The two players who have impressed me the most during summer league play have been Klay Thompson and Kenneth Faried. Thompson’s game is reminiscent of Allan Houston’s. They have a similar build, handle the ball fairly well and are dead-eye shooters. If Thompson continues maturing at this level, he may make Stephon Curry expendable in Golden State and entice the Warriors to bring in another pass-first defensive oriented guard to play alongside Thompson, or at the very least a more durable playmaker like the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings.
But the player who’s been the most exceptional has been Denver Nugget sophomore Kenneth Faried. Faried attacks every trip down the court as if it’s the closing play in the NBA Finals and his team is trailing by a point. Watching Faried corral in every rebound in a 3-mile radius has been a joy to watch. He’s reminiscent of a young Dennis Rodman with Ben Wallace’s physique.
And as evident in the quote below, Faried is not reluctant to assert himself as a leader:
“It doesn’t matter (that it’s Summer League),” Faried said. “It’s going to show guys that even the best player on the team can go out and still get down and dirty.”
Watching Faried play prompted me to go back and review last year’s NBA draft to see who was taken ahead of him. And while one can make slight accommodations for Tristan Thompson and the Morris Twins Markieff and Marcus because they played in better conferences, Faried has by far outplayed all of the forwards selected ahead of him in last year’s draft. As this draft is revisited in the coming years the teams who may end up being hurt the most by not selecting Faried are the Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats who selected the aforementioned Thompson and Bismack Biyombo respectively. Faried is precisely the kind of hard-nosed rebounder/finisher who would have helped the maturation of young point guards Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. A similar principle might apply to the Washington Wizards, but the Wizards already had Trevor Booker on board and he has a similar skill set and motor. There’s no doubt in my mind however that fans in Cleveland and Charlotte would have immediately rallied behind Faried’s blue-collar attributes, and high basketball IQ.
In 2008-09 when the Denver Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals they appeared on the verge of becoming an elite team in the western conference. It seemed as if the frontline of Nene, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin was finally rounding into form and might emerge as worthwhile challengers to LA’s triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. However, Kenyon Martin’s recurring knee injuries and Nene’s inconsistent play when healthy kept the Nuggets from fulfilling their promise. The Nuggets were also often dogged by a pedestrian back court in a conference that featured such elite guards as Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and Brandon Roy.
Now, in 2011 the New York Knicks have composed a team that bears a striking resemblance to these Nuggets teams that sputtered throughout much of this last decade. Carmelo Anthony anchors both teams and Amar’e Stoudemire and newly signed Tyson Chandler are reminiscent of Martin and Nene. Like Martin, Stoudemire is a dynamic power forward who’s had to overcome micro-fracture surgery. Also like Martin, Stoudemire has often had to play out of position at center guarding much bigger players. Stoudemire is arguably a far superior offensive player, but he’s also been blessed to play in Mike D’Antoni’s high-powered offensive system.
Similarly, Chandler and Nene are virtually the same player. Athletic centers with a penchant for stints on the injured list. Chandler is a slightly better rebounder and guards the rim better, but Nene is a better offensive player and his passing skills complemented the talents of Anthony and Martin really well. Where Chandler really distinguishes himself however is that he’s a maturer locker room presence than Nene. None other than Chris Paul can be counted to speak fondly of his support as a teammate, a fact that is not to be taken lightly given Paul’s close bond with Anthony.
Also like their counterparts in Denver, this Knicks team will have to contend with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams without an all-star guard of their own.
Come this year’s playoffs, this year’s Knicks might very well find themselves in the same position as those 08-09 Nuggets. A Knicks-Heat Conference finals would be must see TV as Miam’s Big Three goes up against New York’s newly minted Big Three. If New York wins, then they will have bested their predecessors in Denver, and if they don’t, then we are likely to find this team seeking to answer similar questions to those that plagued the Nuggets the last three seasons.
Every few weeks or so I’ll see a sportscenter highlight where Rodney Stuckey pulls off an amazing move or posterizes a big man.Â A few years back when I used to see these clips I’d think this guys “a beast.”Â He’s Vinnie Johnson with hops.Â But now that these clips occur as frequently as Detroit wins a game, my reaction is more like, meh.
