Archive | December 2013

#NBA Star Blake Griffin: The Development

blake griffin dunk

Blake Griffin is a human highlight machine, at least he was last year. He still generates a ton of hype and highlight tape for the likes of ESPN, but he has really taken a step regarding his scoring output and shot selection.

Plus his commercials are pretty funny and he seems to be a good guy. Like this one:

So let’s take a look at his stats and see how he’s progressed. Here’s Blake Griffin’s career stats (via ESPN.com):

SEASON

FG%

3P%

FT%

Off Reb

Def Reb

REB

AST

BLK

STL

TO

PTS

’10-’11

.506

.292

.642

3.3

8.8

12.1

3.8

0.5

0.8

2.7

22.5

’11-’12

.549

.125

.521

3.3

7.6

10.9

3.2

0.7

0.8

2.3

20.7

’12-’13

.538

.179

.660

2.3

6.0

8.3

3.7

0.6

1.2

2.3

18.0

’13-’14

.524

.375

.700

2.3

8.3

10.6

3.1

0.7

1.1

2.9

21.9

I really like how Griffin has progressed. His field goal percentage has risen from 50.6% to 52.4% in 4 seasons, which is good for a developing post player. I’m glad he’s staying away from 3s, even though he is shooting over 37%. He’s worked on his free throws to now sit at 70% overall from a terrible, Shaq-like 52.1% in his sophomore year. He’s consistently gotten 6-8 defensive rebounds per game, which is what I like from power forwards. He has a couple of turnovers a game, but that’s the name of the game.

Most importantly, he’s averaging a double-double with 21.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this year. In 3 of his 4 years in the Association, Blake Griffin has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds.

2012 and 2013 Playoffs:

SEASON

FG%

3P%

FT%

Off Reb

Def Reb

REB

AST

BLK

STL

PF

TO

PTS

’11-’12

.500

.000

.636

1.7

5.2

6.9

2.5

0.9

1.8

3.7

2.3

19.1

’12-’13

.453

.000

.808

1.3

4.2

5.5

2.5

0.8

0.0

4.0

2.2

13.2

His field goal percentage dipped last postseason, but that was due to bad spacing and a tough matchup with the Grizzlies (who were one of the toughest, grinding teams last season). He shot better from the free throw line last postseason at 80.8% compared to 63.6% the year before. But, his rebounds go down with only 4-5 defensive rebounds in the playoffs and only 5-6 rebounds overall per playoff game. And, his scoring went down too from 19.1 to 13.2 points in the playoffs.

Some of his new moves are in the post, which makes him so tough to guard. Instead of being a purely open-court dunker, he has some touch around the basket (which is really nice).

But, he still struggles from outside the paint, as Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry shows us:

blake griffin shot chart

He shoots a Lebron James-like 66.1% in the painted area. But, he shoots 33% from the left elbow, 35.2% from the right and a slightly better 39.2% on the left baseline. That’s an average of 35.8% overall outside the paint. That won’t cut it if Blake Griffin wants to get to the next level of greatness.

He has to improve his jumper beyond 9 feet for sure, but he’s becoming a great player because of hard work, athleticism, and even though I’m not a big fan of Doc Rivers, Rivers has helped develop this young man’s game.

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Could the #NBA’s Portland Trailblazers take the OKC Thunder, Spurs in 7 Games?

damian lilliard

Portland Trailblazers have a phenomenal start to this NBA season. They’re 23-5 overall, 12-5 in conference play, have a 4-1 division edge and  have a 12-3 record on the road and 11-2 record at home (per NBA.com).

The Trailblazers, barring a complete collapse, will be in the playoffs, although it’s too early to predict their seeding (but I’d like to say 2-4 for sure). But, I’ll defer to Grantland’s Zach Lowe on his take on the Trailblazers early this season (and he ranked the Trailblazers as the 4th overall team in the West):

4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are good, but they are not quite as good as their record, and there’s no great shame there. They’ve played the easiest schedule (by a hair) among Western Conference teams, and three of their next four games come against the Clippers, Heat, and Thunder. They’re 22nd in points allowed per possession (tied with the Knicks), one spot behind Milwaukee. Repeat: They are 22nd in defensive efficiency. Translation: They are bad at defense.

