True Hoops

True Hoops

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's here!

Is it already time for a new season?
Is it?!?
Wow, how time flies!

It seems like just the other day we saw LeBron and co. beating the Spurs in Miami at the end of a Finals for the ages. Are we ready for more???

I suppose a lot has transpired since then. And I've actually learned a lot in the off-season.

For instance, I learned how the other half lives (and recovers).
        How do you recover from an achilles tear in record speed? Well one of these might help:

But I guess these things can be useful even when you're not recovering from an injury:

Nice mask.
So where do they get those? And how much do you think they cost?

Glad to see Kobe and LeBron are still linked together, even if the transition of best player in the league has finally been completed.

But speaking of the best, and learning from them, did you get a chance to read their respective recent interviews? I mean, these pieces in ESPN (LeBron) and Sports Illustrated (Kobe) have to be two of the best that I've read in recent memory. They were so informative!    

My favorite from the Kobe Piece, at the very end:
Kobe's Daughter lost a soccer game and "She cried afterward. Standing on the sideline, Bryant studied her, pained but proud. 'Hey,' he told her, after the tears dried. 'You want to see daddy cry?' He took her home and fished out the DVD from game 6 of the 2008 Finals. They sat together and watched the Lakers get mortified in Boston. Then he popped in the Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, and they marinated in the vindication."
And my absolute favorite form the LeBron Piece, in response to this question:
"When people think about the Killer instinct, they always think of MJ and Kobe. People say you have it but not like those two. Do you think you have it like they do?"
"Ahh. I'll just put it this way, man. There are different ways to hunt......look at all these animals in the wild. And they all hunt a different way to feed their families. They all kill a different way. Everybody wants everybody to kill like MJ or kill like Kobe. Magic didn't kill the same way. Kareem didn't either......The same with Bird......TimDuncan. I'm telling you. There are different ways of killing."

And while we're speaking of different, here is something Kobe would never do:

 Oh no! Not the Dungeon!.

But don't worry, LeBron does more than just workout in a fiery basement.
He's also the Rocky Balboa of Miami:

For real though, this video is crazy inspiring!

Although, I don't think LeBron's training videos would inspire Kobe......
But perhaps his ranking on ESPN will:

Yikes! Kobe Bryant ranked 25th best player in the league?!?
I know the dude is in the Twilight of his career. But 25th? really?

Kind of stinks for the Lakers. Losing Dwight and now this.
What are they ever going to do to compete for a championship again?

Well, maybe they can recruit the 15th best player in the league:

I guess ESPN isn't big on shoot first, shoot second NBA gunslingers.

Hey Kevin Durant, what have we learned about all this media ranking?

Thanks for the clarification!

But speaking of Twitter and ranking shooting guards, I think I finally learned what twitter beef is!
Oh Joy!

If you didn't hear, in Sport's Illustrated's NBA player rankings, James Harden was left out of the top 10. Shocked and dismayed by this egregious slap in the face of his former running mate, Kevin Durant responded by saying Harden should be in the top 10......and he would replace Dwyane Wade to put him there. 


Way to call a guy out Kevin. I know the man gives you nightmares and all, but dang. 
The following twitter congo/beef ensued:

So that's beef.
But when did the NBA become the WWF?
(Actually, some might say a long time ago).

Here's a question for you, which games do you think will be more exciting:
Miami vs OKC, January 29th & February 20th?
Miami vs Houston, March 4th & march 16th?

But back to ESPN for a second, they have Kevin Durant ranked #2 in the league, followed by James Harden at #4, and Russell Westbrook at #5.

So, you mean OKC currently has 2 of the top 5 players in the NBA......and they used to have 3 of the top 5 players??? Wow, already year removed and that James Harden trade is still getting worse.

But what continues to look better and better?
How about True Hoops NY's very own Point Guard Project?
You know, that thing where we interview as many point guards in the NBA as possible and ask them the same 6 questions to see how their responses are similar and/or different
Would you be surprised to hear that ESPN ranked 5 point guards in their top 10?!?
8 in their top 25?!?
For a position that accounts for 20% of player on the floor, having a 50% representation in the ten best players in the league (~33% of the best 25) seems like a statistically significant over-representation. Don't you think? I guess this really is a point guard's league!

And among one of those PGs in the top ten, is this guy:

At 22.5 points a game (on 45% shooting) to go along with 5.9 assists in year two of his career, why wouldn't you have Kyrie Irving as the face of your video game? And why not alter his eyes and brow to make him seem like bad assassin? Forget the 2K LeBron current reign approach. As NBA live says:
Nothing But Next!

And with Irving as their poster child, NBA live was kind enough to provide a preview of their game:

Wait......that was real life?
Holy schnikies.

Who does this guy think he is, Chris Paul?

Well it's good to know he can dance on the court. But I also learned that Kyrie can dance off the court as well:

We need to get this guy on the PGP!

Alright. A lot has gone on in the off-season.
So what can we look forward to now that we're about to start up again?

Guess who's back?
Question: Which one of these guys will return closest to form?
Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, or Kevin Love?

