Saturday, January 30, 2010

Born Again in 2010

The NBA is all about consistency. Teams don't just come out of nowhere and beat the Lakers in the conference finals, and a former role player whose resurgence makes for a great story isn't going to oust LeBron in the MVP race. But that doesn't mean the L doesn't have its fair share of pleasant surprises. The dawn of a new decade has seen an array of previously unheralded, or forgotten, players making a name for themselves, posting awesome numbers for newly thriving teams. Here's a look at five faces - some new, some with facelifts - who have defied their critics by posting terrific numbers in January.

Stephen Curry
2010 Numbers: 19.5 ppg 5.1 apg 4.4 rpg 2.1 spg
In his first couple months as a pro, Curry proved to be the opposite of what scouts expected him to be: an efficient, picky scorer with a high assist-to-turnover ratio. In the new year Curry has remained efficient, but has exploded into the realm of stardom. Averaging nearly 40 minutes a game (he's played at least 40 minutes in the Warriors last 9 contests), Curry has been averaging nearly 20-5-5 a night, to go along with 2 swipes and 2 three-pointers. For a rookie from a mid-major schools, those numbers are quite remarkable.

Derrick Rose
2010 Numbers: 23.1 ppg 6.4 apg 4.4 rpg
In mid-January, HoopsHype blogger Eddie Johnson named Derrick Rose one of the top ten disappointments of the 2009-10 campaign. Yet he might just be the frontrunner for Eastern Conference Player of the Month. Derided earlier this year due to the Bulls' inconsistency and his low assist numbers, Rose has been a revelation in January, averaging 23 points and 6 assists while leading Chicago to a 10-7 record - including road wins at Boston, Phoenix, Houston, Oklahoma City and New Orleans - and the #7 seed in the East after they commenced the new year with a 13-17 mark. I think it's safe to say Eddie Johnson owes someone an apology.

Stephen Jackson
2010 Numbers: 24.5 ppg 5.3 rpg 2.3 spg
Previously one of the game's biggest enigmas, Jackson has come into his own as the catalyst of the Bobcats' best start in franchise history. In leading Charlotte to an 11-4 record in January, Jackson has become the force that his terrific size (6-8/215) and range (972 career three-pointers) projected he might become, dropping nearly 25 points a night while shouldering a 40-minute per game load. Under the guise of Larry Brown, the former renegade has channeled his considerable energy into devastating opponents on a nightly basis, transitioning the Bobcats from league door mat to one of the most feared ball clubs in the East.

Corey Brewer
2010 Numbers: 16.2 ppg 3.9 rpg
The 7th overall pick in the 2007 draft made his case for being one of the biggest busts in recent memory, averaging 5.8 points on 37.4% shooting his rookie year, and playing just 15 games in his sophomore campaign. In January, Brewer's shown some signs that he might not be such a turkey after all. Registering five 20-point games this month, the Florida product has been consistent for the first time in his career, suggesting that this 6-9 swingman, who's still just 23 years old, might yet realize his potential. With a franchise point guard in Johnny Flynn, Ricky Rubio on the way, and a venerable low post combo in Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the Wolves have been insisting that they'll target a swingman in the draft. Should they maintain that mindset, at least they'll have some real depth for the first time in years.

Andrei Kirilenko
2010 Numbers: 13.4 ppg 4.6 rpg 1.5 spg 1.4 bpg 57.3% FG
For three years now, analysts have been touting Kirilenko as one of the league's most overpaid players (he's set to earn $16.5 million this year and $17.8 million in 2010-11), but he's really been earning that paycheck of late. His numbers in January certainly aren't mind-boggling, but the impact of his rediscovered role on a previously hobbling Jazz team has been extraordinary. Since the Jazz made him a starter on January 9th, Utah has gone 8-1, vaulting from the 10th seed in the West to the 4th seed with ease. Looking more and more like the AK47 of old - the AK47 who fully deserved his lucrative contact when he signed it - night in and night out, Kirilenko is averaging 18 points, 6 boards, 2.8 blocks, while shooting 67% from the field during Utah's 5-game win streak. If he remotely maintains this level of play, the Jazz won't have wasted a dime.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Naismith Watch

1. Evan Turner (Jr., Ohio State)
Subtract the game in which Turner injured his back (7 minutes), and his first game back in the lineup (20 minutes), and he's averaging 20.7 points, 11 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. No player means more to his team (the Buckeyes are 11-3 with Turner, compared to 3-3 without him), and he's proven he can take over games when he's called upon to do so. But can Ohio state win enough games to validate his standing?

