in the middle part of the decade. If not, the 2010s Blazers could resemble their early-‘90s edition -- full of talent, but not quite enough to get all the way over the hump.

Does Bynum have the mindset to bring the defensive effort every night (L.A. was 29-3 in 2008-09 when he blocked two shots or more)? The Lakers figure to be top contenders in both 2010 and 2011, but how long their championship window extends beyond that depends upon the development of Bynum and….

3. How will high-school-to-pros players age?

As the first wave of players who jumped from high school to the NBA enters their 30s, we are entering somewhat uncharted territory. Will an extra workload in their early years come back to shorten their careers on the back end? Or are modern training regimens enough to offset the NBA odometer readings?

The most fascinating player to watch will be Kobe Bryant, as he often is. At age 31, he has already played 948 regular-season games plus another 175 playoff games.

Kobe’s maniacal dedication to conditioning is well-documented and could delay the effects of aging. For a player who has often been accused of aping Michael Jordan’s mannerisms, it’ll be interesting to see if Kobe redefines his game a la MJ, by moving more into the low post in his later years.

If he can stay productive into his mid-30s, then perhaps L.A.’s championship window will extend past the first couple years of the decade.

4. Will Kevin Durant stay in Oklahoma?

In attempts to salve the wound of the Sonics’ departure, Seattleites have tossed plenty of insults in the direction of Oklahoma City, including some variation of this: “Enjoy Kevin Durant while you have him, because there’s no way he’s staying in Oklahoma once he’s a free agent.”

This summer, we started to hear the first musings that KD might consider jumping to his hometown Wizards in 2012. Here’s the only issue with all this speculation: Kevin Durant has given every indication that he is perfectly happy with the Thunder.

Thunder GM Sam Presti seems to be doing a masterful job of rebuilding his roster. Still, retaining Durant is a must for Oklahoma City to have serious championship aspirations. If they keep him, don’t be surprised if we see some titanic Thunder-Blazers matchups in the Western Conference Finals throughout the middle part of the decade. How would the NBA feel about potential TV ratings for such matchups? That’s another question for another list….

5. Is Daryl Morey the vanguard or an aberration?

The use of advanced-statistical analysis in NBA front offices took a quantum leap in the 2000s, but only the Rockets went the full Moneyball route and turned their the GM job over to a stat geek in Daryl Morey. By and large, the ex-jocks still run the show, and the objective-analysis guys are there to complement the efforts.

This kind of set up is likely to remain the conventional wisdom… but if Morey can deliver a title or even conference championship to Houston, then maybe we’ll see a full-scale revolution in how NBA front offices are run instead of just an evolution.

So, while the role of cutting-edge stats is certain to continue to grow in front offices over the next decade, a factor which may contribute to the rate of growth is an age-old sporting concern: player health. Namely, are Yao Ming’s feet are destined for chronic injury like Bill Walton’s, or can his career be repaired as 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ has been?

Given his size and shooting touch, Yao figures to be a player who should age well … if he can stabilize his feet. Coupling Yao as a reliable cornerstone with GM Morey’s personnel acumen would likely make the Rockets a player in the West for a good chunk of the 2010s … and allow Morey disciples to occupy GM chairs around the league sooner rather than later.

6. Will Florida decide the East in the early 2010s?

The Sunshine State matchup of Orlando-Miami could be a key intraconference rivalry in the early part of the upcoming decade. The Magic have loaded up -- few teams can match their depth and it’s all anchored by a superstar who turns 24 in December in Dwight Howard, so the window should be open for a few years.

Meanwhile, down in South Florida, the Heat have positioned themselves more quietly, but ESPN Insider John Hollinger says that Miami might be “the biggest winner of them all” based on the projections for a shrinking salary cap in 2010-11.

As Hollinger wrote: “[The Heat] have virtually no money on the books beyond this season and could add one max contract and another fairly expensive star, all while keeping Dwyane Wade.”

There are plenty of question marks in Miami, for sure, but don’t be surprised if the Heat vault back to the top of the conference sooner than you think.

7. Which teams could get game-changing new owners?

If we had written a similar piece ten years ago, and told you that the Dallas Mavericks were about to be one of the premier franchises of the 2000s, you would have laughed us off heartily. They won average of 24.6 games per season in the ‘90s, and were considered a laughingstock as well as one of the least-likely destinations for free agents.

Then, on January 15, 2000, Mark Cuban bought the team and everything changed. Dallas won 54.8 games/season in the 2000s, and came oh-so-close to a title in 2006. The Mavericks are now a first-class franchise that’s a highly attractive landing spot for players around the league. Ownership matters.

What teams have the potential for impactful ownership changes? While the Nets, Clippers, Bulls and Wizards are all intriguing candidates, our focus fell primarily on a franchise which, early signs suggest, may be headed for an all-time season of chaos and dysfunction in 2009-10: the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors have retained a rabid fan base despite a long period of futility and mismanagement at the hands of owner Chris Cohan. Whispers out of the Bay Area are that Cohan may be open to a sale, and one would think that there are some Cuban-style activist owners in Silicon Valley waiting in the wings. Don’t forget that the Warriors actually have a deep collection of under-25 talent, though if past performance is any indication, Cohan & co. will find a way to jettison these players for little in return. Still: keep your head up, Bay Area. Things can change faster than you think.

As far as teams which could move in the other direction with a potential ownership change? Well, don’t sleep on the Los Angeles Lakers, where 76-year-old Jerry Buss has been one of the shrewdest owners in all of sports in guiding the franchise to nine championships since purchasing the team in 1979. Buss’s children Jeanie and Jimmy have long been groomed to inherit leadership roles, but it remains to be seen if the two can co-exist in the top role, and if they have Dad’s golden touch. Ownership matters.

8. What will the new collective bargaining agreement look like? Will there be more revenue sharing? A hard cap?

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire following the 2010-11 season. With talk that the NBA will seek dramatic changes in the wake of the Great Recession, the next CBA could have a substantial impact on what happens on the hardwood.

All of the presumed 2009-10 contenders -- Lakers, Spurs, Magic, Cavs, Celtics -- will be over the luxury tax. As currently structured, the NBA is becoming a league in which teams who can afford big payrolls have an increasingly big advantage.

The NBA’s current revenue-sharing plan is not nearly as extensive as the NFL’s, but David Stern told the Sports Business Journal this summer that he had “begun working … quite assiduously to assure that there is more revenue sharing. I am going to reach agreement with my owners.” There have also been rumblings that the NBA may even push for a hard salary cap and a more punitive luxury-tax structure.

Any developments that level the economic playing field would work in favor in smaller-market teams. It certainly seems like the league will at least move in this direction, which could aid the long-term championship aspirations of teams like Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Utah or Orlando.

9. What franchise moves may occur?

After not experiencing a franchise move from 1985-2001, the NBA oversaw three relocations in the 2000s, including the donnybrook that turned the Seattle SuperSonics into the Oklahoma City Thunder. What franchise moves might we see in the upcoming decade (not including the prospective Nets move to Brooklyn)?

Given the tepid fan interest in Charlotte and Memphis, it’s logical to think that the Bobcats and Grizzlies are the prime candidates to be on the move once the terms of arena leases loosen up in a few years.

