Monthly Archives: August 2010

So Far, So Good for Team USA

Love-ing every minute

Calling the US national team that is playing in Turkey right now the “B-team” is an insult. It seems as though this slander, propagated by ESPN’s Chris Sheridan, has begun to take hold among many outlets covering Team USA as they are a more legitimate subject material rather than gossiping about Carmelo Anthony‘s future. Why is this a “B-team?” Just because not a single member of the gold medal winning team from the Beijing Olympics chose to participate this summer does not lessen the talent that Jerry Colangelo and company have recruited. Many of these players, representing the United States this summer, are the future of the NBA whereas those on the Redeem Team are either in their prime now or a few years away from retirement. This team is different. This team is young and this team is better than people thought it would be. As Team USA completes its second day of competition at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, answers to the questions that many had about this assemblage of players representing the country.

One of the major concerns that has seemed to follow Team USA around since minicamp, and the injuries that occurred there and since, is the lack of size in the frontcourt. Tyson Chandler is the only true center on the team and does not even start. Lamar Odom starts at center for the national team. Kevin Love is the only other player on the roster who sees minutes at the five spot. This has led many to scoff at Team USA’s frontcourt and make plenty of remarks about their ability to rebound as compared with Dwight Howard, who represented the US in Beijing. What is not mentioned much is that Howard was the only true center on the Redeem Team as Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer are technically power forwards. Therefore, the logical thing to do is compare these players to Howard. A foolish endeavor you say? Shame on you, the numbers tell a different story.

For the basis of this comparison rebounding per 36 minutes from the 2009-10 season will be the main statistic used. As FIBA rules stipulate ten minute quarters, the per 36 minute is closer to the actual time available for a player to log rather than the standard 48 minutes of a regulation game in the NBA. Per 36 minutes last season, Howard averaged 13.7 rebounds a game. 3.6 were offensive rebounds and 10.1 were defensive. To say the least, those numbers are impressive. Tyson Chandler’s recent bouts with injury do not help his numbers. Last season he averaged 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes of playing time. The current starting center for Team USA, Odom, averaged 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last year with the Lakers. Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what he is doing, obviously, by playing Odom in the starting five position. No, neither Chandler nor Odom rebound at the pace that Howard did last season but they are still potent rebounders. Kevin Love, on the other hand is a completely different animal.

Last season, with the Timberwolves as a sixth man for much of the season, Love averaged 13.8 rebounds per 36 minutes of actual playing time. That is more than Howard and Howard logs many more minutes per game than Love. Kevin Love is a rebounding machine. This next season will be Love’s third year in the league and he is already outpacing Howard and his oft touted and much over hyped stats. (Why do you think that we at the Beef did not give Howard our Defensive Player of the Year Award?)In Team USA’s opener of the world championships against Croatia, Love led all players with ten rebounds. Kevin Durant and Ante Tomic of Croatia had eight. Against Slovenia, Love pulled down 11 rebounds on his way to the games only double-double. Odom chipped in with nine boards as the US dominated the glass with 51 total rebounds to Slovenia’s 24. Love seems to continue to fly under the radar of many despite the constant and impressive numbers that he puts up. Surely, that suits Krzyzewski just fine and scouts may overlook the completeness of his game.

Cohesion is another issue that has been brought up about this team as they have had a relatively short period of time together as minicamp began in July. How does cohesion translate on the basketball court though. It first appears in the defense. A cohesive defensive team will have less blown assignments and therefore will not allow the opposing team to penetrate for easy buckets. Out of 31 made field goals, Croatia only had 14 come from either layup or tip shot. Their last layup came with 17 seconds remaining and the game already decided. The US held them out of the paint and forced them into taking jump shots which lead to Croatia’s 43.7 percent shooting from the floor. Slovenia did not fare much better against the USA’s defense. Like, Croatia before them, Slovenia only had 14 of their 24 made field goals from in close. They were forced to put up contested perimeter shots and were held to 37.5 percent shooting.

Though some have claimed that the roster is undersized, it is exactly what it needs to be. It is a fusion of length, speed, and quickness. These attributes have translated into Team USA forcing a number of turnovers this far. They forced Croatia and Slovenia into 12 turnovers while accumulating eight steals against Croatia and seven steals versus Slovenia. The only time that the US defense has seemed to go lax thus far is in the fourth quarter as it is the only time that the team has allowed 30 or more points to be scored against them. However, by the fourth quarter in both of the games that Team USA has played, the game has been well in hand for the US.

Croatia and Slovenia are not the biggest tests for the US national team as they are ranked 14 and 20, respectively, in the world. Team USA will be tested further as they advance through the tournament and must work on limiting their turnovers and committing personal fouls. As a whole, however, this team has answered some of the more glaring concerns that faced them entering the world championships. Their offensive capabilities were never in question with Durant having lead the NBA in scoring last season but now we all know that their cohesion, rebounding and defense are stout. Do not call this a “B-team.” They are far from it and their blowout victories are proof of that. This is a team full of ‘A’ talent so do not demean them by saying otherwise. If they continue to play at a high level they could be the first American team to bring home the gold at the world championships since 1994. Their next game is Monday against a Brazilian team that is ranked 14 in the world and is the USA’s biggest test in Group B play.

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Team USA Roster Finalized

Not suiting up

Rajon Rondo had a feeling he may be on the way out with Team USA after he did not log a single minute of playing time in the team’s one point exhibition victory over Spain on Sunday. Rondo had lost his starting job to Derrick Rose and was third on the depth chart behind Russell Westbrook. What hurt Rondo was his inability to play multiple positions as he is a true point guard. The coaching staff had made it clear early on while at minicamp in Las Vegas that they were looking for players who were position flexible. To make matters simple for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Rondo decided to take matters into his own hands and withdrew himself from the team Tuesday.

Rondo sited family issues that he needs to tend to before the start of the NBA season begins as his reason for leaving the team. Team USA shortly thereafter released a statement that Rondo had been cut. Jerry Colangelo had nothing but good things to say about Rondo’s time with the team. “He did an outstanding job during our training,” Colangelo said, “we appreciate the effort and commitment he made to our program and he completely has our support.” With Rondo’s departure the finalized roster that Team USA will have for the FIBA World Championships has been set. Representing the US will be: Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook.

Questions still remain for this team as they prepare for the tournament. The biggest question that has been that has been posed about their lineup concerns their lack of size and ability to rebound the basketball. Losing Rondo is a blow to their rebounding efforts because, despite his size, he is an excellent rebounding point guard. Another issue that the team must face is injuries that Granger and Curry have suffered during training camp and whether they are able to play at a high level.

Team USA has one more exhibition game to play before the World Championships begin. They will face the now notorious Greek national team in Athens on Wednesday. Hopefully no chairs will take flight in that game. The USA and its team with the average age of 24.66 years old will begin the World Championships on August 28 against Croatia.

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Team USA: Decentered

Five is the loneliest number

This may be the unluckiest squad that USA Basketball has ever assembled. From the beginning the US national team had its problems with recruiting and with injuries. Jerry Colangelo made statements early on this summer which threw the future of the program and its ability to lure big name NBA talent to represent the country in jeopardy. With the entire Redeem Team choosing to opt out of playing for USA Basketball this summer at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey a whole new team had to be assembled. During that process, efforts to build a cohesive unit have been hampered by a slew of injuries, contract issues, and wary general managers. Most notably, these injuries, issues, and mononucleosis in one case, have had an adverse effect on frontcourt players. As Team USA readies to play exhibition games against Lithuania and Spain this weekend in Madrid, they are outfitted with just a single true center in Tyson Chandler. Despite this lack of size, Team USA is bourgeoning with speed and length in the backcourt and along the wing. What this team may truly be out to prove is that the role of the traditional center no longer applies in today’s game. Whether this team wins gold or not they have a task before them of tearing down long standing notions about the effectiveness and need for a big man in the paint.

