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Rumble on the Hudson

New Look Knicks looked not so good in last night's pre-season game. Of course, pre-season is weird so we saw an awful lot of Penny Hardaway for some reason. The Kidd-less Nets' strong performance seems to indicate that if the Kidd-Carter-Jefferson troika actually plays together all season without big injury problems, New Jersey will have a strong team. In light of the improving East, that hardly guarantees anything, but I think it makes sense to mention them in the same breath with Indiana, Detroit, and Miami. Tragically, this bodes not-so-well for my adopted Wizards and other middling Eastern Conference teams.

October 29, 2005 | Permalink

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Figuring out who's the best in the East after the Big Three is tough. I'd bet on Cleveland being the Best of the Rest rather than New Jersey. But unlike the Big Three, both New Jersey and Cleveland are not serious picks to win the East - in other words, they don't deserve to be mentioned with them.

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Marc Stein has his pre-season Power Rankings up. He's close enough, although I'd change around the order of top five to make it look like:

1) Indiana
2) San Antonio
3) Miami
4) Detroit
5) Houston

Posted by: Petey | Oct 29, 2005 4:59:55 PM

I just don't buy the Nets. Partly because I think Kidd is fading from glory very quickly; there's no way he'll be the player he was at the beginning of the decade, and I don't think Carter and Jefferson (and Krstic) can be effective without him. Partly because I don't buy Vince Carter. I just don't. We all know he's a massive punk, and it looks like he "reformed" but he's still afraid of contact and who knows when he'll throw a hissy fit.

As to the Wizards, I nearly did a spit-take when I saw that they're planning on bringing Caron Butler off the bench. Poor guy; three years ago he was a ROY contender and everyone thought he'd be Paul Pierce. Then his team drafted Dwyane Wade. Then he had to play with Kobe. Now he's coming off the bench behind Jared Jeffries? Ouch.

Posted by: Quarterican | Oct 29, 2005 7:27:48 PM

You hinted at it in another thread, Petey, so let's make it clear here: you're picking Indiana to beat SA in the finals?

Posted by: Haggai | Oct 29, 2005 10:53:35 PM

"You hinted at it in another thread, Petey, so let's make it clear here: you're picking Indiana to beat SA in the finals?"

It's hard to pick between the top 3. And San Antonio has fewer question marks than both Indiana and Miami. But, yeah, I think Indiana is the strongest team in the league.

Of course, if Miami manages to integrate its new pickups, they could well end up as the strongest. They almost beat Detroit last year with both Shaq and Wade hobbled. Like everyone else, I'm not a fan of 'Toine's game. But if he can push his ego aside enough in the quest for a ring, he could end up being a very good thing for Miami.

I think a big key for San Antonio is whether or not Van Exel has enough gas left in the tank to be a serious contributor in June. Nick is a cold-blooded assassin. And given that Parker is a real weak link for the Spurs, they're going to need Nick against a strong team.

At the end of the day, I think whoever comes out of the East is likely to beat the Spurs, whether that be Indiana or Miami.

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"I just don't buy the Nets. Partly because I think Kidd is fading from glory very quickly"

Kidd's gas tank gauge is also my concern about the Nets - along with their lack of depth. Kidd seemed to be on the downside even before he blew out the knee. He's still really good, but I don't think he can consistently perform at a high enough level to make them serious contenders.

"Partly because I don't buy Vince Carter. I just don't. We all know he's a massive punk, and it looks like he "reformed" but he's still afraid of contact and who knows when he'll throw a hissy fit."

Give Vince a break. He looked awfully good last year in New Jersey. I think pretty much every other GM in the league would happily take that "problem" off the Nets' hands. The dude may have overly delicate sensibilities, but he can really score the basketball.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 30, 2005 3:56:37 AM

At the end of the day, I think whoever comes out of the East is likely to beat the Spurs, whether that be Indiana or Miami.

I'll go on the record as that being flat-out crazy talk. I'll also go ahead and pick the Pistons from the East, if only because I can't really pick against my own team if I don't have to. On a more realistic level, I think Flip will give their offense some more punch. As great as Larry is, and as happy as I was to have him in Detroit, all the distractions and BS amounted to some pretty serious baggage in the playoffs last season.

