Monday, October 25, 2010

2011 NBA Preview (Vegas Style)

As the talking sports heads continue to hammer your brains with chatter about Brett Favre phone pics, helmet-to-helmet hits, and highlights of Cam Newton steamrolling the ants that stand in his way, I have taken it upon myself to notify you that the NBA regular season is upon us. Finally. And frankly, I couldn't be happier.

To me, basketball season is the best part of the year. Football season is great for about a month, but then your team loses a couple of games and you wind up hoping to claw your way to the Music City Bowl. The NFL is a little kinder on the early losers because the longer season allows teams to make a late run for a playoff spot, but lots of fans are already mailing in the season and hoping for a high draft pick. Basketball season is not like that. It's better.

Now, I really enjoy college and professional football, but they usually wind up less fulfilling as a whole. College and professional basketball rarely let me down. The NBA playoffs is vastly entertaining, and March Madness is -- let's be honest -- the best sporting event in America. Here are five good reasons why basketball season is, to me, the best:

1. It is inclusive. There are 30 NBA teams and 16 of them make the playoffs. In college basketball, 68 teams will play in the big dance, plus 32 more in the NIT. If your team stinks during the regular season but gets hot at the end, then you can just win the conference tournament and receive an automatic bid. Basketball allows you to keep your hope for a longer period of time.

2. It lasts longer. Basketball starts in late October and finishes in June. Football season starts in early September and ends in January.

3. Games are shorter, but have just as much action. It takes 2-2.5 hours to watch a basketball game, compared to 3-3.5 hours to watch a football game. The clock only runs in basketball while the action is happening, but the football clock mostly runs between snaps. I like to keep things moving.

4. Basketball is not as intruded upon as football. Whether it is the BCS controversy that happens every year or the seemingly constant rule tinkering and micro-management by Roger Goodell and his cronies, it seems like there are just too many cooks in the football kitchen. Basketball is more apt to just let the boys play.

5. High level basketball is easy on the eyes. Transition dunks, corner threes, full-court pressure, passes that thread the needle, the list goes on ... basketball is a beautiful sport to watch. I love it!

Bonus Reason: Basketball is on every day. You can always find several basketball games on TV. As for football, it all happens on the weekends. Thursday and Friday night options are very limited.

Now that we've discussed why basketball season is so great, let's turn our attention to gambling. Fortunately, I won't actually place bets on my NBA over/unders, but it's a fun exercise, anyway. I say "fortunately" because the Vegas odds makers are very clever. These over/unders are pretty much spot-on, in my opinion, so I have a tough task ahead of me. It will hopefully be a happy reunion when I revisit these forecasts somewhere down the line.

Let's take a look at the NBA season-to-be (in alphabetical order):

Atlanta Hawks (46.5) OVER: The Hawks re-signed Joe Johnson and have their young trio of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford back for another run through the East. The question mark is at point guard with Old Man Mike Bibby running the show. If the Hawks want to make a legit run, then they need backup PG Jeff Teague to step up his game and show people why he was a highly touted prospect coming out of Wake Forest. Despite their considerable talent level, the Hawks are prone to underachieve. I wonder if the lowered expectations will help them this season.

Boston Celtics (54.5) OVER: With Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and Perkins around, they are too talented to not expect 55 wins. I'm curious to see how well Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal supplement Perkins in the post. They might miss Tony Allen's defense and energy off the bench come playoff time, but I guess that's why they drafted Avery Bradley. They’re getting old, but they should still be a top seed this year.

Charlotte Bobcats (39.5) UNDER: Is DJ Augustin really their starting point guard? Yuck. If the Bobcats want to sniff the playoffs this year in the improved East, then Gerald Wallace had better duplicate his career year from 2010. I just don't think it's a good sign when Boris Diaw and Nazr Mohammed are two-thirds of your starting frontcourt. This team needs a high lottery pick, and I would bet they get one come next summer.

Chicago Bulls (46.5) OVER: Most basketball analysts seem to be high on the Bulls this year, so I guess I'll hop on the bandwagon. Derrick Rose is obviously a stud, and Joakim Noah has finally decided to stop annoying people and just play good defense and rebound. The Bulls should be a top defensive team this year with Rose, Noah, Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, and Luol Deng. I read an article talking about how Luol Deng is the X-factor this year for the Bulls. I agree.

Cleveland Cavaliers (30.5) UNDER: Who is going to score for this team? Who is the go-to guy? Mo Williams? Anthony Parker? Antawn Jamison? Not good. Their best player is probably energy guy, Anderson Varejao. Even if JJ Hickson steps up like some people hope, I don't foresee 30 wins in this team's future. I know they’re mad at LeBron, but who wouldn’t prefer to live in Miami instead of Cleveland?

Dallas Mavericks (49.5) OVER: The Mavs have won 50 games for ten consecutive years, yet they have zero championships to show for it. I think the smart money would be on another 50-win season, but no ring. The Mavs are pretty much the anti-Spurs. The Spurs do just enough in the regular season, but then turn it up in the playoffs. The Mavs have adopted the opposite philosophy to its detriment.

Denver Nuggets (43.5) UNDER: To predict the Nuggets to win 44 games is to predict that Carmelo Anthony will remain in Denver for the entirety of the season. I am unwilling to predict that, so I'll take the under. Fortunately, the Bird Man has a new throat tattoo, so at least the fans in Denver will have some new artwork to contemplate.

Detroit Pistons (31.5) UNDER: The Pistons have some nice pieces, but how do they fit? Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince are mirror images of each other, and Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton also have similar games. The same can be said for Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. What does it all mean? I think Prince and Rip will be playing elsewhere by season's end, and the Pistons will once again be in the lottery. But that's a good thing, because they need a dynamic young guard to go along with Stuckey and Greg Monroe.

Golden State Warriors (30.5) UNDER: Everyone loves Steph Curry, but the opposite public sentiment is felt about his running-mate, Monta Ellis. Both players are fun to watch play basketball, so I love them equally. I like the addition of David Lee as a hustle and rebound guy, but I get the feeling that he is a tad overrated. He's a nice piece, but I don't think his presence adds many wins. They're one guy away.

Houston Rockets (48.5) OVER: I went back and forth on this one, but I finally decided that even when (not if) Yao gets hurt again, they have enough depth in the frontcourt (Brad Miller, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) to still be good. Their backcourt (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin) will score some points, but will be a liability on defense, so the bigs will have their hands full protecting the rim. I say they get it done and hit the 50 win mark.

Indiana Pacers (33.5) UNDER: Danny Granger seems to think the Pacers will make the playoffs. Okay, let's take a look at the lineup:

PG: Darren Collison -- okay, he's a nice addition.
SF: Danny Granger -- very nice player. Who's next?
C: Roy Hibbert -- don't laugh. He's not so bad. Granger might have me sold, until ...
PF: Josh McRoberts -- WHAT!? How is J-Mac starting in the NBA? Backing him up is fellow wild man, Psycho T. If I were a Pacers fan, I would shoot myself in the face.
SG: Mike Dunleavy -- whatever.