The most recent player to fall victim to Team USA’s injury woes was Stephen Curry. He mildly sprained his left ankle during practice on Wednesday and was forced to miss crucial time with the team. As of now, Team USA has a 13 man roster which they must whittle to 12 just prior to the World Championships beginning on August 28. This injury has placed Curry squarely on the bubble to be cut as less participation at this point is viewed as a negative. However, he went through a no contact practice on Friday and hopes to be ready for exhibition play this weekend. Whether or not Curry is cut, the final player that will be released by the team is likely to be a guard as Team USA’s roster is replete with them. Where the team is lacking is at the center of a shift in attitudes and style currently taking place across the NBA.

For better or for worse, Team USA has unwittingly anointed themselves as the great experiment. No, they do not have trans-warp drive, but with the number of guards they have they sure do have speed. Their experiment is one that has been implemented by Jerry Sloan in Utah recently, Don Nelson throughout his career, and is the model for any Mike D’Antoni offense. They have all relied on speed, quickness, and athleticism over size and power. Essentially they are the architects who transformed what used to be standard role of a center into an arcane practice. With them the center has to be mobile and versatile, a long range jump shot is a must. Post play, as limited as it is in their systems of the pick-and-roll, will come from the power and small forwards. Team USA has fully embraced this concept, although unintentionally, with the roster they have composed. If they were so worried about their size in the frontcourt they probably would have kept JaVale McGee on the team. Team USA will be the test for whether the center position is obsolete or not and if the European style of basketball is the new model for the NBA.

The dominant center model is one that many teams have struggled to let go of as their quest to find the next Hakeem Olajuwon continues in earnest. He is not out there. Yes, there are players such as Dwight Howard in the league today but his skill set is limited at best. The two time reigning defensive player of the year (an award I still contest) is quite one dimensional in his offensive abilities. Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing (and possibly David Robinson) were the last of a now dead breed. Here is where one would attempt to inject Shaquille O’Neal’s name into the debate. O’Neal is more of a transition center built on the archetype of the dominant five. Each of his championships has come not as a result of his play alone, but because of his pairing with a versatile shooting guard. Essentially, O’Neal helped to usher in the demise of position he plays. His size has become cumbersome in today’s game. His first few outings with the Cavaliers last season were disastrous and opposing teams were using him and his lethargic body as they set screens and pick-and-rolls to lure him out of the comfort zone of the paint. It worked to perfection.

With Coach Mike Krzyzewski taking notes from D’Antoni’s playbook, Team USA is either adapting to an international style of play or embracing the future of the game. It is clearly the latter. Who will back up Chandler at center since he is the only legitimate five on the roster? Lamar Odom will. One of the most exciting dynamics that this presents is the possibility of a point-center. Odom is accustomed to being a point-forward in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense in Los Angeles so it would not be too far fetched to think that he would be called upon, at times, to run the point while he was the center on the floor. This concept could not have existed during the big man dominant days that litter the history of basketball. Some could argue that Magic Johnson played point-center for the “Showtime” Lakers in the 1980s but this is simply not the case. A team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on it has no need or concept of a point-center.

In today’s game, smaller is better. Think of the dominant big man center as the Macedonian phalanx. For years they were the cornerstone of every NBA team. If a team did not have one, they were actively seeking one. When the opposing team had a dominant center the game was over even before the tip. Both the large dominating center and the Macedonian phalanx were thought invincible. Now the post game of the center is as obsolete as the formations of the phalanx. The center was one dimensional: grab rebounds, dunk the ball, and block a few shots in close. Centers were basically immobile using their sheer size to gain leverage over a defender. Now those same attributes have become hindrances, the center, in the traditional sense, has fought its Battle of Pydna. Team USA has embraced the future.

If Team USA is able to bring home gold for the first time since 1994 with the roster it has in place it will be the crowning achievement of small ball and the present sea change taking place, mostly in small markets, in the NBA. Already, many teams have adapted a backcourt of combo-guards instead of the traditional point and shooting guard lineups. Versatility has also become more important in the sport as players that have the ability to play two to three and possibly four positions are coveted over those with limited scope and range to their games. Coach Krzyzewski made it very clear from the outset of minicamp that player versatility was of the utmost importance. Only taking one center to Turkey fits the new model perfectly. The post game is dead; the center is no longer the queen, it has become the rook. Many will question whether the lack of size on the team may hamper their rebounding efforts. It may, but there will likely be no team in the tournament that can adjust, let alone matchup, with the lineups that Team USA can put on the court. However, Team USA may come to regret their center-less experiment when they face off against Greece in exhibition play on August 25. It is always a good thing to have a few big guys on your side when a fight breaks out.

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The Squad

Across the nation, NBA fans are reduced in the amount of actual games and teams they can follow with a television lineup and programming that puts high-market teams on all of the national network showings.  Aside from local games, a lot of teams and players don’t get the attention they truly deserve.  Last season, TNT showed ten Cleveland Cavaliers’ games while they only featured Memphis once.  They showed nine Celtics’ games and only two Warriors’ games.  It’s easy; the better team matchups are going to attract more viewers.  But to be honest, NBA fans are missing a lot of games and we want to point out some of these players that do not get the attention or even respect they deserve.  They are a part of the NBA machine that creates a great season every year.

Yes, some of these guys are on top teams and a few have even been All-Stars; however, they are players that the Beef has mad respect for.  They are the players that give the NBA color, drama and undeniable talent.  They play when it’s needed and they even open their mouths when it’s called for.  The “Decision” has further exemplified the trend that stars are the attention getters but the smaller players in the NBA are the ones that decide how the NBA plays out.  The “Davids” of Glen Davis and Nate Robinson were one reason that the Finals went to seven games against the “Goliath” Lakers.

Let us present the 2009-2010 All-Beef Team:

It’ll be OK in OKC

Russell Westbrook showed his ingenuity and versatility in college at UCLA when starting point guard Darren Collison went out with an injury.  When Collison returned, he was moved back to shooting guard as the Bruins compiled a 35-4 record and finished the season ranked #3 by the Associated Press.

In 2008, Westbrook was drafted fourth overall by the then Seattle Supersonics and did not disappoint anyone his first season.  On February 1, 2009, he scored a career-high 34 points in an overtime loss to Sacramento.  His 20 free throws were the most by a Kings opponent since they relocated to Cali.  On March 2, 2009, he was the first rookie to land a triple double since Chris Paul in the 2005-06 season with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

However, it’s this season that really put Westbrook on the map.  His field goal percentage shot up as did his assists per game as he helped lead Thunder through a surprising season.  Westbrook scored 17 points and ten assists in a 28-point blowout of the Orlando Magic and a 14 point and seven assist slaughter of the Lakers.  The team eventually raked up road wins against San Antonio, Dallas, Boston, Miami and Utah.  In the 2008-09 season, they only had four wins against playoff-bound teams.

The Thunder made the playoffs as an eight seed and Westbrook didn’t stop there.  He averaged 20 points and six assists in the first round against the Lakers.  He had 27 points against them in a game three win in OKC.  That stadium looked more like an ACC rivalry match than an actual NBA game.  They ultimately lost the series but Westbrook made a name for himself and is now considered by many to be a top-ten point guard in the league.

