The Russell Westbrook Quandary

Posted: May 22, 2011 by pappychalmers in Sports in General

Kevin Durant is an amazing player. Outside of any shooting specialists in the NBA, when you watch him shoot, you’re blessed to be watching one of the smoothest jumpers in the League go up. At 22 years old, he is poised to make the League a binary star system, with him dominating the Western Conference and Derrick Rose taking the East.

This dunk is great proof of it: (The different angles make it even better, and Van Gundy is right: when you posterize someone, you have earned the right to free speech as if you were Mel Gibson yelling at your ex’s voicemail.)

And Sam Presti, taking the lessons he learned under the tutelage of R.C. Buford in San Antonio, has crafted an excellent roster around the Durantula in thrifty fashion. Thabo Sefalosha and Kendrick Perkins are great enforcers, Serge Ibaka has shown himself to be, besides a dunker and shotblocker who does it for Africa, a feathery midrange shooter that will eventually make him a pick and roll threat like the Mailman in his prime. Eric Maynor, James Harden (and his beard), and Daequan Cook provide excellent spells for the backcourt.

But one player is the true barometer for this team: Russell Westbrook. The UCLA product is a scary dunker and fast getting the ball up the court. His triple-double in Game 7 of their series with the Grizzlies helped the Thunder to take that series. His Game 4 performance was also marvelous: 40 points on 15-33 shooting and 5 assists and 3 turnovers in a critical win that tied the series. Westbrook’s performance in Game 4  of the Nuggets series was another 30 for 30, but it was much less critically acclaimed than the ESPN documentary series. His coach, Scott Brooks, criticized him as well. It was bad enough that he went 0fer on 7 threes, including the Thunder’s final 3 shots from outside the arc.

But when his jumper is off and he can’t score at the rim, Westbrook gets selfish and affects the Thunder’s performance. It’s interesting to watch him go against Jason Kidd, the quintessential facilitator who never considers taking the shot unless he has a wide open look or there are two seconds left on the shotclock (even then he is prone to whip a pass to someone more capable of scoring).

And then there was Game 2 of this Mavericks series. Westbrook ended his night with this play:

Eric Maynor and James Harden took over the ballhandling for the fourth quarter, with Harden pouring in 10 of his 23 in that period to rally the Thunder to the win. Thunder fans should see this as an enlightening experience, as Westbrook took over in their Game 3 loss because he had to: Durant shot 0-8 on 3’s and 7-22 overall (Westbrook hit the Thunder’s only 3 of the game), and no one else really sparked the offense. His 7 turnovers are disconcerting, but if Westbrook understands that he needs to recognize the hot hand on his team and focus on distributing, don’t expect the Mavs to come upon such huge leads.

Are these Westbrook playoff performances something that the Thunder basketball staff need to worry about for the future? I don’t think so. Westbrook is only 22 and is still learning to play the position, which is different beast from the one he played at UCLA in Howland’s slow-it-down system. However, if he doesn’t start to recognize his role next year, the Thunder may want to think about not giving him a contract extension until he demonstrates that understanding. This year he took 17 shots per game, which is the most taken by someone playing with a scoring champion since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. It is bad enough that he could potentially spoil this window for the Thunder to get a championship, but it isn’t worth it to sacrifice the investment in such a young talent just yet.

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The Jruth About the Sixers

Posted: May 21, 2011 by joshuacohan in Philly Sports

The Sixers blow.  Andre Iguodala can’t play. Elton Brand is overpaid. Heard that before?

Philadelphians, including myself, love to hate and before the midseason turnaround that the Sixers orchestrated last year after their 3-13 start, some of the many criticisms started to fade away.  Winning will generally do that, but the success must be sustainable.  We still don’t know if the Sixers are closer to the team that started the season and then sauntered into the playoffs, or the team that went 37-23 in between.

This Sixers team is probably not as good as they showed during their great stretch in the middle but not nearly as bad as the team that started the season.  Andre Iguodala might not be the star that he was supposed to be when he was signed to that enormous six year 80 million dollar contract, but he is still one of the best wing defenders in the league and the only player not named LeBron to average over 15 points 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game.   Elton Brand certainly has not lived up to his 80 million dollar deal either, but after playing healthy for the first time in 3 years, he has showed that he can still be a damn good starting power forward in this league with averages of nearly 15 points and over 8 rebounds a game.  The veterans were the keys in getting the Sixers to the .500 mark, but it is the play of the young guys that will dictate whether or not the Sixers will continue to take steps in the right direction.