Los Angeles Clippers (36.5) UNDER: Blake Griffin is receiving a lot of hype, and deservedly so. He's the number one pick from last year and he is exciting to watch. I wonder, though, if people need to hold their horses when it comes to anointing him the next great PF. I'd like to see how he holds up in the half court, and not just when he's throwing down dunks on fast breaks. I'm also curious to see if Good Baron or Evil Baron shows up this year. Good or evil, I think the Clips are a little overrated -- probably mostly due to Bill Simmons podcasts.

Los Angeles Lakers (56.5) OVER: I planned on going under here, my thinking being the Lakers would sleepwalk through the regular season a la the Spurs, but the Lakers are just too talented -- especially with the additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake. They won't let up enough to lose 25 games. I bet they win 60.

Memphis Grizzlies (38.5) OVER: I follow the Griz pretty closely, so I feel comfortable taking the over here. I expected their line to be 42.5, so 38.5 seems like a bargain. The Griz were very fortunate last season in the injury department, so I'm expecting a few bumps and bruises this year, but this team won 40 games last year and improved in basically every problem area (experience, bench scoring, front court depth, 3-point shooting) and Mike Conley, by all accounts, looks ready to establish himself as a legitimate NBA starting point guard (even if he'll never be an all-star). I like the Griz to win 45 games, 50 if they have another good year health-wise. Their accumulation of high draft picks over the last several years via bad records and trades should finally pay off with a playoff berth. If not, then the city of Memphis will likely slip into a deep depression.

Miami Heat (64.5) OVER: Again, I planned on going under, but then I tried to imagine a team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh losing 15 games, but I couldn't. I'm not sure they'll win the championship due to issues at PG, C, and the bench, but I like them to have the best record in the league by at least five games.

Milwaukee Bucks (45.5) OVER: It seems odd that the Bucks are expected to be a playoff team, but they have the goods to back it up. It was unfortunate that Andrew Bogut was injured during the playoffs last year, but this year they appear to be a shoo-in for the postseason and will probably give a higher seed all they can handle. I'm not sure what the significance is of having Michael Redd, John Salmons, and Corey Maggette on the same team, but if they are all healthy at the same time, then that is a lot of scoring.

Minnesota Timberwolves (23.5) UNDER: This could easily be the worst team in the league. But I'll tell you what ... if they win the lottery next year and take the best player in the draft and finally get Ricky Rubio in town, they would have to be the most-improved team in 2012, right?

New Jersey Nets (24.5) UNDER: I would feel bad for Brook Lopez, but now that Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov owns the Nets, I'm sure they'll buy their way into relevance a la Mark Cuban's Mavericks. I think Melo is going to the Knicks, so I'll take the under here and bank on the Nets spending big money next summer.

New Orleans Hornets (41.5) OVER: If Chris Paul stays healthy, they're pretty much a lock to win 40 games. I'm betting they'll win two more. Paul has a way of dictating the pace of the game on both ends of the floor by dominating the point guard match-up, and he just makes everyone on his team look like an all-star (see David West and, previously, Tyson Chandler). When it's all said and done, I think they'll just miss the playoffs because Paul's supporting cast just isn't quite good enough to make them a top eight team in the West. But I think they'll have a winning record.

New York Knicks (35.5) OVER: The additions of Raymond Felton and Amare Stoudemire should have the Knicks flirting with 35 wins this year, anyway, but if they execute a trade for Carmelo Anthony this season (as many expect), then the Knicks could win 45-50 games. If they are somehow able to also land Chris Paul, then now you're talking a legitimate East contender to push the Heat, Magic, and Celtics. I'd kind of like to see that happen. I'm not a Knicks fan, but their fans have suffered enough over the last decade that I'd be okay with them enjoying some success and creating some drama in the East. Plus, it takes Chris Paul out of the Southwest division -- the home of my Griz.

Oklahoma City Thunder (51.5) OVER: It seems that a lot of people are ready to proclaim the Thunder as the West's second-best team behind only the Lakers, now that Kevin Durant is perceived as a legitimate MVP candidate and Russell Westbrook helped Team USA to a gold medal this summer at the FIBA Championships. I'm not so sure. Looking at their roster, they still have major issues in the frontcourt with Nenad Krstic and Serge Ibaka being their top two options in the post. Their starting power forward, Jeff Green, is really more of a three, and his backup, Nick Collison, just isn't very good. Then there's BJ Mullins. What's up with him, anyway? Wasn't he the top ranked recruit coming out of high school a few years ago? Ouch. Anyway, I like the Thunder to rack up a lot of wins during the regular season because of Kevin Durant and his scoring prowess, but I would be surprised if they make it past the conference semifinals.

Orlando Magic (54.5) OVER: Wow, that's four overs in a row. I know we shouldn't take too much stock in what happened during the preseason, but if you kept up with it at all, then you probably noticed that Orlando pretty much destroyed every team it faced. I think they were plus-25 in scoring after six or seven games, which is ridiculous. I never was a fan of the swap of Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, and I don't like the fact that they couldn't retain Matt Barnes, but they should still be really good. Dwight Howard is simply one-of-a-kind, and he erases many of the team's mistakes. Look for Mickael Pietrus to have a big season now that he doesn't have to split minutes with Barnes.

It will be interesting if the Heat and Magic meet in the playoffs. The Heat have the advantage at the 2, 3, and 4, but the Magic have the advantage at the 1 and 5. Plus, with a guy like Dwight Howard patrolling the lane, the Heat will have to sink jumpers, which is not LeBron's or D-Wade's strong suit. I think the Heat would win, but the Magic's size and depth in the post, plus their advantage at the point would make things tough on Miami.

Philadelphia 76ers (34.5) UNDER: This is another tough one. I like the 76ers and the direction in which they're headed, but they made a boneheaded mistake that will cost them: they passed on DeMarcus Cousins in the draft and instead took Evan Turner. The Sixers have a nice perimeter trio in place with Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, and Thaddeus Young, but their frontcourt is a mess. Elton Brand has not even come close to living up to his mega contract, and they swapped Samuel Dalembert for Spencer Hawes. Hawes is a nice shooter for a big, but that's about it. They also have Marreese Speights, who will probably end up being their best post player – which is probably not a good thing.

Back to Evan Turner. I declared in the weeks leading up to the 2010 draft that Evan Turner was overrated, that he was an awesome collegiate stat stuffer, but that he did not possess one skill in which he is excellent. He can handle, pass, rebound, and probably will become a nice defender, but he is not a great shooter despite the fact that he will play shooting guard in the NBA. Cousins, on the other hand, is HUGE, he will likely lead the league in rebounding at some point in his career, he has excellent hands, good court awareness, a soft touch, and a mean demeanor. I understand the reservations about his temper, but after watching him develop at Kentucky, I think it's all overblown. The Sixers will regret this pick, starting this year.

Phoenix Suns (41.5) UNDER: How much longer can Steve Nash play? His conditioning level and nutrition is as good as anyone’s, but I think he will miss playing pick-and-roll with Amare Stoudemire. I also think they’ll miss bench energy guy, Louis Amundson, who kept the intensity up with his defense and offensive rebounding. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns are sellers this year, and I think we will hear rumors (whether it happens or not) of Steve Nash and/or Grant Hill being moved for future draft picks.

