- The Season's Over -

Michael Jordan Will Take the Charlotte Bobcats to New Heights Depths

March 22, 2010

Michael Jordan BobcatsBy: Zachariah Blott

On the court, the Bobcats’ immediate future is looking rosy with the team poised to make their first ever foray into the playoffs. Off the court, the club’s long-term prospects may have gone from clunk to crash.

Michael Jordan became the Bobcats’ majority owner last week after 4 years of minority ownership. He and his investment group bought their way in with $275 million, and MJ declared Thursday that he will be very involved in Bobcat operations, planning to make them a “winning program.”

Maybe Jordan didn’t read the flowchart, but his input will not lead to winning. In fact, the best thing he can do right now is stay far away and treat himself like an outsider who must rely on the guys who know the game to run the show. Instead he’s going to purchase a home in Charlotte and become a bigger cog in what’s going on.

The problems with this are obvious. Almost everything he’s done while working in the front offices of both Washington and Charlotte has been rightfully panned. Beyond the jokes about drafting Adam Morrison and Kwame Brown, Jordan is also responsible for incorrectly evaluating talent that’s already on his team. He threw away Jared Dudley in the Jason Richardson trade last year. Since then, Dudley has blown up for Phoenix and been an important piece to their resurgence this season. Jordan also gave away Shannon Brown last year, and Brown is now one of the Lakers’ most productive reserves who started admirably during Kobe’s absence.

Jordan has also been a bit of a distraction when he is around the clubs he’s worked with. Before playing for the Wizards, he was the President of Basketball Operations in Washington and would occasionally show up to practices to scrimmage with the players. Hint to Greatest Guard Ever: that’s a major distraction. Do you think the guys were discussing the X’s and O’s of the offense in the locker room after practice? Hell no, it was more likely, “Holy crap, we just played with Michael Jordan!”

And recently he was jawing with rookie Gerald Henderson after a Charlotte practice (this definitely is not the year for a UNC guy to be heckling a Duke guy about his college, by the way), which was quickly followed up by losing to the youngster twice in a row at H-O-R-S-E. Way to put your team in the headlines for something stupid, new face-of-the-organization. By the way, that’s the predictably mediocre Gerald Henderson who Jordan drafted with the 12th selection, ahead of Ty Lawson, Darren Collison, Omri Casspi, Taj Gibson, DeJuan Blair, Chase Budinger, etc.

Part of what makes Jordan a distraction isn’t just his aura of greatness that illuminates a room like the healing glow of late-night TV: it’s also that he trash talks players on his own team. If The Jordan Rules taught me anything, it’s that MJ knows how to be a world-class asshole to his teammates. He has a huge ego and wants to make sure everyone always knows he’s top dog (remember his Hall of Fame speech?). Imagine a boss like that. Now imagine that boss has always been crappy at his job, and then imagine he now wants to spend more time around all the employees to make sure things run smoothly. Yeah, this is going to get ugly.

More on Michael Jordan’s move to own the Bobcats after the break…

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No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 22, 2010 at 11:50am in ETB Articles, NBA

Friday Boxscore Breakfast, Starring Minnesota’s Trip to the Really Dark Corner Behind the Woodshed

March 19, 2010

By: Zachariah Blott

The Timberwolves are TerriblePhoenix absolutely thrashes Minnesota for 152 points: Sometimes the stars align just right, and something like this happens. Phoenix is one of fastest teams, shoots a ton of quick 3′s, and overall has a killer offense. Minnesota is lacking talent, lacking defense, and they also like to run. What happened was inevitable. On Tuesday night, the Suns dropped 152 points on Minnesota to the T-Wolves’ 114, and it was only that close because no Phoenix starter logged 30 minutes. The Suns hit 55 of 98 shots (56%), 15 of 31 triples (48%), and 27 of 29 free throws (93%). On top of all that, they turned the ball over only 7 times, an absurdly low number for a game this fast.

Eight Phoenix players finished in double-digit points, including all five starters and reserve Channing Frye’s 14 in 17 minutes. Steve Nash didn’t have a bad line himself, logging 13 points on 7 shots (and only one trip to the foul line), and 14 assists in 24 minutes. The Timberwolves had five players score at least 10 points, but only two went for more than 13, lead by Corey Brewer’s 21. The two square off again on Sunday, March 28.

