The Give and Go
From: Justin Phan
Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 3:36 PM
To: Charlie Zegers
Maybe the cream is finally rising to the top after all. Three of the prohibitive favorites to win the NBA Championship entering this season are in the midst of big win streaks at the moment -- the Lakers have won their last seven games; the Celtics and Spurs have both won their last five. While we've become accustomed to seeing a high standard of play from the Lakers and Celtics this year, it was the Spurs who really sputtered out of the gate with a 4-6 start. Sure, the lot of opponents they've beaten have been below-average, but an average scoring margin of +13.2 is stellar no matter who you're playing. Defense has been the difference here as their opponents have averaged just 91.8 points during this five-game stretch. This has pushed this from a distant 19th in defensive efficiency (through 12 games) to a respectable 12th (through 15). With Manu back in the lineup things are definitely looking up. Are they ready to beat Boston on Thursday though? Probably not, but I suspect they'll at least keep it close.
Turning our attention to teams on the downswing, three immediately come to mind. The Bulls have dropped their past five games, the Raptors their last four, and the 76ers their past seven. The Bulls could REALLY use Tyrus Thomas about now. They've gotten killed in the paint during this five-game stretch, allowing an average of 52.8 points in the paint to their opponents while scoring just 38.4. Bet they're psyched to finally be home on Wednesday after a brutal six-game road trip. The Raptors' losses to Boston, Phoenix, and Washington are understandable, but a 35-point rout at the hands of Charlotte? Unacceptable. To make matters worse they were only down by six points at halftime. Are the Raptors even a playoff team this year? And where do you think they have gone awry?
I can't kick this off without mentioning the Allen Iverson signing. After dropping seven straight the 76ers stand at a dismal 5-13, 13th in the Eastern Conference. With the level of play being at the lowest of lows and with Lou Williams out for another seven weeks, there really isn't much to lose by signing AI to a non-guaranteed contract. Will the short-term payoff be worth the possible long-term negatives? Can he coexist with Lou Williams when he returns from an injury? Are they a playoff-caliber team? Class is in session.
From: Charlie Zegers
To: Justin Phan
Sent: Wed, December 2, 2009 1:51:29 PM
Subject: RE: Streaking
I'm not worried about the Celtics in the regular season. The Atlantic Division is so weak, I'd pick my intramural team from Fordham as a solid third. And all the guys on that team - myself included - are on the wrong side of 35 now.
Sort of like the Celtics.
Boston will moon-walk to a top-three seed in the East. (Fun fact: Boston -- at 14-4 -- has just two fewer wins than Toronto (7), Philly (5), New York (4) and New Jersey (0) combined.)
The Spurs don't have that same luxury - Dallas is decent and Houston is pesky. But they're tremendously talented, and when healthy have the ability to wipe the floor with just about anyone. If they get into the playoffs with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili at full strength, they'd still be the most logical pick to knock off the Lakers. Richard Jefferson has got to start playing better, though. Is he a better player than he's shown, or is he still living off the reputation he developed by converting easy feeds from J-Kidd? I've always thought of him as somewhat overrated.
The Raptors, I think, are learning that Andrea Bargnani is exactly the wrong type of player to pair with Chris Bosh. Both of those guys need to be paired with an old-school banger - on both ends of the court. Together, they make the team too soft on defense and too one-dimensional on offense. Not sure how they fix it, other than to suggest that they replace Bosh - because Bosh signing elsewhere is inevitable at this point - with a more physical presence and stop pretending that Bargnani is a center.
Are they a playoff team? If they squeak in it's only because the bottom half of the East is a joke right now. Orlando, Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta and Miami are locks. Right now Milwaukee (at 9-7) would be the six seed and Charlotte and Chicago - with losing records - would be seven and eight. I wouldn't be totally shocked to see any team - well, except the Nets - squeak into the last two spots. Right now the Knicks, with just four wins, are only 3.5 games out of the eight seed.
The Bulls' biggest problem is Derrick Rose. What's up with him? Sophomore jinx? The whole Memphis investigation weighing on him? Is he hurt - or hurt worse than he's letting on? He's finally starting to show glimpses of the player I thought he'd be this year. Same goes for John Salmons - he's been a big disappointment so far. On paper, Chicago is probably the East's six seed - at worst -- but they haven't played like it. Is Vinny Del Negro the problem?