Look, Portland is awesome. I love watching them. I have no problem with their 3-point volume or LaMarcus Aldridge jacking midrange jumpers at a record pace. They have the best offense in the league, and it’s not all that close. Damian Lillard is shooting, I think, 4,756 percent in crunch time. It’s just hard to find teams that make deep postseason runs with bottom-10 defenses.

There are some caveats here. Portland’s starting lineup, which has logged more minutes this season than any other five-man group, has allowed just 101.8 points per 100 possessions — equivalent to a borderline top-10 mark, per NBA.com. The team has been a smidgen better with the starting frontcourt of Aldridge and Robin Lopez, and it’s doing just fine on the defensive glass when those two play. C.J. McCollum has yet to suit up.

Things get dicey the moment any of Portland’s bench players comes in, especially one of the two bench bigs — a duo that now includes Meyers Leonard instead of Thomas Robinson.

Portland’s clutch success is also unsustainable. The team is 10-1 in games that have been within three points in the last three minutes, and it has scored 138.5 points per 100 possessions in those situations. It has been damn near perfect on both ends. That never lasts.

This is a really good team, and if you want to slot the Blazers at no. 3, that’s fine. But they don’t belong in the top two, and I have a feeling that when we get through 82 games, we might regard them as no. 5 or no. 6 on this list — better than their internal preseason expectations, by the way.

But, can they take the Oklahoma City Thunder or any other top team in a seven-game series? Let me break down a couple things about that potential matchup:

russell westbrook meme

  • Point Guard: Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook

This would be a fabulous matchup to watch! Lillard has hit a couple game-winners lately and shows he is NOT afraid of the spotlight this early in the season. His back-and-forth with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving just dropped everyone’s jaws, and ended on this note (but Lillard was guarded by Alonzo Gee, not Irving):

Lillard can pass and score and he is quick. Westbrook is more athletic than him and even after his injury, seems to have most of his burst back. I like Lillard, but Westbrook has shown me he’s healthy and still the great talent at the point for the Thunder. I’d give the Thunder a slight edge because of experience and Westbrook’s on-ball defense.

wes matthews

  • Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews vs. Thabo Sefolosha

Wesley Matthews has come a long ways from his athletic-can’t-shoot-a-jumper days at Marquette and with the Utah Jazz. He has improved his shot, but is much better on the open court on fast breaks than in a half-court set. Still, his 16 points per game on 49% shooting (and 43% from three) is not something to overlook.

On the other hand, Thabo is a good defender on the wing and shoots the occasional three-ball. It’d be nice if he contributed more, only scoring a paltry 6.2 points per game, 29% 3-point shooting percentage and only 41% overall from the floor. But, because he is a long defender he will give Matthews trouble. Edge goes to the Thunder.

kevin durant

  • Small Forward: Nicolas Batum vs. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant hands-down, do I even need to elaborate why?

serge ibaka

  • Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Serge Ibaka

Aldridge will win this matchup because he can get you a double-double in points and rebounds, in addition to a couple blocks. No one on the Thunder (except Ibaka) can score and rebound and get a couple of blocks on defense. Ibaka has disappeared in the playoffs, but Aldridge has not had experience of a deep playoff run. I still like Aldridge because he is a better, all-around scorer and in a seven-games series, every bucket counts. I can’t rely on Ibaka to score consistently in a playoff series.