Kurt Rambis photo credit: Icon SMI

Because someone has to say something nice about the Nets: The Hawks blew out New Jersey 108-84 on Tuesday, but Nets’ forward Josh Boone had a nice line. He had 13 points on 7 shots, which is good, but he also snared 20 rebounds in the contest. What’s particularly noteworthy about these boards is that 16 were defensive, and the Hawks hit almost half of their shots. Atlanta missed 43 shots for the game, and Boone pulled in over a third of them in only 31 minutes of burn while going up against Al Horford, Josh Smith, and teammate Brook Lopez for those miscues. Boone is another one of the reasons the Nets could be primed for a huge turnaround next year if they pick up LeBron, D-Wade, or Joe Johnson this summer.

It can’t always be LeBron, Dwight, and Nash: Twenty-two teams (so roughly 220 players) went at it on Wednesday, so you’d expect plenty of big numbers from many of the game’s biggest stars. The statistical leaders around the league that night, though, weren’t exactly who you’d expect. New Orleans’ David West, who’s having his worst year in some time, bested everyone with 36 points and 15 rebounds. Houston’s Shane Battier, who’s flirted with 1 block per his entire career, lead them all with 5. Chicago’s seldom-used Jannero Pargo came up with an NBA-best 5 steals in only 17 minutes. Houston’s Aaron Brooks, who averages about 2 to 3 triples per, hit a perfect 7 for 7. New Orleans’ Darren Collison and Golden State’s Monta Ellis combine for 11 assists per, but they topped the league with 14 and 13, respectively, in the category that looked the least ridiculous on Wednesday.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

3 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 19, 2010 at 10:54am in NBA

Worst Corporate NBA Cross Promotion Ever!

March 18, 2010

Comic Book Guy Says Fucketh ArbysBy Brian Spencer

I keep forgetting to bring up this laughably cheap cross-promotional fail from the good people at Arby’s.

Aired during Detroit Pistons’ local broadcasts, Arby’s sponsors what they call the “Instant Three Play.” Hm, ok, I’m intrigued. Makes me think there might be a scratch-off ticket involved (!). But, then, here’s what it promises: if a Pistons player posts a triple-double during the game, print out the box score from your local newspaper (or from the Pistons page on Fox Sports Detroit), take it to your local Arby’s–those that are participating in the promotion–and get yourself… a free small curly fries!

Wooooooooooo. Woo!

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! Free small curly fries!

The last Piston to post a triple-double was Ben Wallace, who dropped 12 points, 19 boards, and 10 blocks (good lord!) on November 20, 2003. Mmhmm, 6 1/2 years ago. **Thanks to commenter Rich for pointing out that Chauncey Billups had 20, 11, and 10 on February 20, 2004, against the Minnesota Timberwolves; so it’s actually only been 6 years and 1 month!**

6 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 18, 2010 at 7:08am in NBA

The Fugly Files: Golden State Warriors Womens Tank (w/ Swarovski Crystals!)

March 17, 2010

FuglyBy Brian Spencer

It’s been over 2 years since we brought you 20 of the fugliest items from the NBA Store, and it’s time for us to once again pillage the league’s scrap heap of foul fan apparel and memorabilia.

We call it The Fugly Files… that’s right, it’s a new series from your old friends at ETB. Yay! And I think we’ll be expanding our rummaging and thrifting to the NFL and MLB stores, too. It’s almost like we’re those guys from A&E’s Hoarders who remove all the trash from those filthy houses. Kind of. Not sure yet if this will be a “weekly” or a “whenever” thing, but we’ll be doing it regularly all the same and hope to have some guest bloggers and writers featuring their favorite fugly items from time to time too.

And what a fine piece of women’s clothing we have today. Now available on clearance for just $19.97, but first offered on QVC for four easy payments of $28.42, this Majestic Threads Golden State Warriors Baron Davis Womens Tank w/ Swarovski Crystals is “fitted to complement your feminine shape” and will “look as good as you feel.”

And those crystals!

Brings back fond memories of the middle-school days when decking out Chicago White Sox and Oakland Raiders hats with glue-on rhinestones at home was all the rage. In this picture, you can’t really see the intricate detail to which each rhinestone crystal is delicately placed within the Warriors logo, but trust me, once you zoom in the artisan craftsmanship reveals this garment as a truly unique swath of fabric.