As for the Sixers - hell, a one-year non-guaranteed contract is about as little risk as you can take in the NBA. (I don't think AI would have signed a ten-day deal.) If he doesn't play well, they can cut him. I don't think the Sixers would even take much of a PR hit for it - most of the Sixer fans I've spoken to seem to dread the return of AI.
If I was Eddie Jordan, I'd try to use Iverson alongside Jrue Holiday as much as is reasonably possible, so that when Williams comes back he can just slot in to Holiday's role.
From: Justin Phan
To: Charlie Zegers
Sent: Thu, December 3, 2009 9:52:16 AM
Subject: Re: Streaking
Jefferson has been inconsistent for a large part of his career. He was most valuable to his team back in the 2005-2006 season, which may come as a surprise considering he only averaged 11.8 shot attempts per game compared to the 15 he averaged the year before. When it comes down to it his offensive game relies on three things: efficiency, effort on the glass, and drawing fouls. And so you can tell how it can be hard to make any sort of conclusive statement about a guy who has ranged from 42.2 percent shooting to 50.1 percent, from a rebound rate of 10.7 percent to 6.2 percent, and from 7.6 free throw attempts to 5. Jefferson has done a good job distributing the ball and has been decent on the glass, but he isn't getting to the line at a high rate anymore and his three-point percentage is way down. On the defensive side I think it's safe to say that he's getting progressively worse. His defensive rating over the past five seasons is as follows -- 104, 109, 112, 110, 108. Here is where the Spurs will definitely miss Bruce Bowen the most. Finding a guy to D up a guy like LeBron is going to be an immense challenge for this squad.
With Derrick Rose I definitely think he's hurting more than he is leading us to believe. I thought the Bulls rushed him back sooner than they should have, because if you recall, his status for the opener was in serious doubt just a day before. It's not like his numbers have slipped a ton -- his scoring average is on point (per-36) and his shooting averages are better than they were last year (mainly his FT%). The rebounding, passing, and ball handling are what is getting him in trouble.
Judging from the raw emotion that Allen Iverson displayed during the press conference on Thursday, I am more willing to admit that the AI signing is a beneficial one for this squad both short and long term. I think he has finally hit rock bottom as a basketball player after he realized that he had done so much damage to his image that no one really wanted him. It's tough to buy that a guy that is third all-time in usage rate can put his ego aside and play in the context and structure of a team atmosphere, but I can't help but root for the guy. The Iverson signing is an interesting one for sure though as he would appear to be the antithesis of the Princeton offense-type, an offense predicated on balance and ball distribution. Will the player come to define the system, or will the system define the player? Only time will tell. Your guess is as good as mine at this point.
From: Charlie Zegers
To: Justin Phan
Sent: Fri, December 4, 2009 9:45:31 AM
Subject: RE: Streaking
As it turns out, the Spurs weren't quite ready to beat the Celtics. But Ginobili -- 4-12 from the floor, just 18 minutes -- clearly isn't himself yet. That matchup plays out very differently if San Antonio is 100 percent healthy -- but that's something we haven't seen much this year.
You're right that Iverson isn't a prototype Princeton offense guy… but then, neither is Gilbert Arenas (who ran it for Eddie Jordan in Washington) or Mike Bibby (with Sacramento). I'd like to think that Jordan is a good enough coach to adjust his sets to the talent he has on the roster.
Of course, that idea made more sense when we were talking about Elton Brand - a guy who will be with the team for a while. If AI can't play within the system and do the things Jordan wants him to do, the Sixers can cut him loose without any long-term roster implications. I will say, though - I misjudged how popular the signing would be. According to one report, the Sixers sold more single-game tickets on the day AI re-signed than they did on the day those tickets went on sale. (Maybe that's where Comcast got the money to buy NBC.)
On the other hand, increased interest doesn't necessarily mean people have positive thoughts about a team. Darren Rovell of CNBC was reporting that ratings for New Jersey Nets games have been way up for the last two weeks - which seems to indicate people wanted to see them set a new record for losses to start a season.
Jersey has the Bobcats and Knicks before we pick this discussion back up… if they don't get a win in one of those games, we can start comparing them to the '73 Sixers.
Article first appeared on 12/4/09