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Terps, Hoyas, and Wizards

Monthly Archives: August 2012

By: Mike Bohlin

As we move ahead in our offseason look at Eastern Conference backcourts we find the Detroit Pistons coming in ranked 14th on our list. The Pistons had a rough go of it in the lockout shortened 2011-2012 NBA regular season finishing with a record of 25-41. They got rid of Ben Gordon during the offseason and have made the decision to move forward as a franchise with Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey as their primary guards.

While I am actually a big fan of both Knight and Stuckey games neither has shown the ability at this point in their careers to be considered “the guy”. Knight and Stuckey are both essentially combo guards who don’t excel at distributing the ball to their teammates and you can tell why I have them ranked 14th in the East. Call me old fashioned but I prefer for my starting point guard to average over four assists per game. Amazingly both Knight and Stuckey finished last season averaging 3.8 assists per game. That number simply needs to be higher for the Pistons to take the next step as a franchise.

What is slightly more concerning to me than the lack of assists from the starting backcourt without a doubt is the sheer lack of depth the Pistons have on the bench. There are a total of four guards on this roster, four! That doesn’t leave much flexibility for the Pistons were foul trouble or injuries to inevitably rear their ugly head this season. Who are these backups to Knight and Stuckey you may ask? Will Bynum and Kim English. If you are an absolute hoops head like I am you know these names from their college days at Georgia Tech and Missouri respectively but for the causal NBA fan you are more than likely going to have to use our friend Google to figure out who these guys are.

Bynum, who is generously listed at 6’0”, has proven to be a nice change of pace guard off of the bench but much like the two guards in front of him on the depth chart he is more inclined to look for his own shot rather than being focused on getting his teammates involved. He only averages 3.1 assists per game over the course of his career, that doesn’t scream backup point guard to me at all.

Kim English was a second round pick of the Pistons this year after he completed his four year career at Mizzou. It would be tough for the Pistons brass to expect much of a contribution out of the rookie despite his solid numbers as a collegiate player. It is very likely that his presence will be felt the most on the defensive end of the floor. In watching English play the last couple of years I was always impressed by the tenacity he displayed while defending, that is simply a trait that you either have or you don’t. While he shot an amazing 52% from the field and an equally impressive 46% from long range as a senior at Missouri it is hard to expect the same type of output from him as a professional. Especially when you take into consideration that those statistics were significantly higher than any other season he had during his college career.

The Pistons biggest problem lies in the fact that there is legitimately no depth in the backcourt. While the pieces that they have, especially in the starting lineup, might be easy on the eyes there is nothing behind them that I would have any confidence in were I a Pistons fan. They better hope that Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are the second coming of the David Robinson and Tim Duncan from the Twin Towers days of the San Antonio Spurs (For the record I don’t think this at all) otherwise they will struggle again this year.

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By: Willis

#11. Detroit Pistons

Centers: Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond

Power Forwards: Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko

Small Forwards: Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette

The Detroit Pistons find themselves at #11 with the chance to improve drastically if their rebuild goes according to the plan. But in the world of the post-Championship Pistons, that’s not always the case. In Greg Monroe, the Pistons have one of the best young big men in the NBA, and they’re hoping to build off his solid sophomore campaign to hopefully make the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.

The Alpha Dog: Greg Monroe

Even though Tayshaun Prince is the veteran in this front court, Greg Monroe has already taken over as the Alpha Dog in my book. Last season he showed exactly why Detroit had been so high on him when they drafted him 7th overall in the 2010 NBA draft, averaging 15.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG and improving on his rookie campaign. So what makes him so good and assures me that he’s going to get better? His brain.

Monroe isn’t the most athletic big man you’ll find; JaVale and Dwight can outjump him or outrun him any day. He arguably doesn’t have the best post moves, either; Andrew Bynum on the block is as good as it gets nowadays. But Greg Monroe’s noggin is built differently than those guys. He has a basketball knowledge that makes his game look like that of a 8 year veteran rather than a player entering his third season. Monroe understands that his athleticism isn’t going to win him every battle, so he instead has superior positioning against centers. Good big men get in position down low and use their tried and true maneuvers to score, and that’s exactly what Monroe does.

His offensive game actually reminds you of the Kevin Garnett you see nowadays; the one that’s too old to blow by people athletically, so instead he outsmarts you down low or shoots a jumper over your head. It’s so old school that you could swear he was playing in the 70′s, honestly. But it’s a good thing, because whereas athleticism fades, Monroe is only going to become a smarter player who will understand his limitations even more as the years go on.

Another thing about him: dude can dish the ball very well. He is always finding cutters and passing out of double-teams, which is why he averaged 2.3 assists per game last year. It’s not a bad mark for a center, but it’s not indicative of how good he really is. On any given night, Monroe can give you more assists than your point guard, as he did against Chicago (7 assists) and Cleveland (6 assists) last year. It’s that ability that makes him even more dangerous on offense.

Defensively, he could be better. His lack of athleticism shows there, and he obviously needs work staying in front of defenders. And if Andre Drummond mans the center position next year, Monroe may have an even tougher time with power forwards, as they tend to be more athletic. Either way, at 6’10, 260, he’s not going to get pushed around too often on the block.

