Category: Games

Is Joey Votto the National League MVP? Part 2.1

Late Update: Howard is now on the DL. Extra legitimacy to this post I believe.

An unfortunate addendum is that Votto’s NL MVP candidacy was indirectly strengthened this weekend. Ryan Howard, one of the slugging first basemen with legitimate MVP aspirations hurt his ankle and may miss some games. Howard was struggling a bit anyway and an ankle injury will make it even harder for him to excel down the stretch.

 

Even without injury, Howard would almost certainly have finished behind Votto in the key batting categories but the Phillies’ trade deadline moves seem to have put them in a great position to make the playoffs which would have raised Howard’s already outsized profile. Howard also has the credibility of being Rookie of the Year, MVP and a World Series champion. While some would shake their heads at a Votto MVP (as happened with Justin Morneau a couple seasons back), Howard and Albert Pujols would be safe choices this year. Votto may soon become the best choice.

 

FDO

Is Joey Votto the National League MVP? Part 2

 

An unfortunate addendum is that Votto’s NL MVP candidacy was indirectly strengthened this weekend. Ryan Howard, one of the slugging first basemen with legitimate MVP aspirations hurt his ankle and may miss some games. Howard was struggling a bit anyway and an ankle injury will make it even harder for him to excel down the stretch.

 

Even without injury, Howard would almost certainly have finished behind Votto in the key batting categories but the Phillies’ trade deadline moves seem to have put them in a great position to make the playoffs which would have raised Howard’s already outsized profile. Howard also has the credibility of being Rookie of the Year, MVP and a World Series champion. While some would shake their heads at a Votto MVP (as happened with Justin Morneau a couple seasons back), Howard and Albert Pujols would be safe choices this year. Votto may soon become the best choice.

 

FDO

 

Is Joey Votto the National League MVP?

I know that he was the last guy added to the National League All-Star team and I know the Cincinnati Reds are ahead of schedule but I've started wondering: Does the combination of team and player performance mean that Joey Votto should be the MVP of the league this year?

 

At the moment, Votto is first in the league in batting, home runs, tied for (a distant) third in RBI and has substantial leads in OPS and each of the component elements. Even though the Reds are technically out of the playoffs, by percentage, they are fundamentally tied with St. Louis for first place in the NL Central. Most casual baseball fans know Joey Votto primarily for the anxiety issues that put him on the DL for emotional distress last year. He’s put that sadness behind him and has made himself into one of the 10 best players in his sport. And right now, Votto has great individual stats for a team in the pennant race. It’s way too early for this to be definitive but so far, Votto sounds like the MVP to me.  

FDO

I Like the SuperFriends

Lots of folks are giving grief to LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade for making free agent moves to team up in Miami. The suggestions have primarily included the notion that winning with lots of talent is somehow illegitimate and the championships that the SuperFriends might win together for the Miami Heat would be tarnished.

What?!? Winning is the bottom line in sports. Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods were recently ranked as America’s favorite athletes. Why?  Because they are viewed as champions and this country loves a winner more than anything else. Between Eagle, Colorado and Thanksgiving at the fire hydrant, Kobe and Tiger could have been sports pariahs but instead they’re our favorite athletes. Success leads to popularity when it comes to sports. As much as the SuperFriends are being beaten up now, I feel confident that if they win 2 of the next 3 NBA titles, all 3 of those guys will be among the top jersey sellers and commercial endorsers in the entire league.

 From a basketball standpoint, I love these moves. All 3 of these guys were the dominant stars on their teams and that’s a rare and enviable position. To willingly forego that status along with the money and control that accompany it is impressive. For young men in their 20s to choose a communal path to success over an individualistic one, especially in the hypermasculine world of professional sports, is refreshing and should be applauded. I hope this shared vision will help create a new paradigm in sports, one that’s less about the Alpha Dog and more about the winning team.

 

FDO

 

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers Draft Strategy

Chad Ford (via Mike Wells) on the Indiana Pacers draft strategy:

The Pacers are willing to give up their pick – No. 10 – in next week's draft to get a player that will help them immediately.

