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ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (Part 1)

September 17, 2008

Is Mike Krzyzewski getting too much credit for Team USA's success?

Mike Krzyzewski Photo Credit: Icon SMI

We have a real treat for you today, loyal readers and NBA fans.

There are few NBA writers we hold in higher regard than Mr. Adrian Wojnarowski, the backbone of Yahoo! Sports’ excellent NBA coverage. He also just happens to be the author of the New York Times bestseller The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty, which is being made into a major motion picture. (Buy the book on Amazon.)

We’ve broken Wojnarowski’s interview into two parts, with Part 1 focusing on his thoughts and experiences from Beijing in covering Team USA’s run to gold-medal redemption. Part 2 will follow tomorrow, and boy howdy is it ever juicy–don’t miss it. Without further ado, we welcome Adrian Wojnarowski as the latest subject of our ongoing Scribes of the NBA Interview Series.

Empty the Bench: You spent a few weeks in Beijing for the Olympics. In covering the U.S. team as they played and lived in a much different environment than what they’re accustomed to, what did you learn about a few players on the U.S. team and their personalities, skills, etc. that was surprising?

Adrian Wojnarowski: Spending a lot of time around that team mostly reinforced some things that I already believed about the players. Here are a few:

Kobe Bryant is calculating, smart, and maybe the league’s most ‘aware’ player of circumstances, surroundings, and angles. LeBron James doesn’t like when things aren’t all about him. Dwyane Wade is never too impressed with himself. Carmelo Anthony will always tell you the truth.

To me, the biggest surprise was how much credit that people wanted to give Mike Krzyzewski for this team. The least surprising? The fact that he has already sold another ‘motivational’ book that will detail his leadership of the gold-medal winning team.

As one NBA GM said to me, “I guess K didn’t have time to do a book after ’06.” Those were the world championships when Krzyzewski couldn’t make an adjustment to stop the Greece pick and roll and didn’t prepare enough to know the names of the Greek players. The insistence after that semifinal loss was that the team was too young and too inexperienced. They had enough to win in ’06, but obviously they were much better by ’08. Still, putting that loss in the Worlds on the players was typical of the college coaching establishment. They want the credit when it goes well, and none of the blame when it doesn’t.

Krzyzewski said it himself: This was an easy team to coach. It really was. They were motivated. They were focused. They were determined to be unselfish. The biggest thing of all was this is that they had been together for most of 3 years. He had the best talent. The best preparation time. And to his credit, he made the most of it.

But I’ve been around that program enough the past two years to know this: The leadership on this team came primarily from two places: Jerry Colangelo and Jason Kidd/Kobe Bryant. Listen, Colangelo gave Coach K an excess of talent, and he still needed every last superstar—Kobe, Wade, LeBron, etc.—to beat Spain in that gold medal game. It’s kind of typical of the college culture and its enablers to make sure the coach gets all the credit.

Jerry Colangelo and the USA Basketball staff—which includes behind-the-scenes guys like Jim Tooley and Sean Ford—gave this national team the structure it needed to succeed. Colangelo convinced everyone that for a true national program, Team USA needed to turn to a true European model. David Stern gets a lot of credit, too, because he gave Colangelo the resources and autonomy to make this work.

Yet, understand this: mostly, they had great, great players. A-list NBA stars. The B-list guys won’t do it anymore. Unlike in college, they don’t let the coach stand on the ladder and cut down the nets. In the pros and the Olympics, they know the truth: you win with the players.

More on the Team USA Olympics experience from Adrian Wojnarowski after the break…

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16 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 17, 2008 at 9:48am in Interviews, NBA

Get ‘Em While You Can – Ten NFL Players to Keep on Your Fantasy Football Radar

September 16, 2008

Darren Sproles could help fantasy teams in a big way this year

Darren Sproles Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Darren Sproles, RB, San Diego Chargers – Sunday’s 317 all-purpose yards to compliment 2 TDs was certainly a monster and somewhat surprise effort, but it didn’t come totally out of the blue. The ’05 fourth-round pick out of Kansas State has been mostly LT insurance these past few seasons, but showed what he’s capable of when given a chance last year against the lowly Lions: 25 carries, 122 yards, 2 TDs.

He should be owned in every league by every LT owner, yet is still available in 63% of Yahoo! leagues. If you drafted Tomlinson but didn’t handcuff Sproles to him, do it right now. If you didn’t draft Tomlinson but want to sea-hammock the person who did, add him right now. Something tells us LT is going to miss at least a few games this season, and if he does Sproles would likely make for a very fine RB2 or RB3. There’s probably some dead weight on the bottom of your fantasy roster anyway, right?