The Complimentary Cogs

Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell, Andre Drummond and Jonas Jerebko are the guys who bring this unit down a notch. Prince is heading into his 11th season and isn’t getting any younger, which is bad given that he regressed a lot offensively last season, making only 42.1% of his shots and averaging 12.7 PPG (which is exactly how many shots he took). On the defensive end his length is still an asset, but he has a harder and harder time locking down wings like he did earlier in his career.

The Pistons brought in Corey Maggette to help with the workload and bring in some instant offense, but I can’t see that working out considering he shot 37% from the floor last season (a career low). Charlotte didn’t even want him, which says a lot about where his skills stand given that he’s even older than Tayshaun Prince. Maggette hasn’t been able to win anywhere, and I’m not sure his slow-down-the-offense, get to the foul line game fits with this team. He still gets to the line, but his game has been known to completely trash the offensive flow. Toss in the fact that he has never been a competent defender at any point in his career, and it’s hard to see how he will help.

Jonas Jerebko is a guy who showed promise during his rookie season where he averaged 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest, but then he suffered an injury which forced him to sit an entire season. Last year he came back a bit less effective, but nonetheless still displayed a bit of hope that he can become a good player. He can play the 3 or the 4 decently, and his ability to get to the line and create instant offense off the bench might come in handy for a team that might need to score some points.

Then there’s always Jason Maxiell, who has been with the team for seven seasons but has yet to really justify being played too often. At 6’7, he’s too small for a power forward but too slow to play the wing position. His minutes are going to dwindle down severely this season because he doesn’t really bring a lot to the table. He can rebound alright, but he can’t score at all. Coming off the bench is fine, but if the Pistons start him at power forward they are going to be in trouble.

Finally there’s Andre Drummond, whom I really can’t comment on because he’s such a wild card heading into this season. When he’s on, he can provide great defense and a high-flying big man to complement Greg Monroe very well. But when he’s off, he’s still everything Greg Monroe isn’t: kinda clueless on the court, stupid fouls, and missed assignments mixed with ill-advised shots he can’t make. You take the good with the bad, and I have a feeling that for every good game Drummond has, he will provide a 6 foul performance that is groan worthy.

Best Case Scenario

Andre Drummond fulfills all of his potential and isn’t deemed a major reach in the draft. Instead, he provides the yang to Greg Monroe’s yin, and the two become one of the more dominant big man tandems in the NBA. If he can stay out of foul trouble and not be too much of a liability while going for blocks, then the Pistons will be a good team.

Monroe continues to improve and becomes an 18 and 11 kind of big man, which puts him up there with Pau Gasol in terms of effectiveness and immediately boosts the Pistons up a lot of rankings. If Monroe continues to progress, so will the Pistons. He makes everyone better, and that’s something that Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggettee could use. Finding those two cutting into the lanes or out on the three point line would be huge for this team.

In a best case scenario, they make the playoffs as a 6 or 7 seed and likely have a first round exit heading their way with the potential to upset an older team like Boston.

Worst Case Scenario

Andre Drummond proves to be an enormous bust and they’re just as bad as last year, where they didn’t make the playoffs and couldn’t put it all together. If he can’t stay on the court for them, then they’re left with one real big man on the roster, and that’s a lot of minutes to be putting on Monroe.

Speaking of Monroe, that athleticism could limit just how good he really is. It remains to be seen what his ceiling is, and who is to say that it isn’t last year’s performance? If Monroe has already maxed himself out, then he is only going to get marginally better from here, and not take the leaps and bounds the Pistons hope for and need to get in order to become a force again in the Eastern Conference. Oh, and he turned the ball over at an alarming rate last season, so if he doesn’t cut back on that, then this team could become a sloppy mess by the end of the year.

Maggettee and Prince are old, and the wheels could fall of at any minute. Why wouldn’t that minute be now, given that they both had their worst seasons as pros since their rookie year? Tayshaun provides very little offense, and has had a balky back for a few years now. If he can’t shake that and remain healthy, they have a ball hog to turn to in Maggette who isn’t as athletic as he used to be.

Has the recipe for another pretty bad season.

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By: Mike Bohlin

According to Marc Stein of ESPN the Washington Wizards have agreed to terms on a contract with free agent swingman Martell Webster.

While terms of the contract have not been released per team policy it has been widely speculated that the Wizards would not spend more than the veteran’s minimum on any remaining free agents. Webster, 25, played for the Minnesota Timberwolves the last two seasons after spending his first five seasons in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The former number six overall pick in the NBA draft has dealt with a number of back issues over the course of his young career. Webster, however, has always been known as a shooting specialist. For his career Webster has shot 41% from the field and 37% from three point range. This includes the 2010-2011 season where he shot a sweltering 42% from long range.

At 6’7″ and 230 pounds Webster could easily provide relief off the bench for the Wizards at both the SG and SF positions. While this might not be the sexiest signing of the offseason Webster fills a vital need for this franchise as we move forward out of the doldrums of the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference. We will have more on this signing as more information becomes available.