Other markets to watch include Sacramento and Milwaukee, which have arena concerns, and New Orleans and Indiana, small markets which may struggle to generate sufficient revenue.

Where might the potential new homes be? With subpar economic conditions possibly extending well into the new decade, cities with viable arenas already in place have a huge advantage, leaving Kansas City, St. Louis, Vancouver, Anaheim and San Jose ahead of otherwise prime contenders like Seattle, Las Vegas and San Diego.

Could we see moves by the Grizzlies back to Vancouver, and the Kings back to Kansas City this decade? Unlikely, but no crazier than suggesting in 1999 that the Sonics would be in Oklahoma within a decade.

10. Who are the new young stars who will emerge?

Who will be the new All-Stars in the later part of the 2010s? For starters, look at the point-guard position, where there’s a crazy amount of potential coming right behind the current class of under-25 point guards like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Monta Ellis.

Ricky Rubio, Russell Westbrook, Jonny Flynn and Brandon Jennings are all under-21 PGs who could be headliners at the 2017 All-Star Game, but incoming Kentucky freshman John Wall (frontrunner to be the no. 1 pick in the 2010 draft) might end up being better than all of them. He has the lightning quickness of Jennings/Flynn, but in a 6-4 frame. None other than Kevin Durant tweeted this summer that “John Wall is the quickest player I've ever seen with the ball.”

Another prospect to watch down the road is New Jersey prep Michael Gilchrist, a 6-7 swingman who is considered by many scouts to be the best player in all of high school hoops as a junior. Who knows, maybe Gilchrist will lead off question 1 in 2019 when NBA fans try to gaze into the crystal ball for the 2020s.

Bonus questions:
11. Will CP3 be the KG of the 2010s?

Chris Paul has already established himself as a player likely to end up in the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest point guards of all time. However, as noted above, it remains to be seen if New Orleans will have the resources to compete going forward.

All told, it looks like the script could end up resembling Kevin Garnett’s experience in Minnesota: CP3 does yeoman work to carry a subpar supporting cast into the playoffs, but just doesn’t have enough help to get New Orleans out of the first round, year after year, until we start forgetting just how good he is. Then, maybe in, say, 2016, things erode to the point where Paul gets traded elsewhere in order to truly compete for his ring.

We’re sorry to write this, New Orleans, really, we’re pulling for you. It’s just hard to see how this turns out well for CP3 in the long-term – enjoy him while you’ve got him.

12. Will the 2012 London Olympics be a game-changer for England/Europe?

David Stern continues to insist that a European Division is on the NBA's radar, though likely to postdate his tenure. It still seems like there are enormous intractable logistical issues around the subjects of travel or start times of potential playoffs/Finals games, among others.

Still, if unlikely European expansion does occur this decade, expect the 2012 London Olympics to be a tipping point. Because England is the most compatible European country to the U.S. in terms of language and culture, mobilizing the London market for NBA basketball is essential. London has a state-of-the-art arena and it’s in a sports-mad nation, but Britain has been largely indifferent to basketball to date.

That said, London has sold out NBA preseason games the last couple years. Maybe a strong Olympic showing for Luol Deng and the home team, plus the entertainment value of LeBron, Kobe, CP3 and friends in town could help push hoops over the top.

13. Who will be NBA commissioner in 2019?

Before we go, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer one question about The Big Kahuna himself, David Stern. The commissioner is 67 years old and celebrated his 25th year in office in 2009. He said to Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum that “There won’t be a 35th [anniversary],” so it’s logical to assume that one of the most influential commissionerships in the history of American sports will end in the coming decade.

It’s been something of a parlor game in league circles for several years to speculate on who might become the next commish. The only thing clear is that the race should be wide open, much like the NBA should be as a whole in the 2010s.


• More Painted Area 2009-10 Previews:
NBA Season (Orlando FTW) | Basketball Books (20+ books!)
• NBA Decade 2000s Review:
Players (Duncan is MVP) | Teams (Lakers are Team of Decade)

Friday, October 23, 2009

2009-10 Basketball Books Preview

2008-09 was a fairly thin year for basketball books, all told. Looking back at our preview from last year, it ended up that there were probably only a couple of true standouts in our opinion, David Falk's The Bald Truth and the Free Darko Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, though we're still working our way through all of the tomes. We also liked When March Went Mad from Seth Davis and Red and Me by Bill Russell (which we managed to overlook last year - d'oh!), and then there really wasn't too much more out there of note. In fact, several of the books in last year's preview are making repeat appearances in this year's, as we jumped the gun a little bit on a couple given the slim pickings, and there were also a few couple postponements.

The good news is that 2009-10 looks much more promising, on sheer depth alone. We've managed to cobble together 20+ hoops books currently due to be released by next summer (included a handful which were released in the last couple months). And pay attention to the release dates below, as there is an absolute flurry of basketball books coming out in the next two weeks alone. Speaking of which, let's get things rolling with the most notable release of all....

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, by Bill Simmons (Oct. 27)
The Simmons hoop manifesto is certainly the most eagerly anticipated basketball book of the year. Given that the landscape is wide-open for a broad and readable one-volume history of the NBA, The Book of Basketball has a chance to become nothing less than one of the most essential basketball books ever written. And given that Simmons' thoroughly researched columns on Elgin Baylor and the so-called "Clipper Curse" are perhaps his best work over the past year, we think the chances are promising, and we're certainly hopeful.
Excerpt - ESPN.com: Meeting Isiah
Excerpt - ESPN.com: Summer of 1976
Excerpt - ESPN.com: What if the ABA had landed Kareem?
Excerpt - ESPN.com: Should Walton have won '78 MVP?

When The Game Was Ours, by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan (Nov. 4)
Here's another one that's fairly high on our the anticipation scale: respected longtime Boston Globe scribe Jackie MacMullan brings you Magic and Bird on one of the definitive rivalries in the NBA history. Hasn't even been released and Isiah's already p.o.'ed.
Excerpt - Boston Globe Magazine: 1984 Finals
Excerpt - HMH Books: Benched together as college All-Stars in '78

Doc: The Rise and Rise of Julius Erving, by Vincent Mallozzi (Nov. 2)
We've long thought there was a need for a definitive biography of the great Dr. J, Julius Erving - one of the game's icons of the '70s, and one of the most influential players ever - and hopefully, this is it. Mallozzi previously wrote the well-regarded Asphalt Gods: An Oral History of the Rucker Tournament.
Excerpt - Wiley Publishing: Chapter 1 (pdf)

Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon, by Roland Lazenby (Feb. 23)
Veteran author Lazenby has many basketball books to his name, including must-haves like The Show, an oral history of the Lakers, and Blood on the Horns, the story of the "Last Dance" 1997-98 Bulls. Now he takes on a biography of the basketball legend known today as The Logo, and in the past as Mr. Clutch and Zeke from Cabin Creek. He may face stiff competition on the shelves from....

Untitled Autobiography, by Jerry West (Spring 2010)
West produced the autobiography Mr. Clutch: The Jerry West Storyway back in 1969, so there's certainly room for an updated version, especially since West has remained a central figure in the league in the intervening 40 years, well after his playing days ended. West has generally been frank and forthcoming in interviews, so here's hoping he opens up on his thoughts of the Showtime Lakers, the Shaq-Kobe era and beyond. The most recent reports suggest that the book will be released by Father's Day of 2010.