The Pacers wouldn't be searching for a point guard if they had taken [Ty] Lawson instead of Tyler Hansbrough last year. Lawson, who was the Pacers' second option, averaged 8.3 points and 3.1 assists last season.

Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison and Eric Maynor were all still available when the Pacers picked at No. 13.

That’s what I’ve been saying! There are two conventional methods for making draft choices in the NBA. One is 'Talent'. Identifying the best available player and choosing that guy regardless of external circumstances. The second is 'Need'. This means determining what your team needs in order to fill a gap or serve a particular purpose.

Last year, the Pacers were in position to choose either method. They were a bad team with low expectations. Two positions, center and point guard, were obvious holes that needed to be filled. More broadly, they lacked high level NBA talent and had only a few players who were well suited for the style of Coach Jim O'Brien.

With their lottery pick, Larry Bird drafted Tyler Hansborough, a superstar collegian who was clearly not the most talented player on the board. Most of the folks who were excited about his selection were not convinced about his NBA potential but instead raved about his NBA readiness. This presumes then that the Pacers were trying to fill an immediate need with Hansborough. Except that power forward, Hansborough's only viable NBA position, was a position of strength for the Pacers! Troy Murphy was one of the league's few double-double (double figures in points and rebounds) guys AND he fits perfectly into O'Brien's offense as a top level 3 point shooter.

Instead of choosing for talent or need, Bird seemed to be choosing the guy he liked the most. Whether that affinity is about personality, style, work ethic or some other factor, it was a silly choice. For a team that has virtually no chance at improving itself through free agency, making smart trades and excellent draft selections is paramount. Next week, the Pacers have a chance to begin making good on the progress the team showed at the end of the year. They can't afford another miss.

FDO

 

 

2009-10 NBA Playoff Predictions Part 2

 

Conference Semifinals:

East   

Cleveland vs. Boston

Cleveland in 5 games.

This is the last stand for the Celtics’ Big Three and I believe they will begin re-tooling immediately after the Cavs spank them in 5 games. The Cavs match up exceptionally well with Boston, especially since Kevin Garnett can no longer produce a series averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds a game. Even if KG manages to play Antawn Jamison to a draw, the Celtics only have a strong advantage at one position, point guard. And unfortunately for Rajon Rondo, the Cavs big men have lots of fouls to use discouraging forays to the basket since they won’t have to worry about Boston interior scoring. Again, this is just a great matchup for Cleveland and they’ll head into their rematch with Orlando with lots of rest.

 

Orlando vs. Atlanta

Orlando in 6 games.

Even though I think the Hawks have the potential to knock off the Magic, both teams will head into this series expecting Orlando to win. Dwight Howard will dominate Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia (who will play big minutes because Horford will be in foul trouble all series long) down low and I expect Vince Carter to have a stellar series against fellow Tar Heel Marvin Williams. Orlando just has too many weapons for the Hawks to deal with. Much like the Celtics in the parallel Eastern series, I anticipate this being the swan song for this group of Hawks with Joe Johnson and Mike Woodson both leaving for greener pastures in the summer. Much greener than Atlanta ownership wants to provide.

 

West

Los Angeles vs. Utah

LA in 7 games.

I think the second round of the Western conference playoffs may be among the best two weeks of basketball we’ve seen for awhile. Utah and LA have strong frontlines with great depth and talent. Those groups will be close to a draw with health perhaps determining the advantage. The contrasts between the Jazz strength at point guard with Deron Williams and the Lakers dominant shooting guard, Kobe Bryant, are fascinating and may decide the series in the last minute of a few games. At the end of games, Kobe can slow D-Will down but the Jazz strong defenders will be called for fouls by violating Kobe’s arms, legs, wrist, left hand or aura. The Utah faithful will pay close attention to which referees are assigned to the games, particularly if there’s a game 7 in Staples Center. In the end, the dream of a Kobe-LeBron Finals will continue at least one more round.

 

Dallas vs. Phoenix

Dallas in 7 games.