Update:
The numbers for Websters contract have been released. The Wizards will pay Webster $1.6 million for one season, far more than the minimum amount that the Wizards had been rumored to be willing to offer.

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By: Mike Bohlin

Its amazing how much the topic of conversation can change over the course of an afternoon. This morning Rotoworld reported that the Wizards were on the short list of potential landing places for the veteran swingman. Reuniting with the Ernie Grunfeld, Redd would provide some leadership for our youthful rotation of guards.

Normally, in what’s essentially a dead period for basketball news, one Wizards story for the day would be enough to pique my hoops interest. Today must be our lucky day, Marc Stein broke the news via his twitter account that free agent swingman, and former lottery pick, Martell Webster worked out with the Wizards. According to Stein the Wizards are on the short list of teams pining for the services of Webster this upcoming season.

Dealing with a multitude of back injuries since entering the league Webster has yet to realize the potential that Portland saw when they took him with the sixth pick in the 2005 draft. Webster would offer the Wizards another adequate shooter on the outside as that has been one of the teams biggest needs this offseason. A career 37% shooter from long range Webster easily would fill a major need going forward.

Whether the Wizards can sign Redd or Webster not its good to see that we’re still trying to make moves in the free agent market. It’d be nice for us to actually land one of these guys though as we desperately need it. Happy hunting Ernie Grunfeld!

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By: Willis

#13. Cleveland Cavaliers

Centers: Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller

Power Forwards: Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuels

Small Forwards: C.J. Miles, Omri Casspi

At #13 on this list, we have the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have a young, athletic front court that is expected to be great on defense, but questions exist about how good they can be offensively. Led by veteran Sideshow Bob Anderson Varejao, the Cavs are looking to finally crack the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left town. They already missed out on their goal to win a championship before King James (set by owner/moron Dan Gilbert), so this would be a consolation prize.

Best Case Scenario:

Their back court is primed to be the focal point of their offense with Kyrie Irving taking over and becoming the most dazzling point guard to enter the league since Chris Paul (except Kyrie was even better), but the front court has a secret weapon as well. Cleveland took a chance on potential panning out when they drafted Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick last year, and the first year results were promising. By the end of the season, the highest drafted Canadian-born player was averaging 8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and looked to have a very bright future ahead of him.

The best part about Tristan Thompson is his willingness to fight for rebounds down low, which is where you’ll find him a lot whenever you watch the Cavaliers. He crashes the offensive boards (Thompson averaged 3 a game last year) and absolutely loves to dunk the ball whenever possible which is never, ever a bad thing for a big man. Thompson also ranked third amongst rookies in blocked shots at 1 per game, but that number improves the more minutes he gets. His rebounding ability placed him tops amongst all rookies, which is a good sign of things to come as rebounding ability doesn’t get worse, it gets better.

If Thompson plays a bit further out from the basket and develops a passable jumper, the sky is the limit for this kid. His athleticism allows him to play out of position at center, but with Varejao and Zeller being healthy, Thompson is going to slide to the four (his natural position)  next year and potentially be a very effective player alongside them. Assuming he stays healthy and continues to develop offensively, the prospects of this front court become dangerously good.

Another bright spot going into next season is a healthy Varejao, who missed most of last season. By now everyone knows what Varejao brings to the court aside from floppy hair; he’s a tenacious defender and excellent defender against opposing big men. His strong Olympic play this summer can only be a good thing for the Cavs, as he looked completely healthy and was in the top 5 in rebounding during the tournament. Varejao is limited offensively, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to score around 10 points, which for him is all you can really ask. He has actually gotten much better at shooting, and while it’s not really asked of him too often in their offense, it can only help make the Brazilian native more of a threat.

At the small forward position next season the Cavaliers are going to have to rely on a combination of Omri Casspi and CJ Miles, two players who have yet to establish themselves as full time starters. The Israeli Casspi has the size advantage at the position and could very well see more minutes than Miles, who will move between the two (to spell incomer Dion Waiters) and the three.

In Casspi, the Cavs are hoping he can return to the numbers he had upon entering the league with the Sacramento Kings. That is to say, they want the guy who shot 45% from the field including 37% from long range and looked like one of the steals of the 2009 NBA draft. Casspi has had his share of bad luck, falling out of favor with a dysfunctional Kings team then coming off the bench for the Cavaliers and not performing well. But there is still hope for him, as he is only 24 and can still improve. If he can provide a deep threat and get back to hitting three pointers well, then he will compliment the rest of the inside-heavy front court exceptionally well.

With CJ Miles, the Cavs can hope that he will become a finisher at the rim (which he converted 69% of last season) and a scorer off the bench. Miles averaged 9 points performing spot duty in Utah, and he is expected to perform a similar role with the Cavs. His three point shot has been shaky at best, but a shot can be fixed, and with defenses keyed in down low on Thompson and Varejao, Miles may have more open looks than he can handle. If that’s the case, this was a great pickup.

Worst Case Scenario

In a worst case scenario, the realization that the entire front court is bad offensively settles in and the signing of CJ Miles comes back to haunt them. Miles is a terrible defender, and asking him to stop anyone at the small forward position is laughable. A guy who averaged 3.3 rebounds per game is being asked to cover the likes of LeBron, Carmelo, and Danny Granger, but that just won’t fly.