Westbrook may be short but he can definitely stretch his body.  Using his speed, he can slash using multiple cuts to get to the basket.  He has good eyes and ball control which makes him an especially dangerous point guard.  In addition, he likes to jump for a drive but instead pulls back for a jump shot which he can hit from nearly everywhere in the arc.  With the youth and speed in Oklahoma City, he knows how to read the fast break and make the necessary adjustments on the play for the easy bucket.  He knows when to pass for the easy points or he can simply take it to the hole himself.  Anything can happen with Westbrook on the floor.

Always swimming upstream

This might be one of the only athletes to come from Miami that isn’t a straight-up thug.  In fact, Salmons is probably the opposite.  The guy plays smart and has always been a standout character.

John Salmons started the season off for the Bulls under Vinny Del Negro in a system where all of his stats suffered.  It’s now known that Del Negro himself wasn’t really working under that system.  Regardless, Salmons was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks and head coach Scott Skiles actually utilized his skill in replacement of injured Michael Redd.  Salmons has the ability to finish seasons off really strong and is always a great fantasy pickup late in the season.  In March and April, he finished the regular season with almost 20 points a game and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc.  Yeah, those are his stats for those critical months for the past few years.  He’s an important part of this offense since he attracts some of the league’s better defenders but still has the ability to make plays off the dribble or make interior shots.  His all-around play is very methodical and smart.

 

Salmons was instrumental in the Bucks run to the playoffs

 

His efforts helped guide the Bucks to their first playoffs in years and did it without center Andrew Bogut who hyper-extended his elbow late in the season.  Salmons went on to average 17 points in the first round against the Hawks but the Bucks ultimately lost the series.  The only surprise is that their series with Atlanta went to seven games since many saw Milwaukee as a team that was going to get swept in the first round.

We like Salmons for many reasons but mainly for his ability to finish off the season.  He also aided the Bulls in their amazing seven overtime series against the Celtics last season.  Also, in July of 2006, Salmons was set to sign with Toronto.  He had second thoughts about that and that just gives us another reason to love him.

Get Rich or die tryin’

This Michigan State Alum has known nothing but personal excellence on any stage.  He won a title with the Trojans, competed in the rookie challenge in both 2002 and 2003 as both a rookie and a sophomore and won MVP both times, won the dunk contest in both 2002 and 2003 (only others with back to backs are Michael Jordan and Nate Robinson) and he helped guide an underrated Phoenix team to the Western Conference Finals.  What more could a guy want?  (Maybe a ring but we won’t get into that here).

Considered by many to be one of the best dunkers in the league, Jason Richardson is known for his surprises.  In 2007, he and the Golden State Warriors upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in what was the franchise’s first playoff series in 13 years.  He bumped back and forth from Charlotte to Phoenix a couple of times over the past two seasons but ended up being a huge factor on a very hot Suns’ team.  Phoenix finished the last two months of the season 17-4 as Richardson averaged nearly 20 points a game and shot nearly 45 percent from downtown.  The Suns then went on to beat Portland, swept a hot Spurs team and took the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals.  We had them written off when Robin Lopez went down but because of J Rich and that Phoenix bench, the Suns made the Western Conference Playoffs a little more interesting.

Richardson can make plays in this already complicated offensive system that utilizes a lot of “I-forgot-about-that-guy offense.” With so many weapons on the outer fringes and a point guard that can slash, Richardson has the ability to pick and choose where he can exploit the best.  He fills the gap from the three-point line all the way to the basket.  He can attract good defenders that just leaves another weapon open or vica versa.

On the high seas with Cap’n Jack

Let’s stay on subject with that 2006-07 Warriors team and bring up a favorite of ours, Stephen Jackson.  Jackson grew up in Port Arthur, Texas and worked at his grandfather’s soul food restaurant growing up.  He went to Lincoln High School in Port Arthur before attending Oak Hill Academy where he earned All-American in 1996.  He was the lead scorer in the 1996 McDonald’s All-American game.  Kobe Bryant, Tim Thomas, and Jermaine O’Neal were on that team as well.  He committed to the University of Arizona before being declared academically ineligible.  He attended Buttler Community College for one semester.

He was selected 43rd overall in the 1997 NBA Draft by Phoenix but was waived.  He spent time playing in Canada, Australia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic before returning to the NBA with the New Jersey Nets in 2001.  He appeared in 77 games (40 starts).  His first standout season was in 2002-03 with the Spurs and helped them win their second NBA Championship with over 12 points a game in the postseason.  He then went on to play in Atlanta and in the 29 games after the All-Star Break he averaged over 24 points a game.

Then came Indiana and what should have been a second ring for Cap’n Jack.  The infamous brawl between the Pacers and the Pistons landed Jackson a 30-game suspension, a $1.7 million loss in salary and an assault charge.  It could have been the best Pacers team ever and possibly cost the team a title.   The 2004-05 season was flushed down the toilet in a fight over a rout that they were winning.

Things didn’t get any easier for the Cap’n. On October 6, 2006, Jackson and three other Pacers players were involved in an altercation outside of Club Rio, a strip club in Indianapolis.  A fight broke out between Jackson and some other club patrons where  he was punched in the face and hit by a car in the parking lot.  Jackson proceeded to fire shots from a 9-mm pistol.  He was charged with criminal recklessment and was suspended by the league for the first seven games of the 2006-07 season.

Luckily for the Pacers, that suspension was served with Golden State.  Larry Bird began cleaning up the team and that included shipping both Jackson and Al Harrington off to the Warriors.  Ultimately, it just built another thug team since alongside the Cap’n was Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Matt Barnes and Richardson.

Jackson has continued to remain in the news as just a few weeks ago a group of armed men entered his house in Charlotte and stole several items.  Luckily for those men, Capn’ Jack was out of town.  Hardship and fumbles have marred this man’s career but he keeps on battling and helped take the bobcats to their first playoffs ever.  He averaged 18 points a game but the lack of depth in Charlotte really glared as they were swept by the Orlando Magic.

Jackson’s scrappy style and ability to make plays on any part of the court make him worthy of this list.  He has transformed into an unlikely leader on nearly every team he has played for which tends to go against what this man appears to be off the court.  Rather than letting his hardships bring him down, he is motivated by them.  Things have never been easy for the Capn’ and as long as they aren’t, expect good play.

“I’ve been living on the edge all my life, from coming out of high school early, not having any test scores, not being able to go to college, … I’m definitely a risk-taker. Like I always say, when pressure comes I make love to it.”

Lone Soldier in the Big Apple

Knicks’ basketball has a tendency to chew players up and spit them out.  The lime light of the city and the program’s inability to attract lasting talent has built somewhat of a black hole at Madison Square Garden these days.  Granted, the program hasn’t won a title in decades but to New Yorkers, they deserve so much more.

Since his breakout in the 2008-09 season, David Lee has been that one glimmer of hope for New York that even their greatest patrons didn’t even know about.  Lee is one of the least talked about players in the league that has averaged a double-double the last two seasons.  I guess this is just an example of wrong place at the wrong time, but in New York, people should be noticing players like him.

No worries now, Lee is moving to Cali to join a nuts Don Nelson system (if Nellie even gets the chance to stick around) that could use a big guy with a good jumper.  With a two-man backcourt of Ellis and Stephen Curry, the Warriors will be able to run several different types of screens.  With the several scoring options they now have, Lee should find himself able to score as well.

 

Victory will be sweeter in Golden State

 

Lee has the ability to actually run with a fast break and make intelligent plays at the rim.  He can dish out a few impressive passes here and there which you usually don’t see from a player like him.  The versatility of an already crazy offense will stretch even further with his interior jump shot.  Teams should never limit themselves to just covering him as a jump shooter since this guy can actually dunk too.