Oh, and Petey, please refrain from EVER using the phrase "score the basketball" again in my virtual presence. It's been annoying enough for many years that every single football analyst and coach uses the word "football" ad nauseum in every sentence, so the growing usage of linguistic atrocities like "score the basketball" has simply got to stop.

Posted by: Haggai | Oct 30, 2005 9:42:10 AM

"Oh, and Petey, please refrain from EVER using the phrase "score the basketball" again in my virtual presence."

How bout:

- That Vince Carter can really fill up the hole.
- That Vince Carter can really stroke it.
- That Vince Carter can find the zone and take long vacations there.

Better?

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If the Pistons are your team, I wouldn't give up on them until they're mathematically eliminated. What's with 'heart of a champion' and all that business.

But LB always leaves a wake of ugliness behind him. And Flip may end up being an adequate coach rather than an inadequate coach (although his experiece in Minnie leaves both sides of that argument open), but he still ain't gonna be LB.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 30, 2005 10:52:51 AM

Yeah, I agree with Matthew that my Nets will be pretty good this year - contending for a #2 seed in the East and a chance at the Eastern Conference finals. I think they can beat either Indiana or Detroit in a 7-game series, but doubt they could win more than 2 games against Miami. My preseason picks for top 5 seeds in the East are: 1 - Miami, 2 - Nets, 3 - Indiana, 4 - Detroit, 5 - Cleveland. I'm not sure that the Nets are actually better than Ind or Det, but I'll bet they come away with a better record, since the Atlantic division is a lot weaker than the Central (the Central is stacked - I think all 5 teams there could make the playoffs). A 7-game series against either Ind or Det is a pick-em, as far as I'm concerned.

As a Nets fan, I'm not too concerned about the decline of Kidd. He's still got a few years left, and he doesn't have to take much of the scoring load anymore, so he can concentrate on rebounding, defense and running the offense. I'm more worried about Kidd at the defensive end than the offensive, though, since small quick guards have been hurting him lately (Kidd used to be a great defensive player; now he's only good). In the past, they've moved Kidd to the 2 and played a quicker defensive player at the point, but I don't know whether they'll continue to do that with both RJ and Carter playing. On the offensive end, though, he'll continue to be great, I think.

I also don't worry about Carter. He was awesome the 2d half of last season - MVPish (and I saw almost every Nets game when they made their run). All he needs to do well is to have fun, and he is now. He may not score 30+ PPG this season like he did at the end of last, because RJ will take some of the scoring load, but he'll continue to be great.

Obviously the most worrisome area for the Nets is their lack of depth and athleticism in the front court. While Collins is a very good defensive player, they obviously lack an athletic shot blocker. And if Kristic, Jackson, or Collins gets hurt (and Collins is still coming back from an injury), they're screwed, because you don't want to have to depend on Uncle Cliff Robinson for major minutes.

OK, that's my optimistic take on the Nets. Hey, you've got to be optimistic before the season actually begins, dontcha? Petey, what do you think the 76'ers are going to do - compete for the 5-6 seed? I think Webber will probably be a lot better than he was last year. Don't know if I would say the same about AI - time's gotta catch up with him soon given the beating he takes. I was down in Philly the last couple of days, and the guys on WIP radio were pretty optimistic about them though.

Posted by: Al | Oct 30, 2005 2:35:16 PM

Oh, absolutely Carter played phenomenally last year in New Jersey...he was probably the best offensive player in basketball over the second half of the season. My attitude towards him is colored by the fact that he's entered the very small group of professional athletes whom I just don't like, and it has everything to do with the last few years in Toronto. I don't trust him to keep giving everything he's got, but that is a personal prejudice on my part. What I don't think is personal prejudice is that I believe it's still pretty easy to turn him into a jump-shooter; I think he continues to be a guy who'll retreat to the perimeter if you're willing to knock him around a bit in the first quarter. (I have essentially the same criticism of Jefferson, though I don't dislike him: great drivers who can be easily persuaded to not drive.)

On the other hand, I'm trying to justify hopes that the Celtics will sneak into the playoffs to get more experience for the youngsters...

