Six Pack of Observations: NBA All-Star Saturday

Last night, the NBA held its Shooting Stars (zzzzz), Skills Challenge (zzzz), Three-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest. Here are a six random observations about the night’s events, which include some breaking news for those that missed the event.

1. It would be nice if the contestants in the Skills Challenge would actually try to win.
Devin Harris looked like he was in another gear compared to his competitors, but struggled with the passing and shooting and ultimately finished second to Derrick Rose who was just about perfect in those parts of the course. Mo Williams looked like he didn’t even want to be there and Tony Parker couldn’t make a jumper to save his life. Harris was the only one that was actually putting forth any effort during the dribbling portion. Most of these guys are more interested in looking cool than looking like they want to win, and that’s a shame.

2. Did Kenny Smith take annoying pills just before the Three-Point Shootout?
When he wasn’t declaring that the eventual champion (Daequan Cook) didn’t have a chance to win the contest, he was flip-flopping like crazy during each round. At one point, during the middle rack of balls, he said that Rashard Lewis didn’t have a chance to advance, and then when Lewis his four out of five on the final rack to advance, Smith said, “I told you so.” I was rooting for Cook just to see Smith eat crow, and he never did. On a side note, Reggie Miller and his sister have the most non-broadcast type voices. I like what Reggie has to say, so he gets a pass, but I’m not sure what Cheryl brings to the table. (To be fair, that’s probably true of any sideline reporter not named Erin Andrews.)


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Are the Suns thinking about trading Amare?

ESPN’s Chad Ford said that they are in his chat yesterday.

Jason (Culver City CA) [via mobile]: What are the chances of Amare Stoudemire getting traded before the deadline?

Chad Ford: Last week I said 10 percent. But I think that was low. The more people I talk to in the league, the more I think it’s something in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 percent. Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver are taking a hard look at the team right now. If they decide to blow it up, Stoudemire will be the first to go.

Let’s see, you’re thinking about blowing the team up and your first move is to trade away your 26 year-old All-Pro forward/center? This is nonsensical. Why not trade away Shaq, who is 36 and due to make $20 million next season? Or Steve Nash, who is 34 and has just one more year on his contract?

Why would you trade away your best player, especially when he’s only 26?

I criticized Steve Kerr’s decision to break up that Suns team that was a couple of bench-clearing suspensions away from upending the eventual-champion Spurs in the 2007 playoffs. His first move as GM was to trade Rudy Fernandez to the Blazers for cash considerations. Then there was the Marion-Shaq trade, which forced Mike D’Antoni out, because he doesn’t know how to coach a slow-it-down team. Seemingly every move Kerr makes backfires.

The Suns are now 26-20, they’ve lost seven of their last 11 games and are hanging on to the #8 seed in the West. They are a shell of that exciting team that we saw in those playoffs two years ago and if Carlos Boozer can come back strong for the Jazz, Phoenix is in serious danger of missing the postseason altogether.

Now they’re thinking about trading away their best player, who is only 26 and entering the prime of his career.

That’s just great.

No Love?

The rosters for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge have been announced and there are a few surprises.

The rookie roster consists of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

The sophomore roster includes Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green, Al Thornton, Luis Scola, Al Horford and Thaddeus Young.

Kevin Love isn’t on the nine-man roster for the Rookie Challenge, and it’s a big, glaring snub. ESPN’s John Hollinger agrees.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don’t get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he’d be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he’s looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon’s 32.2.

Love’s absence is especially surprising considering how the rookie roster is loaded with four guards (Rose, Westbrook, Mayo, Gordon), one G/F (Fernandez) and only one true forward (Beasley). You’d think that if it were a tossup between Gordon and Love (which it isn’t) that they’d at least want to get another true forward on the roster to balance things out.

Hollinger goes on to rail against the sophomore roster snubs, which included Wilson Chandler over Jamario Moon, Al Thornton over Carl Landry and the worst of all (he says) — Aaron Brooks over Ramon Sessions.

Interestingly, seven of the top 11 picks of the 2007 draft — Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Acie Law — did NOT make the sophomore roster. (I counted Greg Oden amongst the four since he made the rookie roster.) Conversely, six of the top 11 picks in the 2008 draft did make the rookie team.

The Top 10 NBA Rookies by PER

John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating is a nice way to compare players without having to account for the number of minutes each guy gets. It’s an efficiency statistic, so just about everything is included. A PER of 15.00 is average for the position.

Let’s take a look at the top rookies. I’m only going to list guys that are getting more than 20 minutes per game…

1. Kevin Love, T-Wolves
PER: 16.39
Surprised? I am…a little. I really liked Love coming out of college, but he got off to a slow start and the trade Minnesota made (sending O.J. Mayo) to Memphis wasn’t looking too good early on. He’s not shooting the ball well (41%), but he’s rebounding like a champ (8.4 rpg in 22.7 mpg).

2. Greg Oden, Blazers
PER: 16.35
Technically, Oden is still a rookie since he missed all of last season due to injury. After Love, he has the second best rebound rate of all first-year players.

3. Brook Lopez, Nets
PER: 16.26
Rebounding is the stat that most easily translates from college to the pros, so it’s no surprise that three good rebounders top this list. In 29.5 minutes, Lopez is averaging 11.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, and he has more blocks per minute than Oden.

4. Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
PER: 16.25
Rudy has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game. His three-point shooting 39% is outstanding and he’s averaging 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.5 minutes per game. Plus, he was even voted into the Slam Dunk Contest as well.

5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
PER: 15.40
The other Gasol is getting starters minutes (30.6) in Memphis and is averaging 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

6. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
PER: 15.74
In January, Westbrook is averaging 15.7 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 34.9 minutes of action. He got off to a slow start, but seems to be figuring things out now.

7. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
PER: 15.66
Of all the guys on this list, Mayo might be the guy that asked to do the most. He got off to a blistering start, but defenses are adjusting and his numbers are falling.

8. Derrick Rose, Bulls
PER: 15.45
He and Mayo play more than 37 minutes per game, which is by far tops on this list. It’s hard to argue with the 16.9 points and 6.4 assists that Rose produces every night. Point guard is arguably the toughest position in the NBA to learn as a rookie, and this guy sure looks like a keeper.

9. Michael Beasley, Heat
PER: 15.23
Beasley is getting better as the season wears on. He’s averaging 14.9 points (on 50% shooting) and 6.0 rebounds in January. He’s also as good as expected from long range (39%).

10. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
PER: 13.75
It’s not easy being a point guard under Larry Brown, but Augustin is getting big minutes (28.4) and is producing 12.1 points and 4.1 assists per contest. His shooting (40%) is pretty suspect, though he’s very solid from long range (39%).

Notes:

– Marreese Speights leads all rookies in PER (20.44) but only plays 15.9 minutes per game.

– Anthony Morrow and George Hill just missed the minutes per game cutoff. Otherwise, they would have been on the list.

– Given how tough it is to play point guard in the NBA, Derrick Rose still gets my vote for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls are asking him to play huge minutes, which is going to take its toll over the course of the season.

2008 Year-End Sports Review: What We Already Knew

While every year has its own host of surprises, there are always those stories that simply fit the trend. Sure, it can get repetitive, but if we don’t look back at history aren’t we only doomed to repeat it? Every year has its fair share of stories that fell into this category, and 2008 was no different.

Our list of things we already knew this year includes the BCS’ continued suckiness (Texas-Oklahoma), how teamwork wins championships (KG, Pierce and Ray-Ray), and the #1 rule for carrying a handgun into a nightclub – don’t use your sweatpants as a holster. (Come on, Plax. Really? Sweatpants?)

Don’t miss the other two parts of our 2008 Year-End Sports Review: “What We Learned” and “What We Think Might Happen.”

Brett Favre can’t make up his mind.

The biggest story of the summer was all the drama surrounding Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. This saga has been covered to death, but there’s one detail that never seemed to get that much play. At the start, it looked like the Packers were making a bad decision by moving on so quickly even when Favre decided he wanted to return. But when the news broke about Favre’s near-unretirement in March, the Packers stance became much more clear. They were ready to take him back after the owners’ meetings, but he called it off at the last minute. At that point, the Packer brass was understandably finished with Brett Favre, much to the chagrin of a good portion of the Packer faithful. – John Paulsen

The Chicago Cubs’ title drought is not a fans-only phenomenon.

The 2008 Cubs were easily the best team the franchise has assembled in decades, but they still couldn’t win a single game in the playoffs, and the reason is simple: the pressure finally got to them. Sure, they said the right things to the press about how they didn’t care about what had happened in the past, but don’t believe a word of it; there wasn’t a single person in that dugout that wasn’t fantasizing about being part of the team that finally, mercifully, ended the longest title drought in sports history. Once ESPN picked them to win it all, however, they were doomed. Ryan Dempster walked seven batters in Game 1, which matched his total for the month of September. The entire infield, including the sure-handed Derrek Lee, committed errors in Game 2. Alfonso Soriano went 1-14 with four strikeouts in the leadoff spot, while the team as a whole drew six walks and struck out 24 times. The team with so much balance in the regular season suddenly became the most one-dimensional team in baseball; take Game 1 from them, then sit back and watch them choke. And now that this group has lost six straight playoff games (the team has lost nine straight dating back to 2003), it isn’t about to get any easier. Get a helmet, Cubs fans. – David Medsker

If you’re going to wear sweatpants to a nightclub, leave the gun at home.

If winning a Super Bowl is the pinnacle of an NFL player’s career, than shooting yourself with your own gun in a nightclub has to be rock bottom. Case in point: Plaxico Antonio Burress. Just 10 months after helping the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg while at a nightclub. Apparently the (unregistered) gun was slipping down his leg and when he tried to grab it to keep it from falling, the lucky bastard wound up pulling the trigger and shooting himself. And that wasn’t the worst of it because as Plaxico found out, New York has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. He was arrested, but posted bail of $100,000 and is scheduled to return to court on March 31, 2009. If convicted of carrying a weapon without a license, he faces up to three and a half years in jail. He shouldn’t expect special treatment, either. The mayor of New York wants to be sure that Burress is prosecuted just like any other resident of NYC. The Giants, meanwhile, placed him on their reserve/non-football injury list and effectively ended his season. While “Plax” definitely deserves “Boner of the Week” consideration for his stupidity, what’s sad is that in the wake of Washington Redskins’ safety Sean Taylor’s death, most NFL players feel the need to arm themselves when they go out. Maybe players can learn from not only Taylor’s death, but also Burress’s accident so further incidents can be avoided. – Anthony Stalter


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