Portland Trail Blazers (51.5) UNDER: Things appear (to me, at least) to be heading south in Portland. The owner is not happy, Brandon Roy is not happy, Greg Oden is not happy (at least, he’s always frowning), and Andre Miller is perpetually unhappy. I think LaMarcus Alderidge is happy enough, but he just hasn’t lived up to his enormous potential as a dominating power forward. I think they have just enough talent to sneak into the playoffs ahead of the Hornets because of their significant talent level, but the chemistry doesn’t seem right. I feel as if all of the personnel moves, injuries, and recent front office changes have left this team without an identity. They could be a lockdown defensive team, but some of the guys would have to check their egos if that were to work. They have the talent to win 55 games, but I picture them winning 48-49 games and grabbing the eight seed.

Sacramento Kings (27.5) OVER: This might be my sleeper team this year. As I’ve made clear, I have a man crush on DeMarcus Cousins. I think he’s a beast and a future all-star for many years to come. But everyone has a man crush on Tyreke Evans, so I’m not the only one. The guy is a freight train playing shooting guard, which is pretty unique. If this team ever gets a legitimate point guard, then watch out. They have slashers (Evans), shooters (Francisco Garcia, Donte Greene, Omri Casspi), bigs (Cousins, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Hassan Whiteside), and Beno Udrih – whatever he is. The Kings have a passionate fan base despite their recent struggles, and it’s always tough to win in Sacramento – even when they’re down. I’m not sure they’ll challenge for a playoff spot, but I have little doubt they will win 30 games, so 27.5 is an easy decision for me.

San Antonio Spurs (50.5) OVER: I can’t wait to see the mysterious Tiago Splitter in action. Splitter is considered one of the best non-American basketball players, so he should be a welcomed addition to the Spurs frontcourt, which is held down by Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, and DeJuan Blair. The perimeter trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Richard Jefferson is tough to top when healthy, and I like the addition of James Anderson from Oklahoma State to provide some bench scoring. Even though they are known for their lackadaisical approach to the regular season, they should still be a cinch to win 50-plus games.

Toronto Raptors (26.5) UNDER: How many wins do you think the worst team in the league will have this year? Fifteen? Twenty? Probably not 25. Whatever the number is, that is how many games the Raptors will win. Now that they are without Turkoglu and Bosh, I have a hard time envisioning many victories in this team’s immediate future. On paper, they are without a doubt the league’s worst team. On a bright note, I think they got a bargain in the draft when they took Ed Davis in the late lottery.

Utah Jazz (49.5) OVER: The Utah Jazz lack sex appeal, but they always seem to be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, and I expect the same this year. Deron Williams is a top point guard, and I am intrigued by the replacement of Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson – a much bigger and more physical presence on the low block. They still have Paul Millsap, and I like their Euro-style bigs in Mehmet Okur and Kyrylo Fesenko. They lost Kyle Korver to the Bulls and Wes Matthews to the Blazers, but they will replace them with super-white-man (and former tennis player), Gordon Hayward. This team won’t be flashy, but they will play defense, rebound, and not turn the ball over. Williams is good enough to set up his teammates for buckets when they need them, and they’ll continue to be what they always are: a solid 4-6 seed.

Washington Wizards (32.5) OVER: People seem to forget that Gilbert Arenas, despite his off-court blunders, is a really good basketball player. The guy can flat out score, and with John Wall penetrating and setting him up, he should get lots of chances. They have a couple of nice bigs in Andre Blatche and Javelle McGee, and Kirk Heinrich was a nice addition to add depth and a level head to their backcourt. If Josh Howard can regain his form of a couple of years ago when he was the Mavericks’ most explosive player, then the Wiz will likely be talking playoffs this spring. The big question is how good can Wall be in his rookie season? He has so many physical gifts; it will be interesting to see him develop this season and throughout his career.

That does it for the over/unders. Do yourself a favor this winter and watch a lot of basketball. This NBA season could be one of the most memorable that we’ve had in a while. I’ll leave you with my playoff picks:


1. Miami Heat

2. Orlando Magic

3. Boston Celtics

4. Chicago Bulls

5. Atlanta Hawks

6. Milwaukee Bucks

7. New York Knicks

8. Washington Wizards


1. Los Angeles Lakers

2. San Antonio Spurs

3. Dallas Mavericks

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

5. Utah Jazz

6. Houston Rockets

7. Memphis Grizzlies

8. Portland Trail Blazers

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blue Blindness 2011 NFL Forecast

I'm back. It's been a couple of months, but during that time I have been pretty busy, while the sports world has been rather slow. I have also started a new job recently, so that has obviously occupied much of my time. But now I'm back in the captain's seat, ready to steer my big blue ship (with you aboard) out into the blue abyss of sports enlightenment. Well, maybe. I at least hope to offer an enjoyable read as I predict the record for each of the 32 NFL teams.

I should admit that several of my predictions turned out to surprise me. You see, I went through the NFL schedule week-by-week, rather than team-by-team, so I didn't know what record I had designated for a team until I added up all of the wins and losses at the end. As you will see, I have an inordinate amount of very good and really bad teams. The NFL is known for its parity, but I guess I'll just stay out on the limb I've put myself on and see how it goes. Although I was tempted to change a few teams' records by a game or two, I've decided to stick with my initial predictions -- for better or (more likely) for worse. But, hey ... at least my predictions are different. Let's get started:



What I like: Their running game. They will control the clock with Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain.

What I don't like: Their secondary. Ed Reed is on the PUP and they've had injury issues with their corners. This won't be your typical Ravens defense. The offense will have to step up.



What I like:
Their defense. They have a nice blend of young and old players, and they might have the best pair of corners in the league in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall.

What I don't like: Carson's knee. The Bengals need Carson to stay healthy if they're going to make another run at the AFC North title. Other than that, the Bengals don't have any real holes as long as they stay healthy.



What I like:
The linebackers. The Steelers always seem to have the personnel to really get after the quarterback with their linebackers, and this year will be no different with Harrison, Woodley, Farrior, and Timmons.

What I don't like: Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for the first four games, so Dennis Dixon will have to lead them off to a good start.



What I like:
Jerome Harrison and Josh Cribbs. The Browns will be terrible, but these two guys can be game breakers.

What I don't like: The decision to bring in Jake Delhomme as the starting quarterback. After what he did last season in Carolina, I'm shocked that a team would hand him the keys to its offense. Maybe the Browns want to tank on purpose so that they can get a higher draft pick.




What I like:
Besides Peyton Manning? I'll say the fact that Anthony Gonzalez is healthy again. The kid is talented, so I'll be interested to see if he can reclaim his starting spot from Pierre Garcon.

What I don't like: The offensive line. Ever since Tarik Glenn retired a couple of seasons ago, the Colts have been without a solid left tackle. With Jeff Saturday now ailing, I wonder if the Colts will have protection issues -- especially in a division in which the other teams have been collecting talented defensive linemen via the draft and free agency.



What I like:
Vince Young and Chris Johnson. With VY coming into his own, the Titans should have its best offense since the Steve McNair MVP days.