I anticipate this being another classic series although I would guess there to be at least a couple blowouts and giant momentum shifts in this matchup.  While the stars will almost certainly perform at high levels, I expect this series to be decided by role players. It will take big games by Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley, Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion to tip the balance.  Phoenix’ second tier players just aren’t as good as Dallas’. As much as I’d love to go against chalk here, I  think Dallas is just enough better to put the Suns away.

 

 

Conference Finals:

East

Cleveland vs. Orlando

Orlando in 6 games.

Everyone thinks that the Cavs are bound for the Finals but I still think Orlando will knock them off. LeBron is the best player in the world and he has strongest supporting cast yet but I don’t think they’re strong enough to outplay the Magic. At virtually every position (besides King James of course) the Magic has an advantage. If the Cavs could send Shaq and Antawn Jamison into a time machine to 2005 things would be different but in 2010 those two simply can’t play with Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis for a series. Although I love Shaq and appreciate the shape he’s worked himself into during his thumb injury, I expect this series to put the silly Superman debate to rest. Howard may have a couple 35-18-7 games like the ones Shaq threw up ten years ago. Combine the positional advantages with the coaching dichotomy between Mike Brown and Stan Van Gundy and I anticipate the Magic putting a dispiriting end to the LeBron era in Cleveland. (Whoops, that slipped out.)

 

West

Los Angeles vs. Dallas

Dallas in 6 games.

Dallas will defeat the Lakers largely because they have a strong team concept and can win close games. Even though Dallas does not have current team experience going deep in the playoffs, many of their individual players do. Dirk, J-Kidd, ‘The Jet’, Erick Dampier and ‘The Matrix’ all have been to the conference finals before and will expect to win this year. Rick Carlisle is one of the few coaches with zero fear of the Zen Master and Dallas won’t be rattled by bad calls or brief Kobe explosions. The Lakers, meanwhile, will be running on fumes after an intense, physical series with the Jazz. Unlike last year, when the Lakers were able to win close games against the Nuggets because of Rocky Mountain meltdowns, they’ll have to take games from the Mavericks because Dallas won’t give them any easy opportunities or second chances. Dallas will also keep Kobe from embarrassing them as he has so many times in the past. Caron Butler and Shawn Marion just won’t allow it.

 

 

NBA Finals:

Orlando vs. Dallas

Orlando in 5 games.

Yes, the Orlando Magic win their first championship after 2 previous trips to the Finals.

I think Orlando poses a horrible series of matchup problems for the Mavericks. To have any chance at all, Dallas will have to win one of the first two games in Orlando. If they manage that, the Finals may be competitive but I anticipate Orlando taking out its last year frustrations our on the Mavs. The Magic have many of the strengths that the Mavs do but with younger, more athletic players doing the same things. One of the secret Jedi mind tricks Stan Van Gundy has played very well this season is inserting a hot guy into the lineup and riding him. That means guys like Mikael Pietrus, Ryan Anderson, Marcin Gortat, Matt Barnes and JJ Redick all expect that they’ll have a chance to contribute if they play well. Rick Carlisle does not have that kind of trust in his players and the pressure on the Mavs will be horrific. This may be the last best chance for Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, two all time greats but Finals losers, to get a ring. I don’t think Brendan Haywood, JJ Barea and Roddy Beaubois will perform up to their capabilities, especially if the Magic take an early series lead.

For Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson this will be a great time to elevate their careers. Howard as a potential MVP candidate, VC as a sure fire Hall of Famer and Jameer as a legitimate All-Star player. Consider also that SVG was given the boot just before Dwyane Wade won a title for the Heat (through no fault of his own) and was embarrassed in last year’s Finals by Phil Jackson and I think the Magic will be playing their very best basketball of the year at precisely the right time.

For the second consecutive year, the Finals loser will follow up by winning the title. I don’t think that’s happened since 1988 but that’s what I’m predicting. Now let’s see where the next two months take us.  

 

FDO

2009-10 NBA Playoff Predictions

Round 1:

East

Cleveland vs. Chicago

Cleveland in 5 games. 