Posted by: Quarterican | Oct 30, 2005 5:50:33 PM

"Oh, and Petey, please refrain from EVER using the phrase "score the basketball" again in my virtual presence."

That's on par with "golf shot" used incessantly during PGA broadcasts.

I'm a bit worried about my Heat. I think we've done some subtraction by addition. Our chemistry is gone. Players like Gary Peyton need to retire and stop roaming around the NBA trying to get their ring as backups. He is far from his days as "the Glove". I don't know who besides Zo (who looks great this year) is going to play defense. Eddie Jones was our shutdown player last year. Peyton and Walker will be a distraction and a cancer in the locker room. What we really needed was a three point shooter. I don't think Williams or Walker are sure enough in the clutch from behind the arch.

Posted by: Just Karl | Oct 30, 2005 7:43:33 PM

Just Karl -

James Posey should be your new shutdown player. Assuming he stays healthy, that shouldn't be a bad thing. I'd like to think Walker can get his head on straight, but I'm not sure. He's actually got a very nice shot when he takes it; the problem is that more than half the time he just chucks it. It's very strange; he has two distinct shot mechanisms. This killed the Celtics last year in the playoffs: especially near the basket, Walker would catch the ball and then, apparently oversensitive to the possibility that someone would materialize to block his shot, immediately throw the ball in the general vicinity of the basket. He missed a *lot* of layups, even on the break. But if he can pull it together, he's supremely confident, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Payton couldn't stop me from getting a good shot off at this point, but he can still run an offense...slowly. And I don't think the Heat were planning on turning into a running team this year. Still, not the offseason moves I would've made if I were the Greasy-Haired-One.

Posted by: Quarterican | Oct 30, 2005 8:51:43 PM

Agreed that James Posey will be a good shut-down player for Miami - I think he's a better defensive player than Eddie Jones at this point in their careers. I do agree with Just Karl that you've got to worry about the new players from behind the arc - last year, Eddie Jones and Damon Jones were absolutely clutch from there, and I don't trust J-Will or Walker too much. I understand what Riley is trying to do. After Shaq and Wade, they just had no guys who could score the bas-, er, get their own shot last year. Now they've added two guys who can do that. So overall, I think they'll be better...

PS - Quartican, yeah, Carter can turn into a jump shooter. But I've been surprised on just how good a jump shooter he is - a LOT better than his reputation. He can score 30+ even as a pure jump shooter.

Posted by: Al | Oct 30, 2005 10:16:30 PM

The problem with the Walker-Payton-Williams group in Miami, is that they are better at creating their own shot that the guys they replaced, but that's not what will be asked of them. Miami doesn't need so many offensive creators (that's the role of Shaq and Wade) but guys who can spread the defense and score efficiently. None of these 3 players is a very efficient scorer; their best feature is their ability to use create a lot of shots and score with reasonable efficiency. If they take many shots, Miami will be worse (less shots for Shaq-Wade) and if they take few shots Miami will still be worse, because they won't shoot as well as the Jones duo.

Posted by: Carlos | Oct 30, 2005 11:06:30 PM

The more you think about it, the more Miami's offseason moves look puzzling. Their new guys are good players. Arguably, they're better players than Miami gave up. But the new guys don't especially fill any actual needs for a team already equipped with Shaq & Wade. Last year's squad featured some really good three point shooters, who were excellent complements for the two superstars.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Oct 30, 2005 11:46:53 PM

The Jones duo was great from 3-point range in blowout wins. The problems arose when someone like Chauncey Billups was guarding them. They were dreadful in the Pistons series last year. We also needed someone to matchup with Sheed Wallace. I guess Walker fits that bill. We'll see. Miami did fill it's need for a point guard. Wade is not a natural point guard and Williams can dish. He's a big improvement on Dooling, who had a tendency to fly around out of control. But Carlos is right, Miami still lacks a consistent jump shooter to stretch the defense.

Posted by: Just Karl | Oct 31, 2005 12:19:54 AM

"Hey, you've got to be optimistic before the season actually begins, dontcha? Petey, what do you think the 76'ers are going to do - compete for the 5-6 seed? I think Webber will probably be a lot better than he was last year. Don't know if I would say the same about AI - time's gotta catch up with him soon given the beating he takes."