King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, by Aram Goudsouzian (May 1)
While there have been tons of books written on the Celtics dynasty, and Bill Russell himself has produced two of the sport's most provocative autobiographies, there's never been a great biography written specifically about Russell. I've never heard of Goudsouzian, who is a professor of history at the University of Memphis and wrote a Sidney Poitier biography which has a couple 5-star reviews on Amazon. We wish him well, as we'd love to have a top-notch Russell bio to put beside The Rivalry (John Taylor's book on the Russell-Wilt era) and recent Wilt bios Wilt: Larger Than Life and Wilt, 1962 on our shelves.

Shooting Stars, by LeBron James & Buzz Bissinger (released Sept. 8)
We haven't yet had a chance to read Shooting Stars, released in September as something of a companion to More Than a Game, the documentary film about LeBron James and his core group of friends who became improbable high-school basketball national champions out of a private school in Akron, Ohio. Excerpts and reports to date have indicated that Bissinger's prose doesn’t quite feel like it's LeBron's voice, making the book feel a little off-kilter. We loved the movie, so maybe this is a somewhat rare case where the book is inferior to the film.
Excerpt - Vanity Fair: LeBron James's Band of Brothers

Score Like Agent Zero, by Gilbert Arenas with D.J. Gallo (Feb. 9)
This was originally scheduled to be published this spring, but with Arenas sidelined by injury, the release was pushed back to next February. As we wrote in last year's preview, here's how Arenas described the book in his blog, back in 2007:
    I'm writing a book.

    It ain't going to be the T.O. 'I Need My Ball' or whatever that book was called. It ain't going to be the Phil Jackson book. Mine is going to be more like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Mine is going to be like that with more funny stuff. It's going to be hilarious.

    Stuff like, 'If you're a No. 1 or No. 2 pick, why do you need an agent?' Reality stuff like that. You might as well just give your money to Vegas because that's all you're doing with the agent, you're just giving it to him. Because you're the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, point blank, you don't need an agent. It's a slotted system now. It's not like you're Glenn Robinson coming out saying 'Give me $100 million.' You can't do that anymore.

    So it's going to be mostly funny stuff like that. Attacking people, attacking the system, attacking critics - stuff like that.
Here's hoping that the irrepressible Arenas regains his form both on and off the court this season.

Character Driven: Life, Lessons and Basketball, by Derek Fisher with Gary Brozek (released Sept. 8)
We understand how things work: when N.Y. or L.A. teams win championships, we get tons of books from all manner of primary and secondary characters. And we don't begrudge Fish his book, as he's long been one of the league's stand-up guys. Clutch performer, president of the player's union, has suffered through plenty of off-court tribulations dealing with his baby daughter's health – there's plenty to this man's story.
Excerpt - Simon & Schuster: Chapter 1

We're just bummed that, as we've written before, there are no books on the San Antonio Spurs out there. We know they'd sell about 47 copies of those things, but we're fans of the game who want the whole story to be recorded. The Duncan/Robinson-era Spurs are an essential NBA team, with four championships and a 20-year run of success. And for all the public perception that these Spurs are boring, we think they've actually been one of the more interesting cast of characters in league history, led by three of the most unique cats ever to pass through the league, in Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Gregg Popovich. The funny thing is that, if this team were based in New York, there would probably be about 50 books about them.

The Art of a Beautiful Game: A Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA, by Chris Ballard (Nov. 3)
We think that SI's Ballard is one of the better basketball storytellers working today. This book examines different elements of the game from multiple perspectives of various players. TrueHoop recently suggested that the book needed more of a central organizing theme, but that it was "meaningful, insightful, enjoyable and well worth the read."
Excerpt - Sports Illustrated: The Hoops Whisperer

Untitled "Inside the League" Project, by Ric Bucher
Here's what we wrote on this in March - we have no further information:
    On a recent podcast with Bill Simmons, ESPN's Ric Bucher noted that he was working on a book that offered "an inside look at various jobs around the league," and said that he had spent time with a GM right at the trade deadline.

    I think this book has the promise to be pretty good, as it sounds like Bucher might have gotten the access to really see the details of how the sausage is made in terms of how trades are made, or how they fall apart, among other things. I would also say that I think this type of longform reporting/storytelling is a strength of Bucher's, as I also thought he did a nice job of building the narrative of Yao Ming's life as the center's ghostwriter in Yao: A Life in Two Worlds. Bucher said his new book should be out in late 2009.
Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, by Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle (released Oct. 8)
The Basketball Prospectus 2010 Major Conference Preview, by John Gasaway (Nov.)
Increasingly, we find that the basketball analysts who are worth our time are those who are able to offer both objective and subjective analysis, and Pelton is one of the best. He has the statistical chops, for sure, but he's not just a numbers geek. He complements the objective stuff with astute analysis drawn from observation. Pro Basketball Prospectus offers team essays and player comments for everyone in the league. The Major Conference Preview will provide similar content for the college game.
Excerpts - Basketball Prospectus: Thunder player comments/Rockets team essay

Mathletics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football, by Wayne L. Winston (Sept. 17)
You know how we just said that we need our analysis to be objective and subjective? Most analysts still lean far too heavily on the latter, but Winston's recent comments that he wouldn't take Kevin Durant for free, based on his poor adjusted plus-minus numbers, indicate that he may have a bit of an unhealthy belief in his own numbers. But decide for yourself - there's been plenty of Winston on TrueHoop recently. If you like what you read there, you'll probably dig Mathletics.

Light Blue Reign: How a City Slicker, a Quiet Kansan, and a Mountain Man Built College Basketball's Longest-Lasting Dynasty, by Art Chansky (Oct. 27)
Hard Work: My Life On and Off the Court, by Roy Williams with Tim Crothers (Nov. 23)
One Fantastic Ride: The Inside Story of Carolina Basketball’s 2009 Championship Season, by Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner, Matt Bowers (Oct. 22)
That's a lot of Carolina propaganda, we know, but give 'em a break – 2009 is a big year, as it marks the 100th anniversary of Carolina basketball and of course, the Tar Heels celebrated in style by winning the NCAA championship earlier this year.

Light Blue Reign is a history of the program by Carolina chronicler Chansky, who also wrote Blue Blood, on the Carolina-Duke rivalry, and Dean's Domain, a Dean Smith bio. Hard Work is the autobiography of Williams, who has now established one of the more impressive coaching resumes in NCAA history, with two national championships and seven Final Four appearances. One Fantastic Ride celebrates the glory of the most recent championship run. Lucas wrote The Best Game Ever, about the 3OT 1957 national championship game between North Carolina and Kansas.
Excerpt - TarHeelBlue.com: Light Blue Reign
Excerpt - TarHeelBlue.com: One Fantastic Ride
Asheville Citizen-Times: Roy Williams talks about abusive father in book

Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson, by Rus Bradburd (Feb. 9)
Forty Minutes of Hell is definitely our choice as the sleeper to keep an eye on out of all these books – underrated author, underrated subject. Bradburd wrote the beloved Paddy on the Hardwood, about his experiences coaching basketball in Ireland (2006 interview on TrueHoop). Richardson is a fascinating subject - an outspoken pioneer among African-American coaches – both on and off the court. Frank Deford's 1988 Sports Illustrated story on Richardson dealing with the death of his 15-year-old daughter Yvonne is one of the most moving pieces we've ever read in that magazine, and that's saying something.