Bryant Johnson, WR, San Francisco 49ers – 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz loves to run up the score when given the chance, and he just might get that opportunity this week when his former team, the ever-shitty Detroit Lions, come to town. The Lions have now been shredded in successive weeks by Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, and there’s no reason to think another ex-Lion, J.T. O’Sullivan, won’t join ‘em. Available in 55% of Yahoo! leagues, Johnson is settling in as O’Sullivan’s top target and at a minimum is a fairly solid bet to score in Week 3. If you need help at WR, you could do worse than Johnson this week.

Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona Cardinals – Edgerrin James doesn’t strike us as a very sexy fantasy back. Maybe it’s the fact that he hasn’t topped 3.6 YPC since 2005 when he was still in Indy or the fact that he has yet to score a TD this season. Or, maybe, it’s just that 30-year-old RBs with little to no burst through the hole don’t last very long when there’s a rookie back behind him on the depth chart with 2 TDs in his first two NFL games. Hightower won’t get the starting job for at least a few weeks, but he’s getting the goal-line carries and it’s only a matter of time before he gets more.

Seven more guys to keep your fantasy eye on after the break…

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 16, 2008 at 12:02am in NFL, NFL Fantasy News

ETB’s Sea Hammock of the Week for Week 2 – Hurricane Ike

September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike: What a Dick

Our Monday morning Sea Hammock feature will usually focus on an NFL player who a lot of us were counting on that left fantasy owners high and dry. Either a guy who suffered a devastating injury or somebody who simply laid an egg with a cakewalk matchup, the Sea Hammock is the player who left the worst taste in our mouths on Sunday. This week that guy isn’t an NFL player though: it was a force of nature that didn’t leave much high or much dry.

I’m talking about Hurricane Ike. There’s the obvious losses of property and life associated with any severe storm to consider here, but more importantly the last-minute cancellation of the Houston-Baltimore game cost many of us our Week 2 matchup. Ike hit a lot of fantasy owners harder than he ever hit Tina.

I’m speaking as one of those owners who was counting on the services of both Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton in the same league. To make matters worse, it was a weekly auction league with no weekend transactions, which left two gaping holes in my lineup and one tally in my loss column.

Granted, this game wasn’t going to be a barn burner, and the matchup probably had many of you benching your Texans not named Andre even before the cancellation anyway. It also allowed a lot of you to simply bench the entire Ravens offense, an in-flux unit that was likely to give you a headache as it was.

Andre Johnson was a top-5 WR start this week though–a big loss to overcome. And for those who carefully plan their bye weeks on draft day, this threw a big wrench in those plans. But for owners of Steve Slaton it was an especially tough blow. The kid was about to get his first career start for the Texans, and who knows: if he had a great performance you might have had a weekly RB3 on your hands. Hurricane Ike dicked you over.

So for all of you out there who had teams thrown into disarray by the cruel whims of Mother Nature this week, our hearts go out to you. And it is with you in mind that we hereby name Hurricane Ike the Sea Hammock of the Week for Week 2.

Related Reading:
- Week One Sea Hammock of the Week: Tom Brady

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Sep. 15, 2008 at 2:45pm in NFL, NFL Fantasy News

Raptors Head Coach Sam Mitchell Spending Summer Looking at Andrea Bargnani’s Legs

September 15, 2008

He's got legs.. but don't know how to use themFirst-overall picks in any sport will always be heavily scrutinized and expected to contribute much sooner than other young players. They’re expected to blossom into superstars, All-Stars, and franchise cornerstones.

The reality, however, is that it’s pretty much a crap shoot. These guys often need a few seasons to develop–especially in the NBA–and there’s no way of being absolutely certain that you have a Dwight Howard or a Tim Duncan on your hands; you could just as easily end up with a Kwame Brown or Michael Olowokandi.

Or an Andrea Bargnani, who by all counts was a major disappointment last season for the Toronto Raptors in his second full NBA season. He won’t turn 23 years old until October 26, but already many NBA observers are pegging him as a potential bust despite his unique skill set and ability to play both forward positions and, perhaps, center as a 6-10 big man.

Just how “bad” was he last year? Compared to his rookie season, all of Bargnani’s per-game averages took a dip as he finished with 10.2 points, 3.7 boards, 38% FG, 0.3 steals, and 0.5 blocks in just under 24 minutes per.

Anomaly or sign of things to come?