I've lived and died with Iverson for his entire career, and I'm not going to stop doing that now. But my heart is a lot more optimistic about the Sixers this year than my head is.

Iverson has been badly served by LB's handpicked GM. They've failed to surround him with the right pieces. Things like giving up on Larry Hughes were signs of Brown's 'win now' strategy that are still being felt today. And more than anything, the re-introduction of the zone took away Iverson's ability to dominate the action against elite teams. Jordan's Bulls in his prime would have had trouble if the zone had been allowed.

All that said, I think the Sixers have an outside shot at putting it together this year. Iverson looked as good last year as he's ever looked. You know he has to start heading downhill at some point, but there's no reason that has to be this year instead of next.

They've put together 3 of the better shot blockers in the league with Dalembert, Hunter, and Gai. And with shot blockers behind them, it would allow Iverson and Iguodala to gamble for steals and put pressure on the perimeter.

And who knows? Webber seems to be moving well. Maybe there is some way for him to be effective in the Sixers offense. He looked incredibly good last winter on the Kings when he was moving much less well. Maybe Dalembert and Iguodala both take big steps forward with their offense. Maybe John Salmons is able to run the point effectively.

But like I said, I'm more optimistic with my heart than head. At the end of the day, all I really want is for Iverson to stay healthy. I love watching the guy play ball.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 31, 2005 3:32:22 AM

"The more you think about it, the more Miami's offseason moves look puzzling."

There is a method to the madness.

- Posey is there for defense.
- Williams is there for an upgrade at the point.
- Walker is there for scoring off the bench, and to let Shaq and Wade log less minutes in February.
- Payton is there for no discernible reason.

Overall it makes much more sense than most folks are attributing to it. Part of the logic is thinking that both Walker and Payton will accept their diminished roles both for shots at the ring, as well as out of deference to Shaquille.

Are they missing a deadeye three point shooter? Sure. But maybe they can pick one up during the season. Otherwise, Maybe GP can find a groove out behind the line.

If I were a Miami fan, I'd rather have this team than last years. No doubt. Eddie was barely keeping up. Dooling was incredibly limited. And while Damon was OK, I'd rather have the players they brought in instead.

It all comes down to finding a mutually acceptable role for 'Toine.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 31, 2005 6:32:16 PM

The question is whether 'Toine will ever be anything more than a chucker. Now, he used to be a pretty darn good chucker, but less so as he got older (especially after Kenyon Martin's defense demolished him in the playoffs). So if he ends up competing with Shaq and Wade for the most shots taken, then Miami's got problems. But I thought he was actually pretty good last year when he went back to Boston - his FG% was up above 44%. I think his year in Dallas may have taught him to be somewhat more of a team player. Moreover, I'll bet that when Miami signed him, they made it known that he would be required to defer to Wade and Shaq.

As I said above, I think the Miami moves were really good. Last year, Miami had basically two plays - dump it down to Shaq on the block (where he could shoot or throw it out for a three pointer by Jones, Wade or Jones) or let Wade go one-on-one (again, for a shot or a pass to Jones or Jones for a three). If you can defend those two plays, you can defend Miami (it's hard, obviously, but not complicated). Now, they can have a MUCH more varied offense.

Posted by: Al | Oct 31, 2005 6:48:26 PM

I strongly disagree about Walker. He has become the definition of the word "ballhog". Check this link http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/w/walkean02.html (go to ADVANCED, look at TS%) and you'll see that Walker's shooting doesn't change that much over the years (below average of course). Even in Dallas, his shooting remained essentially the same. I agree that Miami has more guys who can create their own shot now; what I'm not sure is if that's such a good idea on a team with Shaq and Wade. I'm not even sure if Jason Williams is such an upgrade over Damon Jones. Williams is a much better traditional point guard while Damon is a much better shooter; it won't work well if Miami expects Williams to do what Jones did last year. ¿Is the idea to decrease Wade's role as the offensive creator? The best explanation I can think of these moves is that Riley suspects that Shaq may break down during the season and has bought insurance.

Posted by: Carlos | Oct 31, 2005 10:39:31 PM

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