Outside the Limelight: Basketball in the Ivy League, by Kathy Orton (Nov. 15)
Maybe it's because we're Division III guys at heart, but we're always interested in a look at the college game as something closer to how it was meant to be played, where the term "student-athlete" is a bit truer than it is during the bread and circus of March Madness. Orton has covered college hoops for a decade for the Washington Post.

Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and The Redeem Team, by Dan Bickley (released Oct. 1)
Coach K's The Gold Standard from earlier this year was a reasonable telling of the story of USA Basketball's road to redemption, even if it told us little that we hadn't already known. We'll see if Arizona Republic columnist Bickley can pull more out of the tale by telling it through the eyes of Colangelo, the chief driving force of the U.S.'s return to Olympic basketball gold.

American Hoops: U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball from Berlin to Beijing, by Carson Cunningham
Cunningham is a former player at Purdue who is now a professor of history at DePaul. We don't have much to add here, as the title seems pretty straightforward.

James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball, by Rob Rains with Hellen Carpenter (Oct. 28)
You can't really have much more of an old-school Hall of Famer than Naismith, as the building is named after him in Springfield, after all. Rains has written biographies of various St. Louis sports figures, while Carpenter is Naismith's granddaughter, who apparently provided more than 300 documents from Naismith's files to help the cause.
NY Times: For Naismith, Basketball Was Only a Start (by Rob Rains)

Jim Pollard: The Kangaroo Kid, by Dolph Grundman (released Aug. 28)
Show some respect to Pollard, the key no. 2 player next to George Mikan on the Minneapolis Lakers teams which won five championships in six years in the early NBA. As the nickname in the title suggests, the 6-5 forward from Stanford was one of the most athletic players of his era. Surprisingly, there have now been bios of the three key players of those MPLS teams – Mikan, Pollard, and Vern Mikkelsen– all published within the last three years. How 'bout that. No books about Whitey Skoog that we know about are on the horizon.
Stockton Record: New legs for "Kangaroo"

Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd, by Sean Kirst (Nov.)
Lloyd was the first black player to play in the NBA, as he broke the color line by entering the league along with Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper back in 1950. Lloyd was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2003.

Heaven is a Playground (35th Anniversary Edition), by Rick Telander (Nov. 1)
Telander's 1974 chronicle of the characters who inhabit the pickup courts in Brooklyn is an all-time basketball classic. The 35th anniversary third edition includes a new introduction from Telander.
Excerpts - SLAM

A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story, by Bruce Jenkins (Feb. 28)
This book was originally published in 1999. It's a bio of Newell, one of the most immensely respected coaching minds in basketball history. Newell, who passed away in 2008, coached Cal to an NCAA championship in 1959, and left his mark on multiple generations of NBA basketball through his legendary summer Big Man Camps, which improved the skills of countless NBA players over the years.

Something of an addendum here, but there have been rumors over the last year or so that disgraced NBA official Tim Donaghy was planning to release something of a tell-all book from his perspective, called Blowing the Whistle, but Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported in a recent column that the proposed Donaghy book is now dead.
Excerpts - Deadspin: The Book The NBA Doesn't Want You To Read

While we're sure that not all of these books will be winners, it certainly seems like there are plenty of intriguing books to keep hoop fans occupied over the next year. We can't wait to dig in.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009-10 Euroleague Preview

The Euroleague season tips off in full force on Wednesday with six games, followed by five games on Thursday. ESPN360 will begin its 2009-10 Euroleague coverage with the Olympiakos-Orleanaise matchup at 12:15 p.m. ET. ESPN360 will be showing select Euroleague games all season. NBA TV will also be televising a tape-delayed Euroleague Game of the Week on Saturdays again this season - its coverage starts at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday with a look at Ricky Rubio, as Regal FC Barcelona takes on Fenerbahce.

Thursday's Euroleague schedule is highlighted by BC Khimki vs. Real Madrid, AJ Milano vs. Panathinaikos (PAO) and Lotto Roma vs. Caja Laboral.

24 teams are divided into four groups of six teams:
Group A: FC Barcelona; Montepaschi Siena; Fenerbahce Ulker; Cibona; Zalgiris; Asvel

Group B: Olympiakos; Efes Pilsen; Unicaja; Partizan; Lietuvos Rytas; Orleanaise

Group C: Maccabi Tel Aviv; CSKA; Caja Laboral; Lotto Roma; Union Olimpija; Maroussi

Group D: Panathinaikos; Real Madrid; AJ Milano; BC Khimki; Prokom; EWE Baskets

Format of competition:
1) The first stage of the regular season has each team playing home & away with the other five teams in the group for a total of 10 games.

2) The top four teams from each group advance to the Top 16 stage that begins on Jan. 27th. The Top 16 is divided into four groups of four teams, in which each team plays home & away against the other three teams in the group for a total of six games.

3) The top two teams from each Top 16 group advance to the quarterfinals. The quarters are a best-of-5 format that starts on March 23rd.

4) The quarterfinals winners advance to the Euroleague Final Four in Paris on May 7-9.


The Top 4 (Expect to see these teams in Paris):

The biggest story surrounding Barca this summer was the signing of Ricky Rubio, but their acquistions of other key players, particularly Erazem Lorbek, might be just as important.

No surprise Juan Navarro is the linchpin of their offense. Will run him off screens all over the floor, especially baseline screens so he can curl into his patented floaters. Rubio will share ball-handling duties with Navarro, Jaka Lakovic and Gianluca Basile. Lakovic is a high-level combo guard with the ability to drill jumpers. Basile is another dangerous shooter.

Not to mention, Victor Sada & Roger Grimau will also see some time running the point. So I don't know how effective Rubio will be at Barca with so many other players needing to touch the ball.

Losing Dave Andersen and Ersan Ilyasova to the NBA does take a chunk out of the frontline, but the addition of Erazem Lorbek and Terrence Morris from CSKA really softens the blow. Lorbek (Pacers own rights) is one of the top big men in Europe, and might be the most offensively gifted big in the Euroleague. He's an inside-out force. Former Maryland standout Terrence Morris hopes to make up some of the loss from Ersan Ilyasova's departure. Much like Ilyasova, Morris can spread the floor at the 4-spot and rebounds well, but not as well as Ilyasova.

Fran Vasquez (Magic property) is not particularly skilled on offense but shoots a great percentage getting easy looks rolling off high screens. His combo of long arms & mobility make him an effective rebounder & a terrific defensive presence (08-09 Euroleague blocks leader). 7-footer Boniface Ndong was acquired to cause problems with his length and mobility. Pete Mickeal's athleticism makes him a great rebounder and defender at the 3-spot.

Barca did a great job spreading the floor last year, often having five shooters on the floor at one time. And they should be able to replicate that this year with Lorbek at the 5-spot and Morris at the 4. Barcelona loves to push the pace and have to imagine that, with Rubio on board, that will continue.

OLYMPIAKOS (Greece): Like their Greek rival PAO, Olympiakos have a wealth of options. Let's count the ways. Theo Papaloukas running the pick/roll is not a bad option. PG Milos Teodosic, who tore up the Eurobasket, ain't too bad running the pick/roll either, where he can drill jumpers or set up teammates. Von Wafer can create offense for himself, just don't expect him to pass, ever. Linas Kleiza is another explosive offensive option.