Hoops Addicts’ Ryan McNeill recently caught up with Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell to get the scoop on Bargnani’s development (or lack thereof), and if you believe Mitchell there are much brighters days on the horizon for his young Italian. He cites, amongst other things, Bargnani’s incorrect foot- and legwork as a reason for his struggles last year:

“It’s a lot of technical things with Andrea,” says Mitchell. “It’s the weirdest thing: someone told me they teach players to jump off the wrong foot when they drive to the basket in Europe. I’m right-handed and I’m trying to jump off my left leg, every time. Andrea’s right-handed and a lot of times he plants with his right leg.

Jay Triano was telling me they teach them that over in Europe because a lot of times if they take that extra step, they call them for traveling. So we’ve been trying to break Andrea of something he’s been doing for how many years? We’re trying to get him comfortable jumping off the left leg when he shoots with the right hand. The right leg when he shoots with the left.

Now I know it sounds simple, but if you haven’t done it… you watch him. Most of the time when he gets stuck going to the basket he’s thinking ‘I need to be jumping off the other leg’ and he gets caught jumping off the wrong leg.”

Check out the rest of the interview here.

Related Reading:
- ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Scott Carefoot of Raptor Blog
- Jermaine O’Neal and T.J. Ford to be Smuggled Across the Border

Andrea Bargnani Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 15, 2008 at 10:25am in NBA

Fantasy Football – Week 2 Position Ranks

September 12, 2008

Tony Romo is the de facto top QB with Tom Brady donezo

Tony Romo Photo Credit: Icon SMI

You’ve waited over 9 long months for their triumphant return, and at long last they’ve finally awakened from their spring and summer slumber. Mmhmm… Empty the Bench’s unflappable, tried-and-true, sea-hammock free weekly fantasy football rankings are back! Yeah yeah, we’ve tightened our belts some this season in terms of fantasy football coverage compared to last year, but these wildly popular rankings aren’t going anywhere.

Now, we might need another week or two to get our shit fully straight here as far as figuring out who’s still capable of what and which defenses are the ones to exploit week in, week out. (The Oakland Raiders and my Detroit Lions have kindly volunteered for that latter honor already.) So, while the ranks that follow have been deemed the most accurate on the Web*, we’re asking for a just a wee bit of patience in case a player or two is a slot or two off.

Without further ado, here’s ETB’s top 20 QBs, 30 RBs, 36 WRs, 15 TEs, and 15 Team Defenses based on past performance, injuries, and matchups for Week 2.

Fantasy Week 2: Top 20 Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning's Younger Brother

1. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys vs. PHI
2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts @ MIN
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers @ CLE
4. Eli Manning, New York Giants @ STL
5. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles @ DAL
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints @ WSH
7. Jay Cutler, Denver Broncos vs. SD
8. Brett Favre, New York Jets vs. NE
9. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals vs. TEN
10. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals vs. MIA
11. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers @ DET
12. Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns vs. PIT
13. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers @ DEN
14. Jon Kitna, Detroit Lions vs. GB
15. David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. BUF
16. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans vs. BAL
17. Matt Cassel, New England Patriots @ NYJ
18. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks vs. SF
19. Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers vs. CHI
20. Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams vs. NYG

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 12, 2008 at 9:02am in Fantasy Rankings, NFL Fantasy News

NBA Photo Friday – Shaquille O’Neal Makes Dated Quip While Wearing Dated Ensemble

September 12, 2008

Shaquille O’Neal Photo Credit: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 12, 2008 at 8:50am in NBA

Budweiser, A Man’s Man Beer for Men

September 11, 2008

Do you spray it, lay it, and spread it on smooth? Have a talent for airbrushing fanciful horses on the side of vans? Identify with Mark Corrigan when he expresses his uncertain feelings for Alan Johnson? Well sir, this Bud’s most definitely for you!

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 11, 2008 at 10:19pm in Miscellaneous

Minnesota Timberwolves Star Al Jefferson Thinks 20 and 10 Isn’t Enough

September 10, 2008

Minnesota Timberwolves F/C Al JeffersonFor a guy who’s averaged a combined 18.5 points, 11 rebounds, 50% FG, and 1.5 blocks/per over his last two seasons, we’re consistently saddened that the T’Wolves’ franchise cornerstone, Al Jefferson, doesn’t get more credit as one of the NBA’s absolute best offensive big men still under 25 years old.

NBA writers/bloggers know better by now, but to the general public and casual fan Jefferson largely remains “the guy that was traded for Kevin Garnett.” In a way, it’s hard to fault that line of thinking: Jefferson does, after all, suit up for a team that hasn’t made a playoff appearance in over 4 years and that on the surface may seem directionless and lacking star power. You know that just isn’t true though.