Expect him to get a little more comfortable on the court as well seeing as he finally has a team around him and isn’t the proverbial “Atlas” of the organization.  Golden State isn’t competing for the Western Conference Title with Lee but expect them to win a lot more games than last season.

ARTESTry

In a publicity stunt in 1997, Dennis Rodman declared his bisexuality in a wedding dress and stated that he wanted to marry himself.  He dated Madonna and even married Carmen Electra in what would only be a 10-day relationship.  He was a member of nWo wrestling and even missed games to wrestle.  He grew up in Oak Cliff in Dallas, TX.  With his five rings and an impressive resume that includes seven NBA Rebounding Titles and seven All-NBA Defensive Teams, the Worm had set the standard.

His antics both on and off the court gained him a ton of attention.  However, matched with his ability to actually play the game of basketball, he created what could be considered the best bad-boy image in the NBA.  Despite the wedding dress, he also amassed 29 boards in a game against the Atlanta Hawks in a season where he grabbed 20 or more 11 times.  He had attitude and he had talent as he played alongside some of the biggest names.  Then we had Jordan and Rodman.  Now, we have Kobe and Artest.

 

Malice at the Palace

 

After moves this offseason, the league is showing no signs of cutting loose from the current business model of build now and build big.  It has proven to be the fastest way to a title and the Lakers definitely showed that they are willing to fall in line with what other teams are doing too.  Pau Gasol for Javaris Critenton in a trade with Memphis and the release of Trevor Ariza brings in the Tru Warier.  LA was going to do anything to keep Kobe in town.  They had fallen short in the years before without Shaquille O’neal.  Artest was brought in to add a backbone to a relatively shallow team.  The big men of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum weren’t filling the void and the Black Mamba could only shut down one super star at a time.  Now, they have two bodies on the floor that can pest two All Stars at a time.  Up until the creation of the new Miami Heat, that’s about all you needed to win a Finals Series as a Western Conference team.  Paul Pierce was unheard of in this most recent championship series due to Artest’s defensive prowess.  In addition, his late threes in game 7 proved to be the catalyst to bringing another ring to LA.

Since, Artest has painted the town purple and gold.  His bad boy image tore a franchise apart in Indiana.  He has apologized about the Malice in the Palace and has directed his attitude to other players on the court and not drunk fans.  It’s his intangible flare that puts him on this list and don’t expect him to fade soon.  LA has brought in Matt Barnes and the thug aura has increased.  Now they have three defensive specialists on the Lakers to help bring about a tangible three peat.  Again, the business model proceeds but is led by a cold-blooded killer and a Queensbridge gangster (not an Akron cry baby).  C’mon, the guy wears 37 in LA in memory of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and its 37 consecutive weeks as No. 1 on the charts.  How can you not like the guy?  Well, maybe if you’re a fan of the Pacers, Celtics or the Pistons.

Every rose has it’s thorn

In February of last season, an MRI revealed that Chris Paul had a torn meniscus in his left knee.  Earlier in the season, the Hornets had fired Byron Scott and things weren’t looking too good for the franchise.  With Paul out for 25 games, New Orleans fell out of playoff contention but Marcus Thornton saw this as an opportunity to shine.

Thornton (Al Thornton’s cousin) was selected 43rd in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat but his rights were traded to New Orleans.  He had his first breakout game in November when he dropped 20 points on the Trail Blazers.  For the next five games, he averaged just over 17 points a game.  However, for a few weeks, he went practically unnoticed as his play was marred by inconsistency and limited minutes.  Then Paul went down.  Thornton’s minutes increased dramatically as this rookie found his shot again.  In late February, he set the franchise record for most points in a quarter at 23 in a 37-point performance against a little team you might have heard of called the Cleveland Cavaliers (that had the Akron cry baby on the squad still).  The next night he went six-for-six from beyond the arc for a 25-point display against the Bucks.  This is the fantasy player that no one else in your league ever thought to pickup and easily made the All-Beef Team.

 

Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison made names for themselves when CP3 was out

 

Thornton loves to bang on the inside and actually get physical with a lot of the bigger players that guard the paint.  He has the ability to loft the ball or find other creative ways to make plays and score when he is easily dwarfed by some of this league’s big men.  He loves to get low and drive but doesn’t limit himself to going past the basket but can pull up to sink tear drop shots.  However, he can also shoot threes and isn’t afraid to as he hit 117of 313 last season (that’s a little over 37 percent).

In addition, Thornton’s numbers stayed strong with Paul’s return showing that the Hornets will easily be able to play him alongside CP3 in a league that is seeing more and more tandem point guards in the backcourt (Ellis/Curry, Blake/Fisher, Wall/Arenas, Dragic/Nash) in a league that is getting faster and faster.  Thornton is in fact a two guard but with Collison now gone, he wont have to compete for minutes as the Hornets have shown that they they believe in Thornton.

Indiana’s rising son

Outside of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, Danny Granger may be the only ray of light for the state of Indiana.  As this franchise teeters on it’s existence in the state, this swing man could be the answer for a team that has been crippled for the last six years.  Larry Bird’s cleaning house in Indiana brought nothing but opportunity to this young player who all of the sudden had minutes available with the departure of Peja Stojaković and then Stephen Jackson.  He’s another example of a Team Beef player that made his name due to stepping up when others couldn’t.

In the 2007-08 season, the big trade with Golden State had brought in scorer Troy Murphy but Granger led the team in scoring for the first time in his career with 19 pts per game and started in all 80 games he appeared in.  Considering this is a player no one really talks about, that’s some good beef.

Last season, Granger averaged an impressive 24 points and five rebounds a game.  However, this guy is pretty tough as well.  In just the seventh game of last season, he was diving for a loose ball in a game against the Celtics when his face met the hardwood knocking out his two front teeth (Guess we know what he wants for Christmas).  He continued to play and the Pacers beat the Celtics 114 to 93.  He held Paul Peirce to 15 points as he went on to score 29 and had six three pointers.  He went on to have season-high scoring against Utah with 44 and Cleveland with 36.  Both teams made the playoffs due to their gritty defense.

 

 

Just a few missing teeth couldn't stop Granger

 

Granger hit threes, mid-range jumpers and dunks making him easily the most versatile player on the Pacers right now.  Watch the highlights and you will see him finish anywhere he really wants.  He works well off the screen or can isolate himself with fades or cuts.   In addition, the guy can defend.  He averaged 1.5 steals a game last season and has amassed 355 blocks in his five years on the league.

However, things are looking pretty bleak as far as where this franchise will be playing for years to come but they will at least have a workable roster.  Outside of point guard, the Pacers are loaded in the front court if Jeff Foster stays healthy and if Roy Hibbert continues to grow.  With Darren Collison on his way to town, the Pacers finally have a legitimate PG but need to figure out what they are going to do with T.J. Ford soon. If they buy out his contract, Collison will be the only one guard on the squad and going into his second season, leading a team by himself will be a daunting task.  However, with the development of Tyler Hansbrough’s three, the court and defenses should spread out and create more opportunities down the middle for the big men in Indiana.  The more open the court, the more you will see from Granger

He is a prime example of a player just in need of minutes in order to prove himself.  We aren’t saying that he and the Pacers are ready to compete for the Eastern Conference title but we do think they are taking the appropriate steps to at least play a few more games in the spring.

Getting Gay

Lottery teams turned out to be pretty apprehensive in getting Rudy Gay in the 2006 draft.  To his disappointment, he fell to No. 8 in the draft and was selected by the Houston Rockets.  Gay was known for his soaring dunks and sheer speed in college at the University of Connecticut but many speculated as to whether his maturity and game would translate well to the NBA.  Jerry West thought it would.  The man behind one of the most lopsided trades in the modern NBA (Gasol to the Lakers) actually has a keen eye for young talent (O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley).  He sent Shane Battier to Houston for the rights to Gay.