Cleveland is interested in a sweep but I suspect the Bulls will have at least one game in which they make lots of 3 pointers and enough hustle plays to take the series back to Cleveland. That’s about the best they can hope for. Well, other than getting a new coach and D-Wade to show up during the summer.

Boston vs. Miami

Boston in 5 games. 

Boston should dominate this series since they have 4 of the 5 best players. Despite Dwyane Wade’s brilliance, the Celtics interior depth will keep the Heat from having much success rebounding or scoring in the paint. Boston’s defensive rep should keep D-Wade below a dozen free throws per game. Boston will be able to use this series to round back into shape, setting up the matchup with the Cavs they’ve longed to have.

Atlanta vs. Milwaukee  

Atlanta in 4 games. 

This may rival the Suns-Trail Blazers for least competitive series. Atlanta will be excited for the chance to get into the second round and get some rest while waiting for the Magic-Bobcats winner. Milwaukee’s a great story but have very little chance to take a single game.

Orlando vs. Charlotte

Orlando in 5 games.  

As much as I like the Bobcats’ swingman duo of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, they don’t have a strong advantage over the Magic at those two positions and are severely behind them in virtually every other category. Larry Brown is a great coach but not good enough to overcome the talent disadvantages he’ll be facing.

West

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City

LA in 6 games.

An LA victory feels like a fait accomplit even though I’m not sure it should.  Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have monster series but the Lakers have tremendous strength, flexibility, coaching and experience. I think the Thunder will grab a couple games and put a little fear into the Lakers, perhaps even taking two of the first three games. Once the Lakers get the ship rolling though, I think they’ll overwhelm the Thunder. If Jeff Green were a more consistent player, the Thunder would have more than a puncher’s chance but he doesn’t have enough help in the post.

Denver vs. Utah

Utah in 6 games.

I’d love to see these teams play a series when fully healthy but that certainly won’t be the case this postseason. Even though I think Carmelo Anthony may average 35 points a game, the Jazz duo of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer is looking to make a deep run this year and are primed to do that against the Nuggets’ defense. As great as Chauncey Billups continues to be, D-Will is physically dominant and Nene, ‘The Birdman’ Chris Andersen and a hobbled Kenyon Martin will have a very tough time keeping Boozer, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur from combining to average 60 points and 30 rebounds between them.

Phoenix vs. Portland

Phoenix in 4 games.

This is the other matchup I can envision being not just a sweep but perhaps a sweep with multiple double digit wins. Brandon Roy won’t have any chance to come back from his meniscus surgery and LaMarcus Aldridge won’t be able to handle the energized Amaré Stoudemire well enough to stay out of foul trouble.

Dallas vs. San Antonio

Dallas in 5 games.

Dallas is clearly on a mission and they have the talent, depth, athleticism and experience to beat the Spurs. Even though I expected the Spurs to compete for the NBA title at the start of the year, the Richard Jefferson experiment has failed miserably and Caron Butler will eat him alive in this series. I expect Shawn Marion and Roddy Beaubois to have the bulk of the minutes guarding Tony Parker which means Jason Kidd and Manu Ginobili will find themselves in a great battle of smart, crafty hustlers. This will be a fun series to watch but I don’t see the Spurs making the critical plays at the end of games. With Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Caron Butler and Jason Kidd, the Mavs have four guys who love big moments and big shots.

More predictions soon.

FDO

Going for Gordon?

Lottery?!? You’re talking about lottery?!?

Uh no. Lots of folks in Indiana have suggested that Butler forward Gordon Hayward may be drafted by the Pacers this summer. Since the Pacers are not in the playoffs I have to repeat myself. Just a moment.

Lottery?!? You’re talking about lottery?!?

I am not a particular fan of Larry Bird’s work as an exec but taking Hayward would be a shocking development even for him.

People wonder about Hayward’s appeal to the Pacers because of some helpful non-basketball factors. He’s White, he’s local, he’s a folk hero kid, he’s from a team system, he’s super smart and he’s entirely clean cut Hoosier to the core.