What I don't like: The suspension of Gerald McRath for the first four games. The defensive line has been a pleasant surprise, but it is somewhat negated for the first quarter of the season due to the expected drop off in production from the linebackers while McRath is out.



What I like:
The Texans' confidence. I get the feeling that the Texans believe they are going to be good this year, and that they are a legitimate playoff team.

What I don't like: The running game. A lot of people are high on Arian Foster, but I'm a skeptic. He might end up with decent stats, but can he get the tough yards when his team needs them in crunch time?



What I like:
The fact that the front office stuck it to Gator fans by choosing Tyson Alualu instead of Tim Tebow. They probably did Tebow a favor. You know what they say about a prophet in his own town ...

What I don't like: The passing offense. I'm not sure David Garrard, Mike Sims-Walker, and Marcedes Lewis really scare anybody.




What I like:
The defense. All of it. With Revis under contract, the defense is going to be sick -- in a good way.

What I don't like: Sanchez's inexperience. Will he improve upon his respectable rookie season, or will he have a sophomore slump?



What I like:
The toughness of their skill position players. You won't find tougher running backs and receivers than Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Brandon Marshall. Too bad that Brown has injury issues, because he plays tough when he's out there.

What I don't like: The Chad Henne bandwagon. I'm sure he'll throw for a lot of yards, but will they be meaningful numbers? I feel like he might become a stat stuffer who doesn't really win much, a la Jake Plummer in his Arizona days. But there are worse things than that.



What I like:
Tom Brady to Randy Moss appears to be on its way back.

What I don't like: Well, the schedule, for one. I think they have a really tough schedule. I also think their defense and their ability to run the ball are very suspect. I also know that the rest of the NFL would love to pile on the Pats if they appear to be vulnerable. Toss in the fact that Wes Welker is not himself and you get this:



What I like:
C.J. Spiller. Is he the next Chris Johnson? I doubt it. Johnson runs so effortlessly, while Spiller is a little heavier on the feet. I like Spiller a lot, though, just like pretty much everyone else.

What I don't like: Pretty much everything else. It's going to be a long season in Buffalo.




What I like:
Phillip Rivers. I think he's a jerk, especially his on-field demeanor, but I get the feeling that he's going to join the discussion of truly elite quarterbacks this season. They also have the easiest schedule in the history of the NFL. Probably.

What I don't like: The Lights Out dance. I'm talking to you, Shawne. I also don't like the absence of Marcus McNeil on the offensive line.



What I like:
The selection of Rolando McClain in this year's draft. I think he could have an impact similar to that of DeMeco Ryans of the Texans and Patrick Willis of the 49ers.

What I don't like: Jason Campbell as Team Savior. I mean, he's definitely better than JaMarcus Russell, but I've never really understood the fascination with Campbell. I think he's a serviceable starter, but I don't think of him as a potential franchise quarterback. It seems as if several talking heads do.



What I like:
Dexter McCluster and Jamal Charles. A little undersized, but definitely one of the most explosive backfields in the league.

What I don't like: The waste of their recent high draft picks. Tyson Jackson, anyone? Derrick Johnson has also been a big disappointment.



What I like:
Other than all of the Kentucky linebackers? Well, I think Knowshon Moreno is a major talent -- when he's healthy.

What I don't like: The way Josh McDaniels has polarized his relationships with his players. I don't understand how a future with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas, Daniel Graham, and Spencer Larson is an upgrade over Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, and Peyton Hillis.




What I like:
The offense. All of it. Except for maybe Ryan Grant. I think Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley will be very potent.

What I don't like: The front seven. It would be nice if Justin Harrell could stay healthy, but the front four just can't seem to get it together. I also can't believe A.J. Hawk is busting.



What I like:
The return of E.J. Henderson. He plays linebacker like a lion. He's a lionbacker. Anyone? No?

What I don't like: Brett Favre. I just don't like him anymore. Plus his ankle could explode at any moment.



What I like:
Jay Cutler + Mike Martz. Toss in Devin Hester, and they should at least be fun to watch. If only they would use Garrett Wolfe a little more.

What I don't like: The decline of Matt Forte. If he reverts to rookie form, then the Bears could make life tough for Green Bay and Minnesota.



What I like:
Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, and Brandon Pettigrew. The Lions have some nice young skill position players.

What I don't like: The decision to sign Kyle Vanden Bosch to a 4-year, what was it, 28 million dollar contract? Ouch. I know he's looked good in the preseason, but how will he look for the final 3 1/2 years of the deal? I love KVB, but I think he's done.




What I like:
The offense. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, a slimmer Michael Turner, home games in a dome. They should put up points.

What I don't like: The fact that I only know about half the guys on their defense. Definitely a no-name bunch, but maybe they'll surprise.



What I like:
The running game. Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both top-15 backs. I also like the fact that Matt Moore replaces Jake Delhomme. I think that is one of the most underrated upgrades of the NFL offseason.

What I don't like: Nothing. The Panthers are my sleeper team this year. I seriously like pretty much everything about this Panthers team. The loss of Julius Peppers is overblown.



What I like:
Drew Brees and all of his weapons. He just takes his pick at this point.

What I don't like: I don't trust the defense to turn the ball over like it did last year. They also have a tougher schedule than Atlanta and Carolina.



What I like:
This is tough. How about rookie receiver, Mike Williams? He's a pleasant surprise.

What I don't like: Their overall lack of NFL talent. It's going to take another draft or two before the Bucs resemble a decent team.




What I like:
Felix Jones. If he can stay healthy, I think he could rush for 1500 yards. But that's a big if.

What I don't like: The overall chemistry of the team. I can't quite put my finger on it, but this version of the Cowboys seems a little stale. I still think they'll win the division, but I'm not sold on them as a Super Bowl team.



What I like:
I'm not a big Donovan McNabb fan, but I think he's a huge upgrade over Jason Campbell. McNabb should be a huge spark for the Redskins.

What I don't like: The way Mike Shanahan has handled the Albert Haynesworth situation. Much like his successor in Denver, Josh McDaniels (which is a bit of a coincidence), Shanahan is having some difficulty in showing his players who is wearing the man pants. He needs to befriend Big Al, not alienate him.



What I like:
Desean Jackson. I think he's the next Steve Smith (of the Panthers, that is).

What I don't like: The fascination with Kevin Kolb. He will put up better numbers than Jason Campbell, but like I said about Campbell, I think Kolb will be a serviceable starter, but probably not a franchise quarterback.



What I like:
Justin Tuck. I think he has a chance to lead the NFL in sacks and make a push for defensive POY.

What I don't like: Their overrated defense. I read the other day that Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle could be the best safety tandem in the league. Really? Plus, they lost Antonio Pierce and picked up Keith Bulluck -- who is done. Even their first round pick, Jason Pierre-Paul, looks awful so far. I foresee dark waters ahead for the Giants.




What I like:
The defense. They're my number two defense this year, behind only the Jets.

What I don't like: The lack of hype they're receiving. I think they're going to walk through the NFC West and establish themselves as a top team in the league.



What I like:
The reemergence of Mike Williams. The dude lost 40 lbs and looks as good as he did in his days at USC. Good for him. He was fun to watch in college, and then he started eating donuts.

