Sunday, October 12, 2014

NBA RAW: The Revolution Has Begun: Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW's 2014 Rising star spotl...

NBA RAW: The Revolution Has Begun: Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW's 2014 Rising star spotl...: Albert Einstein once said, " imagination is more important than knowledge." So picture a category- defying NBA player with suc...

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW's 2014 Rising star spotlight-The Greek Freak-Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Albert Einstein once said, " imagination is more important than knowledge." So picture a category- defying NBA player with such ethereal skills  he can single-handedly change the way the game is played on both sides of the ball. Before you can say "holy hyperbole," hear me out. At nearly 7-feet tall with a 7-5 wingspan,  this phenom sports a handle like Magic, has vision like J. Kidd, defensive disruptive skills like  KG, and can finish in transition like Vince. His nom de guerre is so cool, my six year old calls it out during his games.  Second year, Milwaukee Buck phenom, Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka "The Greek Freak" is a sort of a video game creation come to life. With a Quetzalcoatlus type wingspan, gigantic hands, tremendous length , and jaw-dropping athleticism, Antetokounmpo is the NBA's latest match-up nightmare.

What makes Giannis so unique is his elite skills on both sides of the ball. Sure we have the newest NBA prodigies :Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, and  Kawhi Leonard of the  San Antonio Spurs, but none match the totality Giannis's skill set. On the offensive side of the ball, he sports a point guard's handle with an innate ability to change speeds and directions . He can create off the bounce, make plays for his teammates, post -up, face up and blow by opposing bigs, and finish strong at the rim .In transition, watching him get out  and fill the lanes with  those gazelle-like strides is a thing of beauty. If that is not enough, he is also sporting a  new Magic Johnson baby hook across the lane.

In addition, his hoops IQ belies his abbreviated NBA tenure and tender age-19. He has a preternatural feel for the game. The way he moves off the ball, slashing, cutting, curling to the basket, perpetually moving makes him unguardable.  Giannis  is as fundamentally sound as you will ever see in someone so young. You Tube has become his personal highlight reel. See him in last nights preseason game against the Chicago Bulls. He blocked Taj Gibson's shot and then sprinted down the court on the same play for a thunderous  dunk. This past summer in August, with Greece playing Turkey, Giannis covered 72 feet in two dribbles before slamming it home.

Defensively, he has the ability to disrupt a game the way few players can.  He can be a shut-down wing defender and a true rim-protecting big. Last year you would see him flying in from the weak side-  the way a young Amare Stoudemire did- to smack away a shot. In a point guard-driven, pick-and-roll league, Giannis can also chase shooters off the 3-point line, and  hedge and recover on picks, Giannis also causes total chaos in the  passing lanes and forays to the rim with his massive wing span and length.  Last year the Bucks gave up nearly 7 points less with Giannis on the court. He also held opposing bigs to a below league average 14.2 PER.

Although Giannis  put up modest numbers last year in 77 games for the woeful Bucks playing only 24 minutes: 6.8 points, 1.9 dimes, 4.4 boards, one could see the glimpses of this game-changing talent.

With new coach Jason Kidd as the guiding force, expect to see some very creative and imaginative offensive experiments. Kidd already has Giannis playing point forward .The one glaring weakness in Giannis' game is his perimeter shot. Once he gets that down, he will become a perennial all-star. Giannis Antetokounmpo  has injected some much needed hope into one of the NBA's worst run franchises . With the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, stud small forward, Jabari Parker now on board, things may shine a bit brighter in Buck town. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls the Giannis Antetokounmpo show is not to be missed.  You are about to bear witness to the next superstar in the NBA.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW: Hello, David Blatt. Welcome! My name is pressure.

Hello, David Blatt. Welcome! My name is pressure.

Someone famously said, pressure makes diamonds and it also makes ex-coaches. Oh yeah, that was me! Over in Cleveland, rookie Cavalier head coach, David Blatt will soon find himself hurtling toward a collision course. This road will be littered with swollen expectations and intense pressure. Its hard to imagine Blatt ,or Cavalier owner Dan Gilbert, had this in mind a few months ago.  Blatt signed on this past June for a three-year deal worth $ 10 million  At that time , the biggest issue was who the team should take with the No.1 overall pick  in the 2014 NBA draft: Jabari Parker, Joel Embid, or Andrew Wiggins. The wounds of taking Anthony Bennett with last years No.1 pick were still  very raw. To say Bennett "underperformed"  is an understatement. But, its still way too early to call the out of shape, very raw 20-year old a bust.