  • Center: Robin Lopez vs. Kendrick Perkins

Perkins has become a liability for the Thunder front office, who thought they got a defensive anchor in their lineup a couple years ago. That is not the case. He still is the mad-faced center, but is not the powerful presence he was when he was on the Celtics with a 2.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game average. Lopez has established himself well in Portland and provides enough for the team to win games with a 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. When it comes to rebounding, Robin Lopez gets about 4 offensive and 4 defensive rebounds per game, while Perkins gets only 1 offensive and 2 defensive rebounds per game. I’ll take Robin Lopez by a hair.

reggie jackson thunder

  • Bench

The Thunder have Reggie Jackson to backup Westbrook, along with Jeremy Lamb on the wing, Nick Collison to absorb minutes off the bench down low and Derek Fisher can still hit a crucial three here and there. The Trailblazers have untested rookie point guard CJ McCollum (who hasn’t played at all this season) and a plethora of untested talent such as former Cal guard Allen Crabbe, barely-used big man Thomas Robinson (former lottery pick from Kansas), heralded prospect Meyers Leonard and an old Mo Williams and Earl Watson. I’ll take the Thunder bench.

I’d say that the Thunder wins either in 5 (especially if they’re at home). If they’re on the road, that could be a 6 or 7 game series, but the Thunder should win out over the upstart Trailblazers. They have just enough defense and a lot of offense to power past the Trailblazers in the playoffs, if it comes to that.

Social Media and its Impact on Sports

johnny manziel vs lsu

Social media has completely changed the recruiting landscape for college sports, athletes, coaches and recruiters, while also playing an important part in professional sports. Twitter wars and spats are commonplace between players or players and fans, which has created some interesting mini-controversies.

It has proven a boon for athletes to market themselves in addition to earning endorsements, as tweets add fuel to the fire if an athlete is in the limelight. And, it’s great for fans if athletes host Q&A’s and other similar open forums on Twitter.

Adrian Peterson’s post-game tweet, after getting pelted by ice balls from Ravens fans, says it all when athletes are frustrated:

adrian peterson baltimore tweet

My personal favorite is former Orioles pitcher and current Kansas City Royal Jeremy Guthrie. He once tweeted if anyone had some free time to play catch with him on an off-day when he was with the Colorado Rockies. A teenager ended up playing catch with a starting MLB pitcher! Here’s the video (via CNN.com):

Johnny Manziel is a great example of that. He got in a lot of controversy over his fun-filled offseason, where we was kicked out of a University of Texas-Austin frat party, left the Manning Passing Academy for being too tired (some alleged he was drunk and hung over), and was seen attending NBA games in expensive, courtside seats. Here was the tweet about him getting a parking ticket that got him a lot of criticism:

manziel ticket tweet

He took a break from Twitter and ended up having a better season than his Heisman campaign. He’s projected to be a mid-to-late first round NFL draft pick at best.

Social media has been a good and bad thing, depending on how fans and athletes treat it. If athletes have thick skin and can take the beating on Twitter, then go for it and use it for good! If they can’t, then don’t bother.

One time me and someone I follow talked bad about a former BYU basketball player Jonathan Tavernari and joked about his propensity to shoot ill-advised 3’s. Then he saw that, searched for his name on Twitter search and tweeted at us for criticizing him (and promptly deleted those tweets as far as I can tell). Thick skin, guys.

Global Sports: What Made the Cut, What Didn’t

cristiano messiAmerica is the focal point, we like to think, of the best professional sports in the world. We have the land, money and culture to back major professional franchises, for the most part (just don’t ask Atlanta losing the NHL Thrashers or Los Angeles with the Raiders AND Rams).

This got us thinking, what sports are making waves off of American shores? Well, what do we know?

  • American football is American football, and won’t be an international sport. Why? It’s a cultural thing, but you need the facilities and money to get equipment and time on the field. But, English people were intrigued when the NFL held games in London at Old Trafford (the home of the English soccer club Manchester United).
  • The NBA is making a concerted effort to expand its brand abroad and is banking on the success of national teams and especially the Euroleague. NBA has the most potential among the major American sports, especially with an Indian owner in Sacramento.
  • Baseball is mostly a Western Hemisphere phenomena, with an influx of Caribbean, Venezuelan or Latin American players populating the American-based Major League Baseball. Oh, Japan and South Korea have some good players in the majors, too.
  • Hockey is a big deal in Russia and Canada, with some die-hard fan bases in the U.S. in cities like Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo and Detroit.