2. John Wall (Fr., Kentucky)
The South Carolina loss proved that he's mortal, but so long as Kentucky hovers around the top five, he has to be considered the frontrunner.

3. Jon Scheyer (Sr., Duke)
He's increased his scoring considerably, has one of the best A/TO ratios in the country at 3.72, and has turned Duke into a contender for this first time in years. A rare down year for the ACC might end up hurting his chances.

4. Wesley Johnson (Jr., Syracuse)
The Iowa State transfer has been the most pleasant surprise of the season, turning a Syracuse team which was expected to finish in the middle of the Big East into a championship contender. His outstanding numbers (17.1 points, 9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals, 55.6% FG) attest to his near-peerless versatility.

5. Damion James (Sr., Texas)
The Big 12's all-time leader in rebounding has been extraordinary, posting career highs in scoring (18.2 ppg), rebounding (10.9), steals (1.7 spg) and field goal percentage (50.4%).

6. Scottie Reynolds (Sr., Villanova)
Despite his decorated career, I'd say he's the frontrunner for Most Improved Player (if there was such an award). Not only has Reynolds increased his scoring by 3.5 points, but the career 39.9% shooter has upped his accuracy to a very admirable 49.6%.

7. James Anderson (Jr., Oklahoma State)
The superstar guiding the most underrated team in the nation has been tremendous, averaging 22 points and nearly 6 boards a night. His performance in the Cowboys' win at Kansas State (30 points) was downright heroic.

8. Sherron Collins (Sr., Kansas)
His numbers are way down, but he's one of the most respected seniors in the country and the heart and soul of a 19-1 Kansas team that's gunning for a title.

9. Jacob Pullen (Jr., Kansas State)
A legitimate frontrunner at mid-season, Pullen was disgraceful in a vital two game stretch - the win over Texas (2-15 from the field), and K-State's four point loss to Oklahoma State (2-15, again), in which he was beasted by James Anderson. Scoring in double-figures in every game for one of the best teams in the country will keep him in the conversation.

10. Patrick Patterson (Jr., Kentucky)
Like Collins, Patterson is a respected veteran who commendably opted to stay in school knowing that his numbers might dip. Without him Kentucky would be too inexperienced and immature to contend; with him, they're a veritable powerhouse.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Utah Jazz Trade Options

For the first time in franchise history, the perennially stable Utah Jazz will be forced to make significant roster moves mid-season, undoubtedly altering the franchise, and perhaps, with it, the Western Conference or the entire NBA. The Jazz, who boast one of the league's highest payrolls, have a two-time All-Star in Carlos Boozer whom they are desperately trying to rid themselves of, as well as a max player in Andrei Kirilenko who could thrive in any other situation, along with one of the most prized assets in the entire NBA: The New York Knicks' unprotected first round pick.

The Jazz have noted that their primary goal is to incur as small a luxury tax bill as possible, which means potentially sacrificing an All-Star for undeveloped talent or players whose expiring contracts have come to define their stature in the league. The Jazz, understandably, cannot stomach financing a $77 million payroll to stand 9th in the Western Conference halfway through the season. Word is that no one on the roster except Deron Williams is indispensable, and that they're gunning to save over $10 million by the All-Star break. But rather than finding a way out, what if they exercise their considerable assets to find a way in?

As David Aldridge pointed out in an article for, the Jazz are in a position to improve upon their already good standing (this before they dropped from 16-11 to 9th in the West) like no team since the Magic when they netted Penny in the draft the year after picking Shaq. With Boozer, a 20-10 machine, and the Knicks' first round pick in a loaded class, Aldridge noted that any team besides Kobe's Lakers and Lebron's Cavs would have to consider a Utah proposal. Unfortunately, almost every superstar the Jazz could conceivably acquire (Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire) is in a contract year, so the pool for a blockbuster deal is much shallower than analysts like Aldridge surmised.