While all those things are true, I don’t think Bird will make that kind of reach. (I think Bird may be willing to trade out of the lottery and add a second late first rounder or early second round pick so he can delay taking Dallas’ second rounder until next year when the Mavs pick will likely come earlier. If that happens and Bird’s drafting between 18 and 25, he’d probably be excited to grab Hayward then.) The biggest issue is simply that this is the deepest draft in a couple decades if not ever. I know that’s a giant statement but because of the underclassmen declaring early to avoid Collective Bargaining limbo next year there are lots of guys who would normally stay in school (uh, like Gordon Hayward) are headed to the draft.

Beyond the competition, Hayward is not Bird’s ideal kind of player. He’s quite young and Bird loves seniors; Hayward doesn’t have an obvious NBA position and Bird likes guys who fit clearly defined roles; Hayward mirrors Mike Dunleavy in ways that may make Bird wary; finally, Bird’s track record indicates that he does not feel the kind of pressure many execs do the placate his fan base when draft day arrives.

Please remember that a couple years ago, Broad Ripple high and IUPUI senior George Hill was available for the Pacers but Bird didn’t jump. Hill fit the Pacers’ needs at the time much better than Hayward does now and filled the non-basketball factors (except his race) just as well as Hayward does. Hill is excelling with the Spurs and perhaps Bird believes Hayward will have the same impact but I don’t think Bird will be willing to spend his lottery pick to find out.

FDO

All-NBA Teams for 2009-10

First Team

G Dwyane Wade

G Kobe Bryant

F LeBron James

F Kevin Durant

C Dwight Howard

These selections feel pretty obvious to me. I should note that, for all three teams, I list the players in rank order within position. D-Wade was the first guard on my team while Kobe was the second and so on.

Second Team

G Steve Nash

G Deron Williams

F Dirk Nowitzki

F Amare Stoudemire

C Andrew Bogut

Nash and Williams or Williams and Nash. They were clearly the third and fourth best guards in the league this year. The last game of the year ultimately determined my order for them.

Believe it or not, I almost feel badly for Dirk Nowitzki. Sure he’s won an MVP and is the NBA’s best European player ever but he’ll probably end his career as a top 50 all time player with only 1 or 2 First Team All-NBA selections. As great as he’s been (again) this year, he not only doesn’t make first team this year, but he could have easily fallen behind Amaré and Carmelo. The Mavs finished ahead of the Suns and although Dallas has more team talent, Dirk gets credit for being the only top level guy on his team. Amaré and Carmelo both have dynamic point guards who score well and require lots of defensive attention from opponents. So narrowly, I have Dirk, Amaré then Carmelo.  

As I mentioned yesterday, Andrew Bogut has had a sensational season and clearly deserves this second team nod. At this time last year, I anticipated this slot being filled by Andrew Bynum, Yao Ming, Greg Oden or Andrea Bargnani. I’d given up on Bogut being more than a serviceable center but I was absolutely wrong.

Third Team

G Joe Johnson

G Brandon Roy

F Carmelo Anthony

F Zach Randolph

C Brook Lopez

Johnson and Roy are similar players with similar teams. Johnson gets the nod due to his better health and Atlanta’s team success. Next year may be the season when Roy leaps ahead of him but since Chris Paul will likely be healthy, third team may be B-Roy’s level for the next couple years.

Carmelo was an easy choice here but Z-Bo was not. Lots of folks will probably pillory this choice but virtually all his numbers are in line with the other candidates and he did this great work on a radically transformed team with other scoring happy guys. Randolph kept the Grizzlies in playoff contention even though most of us thought they’d be lucky to win 30 games. And maybe the most amazing thing of all; Zach Randolph made his teammates better. The other four starters for Memphis all did more than could have been expected this year with Z-Bo as the anchor, lightning rod and leader.

Brook Lopez is the center choice for me. Al Horford got the All-Star nod but didn’t deserve it and David Lee put up nice numbers but in a system and environment conducive to great stats, didn’t deliver those. Let’s just put it this way: Wouldn’t you trade David Lee if you could get Brook Lopez, right now?