As currently constructed, this is a .500 team that could earn a few more victories based on the growth of the young guys.  Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Mo Speezy, and Jodie Meeks are all under 25 years old and still have plenty of room for improvements in their game. There is no reason to believe that a bunch of 22 and 23 year olds will not continue to improve.  Although all the young guys are important to this teams success, the future of this team is most strongly tied to the future performance of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday.

Evan Turner was the best college basketball player in the country at Ohio State and showed some flashes of brilliance, especially against the Heat in the playoffs.  Evan Turner has taken time to grow at every level and this will be no different.   Although Turner was drafted as a shooting guard, it became clear that his biggest struggle would be finding his shot.  He will be working with legendary shooting coach Herb Magee this summer, but it might be the case that he is better suited as a point guard or a small forward (possibly in the point forward role that Iggy played at the end of the year). Regardless of where he plays, Turner will be a better player next year and will hopefully get more minutes to show us what he can do.

While Turner is a huge piece to he Sixers future success, it’s really all about the Jruth.  Jrue Holiday is only 20 years old and averaged 14 points, 6.5 assists and 4 rebounds in just his second season in the league.  At 6-4, Jrue has the ability to defend point guards and shooting guards. Heck, he even showed the toughness to guard arguably the best player in the league, LeBron James.  With his size and length, Jrue has the potential to be an All-NBA defender at his position in the future as he continues to mature.

In addition to his defense, Jrue has got a silky J that should continue to become more consistent.  His passing and court vision are also off the charts for a 20-year-old kid.  The sky is the limit for Jrue as he continues to improve.  This team needs a face of the franchise, and they are hoping they’ve found it. Fact of the matter is that the Sixers do not have money to spend to bring in a superstar nor do they likely have the assets to get a guy like a Dwight Howard if the Magic decide to trade him.  If we are going to get a star, that guy is going to be someone who is already on the team.

I believe his name is Jrue Holiday.

The young guys are the most important part in dictating where this franchise will go.  However, in order for the young players to take the Sixers to the next level (above the 50 win mark),the Sixers need to add some size.  If Jrue becomes an all-star and Turner continues to grow, you still can’t win with lack of size down low that the Sixers have on their roster. Ed Stefanski and Rod Thorn will undoubtedly add some size to the small Sixers roster, and it is likely that a big man will come via a trade for Iguodala.  Iggy’s non-committal comment at the end of the season when asked if he wants to play for the Sixers next year and his skipping of his exit interview are clear signs that he does not want to be back.  Although Iggy should not be traded for a bag of chips, trading him will open up minutes for Evan Turner and would hopefully net the Sixers a young promising big man in return.

The Sixers are heading in the right direction. They are not some meddling middle aged team with no room to grow. They are a young and hungry team with a head coach that instills tremendous passion and pride in each of his players. If Jrue and Evan become the players they are capable of, the Sixers could be looking at many successful seasons ahead.

What Can Brown Do For You?

Posted: May 21, 2011 by jeffkerr in Philly Sports

Domonic Brown has been the Phillies top prospect for three seasons and could be the best player to get called up to the Phillies since Ryan Howard in 2005.

Last season, Brown showed flashes of brilliance at time during his stint in the majors. He had nine hits, one home run, and 10 RBI in his first seven starts. But the rookie struggled when major league pitchers adjusted to his smooth, long stroke and it greatly affected his performance. Dom hit .183 with two home runs and 13 RBi in only 49 at-bats over 31 games played.

After struggling in winter ball and the beginning of spring training, many fans were under the impression that Brown was all hype and not a good major league player.

Brown has struggled since his call-up to the majors last season, but he only has 62 regular season at bats and was not playing every game to hit out of his slump.

Domonic Brown is not the first Phillie to struggle early in his major league career, and will not be the last. Here are a few Phillies who had slow starts to begin their big league career:

1. Ryan Howard ( May 2005): 6-28, .214 avg, 1 HR, 1 RBI. Career (7 seasons): .277 avg., 262 HR, 783 RBI, 2005 NL ROY, 2006 NL MVP.

2. Chase Utley (2003): 32-134, .239 avg., 2 HR, 21 RBI. Career (8 seasons): .293 avg., 177 HR, 650 RBI, 2006-2009 Silver Slugger, five time all-star.

3. Jimmy Rollins ( April 2001): 23-92, .250 avg., o HR, 5 RBI. Career (11 seasons): .272 avg., 156 HR, 674 RBI, 2007 NL MVP, 2007-2009 gold glove winner.

Bottom line: Players need time to adjust to the top level of professional baseball in the world. Once Domonic Brown settles in, he could be on pace to equal or surpass the careers of these current Phillies stars.