In his first season, he only averaged just above 10 points a game and helped guide the Grizzlies to only 22 wins on the season.  However, he did show promise in outings against Dallas, Philadelphia (they were actually a good team then), LA and Cleveland.  He scored a season-high 31 points his rookie season against the Pacers but really wouldn’t have his breakout season until the next year when Paul Gasol packed his bags for the West Coast.

 

Rudy's style matches well with the young Grizzlies

 

Gay’s scoring shot up to over 20 points per game in 81 games with 81 starts.  Even though the Griz had the same record as the season before, Gay was showing that he was worth the risk.  Last season, he helped bring Memphis into playoff contention for a while.  Outside of a surging Oklahoma City, the Griz played terrible down the stretch going 2-6 in March.  Gay Average over 18 points that month though.  The losses were mainly due to losing Ronnie Brewer to injury shortly after acquiring him in a trade with Utah.

With all eight Western Conference playoff teams winning 50 games or more last season, making the playoffs has become harder and harder.  Memphis would have had a chance if they were in the East but speculation like that isn’t why we like Gay.  Again, he is an example of a player coming in with a young team and taking the reigns in a period where the leadership of Gasol and Battier was gone.  It’s an NBA franchise and not a pickup game on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a feat in and of itself to be able to do this and it’s impressive even though we haven’t seen any hard results out of Memphis.

In addition, expect this team to perform even better next season and the one after that.  They made a steal by getting Greivis Vasquez in the draft but he showed a complete lack of confidence in the summer league.  When he finds his footing on the team, expect him to shine.  It’s a good thing they resigned Conley since this will give Vasquez a good amount of time to learn and come off the bench.  Starting him this next season would have been a disaster.  Tony Allen will bring some veteran leadership to this relatively young team and we still haven’t written off Acie Law as an NBA basketball player.  He’s from Texas so we gotta support our boy.

Rudy Gay has the opportunity to lead a team that will make up the next generation of the NBA.  They wont win now but it isn’t their time.  However, young teams such as Oklahoma City, Portland and even Milwaukee have shown that the learning curve can be sped up.  Hopefully Gay and the Memphis Grizzlies can follow suit, find their identity and surprise the pundits.

The Durantula

Yes, weakest nickname in the NBA but honestly, who cares when you are the youngest scoring champion in league history.  Honesty, at 22 that’s an amazing achievement.  Let’s just add that to Rookie of the Year, All Rookie First Team, Rookie Challenge MVP, 2010 All-NBA First Team and 2010 All Star and we got some good Beef.  That leaves out about 20 other awards and honors he received in college alone.  By 22, all we had were sub-par college GPA’s.  In an interview with NBA TV, two-time NBA Champion Kenny Smith corrected a pundit who stated that this Christmas we would see the top three players in the NBA when LA (Kobe) and Miami (Wade and James) took the court for the first time since the “Decision.”  He stated:

Kevin Durant doesn’t play for either team so you’re wrong.”

Eventually, the Kobes, Wades, and Jameses will fade.  Get used to it.  After that (and hell, even before that) we will have Kevin Durant.  At the No. 2 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Durant continued to prove that the No. 1 pick can be a bust and a missed opportunity as Greg Oden donned street clothes all season.  While he was reading up on his politics (seriously, Oden hired a tutor to mentor him about the upcoming election and politics since he had nothing else to do), Durant had his first breakout game on only his second game of the season with 27 points against Phoenix.  The next two games, he racked up 24 and 27 points.  He finished his rookie season with 20 points per game but didn’t rack up his first double double until the last game of that season with 42 points and 13 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors.

 

THE DURANTULA!!!

 

Then came the relocation.  We all know the story and the travesty that Seattle lost its storied franchise and an amazing player in Durant.  However, Oklahoma City has proven to have one of the best stadium atmospheres in the league.  Last season, Forbes magazine estimated that the team’s worth had grown nearly $10 million to $310 Million.  They ranked 12th overall in attendance with 28 sellouts in 41 home games.  OKC has built a very young and impressive lineup with Westbrook and Jeff Green as the Thunder won 50 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since the relocation.  This win total more than doubled their amount from the previous season.  With a matchup against the defending champion Lakers, their two playoff wins came as a surprise to many.

To say Durant was instrumental to the franchise, is an understatement.  With 29 points per game last April and 30 a game last March, he is the reason they made such a splash.  In the end, Artest was too much for Durant in the playoffs but he still went on to nab 25 points and 7 rebounds a game in the six-game series before falling 4-2 (we aren’t counting that against him since Ron Ron is on this All-Beef team as well).  However, Durant turns 22 in September and has already proven to many to be the best young player in the league if not top three overall.  The Thunder are doing nothing but getting better behind his leadership and we expect more great things from the Sooner State.

The poor man’s defender

We have already made it clear that we love this guy as we went against the grain and selected him as our pick for Defensive Player of the Year (sorry Dwight).  However, you may not know that Gerald Wallace is the only player since David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon to average over two blocks and two steals a game.  You also may not know that he leads the league in in-game concussions.  Gerald “Crash” Wallace likes to play recklessly and wildly, which often lands him on the DL.  However, this style of energetic play is one reason his stats are so nuts.

Wallace started out a Sacramento King where he rarely played.  The Charlotte Bobcats selected him in their 2004 expansion draft and his minutes increased dramatically.  Since, he has become the team’s captain and was the first Bobcat to be selected to the NBA All-Star game when he was voted in last season.  Wallace is the organization’s first player to score 30 points and nab 10 rebounds in two consecutive games.

Wallace’s offensive game is mainly defined by his ability to dunk, dunk and dunk a little more.  He can drive it himself with his limber body and speed or capitalize on put backs from failed shots.  His vertical leap allows the Bobcats to run some crazy alley-oop passes as well.  He can carry himself pretty far in the air as well.  His highlight reels are full of dunks made from lofty distances from the basket.  On the opposite end of the floor, he can block, block and block a little more.

The Bobcats themselves are on the rise with Wallace.  Bringing in Tyrus Thomas last season has helped add much needed depth to this front count.  Names such as DeSagana Diop, Erick Dampier and Eduardo Najera won’t be lending much support for him but he has shown that he can take advantage of increased minutes on the floor.  With the loss of Tyson Chandler this offseason in a trade with Dallas, Charlotte needs “Crash” more than ever.

They have proven that they can make the playoffs and stun the doubters. However, making the post season and hoisting a trophy are two very different things.  Wallace is an instrumental piece of this team and the big steps it has taken.  If they add a few more pieces and give Larry Brown some room, the Gerald Wallace and the Bobcats will be just fine.

Coast 2 coast

Philadelphia is in the midst of a complete identity crisis.  Andre Iguodala isn’t the primary scorer they thought he would be, Elton Brand was one of the dumbest signings of last season’s offseason and Maurice Cheeks is loving his new job that isn’t in Philly.  Andre Miller didn’t see sticking around as an option.

Last season is the main reason Miller is on this list.  He was a Cav before LBJ, I don’t think anyone remembers him playing for the Clippers, uhh he was traded from Denver to Philly for a washed up Allen Iverson and then there was the time he spent in Philly itself.  However, free agency kicked in and Miller packed his bags for a Western Conference team on the rise.

A lot of things were expected from Portland this season as their young squad was finally getting older.  Miller helped them out with some very impressive outings making them one of the best road teams in the NBA last season.  He dropped 51 points in Dallas, 20 in Cleveland and 28 in Boston.  The Trail Blazers ended the season with the third most scoring efficient starting roster on the road and won in other team’s stadiums by an average of four points a game (ranked eighth in the league).  Their backcourt alone averaged over 45 points a game on the road (ranked seventh in the league).

