Hoops Lab 2: Tweeting first impressions
Game. On. Opening night felt like Christmas morning to me, so much so that I scrapped the "season predictions" I planned to write about today so I can focus on the game action instead. In fact, I was so excited about the start of the NBA season I did something I never thought I'd do: I opened a Twitter account (@ProfessorDrz). That's right, I'm now a Tweet-er. And it's really cool, because a lot of my basketball analysis is based on what my gut tells me from moment-to-moment as I watch a game. It's not until later, usually, that I look at the stats and see whether they support what my gut was telling me. Often, they do. So, through Twitter, now you guys can get access to my first impressions right along with me. Want some examples? OK, here are some of my tweets from watching all three games on opening night.
Rondo's going to lead the league in assists this year
Now, it's easy to look at his 17 assists and say this is a knee-jerk reaction. But the 17 assists are almost irrelevant to me - it's more how he got them. One of the unheralded aspects of the Celtics' offseason is they've closed a major offensive loophole. Kendrick Perkins, as much as he is a good defensive player, is a poor enough offensive player that opposing defenses could cheat fully off of him and partially off of Rondo (lack of jumper) and thus defend the Celtics 5-on-3.5. With the additions of the O'Neals, that's no longer the case. With offensive threats at all five slots, opposing defenses will have to play the Celtics straight up for the most part, which means a lot of easier shots. And the man with the ball in his hands on 90 percent of the possessions is Rondo. It was already impossible to keep him out of the lane with one defender, and now he has high quality finishers from every angle. Rondo could end up averaging 12–13 assists per game this year.
The Heat will be scary when Wade gets in the groove
Some teams are great because their talented players have a synergy. They play well off of each other's strengths and weaknesses, forming a whole that's stronger than the parts. The Lakers and Celtics of the past few years have both been like that. This Heat team? Not so much. They look to be in the 2001 Shaq/Kobe Lakers model of multiple overwhelming individual talents coming together and just bludgeoning their opponents. I see a lot of iso sets, where LeBron James or Dwyane Wade attack the defense off the dribble, perhaps getting a high screen before they hit the paint. Where they will make each other better is that opposing defenses usually could use all of their resources to defend any one guy. But when Wade and LeBron are both in the groove, defenses will have to respect the other so much that the one with the ball has an advantage. There were times last night when the Celtics simply couldn't stop LeBron. When Wade joins him fully, I feel sorry for opposing defenses. This also validates James and Wade both as top-5 fantasy picks, because this won't be a Celtics-like case of each sacrificing numbers for the team. Instead, it'll be a case where both of them will get their shots and numbers on a pretty much nightly basis by taking turns. I'm not sure what this means for Chris Bosh and his shots, but Wade and LeBron will both get theirs.
Opposing power forwards are going to put up great stats against Phoenix this year. Turkoglu can't defend the position.
Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge finished with only eight points and nine rebounds against the Suns, so this is one you'll just have to trust me on: he was absolutely having his way with Hedo Turkoglu. The announcers were all over this, as Aldridge was pushing Turkoglu all over the court. He was able to establish whatever post position he wanted, box him out at will for rebounds, and pretty much do what he wanted. Instead of it showing up in Aldridge's individual numbers last night, it showed up with the Blazers owning the paint as a team (outrebounded Phoenix 48 – 30). But as long as Turkoglu starts this won't change: any opponent that scores from the paint and/or crashes the glass will have a very good game against the Suns.
Batum looks good for Portland. Very active on glass and loose balls, knocking down the three.
I picked Batum to be a sleeper candidate this offseason when I looked hard at his great per-minute stats, and then realized that he would be starting and therefore seeing more minutes this season. But after he had a slow preseason, I had some doubts. It only took a few minutes of watching him in the opener, though, to make me more confident again. I tweeted the above in the first quarter, actually before Batum had even made a three. But he was so visibly active, he was always around the ball, and he was getting good shots that he just missed early. I'm not going to predict him to be a 19/11 guy with three treys every night (a lot of that was helped by Steve Nash's defense and Turkoglu's short-comings as a paint defender), but he's clearly an important part of the Portland attack and should give good production for where he was drafted.
Jason Richardson is going to score a lot this year. He's taking Amare's place as the main finisher. He and Nash are only offense on team.
The Suns offense last night looked very one-dimensional. They have no inside presence at all, and as yet Turkoglu doesn't seem to have recaptured his Orlando...er, magic. But with their offensive sets and Nash running the point guard, they are going to score a lot of points. Those points will have to come from somewhere, and it sure looks like they'll be coming from Richardson. Richardson had 22 points, the other three non-Nash starters combined for 15. This story will be played out a lot this season. And on a side note, I look for Hakim Warrick to possibly become an offensive factor and earn more minutes because he's the closest thing they have on the team to an athletic big-man finisher (unless Earl Clark stops getting DNP-CDs).
Rockets backcourt is lethal. Martin and Brooks are legit, and will dominate Rockets offense. Scola and Yao battling to be 3rd option.
