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NBA@2: Mediocrity Reigns Supreme In The East
Posted By Bill Ingram On May 2, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
If you have been doing what I have been doing over the last couple of days, switching from NBA playoff game to NBA playoff game to the exclusion of all else, you may have come to the same conclusion that I have.
The Eastern Conference really stinks.
First of all, I get that Derrick Rose is an important part of the Chicago Bulls’ attack. No question about that. But why, oh why, do the Bulls, the Eastern Conference’s top team this season, even when playing without Rose, allow the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers to come onto their court and shoot 59 percent from the field? We’re talking about a Sixers team that barely made the playoffs, and would not have if there was any other team in the East that was even remotely interested in postseason play. Keep in mind, Rose or no Rose, the Bulls were 34 games over .500 this season, while the Sixers won just four more games than they lost. Oh, and also there’s the fact that Scottie Pippen anointed the Bulls the best team in basketball even without Rose. Surely that has to count for something, right? Yet All-Star forward Luol Deng turns in a 3-for-12 night when he should have been carrying his team and C.J. Watson makes Jrue Holiday look like the second coming of John Stockton.
Mediocrity at play.
And what about the Atlanta Hawks? How many starters do the Boston Celtics have to sit for the Hawks to take them seriously? Jermaine O’Neal is done for the season, Ray Allen was out with an injury and Rajon Rondo was suspended for Game Two. The Hawks should have blown the Celtics right out of the building. Instead, the Hawks, who talk about being contenders, shoot 34 percent from the floor and manage just 14 points in the fourth quarter to yield home court advantage to the most battered and bruised team in the field of postseason teams. Josh Smith, who has been playing like an MVP candidate for much of the second half of the season, goes 8-for-21 with 16 points before spraining his knee, the six-billion-dollar man Joe Johnson manages just 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting often against defensive juggernauts like Mickael Pietrus and Marquis Daniels (?), and Rookie of the Month Ivan Johnson all but no-shows in 20 minutes of action.
How about the amazing, All-Star-laden New York Knicks? They played so poorly in the first two games of their series against the Miami HEAT that Amar’e Stoudemire punched a fire extinguisher case to avoid even suiting up for the rest of the proceedings. But that’s OK, because waiting in the wings is point guard phenom Jeremy Lin, who is sure to ride in on his white horse and save the day. Only, we’ve already seen how the HEAT treat Jeremy Lin. He scored exactly one basket, going 1-for-11 with eight turnovers before finally having to be pulled from the game in his lone regular season start against Miami. If that’s the secret back-up plan, the Knicks are in trouble.
They are also mediocre.
Indiana. The East’s third seed came into the playoffs ready to take on the Orlando Magic sans Dwight Howard, a task that seemed like a second-round playoff appearance all wrapped up with a Magic bow on top. Instead, they’re allowing Glen Davis (cough, cough) to dominate them inside and lost the first game and home court advantage in their postseason debut. They did manage to rally to beat Orlando in Game 2, but if we see any more of the Game 1 Pacers it could be the Magic, who on paper look like they would have trouble beating a good D-League team, advancing to the second round.
At this point, it seems the only question is not whether the Miami HEAT will advance to the NBA Finals, but whether they will actually lose a single game before they get there.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, we see three teams that could conceivably be in the NBA Finals, and possibly four. The Oklahoma City Thunder have had to battle right down to the last second, but are up 2-0 on the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. The San Antonio Spurs look like they’ve turned the clock back a couple of years and could be ready to get Tim Duncan one more championship ring. The Los Angeles Lakers’ big front line looks as imposing as Kobe Bryant’s dagger jump shot and the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies/Los Angeles Clippers series will certainly put up a fight in the second round.
It would be nice to see the Bulls play like a team with something to prove to a world that has written them off. It would be great to see the Pacers put the pedal to the metal and ground the Howard-less magic into the dust. The Hawks should be soaring above the Celtics, but instead they squandered a golden opportunity to go up 2-0 heading back to Boston. And New York was road kill before they lost Stoudemire, and Lin or no Lin they are already making early summer offseason plans.
I suppose it’s been common knowledge for quite some time that the East is far inferior to the West. It’s just disturbing when that fact is on blatant display at this, the most exciting time of the year for NBA fans.