Miller’s a quick point guard that can actually score.  He knows how to adjust his shots from anywhere around the basket from right below it for an altered layup to just outside of the paint for impressive fades.  He can contort his body for miracle shots or cut the lane.  It’s impressive what Miller can do with his body to score.  His ability to slash can force defenses to collapse, which just opens up other scorers.  In Portland, he wasn’t short of scorers like he was in Philadelphia.  It’s the determination that he shows on the floor that makes him such a unique player.

However, the 2009-10 season was injury plagued to say the least for Portland.  Centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla went out with season ending knee injuries.  The Blazers made an immediate trade with the Clippers for Marcus Camby to fill the void at the five position.  Meanwhile, Brandon Roy bruised a bone in his right knee and tests showed a slight tear in his meniscus.  He was expected to miss at least the first round of the playoffs but came back from surgery eight days later for the series.  Portland was faced with some serious setbacks with a new center and a less than 100 percent Roy.  Miller had 31 points, 8 assists and 3 steals in game one as he went on to average over 15 points in the series.  Portland ended up losing in the first round to Phoenix but Andre Miller was one reason they still went down with a fight.

The King of Kings

After just finishing his rookie season, it’s easy to say that the Sacramento Kings are Tyreke Evans’ squad.  Although it’s still the Kings, it’s impressive to say the least.  The young man brought home the Rookie of the Year from the league and more importantly, was selected our ROY as well.

Evans’ style of play can generally be summed up by potentially disastrous speed and luck that gets the ball in the hoop.  He likes to slash but in a loose way that leaves the ball vulnerable to snatches from defenders.  This style of play has led to him averaging three turnovers a game but has also allowed him to score over 20 points a game.  It isn’t the prettiest style of play but it works for Evans.  He started the first month of the season off with 32 points in Utah and 29 in Dallas.  He would go on to drop 30 on Miami, 34 in Charlotte and 32 against San Antonio (all teams that would eventually make the playoffs).

In December, Evans helped the Kings rally from a 34-point deficit against the Chicago Bulls.  He scored nine of the Kings last 11 points and single-handedly outscored the Bulls in the fourth quarter (11 for Evans and ten for the Bulls).  In March, he recorded his first triple-double in a win against the Toronto Raptors with 19 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.  He also became the fourth player in league history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists his rookie season, joining Oscar Robinson (1960), Michael Jordan (1984) and LeBron James (2003).

 

Tyreke Evans sharing the Rookie Challenge MVP Award with Dejuan Blair

 

The guy’s got character too.  In last season’s rookie challenge he won the game’s MVP with 26 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals on 11 for 15 shooting.  He chose to share the award with fellow rookie DeJuan Blair who scored 22 points and nabbed 23 rebounds.

Although the Kings went 25 and 57 last season, things are looking up for the young franchise.  They made a smart draft pick in DeMarcus Cousins who is on the list for Rookie of the Year watch.  He will add some much needed brutality down low.  In addition, he will have Samuel Delembert to learn from.  In addition, Evans will have a full year to work Carl Landry in doing some scoring havoc.  Next year isn’t the season they will shine but expect to hear from them soon.

The other Orange Man

When we think back to the 2003 Syracuse men’s basketball team we often think of Carmelo Anthony.  However, we forget that it was Hakim Warrick’s clutch defensive play that helped with that title game against Kansas.  Anthony went on to declare for the NBA Draft and Warrick became the main scoring option for Syracuse.  He himself declared for the 2005 NBA Draft and was selected 19th overall by Memphis.

Warrick is mainly known for his post moves and thundering dunks.  The lanky player often referred to as “Skinny” can move with a fast break offense with ease.  His height doesn’t inhibit his speed or ability to dribble either.  He can burn defenders with switches and cuts in order to position himself for easy put-ins or his well-known dunks.

 

Hakim Warrick's block against Kansas that sealed Syracuse's 81-78 win over Kansas in the 2003 NCAA Tourney Championship.

 

Last season, his minutes decreased significantly in both Chicago and Milwaukee and his stats showed it.  However, Terry Porter and the Phoenix Suns have a huge hole in their front court with Stoudemire gone.  Warrick is a little faster than him and should work well with Steve Nash’s speed.  With all of the scoring threats on the Suns, “Skinny” should find himself open a lot and have the opportunity to capitalize on mismatches.

Landry Day

The Kings specifically brought in this proven scorer to do just that: help clean house and provide a scoring threat with the departure of Kevin Martin to the Rockets.  Should be easy enough with all of the weapons Sacramento has added to its core in the last year alone.

Carl Landry brings a specific toughness to the paint that should accent with Cousins very well.  With two bruisers down low, problems could occur but Landry has the ability to play off the ball very well and capitalize from a little beyond the paint.  The guy doesn’t give up on plays as he consistently nabs his own rebounds for put backs.  In fact, his play will make Cousins better.  It will be up to Tyreke Evans to decide the best way to play with these two and judging from his rookie season, this wont be a problem.  In addition, Landry will give them some teeth on defense with his relentless hustle and ability to block shots.

 

Smart draft picks and the acquisition of Carl Landry has landed Sac Town some much needed depth.

 

Landry, who was traded last season, has already shown that he is more comfortable in his new surroundings in Sac Town.  His points, rebounds and even steals per game all shot up.  It’s mainly due to a reason we keep highlighting: his minutes increased.  In his two and a half seasons in Houston, Landry had only one start.  All 28 games he played in Sacramento last season were starts.  His confidence has shot up and he obviously feels comfortable with the increased responsibility.

This once junior college player now finds himself on a team that is in desperate need of growth.  The last few seasons in Sacramento have been forgettable to say the least and It’s up to him to find his place in this offense that is going develop a little more with Dalembert and Cousins.  He may need to change his game up a little and add a little more diversity to how he scores but he’s still on the list due to how he grew last year alone.  Hell, the guy got shot in the leg and returned to play less than a month later.  However, the Kings have chosen to exercise the team option on Landry and there is a possibly of him leaving Sacramento.  The fans want him but no matter where he ends up, if given the minutes, Carl will shine.

Italian Stallion

This is a specimen of a basketball player to say the least.  It’s rare to stumble upon a player with the athleticism, ego and brains of a young Allen Iverson but Milwaukee did just that.  However, the path to the NBA for Brandon Jennings was a first for any player in league history.

At first, after high school, he made plans to attend either USC or Arizona.  However, at a young age Jennings was thrust into the national spotlight with an appearance on the cover of SLAM magazine with other top high school point guards including Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Lance Stephenson.  He also stared in the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch’s movie Gunnin for that #1 spot.  Also staring were Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez in a movie that trailed eight top high school players- including Jennings- from their hometowns to New York for the 2006 Elite 24 and Rucker Park.

In 2008, Jennings announced that he would be the first American to skip college to play in Europe in order to be eligible for the following draft.  At the time, ESPN and Scout.com had him ranked at No. 1.

He was selected 10th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and opted not to attend the event.  He didn’t appear on the stage to take a picture with Emperor Stern until the 14th pick was announced.

In just his seventh NBA game, Jennings proved that skipping college wasn’t going to bring him down at all.  On November 14, after a scoreless first quarter, he exploded and went on to score 55 points in Golden State.  His performance made him the first rookie to score that much since Earl “the Pearl” Monroe scored 56 in 1968.