What I don't like: The overall lack of explosiveness from the offense. Where are they going to get a big play? I don't think Hasselbeck and co. are good enough to march down the field consistently, so they need someone to step up to make big plays. Justin Forsett? I don't know.



What I like:
The defensive line, led by Darnell Dockett. I think they will be a nice unit.

What I don't like: The offense. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower aren't going to scare anyone, and Larry Fitzgerald won't be as effective without Kurt Warner. Toss in the loss of Anquan Boldin, and you've got yourself one stale offense.



What I like:
Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, and A.J. Green. Can I go ahead and pencil Green as the next stud Rams wide receiver? So what if it won't happen until next year?

What I don't like: Chris Long. What a bust! Whiffing on a top pick hurts for a few years.


Super Bowl: Green Bay Packers over New York Jets

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Colten's NBA Mock Draft: Version 4.0 ... The Final Installment

All right, boys and girls, the NBA draft is upon us. Three hours from now, the Wizards will select John Wall to be their next point guard who gets to play cowboys and Indians with Gilbert Arenas (Javaris Crittenton previously filled that role). The 76ers and their new coach, Doug Collins, get the chance to pass on the best player available, DeMarcus Cousins, and instead play it safe by taking Evan Turner, a jack of many trades, but perhaps a master of none. The Nets seem destined to select Derrick Favors, who is not as good as Cousins, but might fit better next to their already-in-place center, Brook Lopez, so I won't be too critical. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, are about to commit the ultimate NBA draft sin: drafting for need over talent in the top five. Barring a huge surprise, they will select Wesley Johnson, who is doubtful to ever become an all-star, over Cousins, who has the potential to become a perennial all-star. But that's what you do when you're the Timberwolves.

Without further ado, I present to you the final installment of Colten's NBA Mock Draft. May I be accurate AND precise ... however that may apply to mocking a draft.

1. Washington Wizards: John Wall, PG, Kentucky
The best player in the draft, Wall has the chance to be the rookie of the year, but also has the most upside. Look out for his new Reebok commercial tonight during the draft. Reebok will give Wall every chance to be for them what Michael and LeBron was/is for Nike.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner, SG/SF, Ohio State
I hate to back off of my trade projection between the Sixers and the Timberwolves, it appears as if it is not to be. All signs point to the Sixers passing on the unpolished Derrick Favors and the controversial DeMarcus Cousins. Often compared to Brandon Roy, I'm not sure it is a fair comparison for Turner since he is not the shooter that Roy is. Turner will be a good player, but I'm not sure he will be an all-star. Nothing against the guy, but I just don't see it.

3. New Jersey Nets: Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech
With Brook Lopez firmly entrenched as the franchise center, the Nets will swing for the fences by taking the uber-athletic Favors. It might take a few years for him to put it all together, but he definitely has the physical tools to be a star.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Syracuse
The Pistons will likely make a run for this pick, but I don't think they have the assets to get it done. Therefore, the Timberwolves will draft a guy who will fit in nicely beside Corey Brewer in Johnson, but he lacks the ball-handling and passing skills to be a star. He is a good outside shooter, which the Wolves will find handy, and he is an excellent athlete, but this pick should be DeMarcus Cousins.

5. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kentucky
For the second year in a row, the Kings will get a top-2 kind of guy at the bottom of the top five. Last year, they grabbed Tyreke Evans at #4 and he turned out to be the ROY. I think Cousins has a chance to be the ROY this season.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (via Golden State): Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest
Someone has to go out on a limb, right? I think Golden State will try desperately to trade out of the six spot if the top five goes how I predicted. I think the Grizzlies will send O.J. Mayo and the #12 pick to Golden State in exchange for Monta Ellis and the #6 pick. I think the Griz are afraid that they have zero chance of re-signing Mayo when he becomes a FA in a couple of years, and Michael Heisley apparently has a love affair with Ellis, who is a Mississippi native. Mayo for Ellis rumors have gone on long enough. Just get it over with, already!

7. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe, C, Georgetown
Monroe is not your typical, nasty Pistons big man, but he is the best big available, and the Pistons should be excited to get him instead of having to settle for Udoh, Davis, or Aldrich.

8. L.A. Clippers: Gordon Hayward, SF, Butler
White boys unite! The Clippers have a huge hole at SF, and that happens to be where the value lies. If they don't go with Hayward, they'll probably take Babbitt, George, Henry, or someone similar.

9. Utah Jazz: Luke Babbitt, SF, Nevada
Babbitt just looks like a guy who should play for the Jazz. He's tall, white, and can shoot threes. With the potential loss of Kyle Korver, the Jazz could really use a tall dude who can stroke it from deep.

10. Indiana Pacers: Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina
The Pacers have a lot of needs, most notably in the backcourt, but the value just isn't there at the ten spot. The best player available is probably Ed Davis, so they go with him here.

11. New Orleans Hornets: Ekpe Udoh, PF/C, Baylor
This is a tough call, but I'll go with Udoh, who played at nearby Baylor. The Hornets could really use another big man to go with Emeka Okafor.

12. Golden State Warriors (via Memphis): Paul George, SF, Fresno State
Who would you rather have? O.J. Mayo and Paul George or Monta Ellis and Al-Farouq Aminu? If this scenario plays out, then we'll have a chance to compare the pairs.

13. Toronto Raptors: Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky
Rumors are swirling of Bledsoe to the Raptors. Is it legit interest, or is it posturing? I'm guessing it's legit interest, but I could definitely be wrong.

14. Houston Rockets: Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas
I don't see the Rockets choosing anyone other than a center, so I think this comes down to Aldrich and Alabi, with Aldrich getting the nod.

15. Milwaukee Bucks: Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
Perimeter help is not needed as much after the acquisitions of Corey Maggette and CDR, so I think the Bucks go with the best available PF, which would be Patterson.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves: Avery Bradley, Guard, Texas
The Wolves have point guards, and they have wings, but do they have a guy who can play both? I think not, so Bradley is a nice choice here. He's also good value.

17. Washington Wizards: Larry Sanders, PF, VCU
The Wizards landed this pick earlier today by acquiring Kirk Hinrich from the Bulls. I think they'll take a swing on local kid, Larry Sanders.

18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Daniel Orton, PF/C, Kentucky
Much has been made of the draft slide of Daniel Orton, but it stops here with OKC, who are very familiar with Orton, who is from OKC. Orton would fit in perfectly down low as a defender and shot blocker who won't be counted on to score much.

19. Boston Celtics: Xavier Henry, SF, Kansas
I'm reluctant to let Henry drop so low. He might end up with the Wizards at #17, but I'll keep him here as the heir-apparent to Paul Pierce.

20. San Antonio Spurs: Damion James, SF, Texas
The Texas kid just seems like a Spurs-type player. There are more talented guys left on the board, but the Spurs value defense, intensity, and rebounding, and James provides all of those.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Seraphin, PF, France
Look for the Thunder to take an international player to stash overseas. Seraphin is the best of the bunch.

22. Portland Trail Blazers: Elliot Williams, Guard, Memphis
Chad Ford says the Blazers really like Daniel Orton and Elliot Williams at this spot, so, with Orton gone, Williams is the pick. Andre Miller is getting old, so Williams could become the PG of the future.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Craig Brackins, PF, Iowa
A mid-western boy for a mid-western team. The Wolves have a couple of bulky post players in Love and Jefferson, so they could use a guy who can run the court.