It isn’t only Miles who will get eaten alive on the defensive end, as Casspi, while he tries hard, is far from a lock down defender either. With these two at the helm, the Cavs are depleted and should be good for 18-20 points per game–for the other team’s small forward. It doesn’t matter if Dikembe Mutumbo and Marcus Camby were your two big men, because these two make for arguably the worst tandem in the East.

It still needs to be mentioned that Varejao and Thompson occupy the same places on the floor and do largely the same thing. One dunks and the other has soft hands but really can’t score at all because he has no offensive game. Asking Thompson to average 15 a game probably won’t happen, and asking Varejao to do more than barely squeak out 9 points a game is outrageous. So I ask again, where is the scoring going to come from?

Miles/Casspi haven’t been able to shoot in three years, Thompson isn’t complete offensively, and Varejao will never be a scorer. Their entire front court has a bunch of fourth/fifth options, and that never ends up working out historically. All of their PERs save Varejao are below 15 (which is the league average), and so one of them has to step up big time. Unfortunately, I’m not sure who on this unit can.

Defensively, they’ll be pretty solid and are bound to lock down front courts time and again. Going into the paint on these guys will be a hassle as well with two guys who are more than willing to sacrifice their bodies. Unfortunately, they might get eaten alive by perimeter teams, and how many squads rely on big men to do the majority of their scoring for them? There are too many holes in this front court for me to rank them any higher, but their defensive potential pushes them just outside of the middle of the pack.

Yes, the Cavs could be stingy on defense, but that’s really all that they have going for them.

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By: Willis

#13. Toronto Raptors

Centers: Jonas Valanciunas, Solomon Alabi

Power Forwards: Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis

Small Forwards: DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza

Coming in at third-worst happens to be the cellar dweller (since Chris Bosh left) Toronto Raptors, led by Andrea Bargnani and company. I say since Chris Bosh left because with him they could actually rebound and defend effectively enough to squeak into the playoffs, but afterward they have been horrifically brutal and are but a speed bump to get by in the low post. It’s for this reason that they find themselves sitting this low on the Eastern Conference front court rankings.

Best Case Scenario:

Andrea Bargnani learns to rebound better than some shooting guards, which (I know) is a lot to ask of someone who stands 7 feet tall. That’s essentially what Bargnani is, actually: a shooting guard stuck in a 7 footers body. He moves much, much better than a center, and he prefers jumpers to actual post moves and dunks. He even likes to drive and finish over top of everyone else at times. But in a best case scenario, Bargnani takes some of his incredibly versatile skill set and applies it to a bit of low post magic and rebounding, because that’s what his team desperately needs to succeed.

Ideally, Bargnani grabs 10+ rebounds more than twice (his mark last season) over 31 games (or in next year’s case, 8 times over 82 games, whatever you want). The Raptors were able to cover up this massive flaw in his game earlier on in his career with some incredible performances from Chris Bosh, whom for all the flaws we find in his game, is actually an absurdly good basketball player. With Bosh gone, the Raptors are constantly being outrebounded, and it stops with “Il Mago” crashing the boards. Offensively he’s already a serious threat every night, but defense and rebounding is a skill he has just yet to master.

DeMar DeRozan, the likely small forward for the Raptors moving forward, took a step back last year. Or rather, he didn’t take a step forward in his progression. His shooting percentage went down, his points per game went down, his rebounding totals went down, his turnovers went up. The only statistical categories he got better in were assists and getting to the line. Hopefully, DeRozan can halt that regression and continue to improve rather than regress. Oh, and he learns how to rebound.

DeRozan only averaged 3.3 rebounds per game (fewer than Chris Paul), and he just has to get better at that. There’s no reason why a long 6’7 player with heaps and heaps of athleticism shouldn’t be able to grab at least 5 rebounds a game. DeRozan was a work in progress coming in, so I honestly think he’s going to get better at this by positioning himself correctly. Part of this is defect in rebounding numbers is because he’s typically asked to be the only person playing effective on the ball defense for his team against perimeter players. But I think with a little more effort, he can get a lot better. Not to mention that he’s kind of thin, and that’s an issue. Banging down low with bigger guys might be an injury waiting to happen.

In Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors have a 7-foot big man with a whole lot of versatility who likely is going to need more time coming off the bench to become a big time contributor. He barely played in the Olympics and when he did, wasn’t that impressive (if we’re honest). Instead, he might be much better served coming off the bench in short bursts rather than being shoved into the fire and blowing up in flames. He moves well, but not well enough to be an everyday starter just yet.

The Raptor best move would be to finally play Ed Davis, who, by the looks of his summer league, appears poised to become a force in the NBA. Davis averaged about 16 and 10 in the summer league and appears ready to step in and be the Robin to Andrea’s Batman. If he can rebound and become a low post force, then the Raptors look like a team with so much versatility and scoring threats that their defense can be average again and they’ll make the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario

Where to begin? Who, I ask, on this team can rebound worth a lick? When you combine Bargnani and DeRozan you don’t even get ten rebounds. Toss in Valanciunas into this mix and they still can’t rebound, and might even be worse. Giving up that much in the front court is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. It’s bound to end badly. Even if the Raptors give Ed Davis more minutes (which they absolutely have to in order to remain competitive), the flaws of DeRozan and Bargnani might be too much to cover up.