My, that's a lot of fire power that went down lsat year.
But probably a better question is, whose return is going to matter most?
Oddly enough, the Lakers and Celtics will probably be battling for lottery positions this year.
So, with that I'll say that Rose's return will have the biggest impact, but Westbrook's return will be the most important.

 Breakout teams
There have been teams on the fridges of the playoffs for the past several years. But by my estimates, three have a chance to make significant improvement this season:

Cleveland Cavs
As noted above, Irving is already a star. Now he just needs to remain healthy (52 games missed in his first two years) But look at their roster:

Kyrie Irving - star, 22 years old, #1 pick overall
Tristan Thompson - 3rd year, 22 years old, #4 pick overall, 12 points & 9 rebounds a game.
Dion Waiters - 2nd year, 21 years old, #4 pick overall, 15 points & 3 assists a game.
Anthony Bennet - rookie, 20 years old, #1 pick overall
Andrew Bynum - 8th year, 26 years old, 19 points & 12 rebounds (when healthy).
Tyler Zeller - 2nd year, 23 years old, 8 points & 6 rebounds a game, #17 pick

Not to mention they have Anderson Verejao and Jarett Jack.

Looks like a lot of young talent with some solid role players.
And coach Mike Brown back at the helm.
If they can stay healthy - they could be in the playoffs. Could you imagine them as a 7th or 8th seed and matching up with Miami in the first round???

Speaking of which, how can the Cavs go from breakout team to contender?
I don't know, maybe there is a certain small forward that will be a free agent next summer who may want to return home.
I know, it's hard to go back, but imagine that.
Forget the Harden/Wade debate, Kyrie may have them both beat as a suitable side kick.

Detroit Pistons
How's this for a starting lineup:
Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and Brandon Jennings?

Certainly talent there. But honestly a little cause for concern with regards to efficiency (career 39% shooting for Jennings).

But the Pistons brought back one of their all-time greats: Chauncey Billups.
Kind of seems like he would be the perfect fit in terms of leadership, professionalism, and toughness for this team right? Could be interesting if he turns out to be the optimal glue guy.

NOLA Pelicans
Anthony Davis, 20 years old, going into his second season.
Is he Marcus Camby or David Robinson?

I don't know.

But he'll have some talented young teammates on the perimeter this season:
Newly acquired Jrue Holiday (fresh off an all-star year) and Tyreke Evans.
Yes, the west is tough. But can't this young core compete with Minnesota, Dallas, Denver, Portland, (and maybe the Lakers) for the last two spots in playoffs?

Revenge of the Sith
Growing up a Knicks fan in the 90's, the Bulls were equated with evil.
Just saying.

Therefore, I find it weird and uncomfortable to say that I kind of like this guy Derrick Rose.
His injury was well chronicled last season, so how can you not root for him (if not personally then at least for the sake of the NBA) to come back as close to MVP form as possible.
But, what if after sitting out an entire year to recover - he comes back better?

Well, here is what Rose had to say about himself during the pre-season:
"I'm way more explosive now."
"And as far as jumping-wise, I think I can jump even higher."

But what does he think about his overall game?
Go to the 33 second mark to hear for yourself:

Who am I to doubt him? Or at least his belief.
Remember the last time he made a bold statement before a season?
Mind you, this guy is only 25 years old and is the only player in the last 5 years not named LeBron to will league MVP.

Last year as a team, even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls presented the Heat with many challenges because of their rugged defense and rebounding. Now what happens if Luol Deng is healthy and Derrick Rose is unstoppable?

Something tells me that the Bulls are going to be really, really good this season.
And something tells me they are going to be really, really focused......

The Pacers are pretty good too
Think about this:
In last year's 7 Eastern conference Finals games, Miami scored 666 points.
Indiana scored 640.
Going to the Finals came down to 26 points.

Now think about this:
Miami's bench outscored that of Indiana's, 158 to 80.
So, if you take this into account, that means Indiana's starters actually outscored Miami's, 560 to 508.

One could only imagine what Indiana could have done with a better bench.
Well, we'll find out this year, with the return of Danny Granger (either coming off the bench himself or pushing Lance Stevenson to that role) and the additions of Luis Scola, CJ Watson, and Chris Copeland.

As with Chicago, the Pacers present Miami with problems: rugged defense, rebounding, and interior scoring. So what if they shore up some of their weak spots? Also, I'm interested to find out, can Paul George develop into a super-star?

What would be more fun to watch: either a Miami conference finals with Chicago or Indy. Or a conference semi-finals between Chicago and Indy?

New York, New York
The city so nice they named it twice.
We might actually have a rivalry on our hands here.

On paper, it seems as if BK has one of the top starting lineups in the league.
I'm thinking if Garnett can stay remotely healthy - he can do wonders for developing Brook Lopez, who already is an All-star. Also, it was evident that BK was kind of soft last year - given they lost a game 7 on their home floor to a depleted Bulls team. Something tells me Garnett, and Pierce, can change the culture of the team. They don't have to be scoring stars - they just have to bring championship pedigree. And when healthy - pound for pound, I would still put Deron Williams up against any other point guard in the league.