It’s the swagger and confidence that Jennings plays with that has landed him on this list.  All season, he looked comfortable and at home on any NBA floor.  He can go from a full-on sprint to a spot-up jumper from anywhere inside and beyond the arc.  Defenders have to pick whether to stick with him for the jump shot or prepare for a cut move, which he can do as well.  He knows how to capitalize on this split decision and make the most of the play.  It’s a skill that we see in Kobe Byrant and LeBron James but very rarely in a rookie.

Jennings has good eyes and brains as well.  He knows when to dish it and actually gave Andrew Bogut the ability to improve his scoring as well.  Milwaukee was second in the league in bench scoring as well behind Jennings who averaged nearly six assists a game.

Milwaukee made the playoffs for the first time in years behind Jennings and the addition of fellow All-Beef Player John Salmons.  However, Bogut’s season-ending injury left them with little depth in the front court.  They took Atlanta to seven games in the first round behind Jennings’ 19 points a game including a 34-point performance in game one but physicality and size of the Hawks proved to be just enough to kill the Bucks’ short playoff run. Their three wins in the first round were their most post-season wins since 2001.

Jennings and the Bucks helped show that teams can turn their franchises around in a very short amount of time.  A lot of people didn’t see Milwaukee doing what they did and it was mainly due to Jennings’ ability to step right in and contribute.  A short fallout in the middle of the season dropped him out of the Rookie of the Year race but he still showed that he is one of the premier young guys in the league.

Brewing up a storm

Brewer is now a member of what we are calling the relocation of the Jazz.  With the signings of Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and now Brewer, the team is looking more and more like they should be wearing purple rather than red.  However, bringing him in gives this team the necessary depth to escape the first round of the East Conference Playoffs.

Last season, Brewer signed with the Memphis Grizzlies for a measly five games before going down with a season-ending injury.  We aren’t holding it against him and are definitely hoping that he is able to contribute a lot more as a Bull.  In Chicago, expect him to thrive off of low-post passes where he has developed a knack for slicing low with either Deron Williams or Boozer.  Now, he’ll be taking the dishes from Derrick Rose but his time with Williams has made him a much smarter basketball player.

 

 

Hopefully Brewer has purchased a new suit since

 

He has a funny shooting technique as a result from a water-slide accident when he was in fourth grade but can still score in double digits.  In addition, his turnover rate is low due his ability to finish.   He will thrive under Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system in Chicago with his ability to get steals with a career average of 1.5 a game.  Brewer will give him what he got out of Rajon Rondo: defensive hustle plays and steals.  Not much more you can ask for from a swingman.

Chicago has done a decent job reforming the team this offseason.  Losing Kirk Hinrich was a setback but they will recover.  Brewer gives them a versatile player with certain intangibles that they need.  Either off the bench or starting, he will contribute greatly to this young team on the rise.

I’m Lovin it

Players in the frozen tundra tend to get overlooked.  The Timberwolves are an abysmal franchise led by a madman in David Kahn.  One good decision he can be attributed with is his decision to trade for Kevin Love during the 2008 NBA Draft.

Kevin Love is a big man that has it all.  He can pass and run with the Wolves’ full-court offense.  He can shoot spot-up threes from a variety of angles around the arc and can bang on the inside.  Love is a fighter and his game is highlighted by the ability to go after his own rebounds in the paint and get hard-fought buckets.

The Timberwolves didn’t really realize what a gem they had until Al Jefferson was sidelined with a torn ACL muscle Love’s rookie season.  His minutes then shot up as did his stats.  He would finish that season with over 11 points and 9 rebounds in 31 starts with Minnesota.  He started last season on the DL with a broken bone is his hand but came back to help the then struggling Wolves who had a 2-16 record.  He finished last season averaging a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds a game.

Love knew how to come in and contribute immediately on a team with very limited weapons.  Up until last season it looked like fellow teammate Corey Brewer was a bust and the coaching situation in Minnesota has been shaky over the last two seasons.  Now, Kurt Rambis is getting the opportunity to enact an actual system up north and some offseason acquisitions have added all-new depth to the team.  Michael Beasely has assured Kahn that he is ready to take the game seriously and Martell Webster will contribute greatly.  Not to mention their draft picks of Lazar Hayward and Wesley Johnson will give them a well-rounded, young team that can grow behind Love’s increasing leadership and play on the team.

A New York Hope

The Beef is weary of anything that is even remotely tied to Isiah Thomas but for this next guy, we will make an exception.  Wilson Chandler attended DePaul and Thomas had the ties to convince him to declare for the draft and get picked up by the New York Knicks in the 2007 NBA Draft.

At first, Chandler’s minutes were limited until the Knicks were knocked out of playoff contention his rookie season.  Thomas increased his minutes and he finished the season just over 7 points a game in 16 starts. The following season, he played in all 82 games with 70 starts.  His stats rose to a solid 14 points and five rebounds a game.  The increase was mainly due to another name we really don’t like.  Mike D’Antoni liked the young small forward and his ability to move around from both the wing to shooting guard.

 

Things haven't looked good in NYC for a while but with Chandler, there is room for growth

 

These days, playing in New York means you’re literally on an island.  Last season, outside of David Lee, Danilo Gallinari and Nate Robinson (only for a bit since D’Antoni wasn’t a big fan of the little guy), there weren’t a lot of scoring options in New York.  Chandler led the team in scoring with only 15 points a game.  Last season, the Knicks were an easy team to defend and it showed with their 29 wins.

However, Chandler is getting better and better.  In addition, Amar’e Stoudemire is coming to town to add some extra muscle to the offense and luckily Chandler can switch up what position he plays.  He has the ability to stretch his length significantly and reach past defenders for buckets.  He has good jump shot as well and can shot off of the screen easily.  He can set his feet quickly and turn his body just as fast, which allows him to get off shots before defenders can set up.

The Knicks have been overlooked the last few years and with good reason.  It’s no wonder that LeBron completely looked over New York when shopping for a new team to play for.  Along with Stoudemire, the Knicks have brought in Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Anthony Randolph and Kelenna Azubuike.  This will give them several scoring options but to be honest, it’s all up to what D’Antoni wants.  He has a tendency to player very small rotations.  If the new acquisitions get minutes, the Knicks won’t have to rely on Chandler to score so much.  With the weight off of his shoulders, his stats may increase even more.

The Camby man

He’s the oldest and most storied player on this list.  A true defensive legend and future Hall of Famer.  With 2140 career blocks and two NBA All-Defensive Teams, he has much to tout.   He was an easy shoe-in for this list for both his legacy and what he did last season despite his age.  Marcus Camby is arguably one of the best defenders of this generation and is easily a member of the All-Beef Team.

As a NCAA freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Camby recorded 105 blocked shots.  He went on to record 336 in his three years at UMass.   He ended up leading his team to the NCAA Final Four in 1996 at set a tourney record with 43 blocked shots in 11 games.  However, both their tournament run and Camby’s record were nullified when it was revealed that the swat man himself had accepted over $28,000 from agents.  He had received the cash, rental cars and even prostitutes from the agents with hopes that he would hire them as his agents when he turned pro.  Sports Illustrated broke the story and Camby chose to skip his senior season and enter the 1996 NBA Draft.

(Note: several players on this list have experienced controversy both on and off the court.  It’s the character that counts and receiving both hookers and money never made Camby a better player but gave him something to overcome in what would be a marvelous career.)

He was originally drafted by Toronto and was traded to New York after his sophomore season with the league in which he average 3.7 blocks a game.  The trade was criticized at first since it sent fan favorite Charles Oakley to the Raptors. Fans quickly forgot this when he helped the 1998-99 Knicks become the first Eighth seed to make it to the NBA Finals.  In 2002, he was sent to Denver where he received his first Defensive Player of the Year award for the 2006-07 season.  He averaged 3.3 blocks per game (first in the league), 11.7 rebounds per game (fifth in the league), 9.3 defensive rebounds per game (second in the league) and 1.24 steals per game (second among centers).