Ladies, this is a must own. I think it’ll fit you too, Justin Bieber.

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 17, 2010 at 2:16pm in NBA

The Five Major League Baseball Prospects Poised to Have the Biggest Impact in 2010

March 17, 2010

By: Andrew Thell

1) Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves:

Jason Heyward, MLBs Top ProspectStephen Strasburg, below, gets more hype, but Atlanta’s right fielder of the future is poised to make the biggest impact this season. The Braves missed out on overpaying for Johnny Damon this winter, which means Heyward will get an opportunity to be the Braves starting right fielder on Opening Day. Heyward has been making the most of that chance, going 10-for-22 and reaching safely in all 10 games in which he’s played this spring and playing solid defense while just about locking up the job.

Heyward is a big man, but he’s not just a masher – he has all the tools to excel at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Standing at 6-4, 220 lbs. and born in 1989, Heyward already has the plate approach of a veteran, above-average speed and a cannon arm. Heyward is listed as Baseball America’s No.1 prospect and comes in second on Baseball Prospectus‘ list heading into the season. He’s the complete package and ready to make a big splash before his 21st birthday.

Jason Heyward photo credit: Icon SMI

2) Neftali Feliz, RP, Texas Rangers:

Feliz got his MLB debut last season pitching out of the bullpen for Texas and looked stellar doing it. The Rangers prized prospect made 20 appearances and struck out 39 hitters while allowing 8 walks in just 31 innings en route to a jaw-dropping 1.74 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and .124 BAA. Those numbers don’t lie either, as Feliz throws a fastball in the 96-100 MPH range that simply leaps out of his hand and also features a curve and changeup that should develop as plus pitches.

He will eventually be featured in Texas’ starting rotation, but with a lackluster spring it looks like Feliz will spend another season in a long-relief role in the Rangers bullpen before making the move to the rotation for 2011. Even so, fantasy leaguers should take note – he’s not in the same class as Strasburg in the long run, but there may not be another pitcher in baseball who can give you the per-inning upside Feliz offers.

3) Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals:

The No. 1 overall pick last year, Strasburg is the most electric young pitcher in baseball and the most hyped draft pick in recent memory. He features a 94-97 MPH fastball that tops out at 101, a giant power curve and a changeup with excellent command (195 Ks to just 19 BBs as a senior at San Diego State). His stuff is so impressive and MLB-ready that there was speculation he could see time with the Nationals late last year, but Washington wisely didn’t push their prized prospect. The speculation was on once again heading into camp in 2010, and the youngster poured fuel on the fire by starting the spring with five scoreless innings while regularly hitting in the high 90s on the radar gun and blowing by professional hitters.

Once again, though, the Nationals will prudently exercise caution and have the phenom start the season in the minors to get his arm ready for pitching on an MLB schedule (and will, conveniently, likely delay his service time in the process). We can expect to see the top pitching prospect in baseball make his debut this season, and it’ll be fun to watch with that 97-101 MPH fastball of his, but the fact that he’ll likely be in the minors the first few months bumps him down to third here.

4) Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore Orioles:

The first pitcher taken in 2008, Matusz had already reached the bigs by the end of his first full season and has been impressive this spring, striking out 10 batters over four innings in his first two starts (though also giving up four runs) before holding a largely-intact Phillies lineup to three hits and one run in five innings in his third turn. He’s polished for his age, featuring four strong pitches: a low-90s fastball, sharp curve, decent slider and great changeup – all of which he can throw for strikes. The Orioles should slot Matusz into the back end of their starting rotation from day one and he is capable of producing a respectable line from the get-go, though that park and the fact that he pitches in the AL East should severely limit expectations.

5) Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland Indians:

After an offseason surgery on his right hand the Indians’ top prospect will start the 2010 season at Triple-A Columbus, but he’s fully healed and should be mashing for the big league club before long. Santana isn’t the best catcher prospect in baseball, that honor goes to the Yankees’ Jesus Montero (even if he’s unlikely to stick behind the plate), but he is the most likely to make an impact this season at the always talent-starved position.