24. Atlanta Hawks: James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State
The Hawks need a scorer to come off the bench to help make up for the loss of Joe Johnson. Anderson doesn't have a ton of upside, but the kid can fill it up.

25. Memphis Grizzlies: Terrico White, Guard, Ole Miss
The Griz could use another guard, and White is from Memphis, so I think the Griz would target him in this scenario. If he puts it together, White could be a steal.

26. Oklahoma City Thunder: Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall
The Thunder have several first round picks, and they already took Orton, so I think they might grab another big guy with upside as a backup plan. Who knows? Orton and Whiteside, if they both pan out, could be a formidable frontcourt.

27. New Jersey Nets: Jordan Crawford, SG, Xavier
Crawford replaces the recently-departed, Chris Douglas-Roberts. Crawford is smallish and doesn't have a great handle, but he could become a terrific scoring sixth man, a la Jason Terry.

28. Memphis Grizzlies: Jarvis Varnado, PF, Mississippi State
I know, I know, Varnado is not a first round guy. But Memphis could really use a backup PF who can defend and block shots, and Varnado fills that role to a T. Since they don't have a second round pick, I could see the Griz reaching for someone they really like at #28.

29. Orlando Magic: Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington
With the potential loss of Matt Barnes to FA, the Magic will probably go with a SF here. Of those remaining, Pondexter seems to be getting the best reviews. He can't shoot, but he can do just about everything else. Sounds kind of like Evan Turner, who will likely be the second pick of the draft.

30. Washington Wizards: Solomon Alabi, C, Florida State
They already have Andray Blatche, but Alabi is the best player available, so he gets to sneak into the first round. I can't believe he fell this far, but sometimes that just happens. Even if it's not Alabi, someone will surely free fall this year, just like in every draft.

Okay, that wraps things up. Here's to hoping that at least some of my picks are correct.

As always, please check out these other fine NBA draft sites:

Walter Football
Football Fan Spot
DC Pro Sports Report

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What if our best athletes played soccer?

I'll have my final NBA mock draft posted tomorrow night, so tonight I thought I'd do a short post based on a conversation among my friends from a few nights ago. With the World Cup in full swing, we were talking about the tournament and the U.S. team, and we started to wonder what our side would look like if our best athletes played soccer instead of football, basketball, baseball, etc. This created quite the debate and, in some cases, there really was no wrong answer.

Here is my "dream team," which will be utilizing a 4-4-2 alignment, just like the Americans:


Adrian Peterson (RB, Vikings) - he would make an awesome outside defender. He is strong, tough, doesn't shy away from contact, and is incredibly fast, so no one would blow by him.

LeBron James (SF, Cavs) - I would put LeBron in the middle, kind of like how the U.S. uses Oguchi Onyewu. He would be there to clear out anything that goes up in the air. He might be a little too tall, but if anyone is athletic enough at his height, it's LeBron.

Derrick Rose (PG, Bulls) - Rose would play in the middle beside LeBron. Not only is Rose strong and quick, but he can jump out of the gym ... er, soccer stadium.

Darrell Revis (CB, Jets) - along with AP, Revis would play on the outside. Revis is the best cover corner in the NFL, so why can't he be the best outside defender in soccer? I think Revis would be awesome.


Dwayne Wade (SG, Heat) - Wade would be an outside midfielder. Could you imagine him and LeBron going up for headers on corners and set pieces?

Chris Paul (PG, Hornets) - Paul would play in the middle and be a distributor. There's no doubt that he would lead the team in assists.

Rajon Rondo (PG, Celtics) - Rondo would play alongside Paul in the middle. Rondo's freakish length and athleticism would be perfect for a soccer player. My friends and I all want to see Rondo create some sort of no-look ball fake/back door pass in soccer like he does in basketball.

John Wall (PG, Kentucky) - Wall is one of the sickest athletes in the world. I have no doubt that he would be a soccer rock star. That midfield is so stacked. Could you imagine these guys taking on the world? Ha!


Chris Johnson (RB, Titans) - CJ would take his 4.24 40-yard dash and toast everybody about four times a game. He's another guy who I'd love to watch run around in the open field for 90 minutes. His gold teeth are just a bonus.

Desean Jackson (WR, Eagles) - another burner up front. I can't imagine another pair of strikers who would be as fast as CJ and Desean.


Andre Johnson (WR, Texans) - take your pick of the bigger NFL wide receivers. You could easily substitute Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, etc., but I like Andre Johnson. He is a sick athlete and has awesome hands. Plus, he's probably the most explosive of the bunch.


Ray Lewis
(LB, Ravens) - the U.S. is known for its toughness (we don't sprawl around on the field after we get tapped on the toe), so Ray-Ray will keep it that way. I'm not sure if they would assign a little kid to hold his hand on the way out of the tunnel, but Ray will have his team "protecting the house."

Okay, so there you go. Who would you choose to be on the U.S. soccer dream team? No current soccer players allowed, by the way.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Colten's NBA Mock Draft: Version 3.0

With the draft only a couple of weeks away, things are starting to take shape. Teams are inviting certain prospects for private workouts, so it's getting easier to predict which prospects a team likes and what position(s) they are looking at. We still must be careful, however, to distinguish between legitimate interest and smoke and mirrors. Case in point: the behavior of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Sitting at #2, the consensus player to fill that slot is Ohio State guard, Evan Turner. The Sixers, however, have a need for a big man, so word got out that they were looking at selecting Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins at #2. Since then, nothing but "Evan Turner, Evan Turner" has come from the Sixers brass. This makes perfect sense, because convincing other teams that they will select Turner is crucial if they wish to obtain maximum value in the event of a trade.

With that in mind, I present to you, Colten's NBA Mock Draft: Version 3.0. Feel free to compare it with Version 1.0 and Version 2.0.

1. Washington Wizards: John Wall, PG, Kentucky
The Wizards haven't confessed their intentions just yet, but Wall is the consensus top prospect in the draft, so he is the selection here. Wall also brings off-court charisma and a flashy style to the table, so he should thrive as the face of a big market franchise like Washington.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Philadelphia): Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State
Just like in Versions 1.0 and 2.0, I have the T'wolves trading up from #4 to #2 to select Turner. Philly will try to get Minnesota to take Elton Brand's contract off its hands, while Minnesota will offer its third first round pick, #23 overall, to Philly. I think they will meet in the middle, and Philly will settle for the #4 and #16 picks in exchange for the #2 pick. Turner should fit right in with the T'wolves current perimeter duo of Johnny Flynn and Corey Brewer.

3. New Jersey Nets: Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech
Marc Stein of is reporting that the Nets have reached a verbal agreement with former Mavericks coach and current ESPN analyst, Avery Johnson to be its next head coach. If true, look for the Nets to possibly make a run at Dirk Nowitzki, who is expected to opt out of his contract with the Mavericks and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Devin Harris might be the guy to benefit the most from this move, as he experienced tremendous success under the tutelage of Johnson while they were both in Dallas.