And with the Celtics fresh off a NBA championship that simply would not have happened without KG in the fold, for now it certainly looks they pulled a fast one on McHale and Timberwolves—God knows it wouldn’t be the first (and definitely won’t be the last) time that’s happened. Fast forward two or three seasons, however, when the treads have finally worn off KG’s knees and Jefferson has become a still-in-his-20s perennial All-Star pick. Hopefully it’ll come sooner, but that’s when Minny’s acquisition of Jefferson will almost certainly be viewed in a different light.

For all of that remarkably fluid offensive prowess he already flashes on the blocks, the main criticism leveled at Jefferson is his defense, or lack thereof. It’s a valid one, too, and far and away the biggest part of his game that needs to be improved for him to truly make his mark as a dominant force in this league. In an interview on NBA.com with Mike Trudell, Jefferson, to his credit, acknowledges this and say that it’s something he’s working hard to address:

Mike Trudell: Before last season you spoke about wanting to show people what you could do as the focal point of the team, and 20 and 10 was the result. What’s on tap this time around?

Al Jefferson: It’s trying to be a well-rounded player. I know I can go out and get 20 and 10, but this year I want to be more of a leader – a better leader. Plus, I want to be a better defensive player, and that’s been a main focus this (offseason). I know I can score and rebound, but now we have some help with scoring in Mike Miller and rebounding with Kevin Love, so this year I want to lead this team and try to get to the playoffs. I really believe we have a great chance to fight for the playoffs, and that’s something we want to do.

MT: Tim Duncan’s always been called a power forward but he plays on the low block like a traditional center on offense.

Jefferson: On defense, a center is a goaltender. If you’re going to play center, you have to be a great defensive player. And that’s where I need to step my game up if I’m playing center. So it’s defense, not offense, where that matters.

Check out the whole interview for much more from Jefferson, including his thoughts on new teammates Kevin Love and Mike Miller and how he feels better conditioning will translate to better defense.

Related Reading:
- Why Kevin McHale Still Doesn’t Get it and Kevin Love Won’t Fit in Minnesota
- Why the Timberwolves Are Far From the Worst Team in the NBA
- NBA Action: Picks and Rolls

Al Jefferson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 10, 2008 at 3:03pm in NBA

ETB’s Sea Hammock of the Week: Tom Brady

September 8, 2008

This sums it up for Tom Brady's fantasy owners today

Tom Brady Photo Credit: Robert E. Klein/Icon SMI

The fantasy football season can be a long and trying process. For the bulk of us, it’s one slap in the face after another from a roster of misfits that don’t seem to give two shits about the blood, sweat, and tears we’re pouring into this. In fact, sometimes I could swear Torry Holt dropped that pass just to fuck with me.

Sure, four to six teams float around the top of the heap all season and earn a chance to compete for glory and financial gain in the fantasy playoffs. The rest of us get sea hammocked. Repeatedly. The sea hammock is a maneuver so offensive no man should ever perpetrate it upon another (unless it has been specifically asked for, and even then a “Are you sure about this?” is in order).

We’ve phased some of the daily fantasy football content out of ETB this season, but rest assured we’re still managing multiple teams. And that means we’re still getting sea hammocked on a near-weekly basis.

The Sea Hammock of the Week for fantasy football’s kickoff weekend comes courtesy of one Tom Brady. After the finest statistical season in NFL history, Mr. Brady was atop everyone’s QB Rankings during draft season. His 4,806 passing yards 50 TD tosses with just 8 INTs led just about all of his owners into the fantasy postseason a year ago. He was a safe bet. Forget about that Week 15 egg from last year: with Wes Welker and Randy Moss still in tow, Brady was the rare quarterback worthy of a top-5 selection this season.

Tom Brady was a rock-solid pick.

But there’s one thing fantasy football, the bitch harpy that it is, will never let you forget: there’s no such thing as a “safe bet” or a “rock-solid pick.” Tom Brady’s final line on Sunday (and for the season): 7-of-11 for 76 yards, 0 TDs and 1 torn ACL.

Sorry Tom Brady owners: you just got sea hammocked.

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Sep. 8, 2008 at 12:27pm in NFL, NFL Fantasy News

Command Control Electric Action Football GO! (Madden Football is for Chumps)

September 7, 2008

We’re guessing that dad is still steaming over son’s scathing zinger towards the end of the clip. Happy NFL Kickoff Sunday to one and all, and be sure to check back tomorrow to see who earned ETB’s very first “Sea Hammock of the Week” award.

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 7, 2008 at 11:08am in NFL

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