But, soccer is the international sport because it is easy to get a field, dirt or not, and a ball with some goal markers. Most sports are tougher to get equipment and playing time on specific fields. Soccer is growing in popularity in the U.S. with the growth of the American Major League Soccer (MLS), with expansion teams Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and now Orlando City FC. Attendance has increased 15% in the US from 2011-2012 but dipped slightly this past season.

Other sports are making inroads, but overall, soccer is the international sport. The attention put toward the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League and the European leagues like La Liga in Spain, Barclays Premier League in the United Kingdom, Italy’s Serie A and Bundesliga in Germany shows that soccer is here to stay.

And we have Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for that.

Early #NBA Draft Entry? Frosh, Sophs and Upperclassmen Oh My!

The age-old NBA draft question: Does it pay off to draft one-and-done college freshmen? Or wait another year or two (or even three) to draft more polished, experienced college players?

Let’s take a look (stats provided by ESPN.com):

  • One-and-done: John Wall vs. Austin Rivers

john wall losing face

John Wall was a highly-touted freshman at Kentucky and was picked no.1 overall by the Washington Wizards, of Kwame Brown fame. He was just signed to a max contract deal worth $80 million by the Wizards, but has never made the playoffs in his three-year pro career. Here are his stats:

Career (per game)
17.2 points 8.2 assists 4.4 rebounds

rivers sad face

Austin Rivers has also underachieved as a one-and-done out of Duke, and the more talented son of the famous (and I think overrated coach) Doc Rivers. With the New Orleans Pelicans, he got replaced by Grevis Vasquez (a Maryland Terp) and Jrue Holliday and is riding the pine. He was their 10th overall pick! His stats? Unimpressive.

Career (per game)
5.6 points 1.9 assists 1.6 rebounds
  • Sophomore Sprinter: Chris Wilcox vs. LaMarcus Aldridge

Kevin Garnett, Chris Wilcox

Chris Wilcox (pictured at the right) was a sophomore from the Maryland Terrapins championship-winning team in 2002 and went to the pros right after, when his stock was at an all-time high. He was picked 8th overall by the LA Clippers. Here’s how is long eleven-year career turned out:

Career (per game)
8.2 points 4.9 rebounds 0.4 blocks

lamarcus aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge left after his junior season from Texas and has been in Portland ever since, drafted 2nd overall in the first round. He’s having a ridiculous start to this seasons, but here are his stats:

Career (per game)
18.5 points 7.9 rebounds 1.0 blocks
  • Junior Jumper: Steph Curry vs. Ty Lawson

golden state tshirt

Steph Curry went to the small private North Carolina college Davidson, which was a darling of the media for being a Cinderella team in March Madness while he was there. An outstanding shooter has translated his craft to the pros, becoming the star of the Golden State Warriors and their resurgence under coach and former NBA guard Mark Jackson. Impressive!

Career (per game)
19.5 points 6.3 assists 4.1 rebounds

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Six

Ty Lawson went to North Carolina and won a championship with the likes of Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansborough. A quick, speedy guard, Lawson has not become the impact player that Denver hoped he would be.

Career (per game)
13.6 points 5.5 assists 2.8 rebounds
  • Senioritis: Kemba Walker vs. Jeremy Lin

kemba walker

Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin, where Walker was a hero at UConn and hit game-winners like it was nothing and Jeremy Lin became popular and sensationalized when he helped the New York Knicks win a bunch of games last season. Walker is an undersized point guard at best, but his production is okay:

Career (per game)
15.5 points 5.1 assists 3.6 rebounds

jeremy lin rockets

Lin has been doing very well on the Houston Rockets lately, but has some good career stats in his young, three-year pro career. He would know because he went to Harvard, right?

Career (per game)
11.8 points 5.1 assists 2.6 rebounds

I like players staying for at least 3 years so they can get an education and possibly graduate early, because you never know if you’re going to last in the pros for very long. But, if you’re going to get paid, you might as well go. I’m just sick and tired of constant rebuilding teams in the college ranks.