With or without Johnson and Dirk, I think Derrick Favors is the selection here. He and Cousins are the best players available, but I think Favors would fit in better next to Brook Lopez down low, so the Nets will go in that direction. I think Favors and Lopez could form the best young post duo in the league, which would make Nets fans very happy.

4. Philadelphia 76ers (via Minnesota): DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky
Many think DeMarcus Cousins has the talent to be in the running for the #1 overall pick, but maturity and conditioning concerns have him falling a few slots. As an avid UK fan who has watched Cousins play as much as anybody, I think these concerns are overblown, and teams that pass on him (other than the Wizards) will likely regret the decision shortly after. Cousins is young, huge, powerful, skilled, tough, and crafty -- all of which are terrific attributes for a big man prospect to have. I think Cousins will average 15+ ppg and 9+ rpg as a rookie and make a serious case for ROY. Additionally, he should fit right in with the rough and tough Philadelphia persona, much like Bill Lambeer in Detroit.

5. Sacramento Kings: Greg Monroe, C, Georgetown
I had Al-Farouq Aminu in this slot in my first two mocks, but Greg Monroe's stock is on the rise and the Kings could use another big man, so he is the choice this time. Although the Kings could use a versatile perimeter defender and rebounder like Aminu, they are set to possibly lose Jon Brockman, Sean May, Spencer Hawes, and Carl Landry to free agency over the next two summers. Monroe has a higher ceiling than any of their current big men, and he would be a nice choice at #5.

6. Golden State Warriors: Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse
Players who love to run the floor, shoot threes, and throw down huge dunks on the fast break are perfect for Don Nelson's famed "Nelly Ball," and Wesley Johnson fits that description to a T. With the emergence of Stephen Curry and the fact that Montae Ellis and his moped are wearing out their welcome in Oakland, I could see the Warriors sliding Corey Maggette from the three to the two and inserting Johnson in his place. Plus, the Warriors might lose Anthony Morrow this summer as an RFA, so Johnson makes even more sense if that is the case.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (via Detroit Pistons): Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest
If Favors, Cousins, and Monroe are all gone at this point, then I think Detroit will try to trade down. They'd love to move up to take one of those three, but with what assets? Tayshaun Prince's expiring contract? The value at #7 is at SF, but the Pistons are desperate for a center. If they can't find a partner, then they could be left to choose among Cole Aldrich, Daniel Orton, Ekpe Udoh, etc. That is why, if they're smart enough, the Grizzlies will capitalize on the opportunity to package a couple of its three first round picks and snag an elite player like Aminu.

The Pistons don't really need a SF since they already have Jonas Jerebko, Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, and DaJuan Summers serving as "big guys who can play on the perimeter." The Griz, however, might lose Rudy Gay to free agency this summer if a desperate team (like the Knicks or Nets, if they lose out in the LeBron sweepstakes) offers him a max-level contract. If this goes down, I think the Pistons will acquire the Grizzlies' #12 and #25 picks, and they'll take the best available big man at #12 -- possibly Cole Aldrich. In the end, I think this would be a terrific trade for both teams.

8. Los Angeles Clippers: Gordon Hayward, SF, Butler
The Clippers could really use a SF to fit in between Eric Gordon and a healthy Blake Griffin. Hayward is unselfish, plays tough D, and can shoot threes. He isn't a flashy pick, but I think he's the right one for the Clippers.

9. Utah Jazz (via New York): Luke Babbitt, SF, Nevada
I am torn between Patrick Patterson and Luke Babbitt here, but rumor has it the Jazz are infatuated with Babbitt, and have been for some time. With the looming free agencies of Wes Mathews and Kyle Korver, the Jazz will need someone to stretch the defense. On the other hand, Carlos Boozer is also expected to bolt to greener pastures this summer, so Patterson would certainly make sense here, too. But today, the pick is Babbitt.

10. Indiana Pacers: Avery Bradley, Guard, Texas
The Pacers are desperate for a playmaking guard, and Avery Bradley fits the description. There are questions about what his NBA position will be, but he should at the very least become a lock-down perimeter defender. If he really pans out, then he could become an improved version of Monta Ellis -- you know, the version that plays defense.

11. New Orleans Hornets: Daniel Orton, PF/C, Kentucky
The Hornets could really use a versatile big man to spell Emeka Okafor at center and David West at PF. Orton's combination of size, athleticism, and skill set makes him a better choice here than, say, Aldrich, Whiteside, or Udoh. Ed Davis makes sense here, too, but Orton's bulk and the fact that he projects well as a pick-and-roll player gives him the edge.

12. Detroit Pistons (via Memphis): Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas
See, I told you the Pistons might end up with Aldrich, anyway! Like I mentioned earlier, the Pistons are desperate for a center to replace Ben Wallace and Kwame Brown, and Aldrich should be a good start.

13. Toronto Raptors: Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina
Chris Bosh hasn't ruled out a return to Toronto, but most people think that he's bolting this summer. If that is the case, then the Raptors will need a PF to fill the void. Ed Davis is no Bosh, but he is a good value and fills a big need.

14. Houston Rockets: Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall
Although I would love to put Ekpe Udoh (the local kid from Baylor) in this spot, I think the Rockets need a true center, rather than a PF/C hybrid, so the edge goes to the 7-footer, Whiteside. If Yao Ming is healthy, then the Rockets have a deep frontcourt consisting of Yao, Chuck Hayes, David Anderson, Luis Scola, Jordan Hill, and Jared Jeffries. Now, it's unlikely that all of these players will be on the Rockets' roster in 2010-2011, but they should still have enough depth that they can afford to draft for upside and bring him along slowly, so Whiteside makes sense in that regard.

15. Milwaukee Bucks (via Chicago): Xavier Henry, SG/SF, Kansas
The Bucks need to replace the outside shooting of Michael Redd and, maybe, John Salmons, so Xavier Henry would be a terrific fit here. The Bucks could also look at the upside of a guy like Paul George, or the high floor of a guy like James Anderson, but I think they'll get a little bit of both in Henry.

16. Philadelphia 76ers (via Minnesota, from Charlotte): Paul George, SG/SF, Fresno State
With Cousins already on board, the Sixers can look to backcourt help. Paul George has the combination of size and athleticism to become a good starter in the NBA if he can develop a consistent jumper. At #16, he's definitely worth the risk.

17. Chicago Bulls (via Milwaukee): James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State
The Bulls never replaced the outside shooting of Ben Gordon when he left for big money in Detroit last summer. Anderson would be a welcomed edition in Chicago whether they land LeBron, D-Wade, or neither.

18. Miami Heat: Ekpe Udoh, PF, Baylor
The Heat could lose PG's Carlos Arroyo and Rafer Alston to free agency this summer, so Eric Bledsoe is a possibility here. However, they could have an even bigger gap to fill down low with the potential departures of Udonis Haslem, Jamaal Magloire, Jermaine O'Neal, and others, so I think Ekpe Udoh would be the choice in this scenario. Many experts expect Udoh to be a lottery pick, so this is good value for Miami.