But, the Knicks still have the best player in the city (even if he's only considered the 15th best in the league) and they were the #2 seed in the East last year. Why are people sleeping on these dudes this year? Key for the Knicks? I would say the return to form of Tyson Chandler, the continued evolution of Melo (in terms of efficiency) and perhaps most importantly - the development of Iman Shumpert. At 23 years old, he can defend, create his own shot, and is athletic. I think this year we'll get an idea as to whether he is a star caliber player or role player.

And lest we forget, after a long, long time......Peace has finally come home to the big Apple:

And how amazing is it that we finally get to host another all-star game next year!!!!!!!!!
Manhattan keeps on making it, Brooklyn keeps on taking it!

When the East is in the house
Oh my gosh, Danger!
Considering Chicago, Indy, NYs, & the reigning champs, has the East been this strong......ever?
I mean that's 5 potential contenders. Yes, I would place BK & the Knicks on the fringe of title contention, but I would also venture to say they are as good as most of the teams in the West (I'm looking at you Clippers and Memphis). And, while the West might have more parody from top to bottom - I'm gonna say that the East, overall is better. How long has it been since you could say that?

The freaking Eastern conference playoffs is going to be crazy!

Wild West
Is there any clear favorite in the West?
For over a decade it was either the Lakers or Spurs.
Now what?

Is it possible that OKC has peaked already? And they may never get back to the Finals? When will Russell Westbrook come back? Will Serge Ibaka become more than just a defensive player? I think the big questions are: Will Reggie Jackson become a legit player (14 points, on 47%, with 5 rebounds and 4 assists in the playoffs last year)? And will Jeremy Lamb be able to contribute this year?

I'm not as big on the Clippers as everyone else is.
But it seems to me that there are two keys to them making the next step: Doc Rivers & Blake Griffin.

How much of a difference will Rivers make? Certainly a top 5 coach in the league and one of the bet at making in games adjustments. Can he make Chris Paul Better? Can he transform DeAndre Jordan?

And, will Blake Griffin evolve into a skilled offensive player? Will he be able to dominant defensively? We all know he's a physical specimen and freakish athlete. But that only get you so far in he NBA (starter in the All-star game). But, in the past two playoffs - he's gotten beat up and out played by Tim Duncan and Zac Randolph, respectively. Plus, Griffin had a down season last year (18 points and 8 rebounds a game - actually, his numbers have been on a downward trend since his rookie season). It's time this dude developed a legit post game and perhaps a mid-range jumper - unless he wants to be Dwight Howard.

Speaking of which - the Rockets made some improvements in the off-season.
Not bad when you can legitimately argue that you have the best shooting guard and center in the league. Of, course, that's what we said about the Lakers last year. But this team is younger and Harden's game may be more compatible with Howard's than Kobe's was. Not to mention McHale probably is a better fit as coach for Howard than D'Antoni was.

But let me throw this idea out there: should Rockets model themselves after the '08 Celtics?
No seriously, think about it.
In that year:
Kevin Garnet (newly acquired) averaged 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds + defensive POY.
Pierce averaged 20, 5, & 5.
Allen averaged 17 points.
Rondo averaged 11 points and 5 assists.

Those numbers seem realistic from Howard, Harden, Parsons, and the Lin/Beverly combo.
But, I think the key lies in Houston recognizing Harden is their primary offensive weapon and that Howard has to be a superstar role player. That's not a knock on Howard. But he is what he is - a Russell/Garnett type (hall of famers). Not Shaq. Not Chamberlain. Not Olajuwon.

How great can LeBron and Miami be?
Okay, we're covered a lot here today.
But even with all of the story lines above, let's be realistic, this season is still all about LeBron James.

The dude is in his prime and at the height of his powers.......or can he get better?
There always has been and always will be talk of where he stands in the best of all-time category, not to mention the direct comparison to Jordan. Let me say - the Jordan talk has always been premature......until maybe after this season. If LeBron can lead Miami to 4 straight Finals, and win three in a row, with the East as tough as it is, and prevent KD from winning once again - yeah, that's super elite company and deserving of GOAT talk.

But that's what Jordan and Chicago did. No matter how much better everyone got, they kept winning. They prevented Ewing and the Knicks from winning (is this who modern day Indiana or Chicago is?), they prevented Barkley and the newly formed Suns from winning (is this who modern day Houston is?), and they prevented Stockton/Malone and the Jazz from winning (is this who OKC is?).

But, Jordan never made 4 Finals in a row.
And as far as making three in a row and winning only 2, Kobe has done that - recently.
Can LeBron get separation? Making 4 in a row and winning 3 - that would do it.

But as we saw with last year - the margin for error is extremely low. Indiana and the Spurs pushed them to 7, and if it wasn't for Ray Allen's three......
The thing is, this year everyone else got better. And everyone is hungry. And everyone is confident. So the margin for error, the separation, is that much smaller.

Will Wade's health hold up this year?
Has Bosh improved?
Has Miami Gotten better with Oden and Beasley?

Is Miami a dynasty?
How great is LeBron?

Well, I guess we'll find out......

Let the games begin!

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