Sofo Schortsanitis (Clips draftee) is a highly efficient beast on the blocks with a combo of incredible girth and nimble feet. Giannis Bourousis is one of the finest centers in Europe, who can score with hooks or by facing up, not to mention his rebounding talent. Nikola Vujcic is a crafty center who is an effective passer and can score some off of rolls and hook shots.

Yotam Halperin is another top-flight combo guard who's the best shooter on the team. Don't forget Josh Childress is on this squad, and he can defend multiple positions, rebound, and attack the rim. Coach Yannakis could have have trouble keeping everyone happy. This team lost by two points to PAO in the semifinals last year and that was without a fit Sofo. Sofo is in good shape this year and Kleiza adds more juice to the roster. Not making the Final 4 would be a major disappointment.

PANATHINAIKOS (Greece): The defending champs kept their core pretty much intact, making them one of the favorites. Coach Obradovic uses a heavy diet of pick/rolls which is a no-brainer when you have three of the top playmakers in Europe with D. Diamantidis, V. Spanoulis, & S. Jasikevicius. Also, will showcase some UCLA-type sets and some double-high post sets with either of his 3 great points directing the show.

If Diamantidis, Jasikevicius, and Spanoulis was not enough firepower running the point, PAO added Nick Kalathes to the mix. It will be interesting to see how much floor time the former Florida star actually sees, considering minutes are spread thin already. To add to the overkill on the perimeter, Milenko Tepic provides another solid ball-handler with a savvy floor game. Former Maryland standout Drew Nicholas gives this team more offensive firepower on the perimeter.

6-8 PF Mike Batiste does his damage rolling off high screens to often finish with a two-handed slammer-jammer (as Dr. Jack would say). Antonis Fotsis does his damage with his shooting stroke, but will also crash the glass and is an underrated finisher & passer. 6-11 Nikola Pekovic (TWolves property) is a physical beast on the blocks, where he's a highly efficient scorer. Pekovic is one of the best young NBA prospects in Europe and is expected to join Minny next season.

PAO has been a solid defensive squad under Obradovic's direction and much the same is expected this year.

REAL MADRID (Spain): Like the other top clubs, Real has an extremely deep roster. The roster is filled with smart veterans, with which new coach Ettore Messina should work wonders. Have to imagine Real will be a stout defensive unit with Messina at the helm.

Pablo Prigioni gives Messina a superb floor general who rarely makes mistakes and is the best pure passer in Europe. Houston Rocket draftee Sergio Llull is a speedy combo guard who can cause havoc defensively. Rimas Kaukenas and Louis Bullock provide terrific shooting at the SG position.

The frontline rotation is as good as any in Europe with the likes of Felipe Reyes, Jorge Garbajosa, Novica Velickovic, Darjus Lavrinovic and Axel Hervelle at Messina's disposal. Reyes will be the offensive focal point on the blocks, where his deft footwork leads to plenty of points. Garbo, Velickovic and Lavrinovic all can float out to the 3pt. line and each guy is a quality defender. All NBA fans should keep tabs on the multi-skilled Serb, Novica Velickovic, who is one of the top young free agents in Europe.

Did not make the Final Four last season, but with the additions of Prigioni, Velickovic, Garbajosa and maybe most importantly Messina, I expect lofty heights this season.

Tier II (Contenders who could make a serious run at a Final Four appearance):

The team formally known as Tau Ceramica, dealt with significant turnover on the roster where Splitter is the only returning starter. It will interesting to see if they can replace the scoring void left by Rakocevic. Tiago Splitter is one the best bigs in the Euroleague and should see even more offensive touches with the departure of Igor Rakocevic.

Have a great pair of athletic, active 6-9 combo forwards in Walt Herrmann and Lior Eliyahu. Eliyahu (Rockets draftee) loves to use his athletic gifts to finish hard at the rim and rebound in traffic.Mirza Teletovic is another valuable 6-9 combo forward who is a deadly marksman.

6-3 Marcelo Huertas takes over the starting PG slot vacated by Pablo Prigioni. Huertas uses his speed well and has a knack for floaters like Navarro. Caja has added 6-3 Brad Oleson to hopefully fill Rakocevic's shoes. Oleson was the 2nd leading scorer in the ACB last season and he can drill jumpers. This team has the ability to play uptempo thanks to a very mobile frontcourt and a PG who thrives in a fast-paced setting.

CSKA MOSCOW (Russia): The perennial European power has some question marks concerning their '09-'10 prospects. First off, how much will the lost of Euro coaching legend Ettore Messina hurt CSKA? CSKA was always a well-disciplined team under the guidance of Messina and always a tough defensive unit. Can the team defense still be top-notch without Messina?

The other major issue facing CSKA is the health of PF Matjaz Smodis. Smodis won't be available until the quarterfinals in March (if CSKA makes it that far) after having back surgery. Smodis has been hampered with injuries over the last few years and CSKA desperately needs his multi-skilled talents, especially with the loss of E. Lorbek to Barca.

Not too many worries on the perimeter with the trio of JR Holden, Trajan Langdon and Ramunas Siskauskas still on board (though, they're all over 30 years old) A main objective of the CSKA offense is to spring Langdon free off screens. CSKA's best all-around player is 6-6 SF Ramunas Siskauskas, whose combo of a quick first step and nice strength helps him draw fouls constantly. Can handle playmaking duties, rebounds, shoot from deep, and provides stout defense. 6-6 Anton Ponkrashov is not a danger to hit jumpers, but is a very crafty passer when he runs the offense. Zoran Planinic is one of the best distributors in Europe and can use his size to post up smaller PGs.

The frontline is not a totally lost cause. Vik Khryapa gives CSKA an underrated jack-o-trades combo forward who will fill in the holes with boards, steals, blocks, assists & versatile defense. Former Kansas big man Sasha Kahn is a live body on the backline who can finish around the rim and alter some shots on defense.

Have smart vet leadership that should ease the transition to a new coach, but another run to the Final Four will probably hinge on if Smodis can come back healthy.

EFES PILSEN (Turkey): This Turkish powerhouse has been vaulted into Euroleague upper echelon with additon of Igor Rakocevic and Bostjan Nachbar. A very deep, athletic roster. Igor Rakocevic is one of the top scorers in Europe--'09 Euroleague scoring champ. Boci Nachbar is coming off a great Eurobasket performance where he used his underrated athleticism to provide scoring, rebounding, and defense from both forward positions.

Pilsen adds even more firepower on the perimeter with a trio of former NCAA standouts Bootsy Thorton, Preston Schumpert and Charles Smith. The point guard position will be ably covered by the Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan. Both PGs are a danger to shoot from deep, while Tunceri is a steady leader/defender, Arslan is a danger to hit floaters off pick/rolls.

Mario Kasun is an athletic 7-footer with good rebounding and finishing ability. 6-10 Kerem Gonlum is another quality athlete up front who crashes the glass. Pilsen can turn to two quality veteran big bodies to spell Kasun in Kaya Pekar and Dan Santiago.