Honorable Mention (next 10 regardless of position)

Carlos Boozer    Tim Duncan     Chauncey Billups   Paul Pierce   Rajon Rondo  Pau Gasol     Chris Bosh    Danny Granger     David Lee     Chris  Paul   

Out of these ten guys are 8 forwards (Lee is only a center because the Knicks’ legit centers are atrocious.) which means they get squeezed out. Were Duncan willing to be labeled a center (which he really has been since David Robinson retired) he would have been second team. The other guys will have to settle for All-Star games. Rondo has a chance at making All-NBA next year if his mid-range game improves and CP3 may combine with Darren Collison to form the best backcourt in the league next year. Even if Collison regresses some, as long as Paul is healthy he should battle Wade and Bryant for 1st team honors.

FDO

NBA Awards 2009-10 Part 1

NBA’s Best in 2009-10

 

All 82 games matter so I never finalize my awards predictions until the season ends. This year, the only drama for me was between #2 and 3 on my MVP list. I don’t think I would have changed my choice had the Magic and Lakers tied for the second best record in the league but that distinction is pretty important.  

 

 

Part 1

 

MVP

 

1. LeBron James

2. Dwight Howard

3. Kevin Durant

 

LeBron is a clear winner. He’s the best offensive player, one of the best 15 or so defensive players and the catalyst for the best team in the league. Right now, LeBron is the only basketball player in the world that can do everything very well.

 

Dwight Howard edges Kevin Durant by a small margin for me. Durant is my favorite player to watch on the offensive end of the court and Howard my favorite defender. The substitution test says Durant should finish 2nd here. (Imagine replacing each guy with an average player at his position then consider what the team would do.) Durant’s Thunder would be in the 35 win range while Howard’s Magic would still be well above .500. This year, though, the substitution test would fail to acknowledge that the Magic have had important players in and out of the lineup all year but have never really faltered. That’s almost entirely due to Howard. He’s been the constant force that’s maintained some offensive continuity and transformed a group of poor individual defenders into a top tier defensive unit. Durant’s made impressive strides defensively but he’s (at best) the Thunder’s fourth best defender and that difference plus Orlando’s second best record status pushes Howard past Durant by a nose. 

 

 

Rookie of the Year

 

1. Tyreke Evans

2. Brandon Jennings

3. Stephen Curry

 

This is a classic multi-player race reminiscent of MVP races in ’73 and ’90. In the end, Evans’ raw numbers are so extraordinary I believe I would have to search for reasons NOT to give him the nod. As reported widely, he’s joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only rookies to average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Perhaps more amazing is taking a moment to consider the rookies who didn’t meet those marks. We’re talking about the most versatile guys in history, players like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Grant Hill and Tim Duncan. NONE of those guys did what Tyreke Evans has done. It’s gotta be Evans.

 

In most years, Brandon Jennings would be an easy choice for this award. 55 points in a single game and quarterbacking a basement dweller to the playoffs without their only star player? Jennings’ campaign began and ended in truly spectacular fashion. However a dip in his play during the middle portion of the season provides some justification for pulling him down to second. Second to Tyreke Evans is still a remarkable accomplishment, clearly validating Jennings’ experiment to Italy.

 

Third on my list is the guy many are predicting to be the best in this rookie class and perhaps an all-time great, Stephen Curry. Curry had a slower start than the meteors above him but is already being considered for next year’s All-Star Game. Curry can pass, shoot, score, rebound and defend at a high rate and excelled in the midst of an amazingly dysfunctional situation. The area where Curry’s NBA pedigree serves him best though is his decision making. On a super high volume offensive team, he still managed to create a nice balance of shooting and passing. His backcourt mate, Monta Ellis, was at his very best late in the year when he began mimicking Curry’s efforts to share the rock.  Not to slight, Ellis but because Curry and Evans do so many different things well it’s already become a pipe dream of mine to watch those two play in the same backcourt for a season. ASGs just won’t be enough!

 

FDO

 

Part 2 is next!