Faster than you can say, Holy King James! The Cavaliers signed their prodigal son, unrestricted free agent LeBron James, traded their 2014 No. 1 pick Wiggins, last years No. 1 Bennett, and Miami's 2015 protected first round pick to the  Minnesota Timberwolves  for stretch-4 extraordinaire Kevin Love. Now add point guard prodigy Kyrie Irving and rabid Cavalier fans are happier than a ton of Republicans at Eric Holder's resignation party.  Enter the Cavalier version of the  "big three." Since King James skipped town and took his prodigious talents to South Beach, the Cavs ( and the city of Cleveland) had sunk into abyss of blame, owner-led histrionics, and dysfunction. 97 wins -215 losses, three head coaches( including the same one twice, Mike Brown) , and hope of a better tomorrow as the primary lubricant. But in sports,as in life, its better to be lucky than good. 

LeBron, Love, and Kyrie notwithstanding, championships  are won on the court-not in the blogs, media, or fantasy drafts. As we saw with Miami's "big three" Wade, Bosh, and LeBron it took time to gel. Chemistry is a delicate alchemy. Forget about Miami losing to the Mavericks in the 2010 NBA Finals 4 games to 2, there were spasms of doubt throughout that first year. LeBron and Wade  took turns on offense with Chris Bosh scratching his head wondering what his role would be. Then you add many naysayers doubting whether LeBron and Wade could even play together.  It was only after that tumultuous  first year did the Heat get it right. They would  make the Finals four straight years and win back-to-back rings.

Blatt operates at a demonstrable disadvantage as a first year coach-there is no learning curve.  This team is expected to win multiple rings-NOW. Okay, we have heard the paleo-refined, 2.0 LeBron preach patience to the championship-famished Cleveland fans. That and a token will get you through the first few losing streaks. But , Blatt does not have the luxury of a championship-ring laden GM like Pat Riley, to intervene and stand up for his coach. Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert may a a billionaire. but his hoops cred is.... nil.

Conversely, Blatt can boast of some real  global hoops cred. He recently led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a surprising upset over Real Madrid to win the 2014 Euro League championship. As a result he was named coach of the year He also guided Russia to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and won an Italian league championship in 2006 with BenettonTrevisio. To his credit, Blatt is known to be an excellent communicator with a flair for offensive innovation., Since he played college ball under the legendary coach Pete Carril at Princeton, we can expect a free flowing motion offense. That will be an immense departure from the unimaginative inert offensive style of former Cavs coach Mike Brown .

Another plus for Blatt is the symmetry and balance of his new "big three." LeBron can use his ethereal talents to create, penetrate, facilitate. post-up, or just take over a game as needed. Love can play inside or outside, has a great deep game, and  will be the recipient of many great passes from LeBron. Irving has one of the best handles in the game, and will excel in the pick-and roll. Questions still abound, however, over Irving's durability and leadership. The later he will learn from King James.

Managing international players and NBA superstars are a whole different sort of  hard and soft 
skill set. Expectations are high and patience will be short. As Brandon Sanderson said in the novel, The Way of Kings, " Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you hold them, he more likely they are to crack."

We'll speak again David in May. Welcome to the NBA.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW: Who is Thon Maker?

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW: Who is Thon Maker?

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW: Eric Bledsoe is NOT a max player -yet.

In theory, unfettered capitalism's free market tenets allow for the highest price the market will bear. In essence, $10 for a cup of coffee will sustain itself only  if there are enough folks willing to pay $ 10  for it. In professional sports the doctrines are the same. Last year, the New York Yankees did not think second baseman , Robinson Cano was worth a 10 year $240 million contract. The Seattle Mariners did and signed Cano. So why has one of the NBA's rising stars, Phoenix Suns point guard, Eric Bledsoe come up empty in his request for five-year contract north of $ 80 million ?