FENERBAHCE ULKER (Turkey): Another powerhouse team out of Turkey with plenty of athletic weapons. The two guys for NBA fans to focus on are 6-11 Omer Asik (Bulls property) and 6-9 Slovenian small forward Emir Preldizic (Cavs property). Asik is a very mobile big who can finish strong, rebound and block shots. Just hope he does not get fouled--Asik is a horrid free throw shooter. Preldizic is a highly-skilled SF with terrific ball-handling ability.

Ulker's roster is littered with former NBA journeymen. Lynn Greer comes over from Olympiacos to become the #1 option for Ulker. Greer is one of the better pure scorers in Europe who is adept in isos or ball screens. Greer will be paired with Will Soloman, another explosive guard who can score.

Former Jazz sharpshooter Gordon Giricek adds more perimeter firepower. Tarence Kinsey comes back to Fenerbahce after a stint with the Cavs.

6-9 bruiser Mirsad Turkcan was one of the top players in the Euroleague last season who was near the top of both the rebounding and scoring leaderboard. Oguz Savas and Semih Erden provide quality bulk next to Asik up front. Savas is painfully unathletic but does score efficiently around the rim thanks to his massive frame.

MACCABI TEL AVIV: Maccabi was proactive this summer adding top-notch talent to climb there way back into the upper echelon of the Euroleague. Maccabi is led on the frontline by a two possible future NBA players, D'Or Fischer and Maciej Lampe. Fischer (West Virginia) is a top-flight rebounder (particularly on the off. glass) and a defensive presence with serious shot-changing skills. Lampe can drill from deep, but also can score on the block with a hook or nice turnaround. Both Lampe & Fischer are qulaity athletes that can run the floor. Stephane Lasme's athleticism gives Tel Aviv another quality shot-blocker and rebounder up front. 6-10 Yaniv Green is another explosive athlete who is a relentless worker on the glass.

Maccabi picked up one of the best players in the Israeli league in PG Doron Perkins. Perkins is a nice athlete who can score, pass, and rebound. Perkins also causes much havoc on the defensive end which leads to plenty of steals. 6-3 Andrew Wisknewski brings a deft shooting touch and passing skills to the table. Former South Carolina guard Chuck Eidson was another great summer pickup for Maccabi. 6-7 Eidson played great for Rytas last season where he was basically a point forward with the ability pull-up off the dribble. Former NBA reserve Alan Anderson is a well-built SG that has a knack for bulling his way to the rim and can add rebounds & steals to the mix. Former USC standout David Bluthenthal is the designated deadeye at the SF spot.

MONTEPASCHI SIENA (Italy): The best team from Italy is a veteran bunch that reached the Euroleague quarters last year and have the goods to make another deep run this year. Led by former Clemson PG Terrel McIntyre, a Euroleague 1st-Team selection last year. The 5-9 McIntyre is a terror in the pick/roll where he's a multi-threat danger to pull-up from anywhere or get to the rim.

This team should have little trouble producing points on the perimeter with David Hawkins, Nikos Zisis, Romain Sato and Henry Domercant surrounding McIntyre. Zisis is a Greek Nat'l team stalwart with a nice mid-range jumper. SG Henry Domercant can stick jumpers all over the court. The former Xavier star Sato can be a menace defensively and on the boards thanks to his athleticism and long arms.

Veteran forward Shaun Stonerook (Ohio St.) is basically the Euroleague version of Anderson Varejao. Stonerook brings constant energy on both ends and is a pesky defender who's often a top-notch steal merchant. 6-11 Ksystof Lavrinovic provides Siena with a floor-spreading center who can also rebound and block some shots. 6-10 Ben Eze provides an athletic defender to the mix.

Actually, this team has the potential to cause a boatload of TOs with McIntyre, Sato and Hawkins adept at piling up steals. An experience cast that plays hard on both ends of the floor.

Tier III (Should see these teams in the Top 16 round):

Another solid Italian roster filled with reliable vets. Milano looks to be stocked on the perimeter. Former Oklahoma standout Hollis Price ably runs the offense and is a reliable deep shooter. Massimo Bulleri is past his prime but can still be valuable reserve behind Price. Milano acquired Alex Acker in the off-season to bolster the guard rotation. Marco Mordente is a veteran combo guard who can drill coming off screens and will do a little ball-handling.

Combo Forward Mike Hall has a nice all-around game and can get streaky from the perimeter. Hall is also a sneaky rebounder on the offensive end. Milano added the athletic talents of SF Stefano Machinelli in the summer. Stefano has solid post-up ability and a good finisher, and he does have NBA potential.

The backline is well taken care of with the services of Mason Rocca and Marijonas Petravicius. Petravicius was the lone bright spot for Lithuania at the recent Eurobasket where he used his wide-body to carve out space in the paint. He's an old-school bully who draws fouls. Yes, the coaching staff usually wears jeans on sidelines, I'm assuming they ain't Wranglers.

BC KHIMKI (Russia): Second best team out of Russia with a scary tandem of physical specimens at center, Timofey Mozgov and Robertas Javtokas. The 7-0 Mozgov is an imposing interior presence at both ends of the floor. Mozgov is a pretty good athlete for his size and a very powerful finisher rolling off of screens. Strong offensive rebounder, but does have issues with fouls. All NBA fans should keep an eye on the 23 year old Mozgov since any team can grab him in free agency.

R. Javtokas (Spurs property) ain't much good on the offensive end (besides dunks), but he's a capable rebounder and a strong defensive presence thanks to his strength and athleticism. 6-9 PF Paulius Jankunas adds another strong body up front who will rebound hard and defend.

Keith Langford (Kansas) should be the primary scoring option for Khimki. The explosive SG is comes to Euroleague play after a successful NBDL stint. SF Kelly McCarty is coming off a solid Eurobasket performance where he led Russia with 12.5 ppg & 5.5 rpg. McCarty can score on pull-ups, rebounds well for a wing and is a solid all-around defender. Wing Vitali Fridzon will be called upon to knock down jumpers. Coach Sergio Scariolo will turn to two veteran Spanish PGs, Carlos Cabezas & Raul Lopez, to run the team.

CIBONA (Croatia): Might be the shakiest of possible Top 16 participants and don't have much on Zalgiris in Group A. Jamont Gordon should dominate the ball and will use his speed to attack the paint, but not much of a shooter. Marko Tomas had to sit out the Eurobasket but he's back to provide Cibona with a multi-dimensional threat on the wings. The 6-7 Tomas is a deft shooter who has underrated athleticism he puts to good use to sneak to the rim and play solid defense. 6-7 SF Bojan Bogdanovic is a promising 20 year old who replicates much of what Tomas brings to the floor. 7-0 Daligor Bagaric is a hulking presence in the lane for Cibona.

LOTTOMATICA ROMA (Italy): A rather deep ballclub that should make a return trip to the Top 16 stage. PF Andre Hutson is a strong interior presence who Lotto will turn to for some interior scoring and tough board work. Forward Angelo Gigli is a wiry 6-11 athlete that will crash glass, runs the floor, finish well and change shots on the defensive end.

Ibrahim Jaaberis a quality European floor general. Jaaber is an erratic shooter, but can provide stout defense. Jacopo Giachetti and Luka Vitali will also see minutes at PG. Luigi Datome is one of the better young prospects in Europe and his shooting ability attached to a wiry 6-8 frame makes him enticing. Former Alabama standout Kennedy Winston will see time on the wings next to Datome.