If dunks were worth 5 points, then DeMar DeRozan would be the best player in the NBA. But they’re not, so he currently remains a painful reminder of how much better Vince Carter was than him. The main reason is that Vince Carter’s range extended out further than 5-feet. DeRozan gets over half of his baskets assisted, meaning he needs to be set up or his effectiveness plummets. Luckily for him, he has one of the best passing point guards in the NBA in Jose Calderon. But DeRozan’s shooting and shot creating is really holding him back from being elite. He gets to the line, sure, but that isn’t going to be the reason this team wins.

Bargnani, on the other hand, may very well continue to do what he does best, which is be a moderately effective scorer who can do basically nothing else. People who are seven feet tall are giants, and should be able to corral in more than 5 rebounds a game. That is unless you’re softer than Charmin, which is what Bargnani has been to this point. If he can’t figure out how to rebound and defend as he should, then Bargnani will find himself out of town very soon. Though who would take him and give him starter minutes, I’m not sure.

Bargnani can’t even shoot three pointers very well (he shot 29% last season), so what’s the point of giving him more minutes if he can’t even stretch the floor? The past two seasons he has failed to hit 35% or better, and that’s not going to cut it. Yes, it’s cool to see a big man hit clutch three pointers, but it doesn’t win games. It loses games, and makes your team worse when he’s not making them. If Il Mago doesn’t develop a post game, then this team is going to stink up the joint horribly.

And again, Ed Davis is the key here. He hasn’t gotten any better statistically since coming into the league, so why would I have reason to believe that it should change this year? His effort level and intensity just doesn’t seem to be there sometimes, and while he impressed in the summer league, it’s still the summer league. Davis is going to be asked to shoulder a lot of the defensive and rebounding efforts in the future, but his per 36 minute averages are horrible, and more minutes might not mean more production in his case. Davis may not have what it takes, and this year is going to be telling.

Offensively, the Raptors might be alright up front, but defensively they couldn’t defend an innocent man. I have a bad feeling that this squad might end up in the pits by the end of the season because of their inability to stop anyone, which has typically been Raptors ball for the past three years.

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By: Bohlin

When you set the mark for worst record in the history of the league and your offseason additions to the backcourt are Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, you aren’t in good shape. Not surprisingly the Charlotte Bobcats come in at #15 in our look at the Eastern Conference’s backcourt’s.

The biggest problem I have with the Bobcats backcourt is that their top three options, Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, are all 6’3 or smaller and need the ball in their hands to be effective. None are known as great distributors and I doubt any will have a transformation into a play maker for their teammates between now and the opening tip of the 2012-2013 season.

The Bobcats will rely heavily on this trio of scoring point guards in order to remain competitive this season, a difficult task for most young teams. Which could make for a tough first season for new coach Mike Dunlap.

Gerald Henderson is a decent option at SG but when your projected starting two guard only shoots 23% from three point range you have a problem. Reggie Williams comes in with a slightly better percentage of 31% but in all honesty that’s not a number worthy of beating your chest over.

Ben Gordon should help out in this area but if we’re being honest with ourselves here Gordon has shown he is more dependable as a spark plug off the bench than as a starter. Gordon is one of those players who make me scratch my head every time I see him play. He has all the ability to be a dominating guard but since his Chicago days he has been anything but this. Couple the drop in production with the fact that I see him and Kemba Walker as essentially the same player and you can tell why I am not overly high about this addition.

Bradley Beal, on the other hand, would’ve been a nice addition to this backcourt and as a Wizards fan I am very thankful that Michael Jordan chose to pass on the former Gator sharpshooter. Just thinking back to the time the Bobcats were on the clock at the end of June brings back haunting memories or “Is MJ going to screw us again here?”. MKG was a nice pick for them but not one that will pay immediate dividends on the offensive side of things.

When you look at their backcourt ranking with where their frontcourt was ranked, one would expect another tough love season for the Charlotte Bobcats.

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By: Willis

#14. Milwaukee Bucks

Centers: Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden

Power Forwards: Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh

Small Forwards: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Mike Dunleavy

The Milwaukee Bucks get the distinction of being the second-worst front court in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to them being incredibly one-dimensonal. The oft-injury plagued Andrew Bogut era is over, and while the Bucks may have more health up front, they are going to struggle terribly on offense. Sure, with a blocker like Dalembert up front, their defense may still be consistent, but the question of who will score points is going to pop up a lot this season.

Best Case Scenario:

The best case scenario is that this front court becomes one of the most defensively imposing unit in the league. Just a few years ago, Sam Dalembert was considered a very talented center. In ’07-’08, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Dalambert was almost a lock for a double-double every night, averaging 10.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Not only that, but he was an elite swatter, averaging 2.3 blocks per game and ranking in the top 5 among centers. Those were the glory days, as since then Dalembert has never averaged double figures in either rebounding or scoring. Dalembert got a big contract and settled into becoming just an average center, which landed him in the dregs of the NBA aka Sacramento before playing in Houston last season.