While he’s unlikely to ever be a great catcher, unlike Montero, Santana does have a plus arm and the tools to stay at the position. However, it’s his offense fantasy owners are concerned about – and the kid doesn’t disappoint at the plate. The 2008 California League MVP and 2009 Eastern League MVP posted a .943 OPS, 23 home runs and a league-leading 90 walks last season. After a few solid weeks at Triple-A we could see a call-up for Santana, and that kind of plate approach should play well at the Major League level out of the box; 15-20 HRs with a solid .370 OBP isn’t out of reach.

1 CommentPosted by Andrew Thell on Mar. 17, 2010 at 1:01am in MLB, MLB Fantasy News

Roy Hibbert Needs a Change of Scenery

March 16, 2010

By: Zachariah Blott

It's time for Roy Hibbert to move onMammoth centers who enter the league as projects are a dime a dozen, and the outcomes are all over the place. Sometimes you get a Yao Ming or a Chris Kaman (good one, NBA08). More often you end up with a Frederic Weis or a Curtis Borchardt (who you’ll find more news about on WNBA boards).

With any luck, you hope your team’s coaching staff can keep a big project from turning into a big waste. Enter Roy Hibbert. The 7-2 280-pounder got notoriety at Georgetown for his solid defense despite his underwhelming rebounding numbers (he never averaged 7 boards per in any of his four collegiate seasons). Sure, he was huge and pounded some Big East opponents, but usually he was getting schooled by smaller centers with more mobility.

After graduating in 2008, Toronto took a chance on Hibbert with the 17th selection because as the old adage goes, “You can’t teach size.” Two weeks later, he was on his way to Indiana as part of the Jermaine O’Neal trade, and the potential big stiff became a Pacer. All the signs of he-won’t-work-out were there: he was slow, he played upright, and he was often overwhelmed by smaller opponents. He began his rookie season as a reserve behind Rasho Nesterovic and Jeff Foster, usually not a sign of great things to come.

Roy Hibbert photo credit: Icon SMI

The Pacers started poorly and were out of the running by Christmas, so Coach Jim O’Brien decided to start the youngster for 42 games over the last two-thirds of the season. Hibbert still wasn’t playing much more than 15 minutes per, partly due to foul trouble and partly due to Foster putting together a pretty solid campaign, but he showed late in the season that he could handle a larger scoring and rebounding role. As you’d like to see from rookies, Hibbert’s best month was his last. In April, he averaged 12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 free throw attempts, and 1.6 blocks in only 21 minutes per.

The summer of 2009 is when Hibbert finally started to look like a first-round pick. In the Orlando Summer League, Hibbert showed that even though he was slow of foot, he was coachable and was willing to put in the effort needed to improve. He dominated the six-team league, averaging 20 points, 9 boards, 1.8 blocks, and 6 trips to the line per game. He hit 63% from the field and 75% from the charity stripe on his way to MVP honors while leading the Pacers to a 5-0 record.

In addition to displaying more energy around the hoop than he did as a rookie, Hibbert was finally bending his knees and getting low to maintain balance, strength, and to aid in explosiveness for rebounds. This was a good sign since most project giants tend to stand straight up in order to be as tall as possible; it’s often counter-intuitive for 7-footers to get down, but Hibbert was obviously listening to his coaches.

This season has been a pleasant surprise for fans who last saw Hibbert as a mostly unproductive rookie. He’s started almost every game for Indiana and is connecting on 49% of his shots and 77% of his free throws, both improvements from last year. With more minutes, he’s getting ink all over the boxscore, averaging 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and nearly 2 assists per.

This last number doesn’t do his passing justice, an area in which he’s one of the top bigs in the league. He’s a great bounce passer out of the high post, but his teammates put him in company with Orlando’s Jameer Nelson, two players who make far more passes that should be assists than they get credit for. In Nelson’s case, it’s because everyone hacks Dwight Howard when he has the ball; Hibbert has inept teammates who nearly lead the league in turnovers and only convert 43.7% of their attempts, the third-worst mark in the NBA.

There’s no question the second-year center is getting it done and is well on his way to not being a certified bust, but something is obviously wrong. That something is the team he plays for. The Pacers have the worst record in the East other than the Nets, but the real issue is how they play. Indiana likes to run and gun. They play at the second-fastest pace in the NBA and they shoot the fourth-most 3-pointers. If there’s one thing a slow big man doesn’t want to do, it’s run down the court after his teammates, watch them jack up tons of bombs at a low rate before he’s in position to rebound, then have to sprint back the other way in hopes of stopping a fast-breaking opponent who most likely has more talent than his teammates.