Joe Dumars must by have now realized that the Pistons have gone as far as they can with Stuckey at the helm.Â As tantalizing as Stuckey’s dunks may be, what Detroit needs is a point guard who can manage the game.Â And when they invested money in Ben Gordon, they doubled down on scoring guards, which is only a good GM move in an AAU league.
What about this for an idea, what if Detroit re-signs and trades Stuckey to Denver for Raymond Felton?
Stuckey would provide Denver with an explosive scorer off the bench, capable of either pairing with or replacing J.R. Smith depending on what Denver eventually decides on doing with him.Â And like Felton, he can also play alongside Ty Lawson when Denver goes small or has to match up with Golden State’s duo of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.
And on the other hand, Felton would provide Detroit with heady point guard play and the occasional last minute heroics, things they’ve been missing since Chauncey Billups left town.Â Felton is a pass first guard, which will make Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and everyone else around him happy.Â His presence would also be a boon for Greg Monroe as it would take some pressure off of him to create his own shot.
Felton’s arrival won’t be enough to help the Pistons hoist another banner, but it’ll likely keep the lights on at the palace til the end of April.
This year’s NBA playoffs have been a revelation.Â Whether it’s the nail biters between Chicago and Indiana, Chris Paul’s mesmerizing performances against Los Angeles, or Denver gutting out a victory over OKC, NBA fans can all attest that we’re getting our money’s worth this season.Â With so many teams playing better (or worse) than expected it’s hard to choose just one, but still we gotta ask, which team do you think has been the biggest surprise thus far:
The western conference is in many ways the antithesis of the eastern conference. While the east is loaded with high wattage superstars consolidated on four teams, the west has a deep roster of quality teams. Guys like Zach Randolph, David West and LaMarcus Aldridge are not going to have any national ad campaigns built around them anytime soon, but they help you win games. And as you’ll see in my predictions, Randolph’s Grizzlies are gonna win a lot of games. Now I know that there will be plenty to take issue with in these predictions, but at the end of the day, I just think that the field in the west is a lot more wide open than people are really saying. Plus, if the Lakers are guaranteed to win this conference, why not design as quirky a path as possible to this inevitable conclusion.
Spurs vs. Grizzlies
Rest is good, and Popovich is a great coach, but at some point players have to play and it remains to be seen whether the Spurs can still play–at least in the playoffs.Â Memphis’ Battier, Gasol and Randolph frontline is designed to give a team like the Spurs fits.Â In some ways, they even remind of the old Spurs teams with Battier playing Bruce Bowen’s old role toÂ a tee.Â On the other hand Memphis has nothing to lose, which is why they’re my pick to win. Prediction: Grizzlies in Six.
Lakers vs. Hornets
This isn’t the same Hornets team that took the Lakers to the brink a few years back.Â Prediction: Lakers in 4.
Mavericks vs. Blazers
San Antonio established the blueprint for ousting the Mavericks years ago and that gameplan hasn’t changed.Â Put a smaller defender on Dirk and make him work for his shots.Â You can now place Gerald Wallace in the long line of Dirk agitators that includes Bruce Bowen and Stephen Jackson. I’ll also take a moment to predict that the announcers will remind viewers a million times that LaMarcus Aldridge was snubbed from this year’s all-star team.Â Prediction: Blazers in Six
Thunder vs. Nuggets
Most teams have at least one playoff hiccup before they can make the leap.Â Denver could very well be the team that makes the Thunder take that step back before they take another one forward.Â Here’s why I think Denver can upset OKC, they’re the best team to borrow the blueprint for stopping Dirk and apply it to the Kevin Durant.Â Afflalo, Chandler and Gallinari are well suited for pestering Durant into a few bad games.Â Also, I can’t see Kenyon Martin backing down to Kendrick Perkins anytime soon.Â I wouldn’t be surprised if those two got into a fight and both ended up being suspended for a game.Â An absent Perkins in game 7 swings this series in Denver’s favor and I predict Denver over Okc
Grizzlies vs. Nuggets
This is the WTH series.Â Prediction: Memphis in 6.