Dalembert hasn’t approached anywhere near those career highs since, but Milwaukee hopes he can be serviceable enough to start every game for them and reclaim some of his former glory. Dalembert is really the only true center on the roster, so he is going to have ample opportunity to accomplish that task. Given that, outside of last year, Dalembert has been incredibly healthy for a center, there is a good chance he will follow that trend next year. More games means more opportunity to succeed, right?

Plus, he is going to be playing for a hard nosed coach in Scott Skiles, who can light a fire under anyone’s butt. Skiles is known for having some great defensive units, and Dalembert could become the anchor of that formidable squad in the center. Dalembert still blocks almost 2 shots a game (he averaged 1.7 last year, and 1.9 for his career) and even though he over commits sometimes, which leads to goaltending calls out the wazoo, his pros outweigh his cons. He’s also a solid rebounder, and on a team that will likely need rebounding help, Dalembert could be just the guy for that task.

Perhaps the most critical factor in determining how good the Bucks front court can become is young Ersan Ilyasova’s continuing development. If you haven’t heard of the name yet, you might be wise to get hip to it, as the Turkish Terror aka Turkey’s Michael Jordan aka James Franco/Josh Hartnett had his coming out party last year. Averaging 13.3 points per game, coupled with 8.8 rebounds over 27 minutes of play Ilyasova was one of the top young power forwards in the league, establishing himself as not only a scoring threat but a very good rebounder.

At 6’9 with a lot of length, Ilyasova is incredibly tough to guard not for his athleticism, but because if you give him any space he’s going to score. He’s got such a high release point on his jumper that no one is really capable of blocking it. His quick release was one of the reasons he shot 45% from long range last year. Ersan also benefitted a lot from Andrew Bogut, as the now-Golden State big man always found Ersan cutting backdoor with his great passing. Dalembert, plain and simple, can’t pass, so Ersan is going to have to make up for that. It’s also worth noting that he cleaned up the offensive glass, averaging an awesome 3.3 rebounds per game. If Ersan develops into a premier scorer (which I think he can do), this front court will move up to the top 8 pretty quickly.

Finally, there is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute/Mike Dunleavy manning the small forward spot, and since they’re probably going to split minutes there, I’m going to just lump them together. Having been in the league for 10 seasons, Mike Dunleavy is what he is at this point: a sharp shooter who can’t play any defense. That’s why he has been coupled with Luc Richard, who actually plays relatively decent defense against wing players. Whereas Dunleavy is a cone, Luc Richard is a wall. If you could combine these two, you’d have a darn good basketball players, and I think that’s what Milwaukee is going for here. I think they have the potential to play off one another well and be used in specific situations very well. They’re both specialists, and can be interchanged when necessary. Neither one is going to really stand out and impress, but you can’t leave Dunleavy open and you can’t get open against Luc Richard.

Worst Case Scenario

The worst case scenario for this front court is that they are absolutely horrible on offense and defense. Dalembert and Luc Richard are the only players who can be considered solid defenders at this point in their careers. I’m not including Ekpe Udoh in this entire thing because, aside from killing the Wizards, he has done essentially nothing since entering the NBA. Dunleavy and Drew Gooden are cones on the defensive end, and Ilyasova can, at times, get manhandled down low.

Unless Dalembert can hook up with Steven Hawking in the offseason and create a time machine, he is only going to regress as a basketball player. He hasn’t been very effective since he turned 30, which is a very damning sign for a big ma with a lot of miles on his legs. What’s worse, Dalembert only plays about half the game now, anyway, and with him out Drew Gooden goes in and this front court becomes horrible defensively.

This says nothing about his offense, or lack thereof, as Dalembert couldn’t score on Kim Kardashian if he was the only guy in the room. He doesn’t bring anything to the table on that front, and it’s going to hurt the Bucks, who are used to Bogut (a relatively decent scorer when healthy).

Even though I have high hopes for Ersan Ilyasova, he isn’t exactly a Scott Skiles kind of guy. That is to say, he isn’t incredible on the defensive end of the court. He isn’t bad, but who knows whether or not Skiles is going to want him to split minutes with *ugh* Ekpe Udoh, who happens to be pretty terrible. I don’t see him as being nearly as effective without a lot of minutes, but if the Bucks go down big in a game that might not happen.

Ersan has been pretty darn good from long range up to this point in his career, so that’s unlikely to change, but you always have to be wary about players who linger around the three point line a lot. When they go cold, they become nonfactors in a game. Ersan is that kind of player. If he doesn’t continue to improve, he will still be the best option, but that doesn’t mean the team is going to progress as it should.