For one, he is a only a restricted free agent-not unrestricted where he can go to the highest bidder. Hence, his  Phoenix Suns team has all the leverage. Moreover, like too many professional athletes, Bledsoe has also misjudged his value- and is probably getting bad advice from his coterie of advisers

In his abbreviated tenure (4 years) in the NBA the 24-year old Bledsoe had just become a starting player last year on the high octane Phoenix Suns team. Here he was paired with another point guard Goran Dragic. The dual lead guard pairing has become de riguer in the NBA. In a point guard dominant, pick-and roll- league, having 2 lead guards allows teams to have multiple scoring options to initiate offense  This is particularly critical when defenses overload the floor on the strong side A second  lead guard allows you to create and attack from the weak side. Last year Bledsoe put up career numbers on a Suns team that outperformed expectations and nearly made the playoffs. Bledsoe averaged nearly 18 points, shot 47.7 % from the field, 35.2% from downtown, averaged 4.7 boards, and dished out 5.5 dimes. Very impressive numbers.

 In addition, the supremely athletic, long-armed Bledsoe is a defensive demon. Point of attack defense is vital to NBA teams with deep post season aspirations, Bledsoe was the ONLY point guard in the top fifty in defensive plus minus numbers(DRPM: Player's estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions). Bledsoe was number 13 in the entire NBA at 3.97 and number one  for all point guards. With that said, the Sun have offered Bledsoe a four-year, $ 48 million contract. That would rank in the "good but not great category" with fellow up-and-coming point guards such as Ty Lawson at $ 12 million and Jrue Holiday a $ 11 million.

 Furthermore, can you pay Bledsoe number one option money, when he may not truly be a number one option? You can argue Bledsoe's numbers are inflated because he plays within a two lead guard system. There he plays on and off the ball with equal frequency. But he clearly excels when he shares the court with Dragic. Goran Dragic often initiates the offense and excels in the pick-and-roll, drive-and dish game. Bledsoe does not excel  in the pick-and-roll. Phoenix's offense often stalls when Bledsoe plays without Dragic. When Bledsoe operates solo the Suns score just 100.7 points per 100 possessions. When Bledsoe shares the court with Dragic, the Suns score nearly 8 points more.

Bledsoe is also turnover prone. When he acts as the lead ball handler, the Suns turnover rate jumps nearly 15%. In  transition situations, Bledose is turning the ball over nearly 19% of the time-not a great sign for  a player who excels in the open court. In the post season, when games slow down and become more half court oriented,  Bledsoe will not have he transition opportunities he has during the regular season.  As defenses tighten , he will have to shoot more from the perimeter. Bledsoe shoots only 32% in catch-and-shoot situations. Another searing indictment of his offensive woes, Bledsoe ranks 55th out of all NBA point guards in offensive plus minus numbers( ORPM: Player's estimated on-court impact on team offensive performance, measure in points scored per 100 offensive possessions).This is not what you want to see in a player positioning for  a max contract

I am a huge Eric Bledsoe fan and feel he is one his way. With that said, his on the court performance is not worthy of a max contract. His stint as a lead guard is much too short. If he is insistent on securing a max contract-earn it. Do what Greg Monroe is doing. Take Phoenix’s qualifying offer worth a little more than $3.7 million this year and then become an unrestricted free agent. Yes, there is a risk. But “scared money don’t make money.” Your call EB.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW : Wiggins plus .... for Kevin Love? Absolutely!

Very few sports figures can deliver the summer blockbuster movie drama like LeBron James. In his latest iteration, of the "Traveling Man," King James has decided to take his talents back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes,that is not a misprint. Faster than you can say, haven't I seen this movie before, questions abound over the reunion of James and Cavalier owner, Dan Gilbert. Gilbert,  is better known in some circles as the author of the infamous jilted owner open  letter, where he excoriated LeBron and blamed him for everything but the 1929 stock market crash. NBA basketball marriages, as in politics, make strange bed fellows. Grudges be damned when it's about  two-time NBA champion, 4-time MVP, home town hero( or villain), and best player on the planet.