Most players are better suited today to jump to the pros, except for Austin Rivers. My verdict? GO if you’re good enough and STAY if you’re not a guaranteed top-15 pick (unless you’re a good player at a small school and this is a good pay day).

The #FireCorbin Wagon is Getting Full, for Good Reason

Many of my diehard and lifelong Utah Jazz fan friends have pointed out that it’s long overdue that Ty be let go, so let’s take a look at Ty Corbin’s young coaching career, his record and the talent he had on the roster. Oh, and don’t forget playing time.

ty corbinDisclaimer: I’m not ingrained in the Utah Jazz fan culture, so this is an East Coaster’s attempt to dissect a struggling franchise, one I grew up idolizing. It may not be perfectly in line with what Jazz fans think or see, but it is an honest, outsider attempt to tackle the issue.

Ex-NBA player Ty Corbin took over after Jerry Sloan suddenly resigned in the Deron Williams attitude fiasco, where the superstar-but-can’t-win-the-big-one Williams feuded with the Hall of Fame pick-and-roll coach. Corbin had to survive the season, which he did, and went 8-20 and limped into the offseason.

Corbin went 36-30 to make the playoffs and get knocked out in the first round the next season, then 43-49 to miss the playoffs and this year they’re 5-19 in full-out TANK MODE in a loaded NBA draft. That’s an overall record of 92-108, a 46% winning percentage. That can’t cut it in the Western Conference. Oh, and he got swept in the first round when he did make it in his second year (but first full year on the job).

So who was on the Jazz roster when Corbin took over?

Raja Bell, Marcus Cousin, Francisco Elson, Jeremy Evans, Derrick Favors, Kyrylo Fesenko, Devin Harris, Gordon Hayward, Al Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, CJ Miles, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur, Ronnie Price, Earl Watson Kyle Weaver, and…drum roll…Deron Williams.

Nets v Magic

The majority of the roster from his first year is either retired or no longer on the team. Kirilenko is hurt and is on the same struggling Brooklyn Nets team as Deron Williams. Al Jefferson left for greener contract pastures of Charlotte (where they’re actually one of the best defensive teams in the NBA…surprised?) and others like Millsap, Fesenko, Harris, Miles and Watson are spread out across the league. Others have come and gone, like the D-League and temporary NBA hero Sundiata Gaines, Kyle Korver and even Derek Fisher.

So who’s left? Hayward, who was not offered an extension by the Jazz this year, Evans and Favors. What a tough baptism by fire in their first years. What does their current roster look like?

trey burke jazzFirst round draft pick Trey Burke of Michigan, Hayward, Evans, Favors, former Kentucky player Enes Kanter, former Colorado Buffaloes shooting guard Alec Burks, rookie and international prospect Rudy Gobert, along with old toss-ins via Golden State like Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush, John Lucas, Richard Jefferson, and Marvin Williams. And I forgot to add Mike Harris and D-League call-up Diante Garrett. Who?! Exactly.

Yes, his roster is gutted, but he wasn’t able to win immediately with the pieces he had when he took over. Jefferson went to Charlotte, Millsap to Atlanta and Kirilenko to Brooklyn. He’s stuck with D-League talent and young developing talent, which makes it hard to win. But, he also limited playing time last year of the aforementioned young talent. He tried to win now last season, which echoed the same circumstance that got last year’s Coach of the Year George Karl fired in Denver. That backfired as they couldn’t get a playoff berth, thus wasting a season of development for their young talent.

Heyward has played a ton of minutes, and for good reason, and Kanter and Favors have seen their minutes increase too. Except in Kanter’s case, it exposes the lack of game-time experience via Shaqtin’ A Fool (he’s number 3):

For example, Burks had the 9th-least minutes played last season and Evans was second-to-last. They represent the young talent of the team, yet Mo Williams, Jamaal Tinsley and Randy Foye got more playing time. Foye and Williams have gone elsewhere. If Corbin would have developed Burks and Evans more, then maybe the fans would understand.