The Dunleavy/Luc Richard combination has a recipe for absolute disaster. When Luc Richard is out there, the offense could easily stagnate, and when Dunleavy goes in the defense is horrible. They can’t really play at the same time unless you move Dunleavy to the two, but then you’re looking at Monta Ellis (can’t defend), Mike Dunleavy (can’t defend), Luc Richard (can’t score), Ilyasova (can’t defend) and Sam Dalembert (can’t score). No matter how many points you put up, that lineup will give up a lot more. The issue with those two is that you can’t combine them in real life, and they are two different players who don’t bring a ton to the table.

Do I think all of this will happen? Not under Skiles watch, but it certainly isn’ t out of the question.

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By: Willis

The Washington Wizards announced their preseason schedule for the upcoming 2012-2013 season on Thursday, with eight games set to be played before the regular season begins.

The preseason will start on October 7th, where Washington will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable arena. Bradley Beal will get the chance to beat the guy who got drafted over him in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, so that actually may be a watchable affair.

From there, the Wizards travel back to the Verizon Center, where they will take on the New York Knicks Thursday, October 11th. After that, they close out the rest of the preseason schedule on the road with games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Brooklyn Nets (in the brand new arena built for Jay-Z and a Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov), the Toronto Raptors (in Maple Leaf country), the Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat, and the San Antonio Spurs.

Obviously, it would be ideal to play more than one preseason game at home. Jet lag is a very real thing, and plane seating doesn’t accommodate these giant frames very well. On the other hand, it’s time for Bradley Beal to get used to traveling all over the place 82 times a year (at least). The sooner he gets into the groove of things, the better. Mostly I’m just selfish and would actually like to attend some of these games, strictly because I love the Wizards.

Below is the schedule:

DATE OPPONENT LOCATION TIME (ET)
Sunday, Oct. 7 at Charlotte Time Warner Cable Arena (Charlotte, NC) 1:00 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 11 vs. New York Verizon Center (Washington, DC.) 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 13 at Cleveland Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland, OH) 7:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 15 at Brooklyn Barclays Center (Brooklyn, NY) 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 17 at Toronto Air Canada Centre (Toronto, Ont.) 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 20 at Milwaukee BMO Harris Bradley Center (Milwaukee, WI) 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 24 at Miami Sprint Center (Kansas City, MO) 8:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 26 at San Antonio AT&T Center (San Antonio, TX) 8:30 p.m.

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By: Colenda

After an Olympic break from Diming, I’ve decided to pick up where I left off by examining league-wide offseason activity. And with the happenings over the last two weeks, it made it a perfect time to get back on the horse. The Atlantic Division has spent the summer of 2012 constantly in the headlines. With multiple trades and free agent acquisitions, the Atlantic’s members have had a very busy offseason. In fact, each of the division’s five members has seen major roster overhauls and the addition of at least one player expected to take on a key role in 2012-13. Last year’s winner, the Celtics, have lost a member of its Big Three to the newest Big Three in Miami. However, they bolstered their roster with young players through the draft and the addition of sixth man extraordinaire, Jason “the Jet” Terry. The constantly scrutinized Knicks decided against bringing back Linsanity for an encore, and instead brought in veteran backcourt of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. The 76ers finally decided to part ways with the underappreciated Andre Iguodala in a shocking move by joining in the fun of getting the better of new Magic GM, Rob Hennigan, in the Dwight Howard trade. I am still scratching my head trying to figure out how the Magic traded Howard for Bynum, yet somehow ended up getting Arron Afflalo and let Bynum head to Philly but that’s a story for another column (a shameless plug for the Southeast division’s recap to follow). Raptor fans (they exist, right?) no longer have to wait for last year’s highly drafted Jonas Valanciunas, as he will make his NBA debut this season. They also added veterans Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields to a team clearly hoping to try and stay afloat in this extremely competitive division. With the Barclay’s Center expected to open to start the season, the Nets are now official residents of Brooklyn. Although they really blew it with the new logo, they did manage to get a second star (although you could argue there isn’t a more over rated “star” than Joe Johnson) via trade to ensure they could lock up free agent Deron Williams long-term. All-in-all it has been a very eventful offseason in the Atlantic division. Now a let’s take a closer look at the happenings for each of the division’s members:

Boston Celtics (1st place in 2011-2012)
Players Added: Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger, Jason Terry, Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph, Courtney Lee
Players Lost: Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic, Jermaine O’Neal
The Dime: Ray Allen has packed his bags for sunny weather and wide-open corner threes playing alongside DWade and LeBron in Miami. Entering the scene is one of the NBA’s top sharp-shooters, Jason Terry, someone much more comfortable in the reserve role which he is expected to play behind the emerging Avery Bradley. The Celtics drafted the free-falling Jared Sullinger late in the first round, and Syracuse’s suspended Brazilian center, Fab Melo, as well as his college teammate Kris Joseph in round two.  In addition to a strong draft Boston also secured the services of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee for next year. The Celtics have sufficiently re-tooled around Rondo, Garnett and Pierce for another run at the division crown and playoff glory. Obviously, the continued health of the aging Pierce and Garnett play are a major factor in whether Boston will be able to continue their Atlantic division dominance. With Allen gone, I will be interested in watching the continued offensive emergence off the defensive backcourt of Rondo and Bradley. Rondo is now a bona-fide star, in my opinion, and I think he is primed for his best year yet. Bradley began to show signs of a streaky outside jumper and a knack for scoring in the paint before his season was cut off pre-playoffs by injury. His ability to get healthy and pick up where he left off with his play late from last year will be one of the biggest factors in determining Boston’s success this season.
New York Knicks (2nd place in 2011-2012)
Players Added: Pablo Prigioni, Chris Smith, James White, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, Chris Copeland, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd
Players Lost: Renaldo Balkman, Baron Davis, Landry Fields, Jeremy Lin, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Josh Harrelson, Jared Jefferies
The Dime: The Knicks were faced with a huge financial decision this year; sign Jeremy Lin and take a sizeable tax hit or let him walk and re-tool with cheaper players. They decided against bringing back Lin, and opted to give the keys to the car to Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Felton enjoyed his best season in New York playing for former coach, Mike Dantoni, and the Knicks are hoping the return to MSG will bring that type of production from Felton. Marcus Camby was also brought back for another stint to bolster their bench and provide additional shot-blocking depth behind foul-prone Tyson Chandler. However, the biggest news for the Knicks this summer has to be the play of Carmelo in the Olympics. In case you’ve been under a rock the last few weeks, Melo was a killer in Great Britain. Knicks faithful can only hope that he brings this form back to the U.S. and the NBA season in 2012-2013. I still think the Knicks are more glitter than substance, but if Melo can put the team on his shoulders like he did with Team USA at times during the Olympics, they should be able to compete for the division crown and a top spot in the East. Outside of Melo’s Olympic run the other massive storyline for MSG residents will be the health and play of the oft-injured, and highly-paid Amare Stoudamire. He’s being paid super-star money; he’s got to produce at a super-star level in order for this team to life up to the lofty expectations of New York media.
Philadelphia 76ers (3rd place in 2011-2012)
Players Added: Kwame Brown, Arnett Moultrie, Jason Richardson, Maalik Wayns, Nick Young, Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright
Players Lost: Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Sam Young, Andres Nocioni, Elton Brand, Louis Williams
The Dime: The 76ers may have come away with the steal of the offseason. Somehow they finagled their way into the inevitable deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, they were the team that came away with the second-best player in the trade while not giving up the best. Hell, Iggy wasn’t even the third best player involved (I’ll help you save face some, Mr. Hennigan). I don’t think I will ever understand what the Magic were doing, but Doug Collins and company have to be thrilled. The Sixers will move forward and build around Bynum (if they can sign him next summer), Thad Young, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, and Spencer Hawes. Not a half-bad team. They also added my former teammate, and Philly native, Maalik Wayns, in free agency, as well as former Wizards Swaggy Young, and Kwawe Brown (Who has to be thrilled to re-unite with the man who made him cry in his second professional practice). Although the Sixers won’t compete to win the division, they will certainly be competitive and a playoff team for many years to come in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto Raptors (4th place in 2011-2012)
Players Added: Quincy Acy, Tomislav Zubcic, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Lucas, Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields
Players Lost: Aaron Gray, Rasual Butler
The Dime: NBA Canada made a run at bringing the nation’s prodigal son, Steve Nash, back north of the border. However, he spurned their offer and instead opted for LA (can you really blame him?). This did not prevent the Raptors from having a decent offseason, however. They added Kyle Lowry via trade, Landry Fields and John Lucas in free agency, and will get to see their last two first round picks, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, begin their NBA careers together this year. I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Raptors are primed to turn their losing ways around because of this offseason haul, but they are moving in the right direction. From all accounts, Valanciunas is a real stud and has the potential to be an impact player in the league. I haven’t personally seen him play, but I look forward to following this youngster develop. At least there is now a little reason to flip to a Raptors game if you find it on TV.
Brooklyn Nets (5th place in 2011-2012)
Players Added: Joe Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor, Ilkan Karaman,
Players Lost: Damian James, Mehmet Okur, Gerald Green, Jordan Farmer, Anthony Marrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Williams
The Dime: The Brooklyn Nets seemed to be on the verge of opening the new Barclay’s Center with Gerald Wallace as the team’s best player. Yikes. Luckily, they somehow swung a deal with the Hawks that landed them Joe Johnson right before Deron packed his bags for home (Dallas) and convinced the point guard that he had the help he so craved.  In my opinion, the Nets will be teaming up the two most overrated super-stars in the game today. They have the big contracts, but have never really taken a team on their back and led them to the promised  land (or even past the second round consistently). The two of them should produce one of the highest scoring backcourt duos in the league, and are natural fits alongside one-another, but I can’t see the pair teaming up to produce serious results where it matters, in the playoffs.  However, due to the offseason activity, the Nets will be more of a contender in the division, and should most certainly find themselves in the playoffs next year. Although I do not think a core of Williams and Johnson is going to make the Nets a championship contender, they will put on a good show for the new fans in Brooklyn. The moves will also make the conversation for best team in the city a little more interesting. The Russian Mark Cuban will be happy with the headlines, but not with the end product on the court. The team still has a ways to go before being a true championship contender, but the moves of this offseason have Brooklyn trending into the positive with a team that will be much more competitive than last season’s last place squad.

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