Now what? James' arrival has injected hope back to a city still reeling from his soul-crushing departure. James will enjoy oracle status among  Cleveland's collage of rising stars. It starts with the super talented, yet fragile and defensively deficient  point guard Kyrie Irving. At only 21, Irving has played in 174 out of 215 games in his 3-year NBA career. There are already many question over his durability. Were not even mentioning the college toe injury that saw him play in only 11 games at Duke. You also have 2013 number one pick, Anthony Bennett( notice I have not used the word bust, way too early) and of course this years number one pick, uber-athletic, Andrew Wiggins. Sprinkle in under sized power forward, Tristan Thompson, wily veteran center,  Anderson Varejao, and swing man Dion Waiters, 3 first round draft picks in 2015, and you have the framework of something special-albeit with a rookie coach. But with so many alluring assets, and the specter of a new " Big Three, "  the trade machine is now operating at full throttle. Enter Kevin Love.

Kevin Love, the offensively prodigious, rebounding machine, and 2015 unrestricted free agent has already mentioned if traded to Cleveland  he would consider signing an extension. Ya think! Do the math! LeBron, Kyrie, and Love? Toss in a few key rotation players, and you will have an extended run at multiple NBA rings. Hoops media is already ablaze with potential trade scenarios  involving top pick Andrew Wiggins. The Cavaliers are already saying there is no way Wiggins will be traded in any package for Love. Notwithstanding, the stroke of brilliance in the return of the prodigal son, James, no one is confusing Cleveland with being a Spurs East. This is a team with a meddling owner and  a marginal front office. Let's not confuse luck with exceptional competence  Wiggins for Love, in any package is a no-brainer.

Although supremely athletic and very talented, Wiggins has already been miscast as a franchise-altering talent: he is not.  This has been presciently pointed out by the absurdly talented NBA analyst and writer Jonathan Tjarks, Wiggins has a number of holes in his boat. Applying a universal baseline devised by Tjarks similar to the five tool metric in baseball, and you get a qualitative measure for evaluating NBA talent. The five measures are: creating your own shot, creating shots for others, shooting off the pass, rebounding, and defense.

Looking at the surface, it's easy to get viscerally excited over Wiggins. 19 years old, 6-8, 200 with a 7- foot wingspan. But with further scrutiny. Wiggins projects to be a taller Andre Iguodala( an elite rotation player).Wiggins is not a particularly skilled ball handler, passer, or shooter. His demonstrative athletic advantage will be less so in the NBA  His already too high assist-to- turnover ratio also shows me a player who is yet to develop the elite hoops DNA to think he game( and see things before they happen). So with our new five-tool baseline, Wiggins grades as very good at not elite.

Conversely, Kevin Love is an ELITE NBA talent. This season he just missed with 12.5 boards of becoming only the fifth player in NBA history to average 26 points, 13 boards and 4 dimes for a full season. Wilt, Kareem, Billy Cunningham, and Elgin Baylor are the four. Love is also coming off a season where he was third in PER and EWA( Estimated Wins Added) behind LeBron and Durant. It should also be noted he is doing  this with a second rate supporting cast. Let's also factor in the C word-chemistry. Love is perfect fit with Kyrie and LeBron. Those two excel at breaking down defenses leaving Love with plenty of open looks to knock down perimeter shots on drive and dishes. Moreover, you get positional versatility with Love. Due to his court vision,and superb passing skills, you can run high-low offense with he and LeBron. Love can go to either high post or blocks and so can LeBron

With Cleveland's three first round 2015 picks, and an abundance of young talent, Wiggins moves the trade needle to get Love from Minnesota. Rule 101, of NBA elite front office management- know the value of your assets.  Its simple-Love is an franchise  talent, Wiggins is not.  The only drawback would be Minnesota insistence  of taking back Kevin Martin's bad contract.contract. That is  is a no-no. Martin's  matador defense with Kyrie's defensive woes would be toxic. To balance out the LeBron, Love,Kyrie "Big Three,"Cleveland will need a long 3 and D 2- guard, and an athletic rim protecting  center who can defer the pick-and roll and cover  for Love's  porous  defense.

Cav fans, welcome back to hoops relevance. Minnesota fans, losing Love is not the end of the world( or maybe it is). Miami, you have two rings, plenty of memories,and great weather. Cavs pull the Love trigger. Remember what I said about luck.