Here are five potential deals that I hope the Jazz might consider:

Boozer ($12.7M), C.J. Miles ($3.7M), and a First-Round Pick to the Warriors for Monta Ellis ($11), Ronny Turiaf ($4.1M), and Anthony Morrow ($0.7M)

Here's the blockbuster, the home run, the deal that Sloan deserves for all he's given the team and the relatively little the Jazz have done for him by way of going out and making deals to bolster talented but incomplete teams. Assuming the Jazz are willing to take on a few contracts, giving them perhaps the league's highest payroll, this should work perfectly. The Jazz would be able to form one of the most lethal backcourts in NBA history in Deron Williams (19.5 ppg 9.8 apg) and Monta Ellis (25.8 ppg 5.2 apg), while adding a legitimate post defender in Ronny Turiaf and the best young three-point shooter in the league in Anthony Morrow.

If the Warriors haven't figured by now that they will never win with Monta Ellis running the team, their future is not bright. For the services of Ellis, Turiaf and Morrow, the Warriors, who don't have enough minutes to hard around for their plethora of young talents, would gain an All-Star in Boozer (if only for the rest of the season), as well as a sharpshooter in Miles, whom Don Nelson would surely love. But most intriguingly, the Warriors would enter next year's lauded free agent class with a payroll of just $40 million, and a solid core in Stephen Curry, Andris Biedrins, Corey Maggette, Anthony Randolph, Kelena Azubuike, Miles and Brandan Wright, not to mention the Knicks' first round pick, which will most likely fall in the top 10.

Carlos Boozer ($12.7M) to the Trailblazers for Joel Pryzbilla ($6.9M), Travis Outlaw ($4M) and Jerryd Bayless ($2.1)

Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor has demonstrated that he won't shy away from trading within the Northwest division, and though this deal might bolster the Blazers more than the Jazz, it is still a neat scenario. Now here's a unique way for the Jazz to evade luxury tax expenditures: acquire the injured Pryzbilla and buy him out in order to avoid dollar-for-dollar luxury tax payments on his contract. To make the deal even sweeter, the Jazz would get Travis Outlaw's expiring contract - another $4 million off the books - and a potential star in Jerryd Bayless, who just might be the explosive, promise-laden scorer the Jazz need, and for just over $2 million a year. But will they be willing to hand Boozer over to a division rival?

Andrei Kirilenko ($16.5M) and Kyle Korver ($5.2M) to the Rockets for Tracy McGrady ($23.2M)

The Jazz would sell their souls for a shot at this deal, which would allow them to get rid of Kirilenko and the oft-injured Korver for a superstar with a $23 million contract that will come off the books next season. It would be hard to convince Houston to take on Kirilenko's contract for another year, but he perfectly fits the mold of that Rockets team and, as an All-Star with enviable versatility, is a good insurance policy should Yao not return in time. Korver's expiring contract is a similarly enticing pawn. If the Rockets are desperate to shed McGrady, they might give this deal a hard look.

Boozer ($12.7M) and C.J. Miles ($3.7M) to the Wizards for Caron Butler ($9.8M) and Mike James ($6.5M)

The Jazz have expressed their readiness to trade anyone on the roster except Deron Williams, while the Wizards would consider unloading everyone except Brendan Haywood, Randy Foye and Mike Miller. This is a low-risk deal for both teams, and would satisfy their respective wants. Sloan would love to have a versatile, All-Star like Butler, while Mike James' outside shooting and substantial expiring contract should have the Jazz interested. The Wizards would acquire a potential building block in Miles ($3.7M), who in his fifth season in the league is just 22 years old, and could then rid themselves in $12.7 million in cap space when Boozer's contract comes off the books at the end of the season.

Boozer ($12.7M) to the Bulls for John Salmons ($5.5M), Tyrus Thomas ($4.7 million), and Taj Gibson ($1 million)

This is the least exciting trade option, but considering Boozer's desire to play in Chicago and the Bulls' willingness to part with just about anyone, it might be the most plausible. Salmons, Thomas and Gibson certainly would not appear to be 'equal value' for Boozer on paper, but considering Utah's need for a spark plug, defensive presence, and dependable shooting, the 23-year old Thomas, 24-year old Gibson, and combustible Salmons could prove to be a worthwhile gamble.