19. Boston Celtics: Solomon Alabi, C, Florida State
If you are watching the NBA Finals, then you must have noticed by now that the Celtics are woefully undersized compared to the Lakers. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom simply tower over Glenn Davis and Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics' tallest and longest players are Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace, but each is facing the twilight of his career and neither is as physically imposing as Alabi, who stands at 7'-1".

20. San Antonio Spurs: Damion James, SF, Texas
I was torn between putting Damion James or Eric Bledsoe here, but then a thought occurred to me and I decided on James. Just to make sure I wasn't out of line, I asked my brother (who happens to be sitting just a few feet from me) who he would take if he were the Spurs. He said, "James." I asked him why, wondering if he was thinking the same thing as me. "Bledsoe is too dumb to play for Popovich." My thinking, exactly.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
The Thunder would be thrilled if Patterson were to fall this far. Unfortunately for Patterson, lots of teams need height and length, rather than versatility at the PF spot, so that is his reason for the fall. If the Pacers decide to deal Troy Murphy this summer, then Patterson has a chance to head to Indiana to play alongside Roy Hibbert, but for now he will have to drop to the Thunder. I think Patterson might actually start fairly soon for the Thunder, which would allow Jeff Green to be the sixth man and replace either the SF or PF -- kind of like what Lamar Odom does for the Lakers.

22. Portland Trail Blazers: Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky
Andre Miller isn't getting any younger, and I doubt the Blazers believe Patrick Mills or Jerryd Bayless is the floor general of the future, so they hinge their hopes on Eric Bledsoe. He needs to learn to play under control, but Bledsoe has good upside and he would benefit from learning from Miller for a couple of years before taking the reins.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Utah): Larry Sanders, PF, VCU
Minnesota is expected to re-sign Darko Milicic, who complements Al Jefferson and Kevin Love down low, and they traded up to fill the void at SG, so they go with Larry Sanders here because of his intriguing upside and the fact that he is different from anyone they have on their roster. He would be a nice change of pace to the bulkier Jefferson and Love.

24. Atlanta Hawks: Willie Warren, Guard, Oklahoma
Joe Johnson is on his way out of Atlanta this summer, so the Hawks will need to draft a combo guard who can sub in for Mike Bibby or Jamal Crawford and provide scoring for the second unit. Enter Willie Warren. Warren has his maturity issues, but there is no denying his talent and scoring ability. At #24, he is worth the risk.

25. Detroit Pistons (via Memphis): Keith Gallon, PF, Oklahoma
The Pistons already drafted a center with its first pick, so now they add another big body who can also stretch the defense a little. Like his teammate, Warren, Gallon has some maturity questions and was caught up in an improper benefits scandal during his time at OU. However, Gallon has a rare combination of size and skill that would be very appealing to Detroit.

26. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Phoenix): Jerome Jordan, C, Tulsa
Prior to the 2009-2010 college basketball season, Jerome Jordan was considered a potential lottery pick. Jordan did not live up to the hype, however, so most mock drafts are relegating him to the second round. Fortunately for Jordan, the Thunder could really use a center to compete with BJ Mullins for playing time, and all of the "first round" centers are gone, so Jordan gets the nod at the end of round one.

27. New Jersey Nets (via Dallas): Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington
Pondexter really showed his mettle this March in the NCAA Basketball Tournament by leading Washington to the Sweet 16. Pondexter is NBA-ready, and could see some decent minutes for the Nets as a rookie.

28. Memphis Grizzlies (via Los Angeles): Jarvis Varnado, PF, MSU
This is a little high for Varnado, but I just have a gut feeling about this one. The Grizzlies have shown a preference for local guys, because they think they will have a better chance of retaining them when they head to free agency (see their acquisition of Ronnie Brewer and their flirtations with Monta Ellis). Varnado played ball at nearby MSU, and he grew up in Tennessee, plus the Griz have a need for a backup PF who can play defense and block shots. Sounds kind of like Varnado, to me.

29. Orlando Magic: Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia
If the Magic lose Matt Barnes to free agency, then they will need another perimeter defender to spell Vince Carter at SG, Mickael Pietrus at SF, and Rashard Lewis at PF. Devin Ebanks just happens to be a guy who can guard all three of those positions, so I think he would be a nice choice for Orlando here. If he improves his offensive game, then Ebanks could eventually become a good starter in the NBA.

30. Washington Wizards (via Cleveland): Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech
The Wizards selected the new face of their franchise, John Wall, with the first overall pick. To close out round one, I think they will look for a guy to bang around down low. Gani Lawal doesn't wow you with his physical attributes or his skills, but he plays hard and cleans the boards, and every team could use a guy like that. With the additions of Wall and Lawal, the Wizards get off to a good start on their rebuilding efforts.

As always, please be sure to check out these other fine mock drafts:

Walter Football
Football Fan Spot
DC Pro Sports Report

Monday, June 7, 2010

Braves back on top

It's been a lean last few years, but the Braves are finally back atop the National League East, and it looks like they might try to stay there.

The Braves haven't led the division on June 7 since 2003, when their 41-19 record was tops in the MLB. The odd thing about the Braves' resurgence is that their stats aren't particularly impressive. Their .257 batting average is 18th in the Majors, and Chipper Jones, the team's best player for the last decade or so and face of the franchise, is currently on the DL and is batting only .240 -- .066 points below his career average. On top of that, rookie sensation Jason Heyward, who looked like the next Mickey Mantle early in the season, has cooled off and is batting only .266 with 10 home runs.

Instead, the resurgence has come from timely hitting, slightly above-average pitching and fielding, and, most of all, the emergence of Martin Prado and the re-establishment of Troy Glaus as one of the game's top sluggers. Despite owning only the NL's 10th best team batting average, the Braves have produced the third most runs in the league. Its .349 on-base percentage is number one in the NL, which is more a credit to patience in the batter's box moreso than raw slugging. The Braves have 40 more walks (261) than the second best NL team in that category (St. Louis), and they have the fourth fewest strikeouts.

As for Prado and Glaus, Prado's .325 BA leads the NL, and Glaus' 44 RBI is tied for first in the league, alongside St. Louis' Albert Pujols. Many consider Glaus to be the front-runner for NL Comeback POY, which is an Atlanta fans' offseason dream come true. The fact that Prado, Glaus, and Heyward have, to varying extents, panned out (especially with the struggles of Jones), has lifted the Braves to heights unseen for the last several years at this point in the season. Still, one must take into consideration the Phillies' injury situation with Jimmy Rollins missing the last 20 games or so, and their inability to manufacture runs during that span. At only two games back, it would be a surprise if the Phillies are not able to give Atlanta a serious run for its money when Rollins returns.

But for now, things are definitely looking up for Atlanta. They have a dependable lead-off hitter in Prado, an exciting up-and-comer in Heyward, a resurgent veteran in Glaus, a face of the franchise and clubhouse leader in Jones, and a proven manager in Bobby Cox. Toss in guys like Brian McCann and Eric Hinske who are batting well, along with pitchers Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson who have a combined record of 20-9, and you can see how the Braves are a team to watch out for in the fall.

Cox recently said the Braves still have a lot of room to improve. If they do, then Braves fans would certainly relish the chance to bid Cox a fond farewell this fall, in what could be a magical end to his final season.