Friday, August 29, 2008

The Best in the NBA: Nos. 40-31

To fill the void in the world of basketball right now, I have decided to follow in SLAMonline's footsteps (somewhat) in counting down the best basketball players in the League today. I remind you to leave your opinions in the comments section since I would like to hear what you think. I'll probably roll out a new part of this blog once every couple weeks so stay tuned. Please note that injuries have no effect on a player's ranking.

#40- Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors. Even though he's out for the season, we can't forget how great of a year Monta had with averages of 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists. He was essential in leading the Warriors to 48 regular season wins and was a playmaker on both ends of the floor with an average of 1.5 steals per game.

#39- Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies. The only bright spot on the team (after the Grizz "gave" Pau away) was a 20-point scorer in only his second NBA season and started in all the games he played in (81). Because Gay is so good at getting to the hoop, people forget how good of a shooter he is, too. Few realize that he shoots a solid 35% from three-point range.

#38- Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Indiana Pacers. Some may be scratching their heads at this one, but he is fully deserving of the #38 spot, if not higher. I recently wrote an article on making a case as to why Dunleavy is the most underrated player in the entire league with averages of 19 points, five rebounds, and four assists last year.

#37- Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks. The big man for the best young team in the East had quite a season last year with his team almost pulling off the miracle upset against the eventual-champion Boston Celtics. In that series, Horford averaged 12 points, ten rebounds, and four assists against the best defensive team in the NBA.

#36- Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats. The force in the middle for the Cats is one of the few reasons they win as many games as they do (which doesn't say a whole lot, but still). His averages of 14 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks per game are nothing to scoff at, while his 54% shooting from the field is decent as well.

#35- David West, New Orleans Hornets. The second half of one of the most lethal pick-and-roll combos in the League puts up 21 points, nine rebounds, and three assists per game. He is a solid shooter from both the line and the field and, when left open, can knock down the three. He was undoubtedly the second-best player on the second-best regular season team out West last season.

#34- Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers. The new AI in the City of Brotherly Love is one of the most versatile players in the NBA and has a large array of moves in his repertoire. In only his fourth year in the League, Iguodala put up 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He was the catalyst behind the late-season surge of the Sixers and definitely deserves some love as a top forty player in the L.

#33- Carlos Boozer, Utah Jazz. Some were unhappy with Boozer's inclusion on Team USA when the roster was announced; many more were unhappy with his being on the team as the Olympics went on, saying how he was a non-factor for the gold medalists. Whether he contributed much or not, he is extremely important to the defending Northwest Division champs on both offense and defense. Boozer averaged a double-double in both the regular season and playoffs this past season.

#32- Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons. Arguably the best conditioned athlete in the NBA is "Rip" Hamilton. He routinely plays forty minutes a game and never stops running his defender off screens the entire time. His averages of 17 points, four assists, and three rebounds does not accurately portray how vital he is to the Pistons team though. His shooting is even somewhat underrated in my opinion since he is known as only a "mid-range shooter". However, he shot 44% from deep last season.

#31- Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks. The second Hawk on my list is a guard, not a big man like the last. Johnson was the scoring presence for Atlanta all season long (22 ppg) and was a very good shooter (38% from deep). His rebounding is actually pretty good for a combo guard, too, with an average of four per game.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Team USA 87, Australia 76

The best test Team USA would face during their exhibition schedule would come in the final game. The Aussies held them to the fewest points of any team so far playing without their star big man, Andrew Bogut, who was out with an ankle injury. The Americans shot an abysmal 16.7% from deep while Australia made 40% of their attempts from three-point range.

The Achilles' heel of USA has to be their free throw shooting, which could hurt them in the Olympics against good teams such as Spain. They shot only 60.6% from the line today and Dwight Howard alone went 0-for-6 from the free throw line.

Team USA was also turnover-prone at times especially when the backcourt group of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade entered the game simultaneously. Two passes were thrown away and then another inbounds pass was almost picked off by the Aussies. Most of USA's 11 turnovers for the game, however, happened in their halfcourt offense. They were struggling to score because of Australia's packing their defense in the key and cutting down on USA's one-on-one isolation play opportunities, which are much harder to come by in international play than in the NBA.

For the Aussies, five players scored in double figures and all shared the scoring load, which made them tougher to defend. Their team featured a few Division I college players who were certainly not backing down to the Americans. In the second quarter, there was actually an exchanging of words that featured some pushing and shoving that broke out between some of the players. Personally, it was good for USA to experience something like that before they head to Beijing to begin Olympic play.

For Team USA, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James led the way with 22 and 16 points, respectively. LeBron also added four assists, five steals, and three blocks to his impressive stat line. Chris Paul had a game-high five assists while his teammate, Deron Williams, had zero assists and three turnovers.

As usual, USA had a few defensive lapses that gave the other team easy baskets. On one particular play, they doubled the post and left the weak side vulnerable. It was Carmelo's job to drop into the key but he decided to stay out on the perimeter and attempt to make a steal. An Aussie cut the middle, got the ball, and made a wide-open layup. Little things like that simply cannot happen if Coach K's team wishes to win gold.

I also think it was ludicrous for Carmelo and LeBron to guarantee gold and then for Wade to go out and announce that he has a gold medal tour planned already. They are just adding pressure to themselves when they really aren't so good as many people are believing and hoping they will be. If they play Spain like they did today, they will lose. Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff definitely have to make some adjustments such as working on their halfcourt offensive execution and their pick-and-roll defense. It wouldn't hurt to work on their defensive rotations either.

This game against Australia was another win for USA, but other teams like Greece and Spain and Argentina are watching these games and learning how to beat Team USA. It's no coincidence that their two toughest games were the two final friendlies on their exhibition schedule. As of right now, I don't see the Americans winning it all. Nevertheless, they most certainly have the potential and ability to do so.

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