PARTIZAN (Serbia): This squad does not project to be as good as last year with the loss of Milenko Tepic and Novica Velickovic. Probably should make the Top 16 portion but making the quarters again is a longshot. NBA fans should keep an eye on 6-11 Jan Vesely, a legit NBA draft prospect. The 19 year old Czech is a terrific athlete who can attack the rim

Besides Vesely, Partizan has other servicable size in the form of 6-11 former Nebraska standout Aleks Maric and 7-6 Slavko Vranes. Maric is adept at scoring in the paint and Vranes can be factor near the basket on both ends just because of his massive frame. Former NBA journeyman Milt Palacio is expected to be the primary playmaker.

UNICAJA (Spain): Quality Spanish club with a nice mix of experience and youth. Unicaja signed Taquen Dean to fill the scoring void at SG left by Thomas Kelati's departure. Dean was the 4th-best scoring in the ACB last season and loves to jack up jumpers. Former St. John's PG Omar Cook is a classic pass-first point who should rack up assists feeding the ball to the sharpshooting Dean.

The frontline is bolstered by a pair of Brits, Joel Freeland and Robert Archibald. Rob Archibald can score around the rim and is a sneaky driver when faced up 12-15 feet away. Portland Blazer property Joel Freeland likes to float out for his soft jumper, and use his mobility to change some shots. Giorgios Printezis is a nice athlete who can play both forward spots. Printezis can attack off the dribble, where he loves to finish with his left hand. Makes quick, decisive moves all the time & goes hard to the glass. Veteran wings Carlos Jimenez and Jiri Welsch provide adroit defense and smart floor games.

Tier IV (Teams that should not make it out of the first stage of the regular season):

Liking this team as a sleeper team that could sneak into the Top 16 if Milano or Khimki falter in the first stage. Great athleticism across the board. Great one-two punch in the backcourt with Daniel Ewing and David Logan. The 6-1 Logan is one of the best scorers in Europe with the ability to shoot off the bounce or get to the rim. Qyntel Woods adds more athleticism on the wings. Jan Jagla joins this top Polish club and provides an active 7-footer who crashes the glass. Former Raptor center Pape Sow causes problems in the interior thanks to his length and crazy hops.

ASVEL VILLEURBANNE (France): A quality frontcourt Led by former Stanford center Curtis Borchardt and French Nat'l team reserve big Ali Traore. Lithuanian guard Mindaugas Lukauskis is an athletic finisher who also is a quality shooter. Bobby Dixon will play alongside Lukauskis in the backcourt. French Nat'l Coach Vince Collet will have his hands full trying to advance to the Top 16.

EWE BASKETS (Germany): Unfortunately placed in the toughest group where they have close to no shot of advancing. Led by some familiar NCAA names like Jason Gardner, Ricky Paulding, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and Josh Carter.

LIETUVOS RYTAS (Lithuania): Little chance of advancing out of Group B. Quality backcourt with Bojan Popovic and Arturas Jomantas. Former Wash. State bruiser Aron Baynes adds a nasty dispositon in the painted area.

MAROUSSI (Greece): Placed in a tough Group C where they will have to vault over Lotto Roma. PG Billy Keys is the leader of this underrated Greek club. Kostas Kaimakoglu is an active body at the forward spot. Canadian PF Levon Kendall adds toughness up front.

ORLEANAISE (France): Probably the weakest team in the competiton, little hope of Top 16 action.

UNION OLIMPIJA (Slovenia): Do have a decent chance at advancing to the Top 16 if Lotto Roma trips up. A great collection of shooters with Matt Walsh (Fla Gators), Uros Slokar (ex-Raptors), Sani Becirovic, Saso Ozbolt and Nemanja Alexsandrov all having deep range.

ZALGIRIS (Lithuania): Are closely matched with Cibona in Group A and have a great shot at the Top 16. Backcourt led by 6-5 PG Mantas Kalnietis and SG Marcus Brown. Brown is the primary scoring option while Kalnietis is an athletic playmaker. Travis Watson and Mirza Begic provide solid play on the frontline.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009-10 NBA Win Over/Under Predictions

OK folks, it's time for the annual October favorite here at The Painted Area, as we offer our predictions for picking NBA regular-season win over/unders.

2008-09 was a good season for us in terms of O/U predictions - we were 5-2, and strangely, almost every prediction, win or lose, was decided well before the end of season.

Usually these things are within a few games of the line, but each of our picks was right or wrong by at least 10 games, other than Knicks over 31.5, which went down to the final game of the season in a win over the Nets which was memorable only to those of us who made that pick.

For the record, here is our overall record for the three years we've been publishing our picks:
    Season  TPA  
    06-07 6-1
    07-08 3-4
    08-09 5-2
    Total 14-7
First, let's go straight to the data. What we've done below is:As always, these are for entertainment purposes only.
    (O/U Line - JH/KP/KD - '08-09)
    CLE 61.5 - 63/59/65 - 66
    ORL 57.5 - 62/58/64 - 59
    BOS 56.5 - 54/50/56 - 62
    ATL 44.5 - 44/39/43 - 47
    DET 41.5 - 39/33/40 - 39
    TOR 41.5 - 35/32/40 - 33
    WAS 41.5 - 41/35/43 - 19
    PHI 40.5 - 42/41/43 - 41
    CHI 40.5 - 38/34/41 - 41
    MIA 40.5 - 40/36/42 - 43
    CHA 37.5 - 29/33/19 - 35
    IND 34.5 - 31/27/33 - 36
    NYK 31.5 - 26/36/30 - 32
    NJN 28.5 - 24/28/24 - 34
    MIL 25.5 - 25/34/35 - 34

    (O/U Line - JH/KP/KD - '08-09)
    LAL 62.5 - 65/54/64 - 65
    SAS 54.5 - 53/52/57 - 54
    POR 52.5 - 55/51/55 - 54
    DEN 52.5 - 52/50/51 - 54
    UTH 49.5 - 50/49/49 - 48
    DAL 48.5 - 47/49/52 - 50
    NOH 46.5 - 51/52/50 - 49
    PHX 41.5 - 40/41/39 - 46
    HOU 35.5 - 37/37/37 - 53
    OKC 35.5 - 36/33/29 - 23
    GSW 35.5 - 35/41/25 - 29
    LAC 34.5 - 34/41/33 - 19
    MEM 27.5 - 27/45/27 - 24
    MIN 25.5 - 33/32/31 - 24
    SAC 24.5 - 22/21/12 - 17

Amazing that six teams in the East are all set at either 40.5 or 41.5, but it seems fair. If you have a handle on tabbing 5-10 in the East this season, you're a better person than I. Needless to say, we're not touching any of those teams.


OK, without further ado, here are our favorites for 2009-10:
  • MIN Over 25.5
  • MIL Over 25.5
  • ORL Over 57.5
  • POR Over 52.5
  • GSW Under 35.5
Here's our rationale on the team picks:
MIN OVER 25.5 (24 last season)
At first blush, we loved this line for Minnesota, and the numbers analysis from both Hollinger and Pelton backed up our gut. We've tempered our feelings slightly both because of reports that Al Jefferson still has a way to go to get to 100%, and because of the broken hand recently suffered by Kevin Love.

