Saturday, September 22, 2007
NBA Preview: More Entertaining Adequacy
I'll start by saying that I can't even fathom Larry Brown as Glenn's assistant. Also, I really hope AK 47 gets traded, and Miami, LAL, NJ, and Washington would all be fools not to go after him. And they all have attractive enough pieces to possibly get the deal done. Richard Jefferson could be in Salt Lake City in a week; it would shake things up a bit.
Now onto today's topic: ethereal entertainment on adequate basketball teams. If this seems to be a running theme throughout much of our season preview, it is only because there is such a plethora of adequacy in the NBA that we have no choice but to scribe about it. ESPN can do the highs and lows, I'll take the middle ground. So all you fans of the Suns and Timberwolves will have to wait.
Today's two teams, Philly and Atlanta, are alike in many ways, one of the most glaring being that many people expect both of them to suck. I personally have hopes for both, more so for the Sixers than the Hawks. I don't know if I can explain this, the Hawks have a much more attractive roster, but so it goes. In all likelihood the fact that the Hawks always suck has something to do with it. Anyway, for both being so damn adequate, Philly and Atlanta are exciting - led by the majestic Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith, respectively.
Iguodala meant nothing to me before Iverson was traded. He was a talented wing, but those are a dime a dozen in the NBA. I noticed that his box scores rose dramatically after the trade, but was not smitten till I saw him in an otherwise forgettable game against the C's March 30. He had twelve assists, but what stood out was how much of a creator he was. Now that he was actively handling the ball instead of watching Iverson, Iguodala had a lovely sense of where his teammates were on the court. He did some brazenly crazy passing that I honestly don't know he would have tried if the game meant anything, but it was very exciting.
Iguodala seems capable of almost being the point guard out there, and what is nice for Philadelphia is that he does not need to be the point guard. Despite Iguodala's exceptional playmaking skills, the real playmaker on the Sixers is Andre Miller. Miller is simply one of the most underrated guys in the NBA. He played on a shitty Cleveland team, a dysfunctional Clips squad for one year (Elton Brand, Maggette, Odom and Miller - hell of a 27-55 team), and a Nuggets team which always seemed to have a screw loose. So coming into Philadelphia's situation for him last year was par for course. Miller proceeded to do what he does - set people up on a very consistent basis, push the pace some, and making sure everybody was involved.
And I guess that's why I think (somehow) Philadelphia is going to make the playoffs this year. I like the fact they have two major playmakers, especially when one of them is only 23 and a former deserving slam dunk champion. Everything else seems shaky. Besides Dalembert (hurt, supposedly healthy in a few weeks) they have very little proven size. None, basically. I mean I feel kind of crazy saying they'll be good when I see their lack of proven size. Reggie Evans will get a ton of rebounds, but jeez. The other reason I like this team is Thaddeus Young, the darling of Hollinger and myself. But I have no idea if he can produce at the age of 19.
So maybe I'm being too lenient with the Sixers, letting the fact that I like a few things about them override their noticeable flaws. When you're wading in such a muddled pool as the Eastern Conference, it's easy to do this. I'm feeling that the Sixers catch the zeitgeist this year, do some running and gunning, and Billy King saves his job.
It is much easier to argue that the Hawks are the team that should be able to raise their accomplishments. That is because if it not this year, when the hell will it be? Josh Smith is playing for a big contract. You have Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Childress, Zaza, and Speedy all coming back. Plus you add Al Horford and Acie Law. I mean the talent's there. If Rick Carlisle was the coach instead of Mike Woodson I'd have them as a six seed without question. But the Hawks are the Hawks, and the current ownership mess just underscores the perpetual mess that has been the Hawks organization. No one talks about how lucky they were to end up with the #3 pick this year, because if they had been one pick lower it would have been Phoenix's, and it would have just been another indignity that they foolishly imposed upon themselves.
All this said, the talent is there for Atlanta to succeed, and I can understand some people seeing them as a sexy team to pick as a sleeper. The Hawks can certainly be abundantly entertaining, and that all starts with Smith, who may well be the most electrifying player in the NBA. There is no closer an approximation to what Bill Russell's athleticism must have been like on the court than to watch Smith. That's a crazy compliment. Smith's game is vastly different from Russell's, and obviously he's only the fraction of the player, but there is no one presently whose pure talent you can so clearly revel in. Show Josh Smith to some Sherpas on a mountain and they will like pro basketball.
Smith is 21 years old and many people consider him out of control. This is the type of rep you get when you are suspended at the end of the season when you just have to be on cruise control to sign a huge extension during the summer. But fuck it. He's still amazing to watch, and if he does mature, as 21 years old often do, you are going to be looking at an incredible player. No one blocks shots like Josh Smith and no one jumps like Josh Smith. That's special - particularly when you can also shoot from the perimeter and are a gifted passer. He's gonna have to really fuck up not to get a huge contract from someone, especially saying that he is exactly the type of player that opens up the gate to the casual fan.
All in all I have Atlanta penciled in as the worst team in the East, but that means next to nothing. With such parity if the Hawks get lucky they can be in the playoffs. That'd be a new experience. I'd like to say Atlanta deserves that, but don't know if I can. What I can say is that both Philly and Atlanta have some primo athletes with high basketball skill. There are worse things than that. Actually that is why in my mind the NBA is far superior to college ball. You see some unique things.
To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.