 

Camby's defensive dominance gave Portland a chance

 

Although the Camby Man started the season playing for the Clippers, it’s his time on the Trail Blazers at the end of the season that places him on the list.  He stepped in to fill the big-man position in Portland after various injuries left the team scrambling to find a post defender.  He helped them secure the six spot in the Western Conference Playoffs without lead man Brandon Roy and experience a resurgence that is somewhat rare for a player of his age.   Seeing a 36-year-old get over one block and 10 rebounds a game is something rare but we saw that with Camby against the Suns in the first round.  He nabbed 17 boards in game one helping the underdog Blazers secure a 105-100 victory.  However, the Suns prevailed in their impressive march to the Western Conference Finals.  Portland wasn’t going to beat them but with Camby, they at least went down with a fight.

Camby is one of the few on this list that actually had a down year.  Consider this our favorite veteran on the court though.  It’s hard switching teams in the season like he did and being thrust into your third defense in two years.  For a guy drafted in 96, it’s rare to see them contribute the way he did but a guy with his character is going to help a team in ways we as fans don’t even see.  He has always given his team a defensive bite and veteran leadership.

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Filed under 2009-10 Awards, NBA at Large, Players

Team USA cuts Two More

JaVale McGee: left behind

In further preparation to scale their roster size down to twelve for the upcoming FIBA World Championships in Turkey this month, Team USA cut two more members of their roster. Jeff Green and JaVale McGee have been let go just prior to the team leaving for Spain on Monday. This is the second time that McGee has been released from the team. He was brought back, after the initial cuts, when Brook Lopez left training camp because of mononucleosis.

Neither Green nor McGee participated in Saturday’s scrimmage against China at Madison Square Garden which led many to believe that they would be cut. Team USA won 95-81 behind Danny Granger‘s 22 points. Granger, it seems, is suffering no ill effects from the finger he dislocated at the start of training camp. The team announced its decision to part ways with the two players before Sunday’s scrimmage with France at MSG.

This has been a busy weekend for Team USA as they have been the focal point at the World Basketball Festival. They played a blue and white scrimmage on the stage before an audience at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday to kick off the festival before Jay-Z took the stage in a further attempt to assert himself on the the sport. (The Jigga Man is nothing more than a minority owner on the league’s worst team.) This was followed up by various appearances by players at events across New York City, including Kevin Durant stopping by Rucker Park. Sunday’s scrimmage against France will be the last event for the team before they depart for Europe.

Team USA’s roster now stands at thirteen. Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Curry, Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Granger, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook will all travel to Madrid as Team USA will hold exhibition games against Lithuania and Spain before the World Championships start. Many believe that Gordon and Curry are the most likely candidates battling for the final roster position.

Now that McGee has been cut, Team USA only has one true center in Chandler. If the team has any hopes of succeeding they will have to get rebounding contributions from every position. Odom and Love should get their share of rebounds but guards such as Rondo will need to make a concerted effort to get in the lane and scrap for boards.

With such a guard heavy roster, Coach Mike Krzyzewski might think about brushing up on his Nellie-ball. The team will be forced to play small ball for much of the game, with Odom playing center at times. Speed will be their friend and they must use it to gain an advantage. If they cannot do that, the gold metal that has eluded them since 1994 at the World Championships will continue to be out of reach.

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Four Team Trade between Rockets, Hornets, Pacers & Nets

Darren Collison is headed to the Hoosier state

Just as the summer madness of free agency seemed to have stagnated a sizable trade erupts seemingly out of nowhere. The trade is between four teams and involves five players but no draft picks. In the deal the Houston Rockets will send Trevor Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets. New Orleans will then send Darren Collison and James Posey to the Indiana Pacers; Indiana sends Troy Murphy to the New Jersey Nets who send Courtney Lee to Houston completing one sizable trade circle.

With the Hornets shipping Collison to Indiana, the Pacers search for a starting point guard will finally come to and end. The team has wanted to acquire a replacement for the injury prone, T.J. Ford, for some time and have frequently floated the idea of trading both Ford and Mike Dunleavy Jr. in an attempt to address their needs.Now, it looks as though the pacers will buy out Ford’s contract and finally rid themselves of him.

Collison, although a rookie last season, proved more than capable of filling the role of a starting point guard as he took over for Chris Paul when he was sidelined by injury. Collison also brings a considerable three-point threat to the Pacers as he shot 40 percent from behind the arc. The Pacers shot 35 percent as a team last season from downtown.

Although the Pacers took on the bloated contract of Posey’s salary (two years remaining at #13 million) it will save the team $4 million on their overall payroll. This is something the organization is very apt to do considering that they claim they can no longer afford to pay the yearly leasing fee for using the Conseco Fieldhouse.

With Ariza headed to the Hornets, New Orleans has hopes to appease Paul and his recent trade request temper tantrum. Ariza is coming into his prime and should prove to be a more than serviceable wing who can get out and run with Paul on the break. It is a step in the right direction but they are still miles away from convincing Paul that he should stay in New Orleans.

As for Murphy heading to New Jersey, well, he will be as invisible as he was when he was with Indiana. He is one of the better players in the league but no one gives him much credit or attention because he has played in small markets for much of his career . Over the past couple of seasons he has become a double-double machine averaging 14.45 points and  11 rebounds. Avery Johnson will likely try and use him as a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki.

Finally, the Rockets have brought it Courtney Lee. Lee has valuable playoff experience from his time with the Magic and should provide the already scrappy and quick Rockets with even more of what Rick Adelman has preached. As an added bonus, trading Ariza will save Houston a considerable amount of money in the long term and $10 million this season alone.

(A side note: without anyone acknowledging it, the Sun Belt Conference has been a part of much of the recent news that has been churned up over the past week. Isiah Thomas coaches at Florida International and Courtney Lee attended Western Kentucky. Just saying…)

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Injuries Continue to Mount for Team USA

Another finger bites the dust

Just when you thought the worst was over for Team USA after losing Amar’e Stoudemire, David Lee, Brook Lopez, and Robin Lopez for various reasons, the team has been hit by another injury. On the first day of training camp in New York, Danny Granger dislocated a finger on his right hand after making contact with the underside of the rim while playing defense. As it turns out, he had dislocated a bone but put it back into place after it had happened. Granger spent the remainder of practice with his hand wrapped in ice. This injury is quite similar to how Lee injured his finger on the first day of minicamp.

This is the second time that Granger has been injured this summer. During the Las Vegas minicamp, he sat out some time with a knee injury but eventually played well enough to survive the first round of cuts on the team. Gerald Wallace, Tyreke Evans, JaVale McGee, and O.J. Mayo did not make the current 15 man roster. However, McGee was brought back to practice with Team USA when Brook Lopez was forced to excuse himself from the team as he is battling mononucleosis.

If Granger cannot participate due to his finger it will likely mean that he will not make it through the second round of cuts when Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff must trim the current roster down to 12 for the FIBA World Championships. The final roster must be submitted to FIBA by 26 August.

Before the World Championships begin, Team USA will play several exhibition games. The first is a ‘Blue vs. White’ scrimmage at Madison Square Garden on 12 August. They will play again in MSG on 15 August against France, who have injury problems of their own with Rodrigue Beaubois having broken his foot. From there the team will play its remaining three exhibition games in Europe. Two will be played in Madrid: 21 August vs. Lithuania and 22 August against Spain. From there Team USA travels to Greece to play the Greek national team in Athens on 25 August. The FIBA World Championships begin on 28 August.

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