Two years ago the Rockets offense was inside-out, with Yao Ming as the focal point and everyone else playing around him. Even with Yao "back" for 24 minutes a night, that's no longer the case. Now, the offense runs through Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks. They will be the first and second leading scorers on the team this year, with Scola beating out Yao as the third option by dint of playing more minutes. Scola also is rugged on the glass and a good passer, so he will justify my ranking him as a value pick, but Martin and Brooks are plans A and B for the Rockets offense.
Pau Gasol will take the superstar leap this season, posting the best numbers of his career. Kobe Bryant's knee-induced "slow start" will prove to be a myth, as he will recover quickly to try to quiet all the talk about LeBron and Durant.
I didn't tweet that one, but I wrote it yesterday afternoon in the yearly predictions that I had planned to put in this space. And after watching the game it's even more apparent. The Lakers ran a lot of their offense through Gasol last night, and when they did good things happened. The Lakers will be "Kobe's team" for as long as he's on it, but Gasol has moved out of the "second option" slot and is a legitimate franchise guy (with associated franchise big man numbers). Meanwhile, despite all the talk about his sore knee, Kobe began the year with a bang. And I don't imagine he'll be slowing up any time soon.
Around the League
Stephen Curry (ankle): Stephen Curry has been considered day-to-day with a sprained ankle (lots of those going around), but he has been running after practice and has been quoted (in a Tweet) saying that he is playing in the opener. Sounds like he's fine.
Stephen Jackson tweaks ankle in practice: Jackson injured the ankle on Tuesday, but he's still expected to start and play his full share of minutes in the opener.
Marc Gasol's grade 2 ankle sprain: Gasol's sprained ankle has kept him out of practice, and now has kept him out of the season opener. Gasol is a risky play for the rest of the week, so keep an eye on him to determine whether he will be start-worthy in week two.
Gilbert Arenas (strained ankle tendon): Arenas will miss at least the first two games of the season with the injury, and considering that he was in a walking boot as of Wednesday he could be out even longer.
Anthony Randolph's ankle: Randolph was on crutches as of Wednesday due to a sprained ankle, and is expected to be out for at least a week. He probably won't be safe to play in weekly leagues until Week 3, at the earliest.
Wes Matthews to play some point guard: Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said that Matthews is likely to play some point guard after the team dealt Jerryd Bayless last week. This means Matthews should get more playing time, as now he can back up both wing slots as well as the point guard. He played 30 minutes in the opener, more than all of the perimeter players except Brandon Roy, so it appears he'll play enough to be roster-worthy.
Oden scrimmaging, Bynum ahead of schedule: Greg Oden (knee) is back to participating in 5-on-5 drills with the Trail Blazers, and the team is eyeing a late-November return for him. Andrew Bynum (knee) is running on a treadmill now, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson has suggested he could be back around Thanksgiving. I have taken to calling Oden and Bynum the Fragile Twins because they seem to be injured so often, but I'll tell you this: I have one, the other or both on just about all of my fantasy teams. They still have top-3 center potential, and each could be fantasy impact centers - if they can stay healthy.
O'Neal starting in Boston, Baby getting the minutes: The expectation this offseason was that Jermaine O'Neal would be the starting center for the Celtics to start the season, but his injury-filled preseason mixed with Shaquille O'Neal's good play earned Shaq the starting slot. The real winner in all of this seems to be Glen Davis, though, since he was the first player off the bench and played 29 minutes to only 31 combined from the two O'Neals.
Timberwolves backcourt: Reports are that Wayne Ellington may be the starting SG in Minnesota to start the season. Ellington was unimpressive this summer when I watched him at the Las Vegas summer league, but he had a strong preseason and won the job over Corey Brewer. Wesley Johnson (hamstring) looks likely to come off the bench Wednesday night and starting point guard Jonny Flynn is recovering well from hip surgery. Flynn has been cleared for light practice, will resume full activity next week, and appears on pace to be back within the month.
Ty Lawson: Lawson is still backing up Chauncey Billups in Denver, but he had an outstanding preseason and is clearly ready for his opportunity. With rumors that Carmelo Anthony could eventually be traded, one has to wonder if Billups could also go this year. If so, Lawson could explode. He's definitely worth a roster spot. A commenter in one of my other articles suggested Aaron Afflalo is another potential sleeper from the Nuggets. Keep an eye on Afflalo as well.
Amir Johnson: A couple of years ago I looked at some of the advanced per-minute stats like PER or Wins Produced, and used those to find future stars that at the time weren't playing many minutes. Carl Landry was one of the players that measured out well per-minute, so it wasn't a surprise to me when he blew up last season with more floor time. Well, Amir Johnson was another one that the per-minute stats suggested had game. Now, with Chris Bosh gone, Johnson is finally getting his opportunity in Toronto. His strong preseason may have won him the starting job, and if so he might just break out.
Austin Daye: The Pistons have always been high on Daye, even after his relatively pedestrian rookie season last year. But there were approximately 29 perimeter players on the Pistons, which seemed to limit Daye's potential minutes. Well, the Pistons have gotten around that by naming the lanky 6-11 forward their starting power forward. He'll be a stretch four, a versatile three-point threat, and now that he's getting minutes is worth taking a flyer on.
Keeping up with the Professor
As I said above, I have joined Twitter nation. If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter at ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.