Team USA Going Shopping
The rash of injuries to big-name NBA players like Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose has changed the face of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, but it also poses a problem for Team USA. Howard and Rose, in particular, are mainstays in the Olympic lineup, and now that they’re out of the picture USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo says he’s looking for a few good men.
Howard and Rose follow a number of key losses for Team USA. Chauncey Billups and LaMarcus Aldridge also suffered season-ending injuries this year, and Lamar Odom’s bizarre situation in Dallas inspired Team USA to remove him from consideration for the next iteration of the team.
While the roster is replete with forwards and guards, there is a serious lack of depth at center, which could hamper their chances of taking out teams like Spain, which feature a big front line (Pau and Marc Gasol). With that in mind, Team USA is considering Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Detroit’s Greg Monroe.
“I think we have concluded to some degree, although we’re not finished with our meetings, that we will probably add one or two players to that pool and that’s because of circumstances,” Colangelo told Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “And we are probably at this point not going to make any announcement on who that 12 will be until the very last moment as we watch the NBA games and keep our fingers crossed that no other further injuries take place.
“A lot of things have been said along the way. Equity is certainly right at the top of the list, those who have participated, paid their dues, etc. So equity is very important. No. 2, as injuries take their toll, we’ve said also that we would be fluid, there’d be additions, there’d be deletions and we need to be flexible. I think the key word today is flexibility. Flexibility on time, flexibility with names and roster sizes, etc.”
The more interesting name there might be Cousins, who could certainly benefit from some time with Mike Krzyzewski and in the Team USA environment. Some of the most immature players in the game have come out of an experience with Team USA as better, more mature people as well as players. Kings head coach Keith Smart did a great job of channeling Cousins’ energies this season, and a summer spent with Team USA might be just the thing to help him take another significant step towards being the kind of player the Kings can build around long-term.
The other healthy finalists for Team USA are as follows: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.
The Third Overall Pick Is?
If the NBA Draft Lottery goes as the odds say they should (which it rarely does), the Cleveland Cavaliers should have the third overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Assuming they actually do land the third pick, which player best fits their needs?
HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis says the best pick for the Cavaliers is Florida freshman shooting guard Bradley Beal, so let’s take a look at his game and see if it would, indeed, be a fit for what the Cavs are building.
Beal finished the 2012 NCAA season with a 77th percentile rating on the offensive end, and a specialty at scoring in transition. He was more effective against man-to-man defense as opposed to zone, which should be an issue in the NBA, where the zone is by far the less popular style of defense. Beal has a knack for getting to the offensive glass, and finished in the 93rd percentile in scoring via offensive rebounds. He ranked in the 80th percentile in isolation, 80th in transition and 97th in miscellaneous, meaning he has a way of creating points outside of set plays.
On the defensive end, Beal is a bit of a work in progress. The vast majority of the points scored against him were scored in spot-up situations, where he allowed 74 points on 73 possessions, ranking him in just the 32nd percentile among his peers. He was excellent in defending off of screens (93rd percentile), very good in post-up situations (80th), but only average against isolation plays (53rd), due at least in part to his 6’3″, 196-pound frame. He’s going to need to bulk up a bit if he’s going to contend with the plethora of big two-guards in the NBA.
The biggest area where Beal would help the Cavaliers is in transition, where they ranked 22nd in the NBA this season. He and Kyrie Irving could no doubt ignite a new brand of Cavaliers basketball, where easy baskets were more of a norm and fighting through set half-court defenses not as much of an issue. The Cavs also ranked dead last in post-up offense, another of Beal’s strengths, and they ranked 27th in offensive put-backs. Not hard to see how Beal’s skill set could help Cleveland in a number of ways.
On the defensive end, the Cavaliers a curious study. They were second in the NBA at defending against transition baskets, but dead last in half court defense. Beal’s not going to help them in two of their biggest areas of weakness – isolation and spot-up – but he can help shore up their post-up defense, where they ranked 27th in the NBA, and in defending the pick-and-roll, where the Cavs were 28th (handler) and 29th (man).
Bradley Beal is not a cure-all for the Cavaliers, nor does he need to be, but is the kind of player who can help their young core get significantly better in a number of ways. Don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers, picking in the third slot, select Florida’s shooting guard as their next core piece.
If they don’t, the Washington Wizards are said to be very interested in Beal, as well.
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