We're sticking with this pick, though, because the beauty of it is that the bar is *so* low - just 26 wins, and just a 2-game improvement for a team that lost Jefferson for 32 games, and played pretty well when they were all together for Kevin McHale in the middle of the season, including a 12-4 stretch around the New Year.

Yes, they lost a couple good vets in Randy Foye and Mike Miller, but we love the value of the Ramon Sessions signing, especially considering what they had at the point last year, and we like Jonny Flynn's promise, even though it's unclear if he can play alongside Sessions.

Believe us, there's plenty that concerns us about this team in general - frontcourt defense and depth, production on the wings, how Sessions and Flynn play together - but again, that bar is so, so low.

We think that Minny's line is artificially low because of last season's injuries (in our opinion, they were closer to a 34-win team in terms of talent than 24), and because they received so much bad press in the summer due to the Ricky Rubio saga, which shouldn't really affect the 2009-10 edition of this team in any way, especially after they signed Sessions.

MIL OVER 25.5 (34 last season)
Do we think that Milwaukee got worse in terms of talent over the offseason? No question. They lost their three leading scorers (total points) - Ramon Sessions, Richard Jefferson, and Charlie Villanueva - without picking up any marquee names. Why do we like them?

1. '08-09 injuries. Again, we don't think that, in terms of talent, we're starting with a 34-win team from last season. Remember that Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut missed 95 games combined, and we believe this was closer to a .500 team talent-wise last year. That's the way they played for the first half of the season.

2. Underrated acquisitions. The Bucks didn't get any stars, and again, they lost talent overall, but we like the value in underrated pickups like Hakim Warrick, Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova, who developed nicely in Barcelona the last couple years. We really stuck our neck out in praise of Brandon Jennings in June. We can't say we think he's going to be a star right away as a rookie PG, but we do think he's going to be better than expected, and that he's going to improve as the year goes on. With this group of unheralded players, we think that Milwaukee lost less actual production and defense than it might seem.

3. Coach. We think that Scott Skiles, while he still has his team's ear, is one of the very best coaches in the league. He improved Milwaukee's defensive efficiency from 30th out of 30 in 2007-08 to 15th in his first season last year - a huge improvement. We think he'll have this team prepared, defending and competing every night, and again, that bar of 25.5 is just so low that we think Skiles will get the Bucks there.

ORL OVER 57.5 (59 last season)
We always need to take a deep breath before going over a number so high, but we really strongly believe that the Magic are an improved team over last season. We also believe that Orlando is on par with the Lakers and Cleveland as one of the three best teams in the league, and think that their line should be at the same level (LAL's is 62.5, CLE's is 61.5).

We think the Orlando line is relatively/comparatively low because so many people think that the Magic got worse in essentially exchanging Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, which we think is preposterous. Vince is clearly the better player.

We love this team to pile up regular-season wins because they have so much depth - they can withstand injuries as well as play big or small as needed. We also think that Stan Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the league. We thought he deserved Coach of the Year honors for turning last year's unit into the most efficient defensive team in the league. We see a 60+-win team here.

POR OVER 52.5 (54 last season)
Last season, we took Portland over 44.5 after winning 41 in 2007-08, even though Hollinger projected them for just 42. We just felt like this team wasn't going to end up getting worse, and we make this pick on a similar rationale this season.

52.5 is a high number, but the Blazers won 54 last season as the second-youngest team in the league. Further, Hollinger pointed out in his team forecast that - in terms of point differential plus the bad luck that Portland opponents shot .803 from the foul line, the highest opp. FT% in the 39 years the stat has been tracked - the Blazers actually performed like a 61-win team statistically.

We have concerns about how Andre Miller will fit, but we just can't imagine a team so young getting worse. We love team depth, which Portland certainly has, in making these regular-season predictions. On top of that, we see Greg Oden making good strides this season. We just can't imagine them not holding steady with last year's win total, at the least.

GSW UNDER 35.5 (29 last season)
This one's coming straight from the gut, as the data works against us - Golden State suffered a lot of injuries last season, they have arguably the deepest collection of under-25 talent in the league, and the Hollinger/Pelton projections average out to 38 wins.

But we think that Nellie has lost it for good, and we're predicting that it all implodes this season. We believe that this team will perform far under its talent level, though we're betting there will be entertainment value in it, as Nellie might trot out an Ellis-Curry-Morrow-Azubuike-Maggette lineup or something. The Stephen Jackson situation doesn't seem like it can possibly end well, they've already lost a promising young player (Brandan Wright) to a multi-month injury, and we're betting there will be one or two talent-depleting trades along the way.

It's a tough pick, because we think this team has more than 35-win talent on paper, for sure, but we're sticking to it. We also think that last year's crappy teams at the bottom of the West will all be better, so wins against the bottom-feeders will be harder to come by.

Here are the teams which are at least five games over or under the line in John Hollinger's projections:

TOR - Under 41.5 (35)
CHA - Under 37.5 (29)
NYK - Under 31.5 (26)
MIN - Over 25.5 (33)

Here are the five teams which are the most games over or under the line based on Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projections in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10:

TOR - Under 41.5 (32)
DET - Under 41.5 (33)
MIL - Over 25.5 (34)
MEM - Over 27 (45)
LAL - Under 62.5 (54)

Going under on the Raptors is where the statistical projections from these two esteemed gentlemen seem most in concert. However, in his Raptors preview, Hollinger notes that, "[A]lmost nothing they do this year would surprise me.... if they win 50 games, it won't be shocking, and if they win only 25, that won't raise eyebrows, either." We tend to agree, so we're giving them the "Stay Away" tag.

Other teams for which Hollinger/Pelton are most in agreement are over on the Timberwolves, over on the Hornets and under on the Bobcats.

Here are the teams which are at least five games over or under the line in Kelly Dwyer's projections:
MIN - Over 25.5 (31)
MIL - Over 25.5 (35)
CHA - Under 37.5 (19)
ORL - Over 57.5 (64)
OKC - Under 35.5 (29)
GSW - Under 35.5 (25)
SAC - Under 24.5 (12)

Last year, Hollinger's teams to watch ended up 3-2, while Dwyer's were 4-4 (Pelton's were not tracked).

One random note: seems to us that the Rockets are one of the toughest teams to predict this season, so we were amused to see that Hollinger, Pelton and Dwyer all tabbed Houston for exactly 37 wins!

Something we're keeping an eye on again is the research by Roland Beech of 82games.com which showed that preseason records may have predictive value for regular-season records.

Specifically, Beech found that teams which win less than 30 games one season and then have a winning record the following preseason tend to see substantial improvement.

So far this is based on a small sample size, so these are fairly rough generalizations. The team which best satisfied the criteria last season, Minnesota, was a bust, improving by just 2 wins. Of course, as noted above, the T-wolves struggled after Al Jefferson went down with a torn ACL, which likely prevented them from having something closer to a 10-win improvement.

In the 2009-10 preseason, the only team which fit the qualification was the L.A. Clippers, who went 6-2. However, big improvements are expected by many for LAC, so it doesn't help much from an O/U perspective, as those expectations are reflected in the lines (and the late news that Blake Griffin will miss six weeks clouds the picture further).

We'll check back after the season to see how everyone did. Finally: Remember, this is not a competition, it is only an exhibition - please, no wagering.