Lakers vs. Blazers
Paging Greg Oden.Â Greg Oden we need you.Â Greg where are you!!!Â Seriously imagine if Greg Oden were healthy. An Oden-Bynum playoff matchup would be great.Â It would allow for another great head to head battle: Aldridge – Gasol. But without Oden, the Blaers are another run of the mill team loaded with wing players. There’s just a better version of the Rockets. Prediction: Lakers in 5.
Lakers vs. Grizzlies
Kobe Bryant and Tony Allen will get into a scuffle. Lionel Hollins’ agent is going to break his neck to work out a contract extension.Â Zach Randolph will slap his agent for not getting his extension done by now.Â Lamar Odom will eat a lot of skittles.Â Phil Jackson will fall asleep on the sidelines.Â Prediction: Lakers in 4.
The answer to this question is clearly yes.Â In spite of how poorly the team has played in recent weeks itâ€™s mind-boggling that some actually think that the Knicks would have been better off in the long run without Carmelo Anthony.Â Those who cite Denverâ€™s inspired play since the trade as evidence are also missing the point.Â With or without Carmelo Anthony the organization was still in rebuilding mode.
To put it in perspective, the only team in recent memory to win a title that bears even a slight resemblance to the pre-Carmelo Knicks and post-Carmelo Nuggets were the 2004 Detroit Pistons.Â If you had to bet which of the two coaches currently presiding over these two teams best suited to replicate that success, the odds on favorite would be George Karl because of his devotion to defense.
In order to get to the next level, the Knicks will have to make two very important decisions.Â The first is deciding on whether or not Mike Dâ€™Antoni is the right coach.Â In Phoenix, Dâ€™Antoni showed he can develop a fan friendly exciting style of play, one that was a Robert Horry hip-check away from the Suns playing in the Finals.Â His job at the Knicks was entirely different.Â He was to clean house, and make fans feel that the team was in good hands after Isaiah Thomasâ€™ disastrous tenure.Â While itâ€™s benevolent to think that Dâ€™Antoni should now stick around to see the organization succeed, itâ€™s not necessarily good business.Â NY doesnâ€™t have the kind of players needed for Dâ€™Antoniâ€™s system, and having already done a stellar job of getting the team under the cap and not being rewarded with players who fit his system, itâ€™s no longer in Dâ€™Antoniâ€™s best interest to remain coach of this team.Â Iâ€™m not saying he should quit or get fired, but itâ€™s time for him and the Knicks to consider parting ways.
The second decision is related to the first.Â The Knicks need a center.Â When the Pistons won in 2004 they had a 6â€™8 rebounding machine who was flanked by a highly skilled 7â€™ power forward and a 6â€™9â€ small forward with a 7â€™2â€ wings span.Â All that to say, what the Pistons lacked in size they made up for in length, basketball IQ and defensive intensity.Â This current Knicks frontline lacks size, length and the elevated basketball IQ of a Rasheed Wallace.Â The size factor explains their troubles with the Magic and Celtics, and the basketball IQ explains their problems with teams like the Cavs and Bucks.
This propensity to get out-muscled our out-witted on any given night will have just as much of an impact on the Knicks ability to find a center as any proposed salary cap limitations.Â They canâ€™t afford to plug in a rookie, nor can they afford any of the high value veterans like Tyson Chandler, Joe Pryzbilla or even Marcus Camby.Â The guys whoâ€™d be the best fits for this Knicks squad, Andrew Bogut or Marc Gasol are both locked up by their teams.
Fortunately, for the Knicks and their fans, theyâ€™re might be a lockout next season.Â Sure, youâ€™ll miss out on some Amare & Melo time, but once play resumes some team might be desperate enough for some cap relief and give the Knicks the quality center they desire (Chris Wallace, Donnie Walsh is on line 1).
Oy vey, once the big man is in place, theyâ€™ll still need to address the coaching situation.Â Why does it feel like this team is running around in circles?