That season, the 2012-2013 year, saw the Jazz give up the 7th and 8th most assists and 3-point attempts, which tells us that his defense was lacking. Yes, they were young, but that is a coaching problem. The best teams limit 3-point opportunities and chances for assists leading to baskets. Even though opponents made 37% of those, it could have been a lot worse if they made more of their attempts. Imagine if they had faced the Spurs as a division opponent. Scary stuff.

jerry sloan deron williamsThis year, they’re in tank mode and it seems Corbin is resigned to his fate. The coming year’s NBA draft is loaded with NBA talent like Kentucky phenom freshman Julian Randle, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins and Mormon Duke sensation Jabari Parker. Also, there are rumors flying around of Jerry Sloan coming back to replace Ty. We’ll see what the Jazz front office decides in the end.

So, will the #FireCorbin train get its wish? I don’t like seeing guys lose their jobs, but I peg Corbin’s firing as MOST LIKELY.

Why Trade Matt Kemp? East Coast Yankees Bias

Some people wonder if the Los Angeles Dodgers should trade Matt Kemp to the Yankees or the Red Sox, but most of this is pushed by the East Coast media bias. The media is driving the “trade rumors” because they think the Red Sox and Yankees can get whomever they want, at any time. This is the frustration of Dodgers fans, make it every non-Yankee or Red Sox fan, throughout the country.

matt kemp

Although the Dodgers outfielder’s agent said he is not being shopped at this year’s winter meetings, the rumors were at a fever pitch leading up to it. Why? Because the Yankees and Red Sox are known to be big spenders to get top talent, even if that talent is aging rapidly.

We can see why rumors were flying around Kemp. Click this link for his stats HERE

A quick summary? He’s averaged a career batting average of 0.293, 0.493 slugging percentage along with 2 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers and 2 All-Star Game appearances. He had his best home run hitting year in 2011 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs, and 40 stolen bases. Oh, he also scored 115 runs while playing 161 games.

But, his last year was riddled with injuries and only played in 73 games out of 162 and hit a career-worst 0.270. He stole his second-lowest total of bases at 9 and had his lowest slugging percentage at 0.395.

Although last year was a bad year by his standards, I think many teams would trade for his talent and decent production. If not, you have to be an Astros front office official.

As an East Coaster, I enjoy the focus on East Coast sports, with the exception of the New York Jets and the Tim Tebow saga pushed by ESPN and the Redskins drama between Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III. But, Dodgers fans and non-East Coasters have a point: the media has a East Coast and Yankees bias.

So why the Yankee bias?

jeter

The Yankees last won a World Series title in 2009 under Joe Girardi’s management, and nearly made the playoffs with a depleted and rapidly-aging roster. Ichiro Suzuki, a favorite of mine, is no longer the spry, precise outfielder and hitter he once was. Hideki Matsui, or “Godzilla”, has been retired for a few years since his World Series heroics. Jorge Posada no longer plays catcher and only Derek Jeter remains as a Yankee icon. The club has won a record 27 World Series titles and whose stadium, albeit a new one, is affectionately known as Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees are not going to look as bad as last year, maybe. They kept speedy outfielder Brett Gardner, Mark Texeira (whose body is breaking down at a fast pace), troubled 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez, but let go of the overpriced Robinson Cano, once-promising pitcher Phil Hughes and their terrible catching core. Their price tag coming into this year? An astonishing $203.4 million payroll (via ESPN.com).

They were able to barely miss the playoffs because of the miraculous managerial job of Girardi. That should be the story that the New York media should be talking about, but they’re too busy with the A-Rod controversy and helping drive possible trade scenarios it seems. But, I could be mistaken and this is no condemnation of the New York media because they do their job according to their consumer’s tastes. It just gets old, that’s all.

But, because the Yankees are the big fish in the Big Apple, have lots of cash to throw around and the prestige and history to back it up, the media will always clamor for stars and big-time players to make their way and play in New York City (but not for the Mets).