Even in a system that he’s not built for, Hibbert is having some of the most success of any Pacer. His adjusted plus/minus is barely behind Danny Granger’s, the best of the Indiana regulars. And check out how many of the top 3-man units on the team include Hibbert, something that wasn’t happening a year ago.

But he’s not built for this type of team, and he needs to go elsewhere to continue his maturation as a player. There are plenty of slow teams that could use more depth at the center position. The Pistons need a lot of rebounding help and play at a crawl. The Blazers play even slower, and their two centers on contract for next year are sidelined with terrible injuries. The Bobcats are always looking for defensive-minded players, and the Nets are slow and could use darn near anyone who can play.

Big East fans expected nothing from Hibbert in the NBA. He ended his first year on an upswing, changing some minds along the way, and his play over the summer raised more than a few eyebrows around the league. Many pundits’ attitudes about him have changed, and I can’t say I’m shocked anymore that he appears to be on his way to a decent professional career. I only hope he can get a change of scenery. Otherwise the Pacers are doing themselves and their young center a disservice.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 16, 2010 at 6:07pm in NBA

Jonas, Rip, and Tayshaun Revisited

March 16, 2010

Tayshaun PrinceBy Brian Spencer

From out of the unbearable murk that has become the Detroit Pistons 2009-10 season, three updates on three Pistons covered in this space earlier this year:

- A little over 2 months ago I called out Tayshaun Prince for pulling an Ewok on the Pistons on the team’s youth movement and rebuilding process. I suggested that the team’s most vital, versatile glue player during the franchise’s most-recent glory years had morphed into a high-plains drifter, a man searching for a concrete role where one no longer existed.

Maybe I was too harsh.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve long been one of Prince’s biggest fans. (In the interest of full disclosure, for those not paying attention the last 3 years, I was born, raised, and remain a fierce Pistons’ supporter no matter how the wins-and-losses column reads.) I don’t particularly enjoy reading what I see as the writing on the wall for Prince (and Rip Hamilton, below), and of course wish he could forever be that beguiling 25-year-old talent with a flair for dramatic defensive stops and, most importantly, for winning. But while we can all forever appreciate what our aging heroes accomplished, only the delusional can dismiss the notion that Prince, now 30 years young, now has his better NBA days behind him.

That doesn’t have to mean, however, that he can’t stave off the inevitable a little bit longer than some might anticipate. Before the All-Star break, Prince was limited to just 19 games due a ruptured disc in his back, and his production during that stretch tumbled to near-career lows. Funny thing about injuries, though, is that even after they’re “healed”, they can still detrimentally impact performance.

That ruptured disc no longer seems to be a factor: in 15 games since the break, Prince has shot 50% from the field and is averaging 15.8 points, 5.9 boards, 3.9 assists, and almost 1 block and steal per. Though a small sample size, those would all be career highs if they were on the season. He’s become as aggressive on offense as I’ve perhaps ever seen him, shooting the ball with confidence, backing down overmatched defenders without hesitation, and essentially competing with Rodney Stuckey to become the team’s second-best scoring option behind Hamilton.

Trade Tayshaun Prince? Yes, sadly, I still think it can and should happen. Fortunately for the Pistons, his trade value this summer or next season has gotten much, much higher than it was at this year’s trade deadline, especially since he’s on the books for just one more season at $11.1 million.

Quick takes on Rip Hamilton and Jonas Jerebko after the break…

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4 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 16, 2010 at 8:30am in ETB Articles, NBA

The Washington Redskins’ Proud Tradition of Making Savvy Offseason Moves Continues

March 15, 2010

Larry JohnsonBy Brian Spencer

Gotta love those Redskins.

Just when it looked like it was “out with the old and in with the new” in Washington, owner Daniel Snyder does it again by signing former All-Pro running back Larry Johnson to a 3-year deal that could pay him as much as $12 million.

We’re assuming GM Bruce Allen isn’t a total dolt and has made these incentives relatively unreachable for a broken-down back of Johnson’s caliber: things like playing in more than 8 games, rushing for more than 3.5 yards per carry, totaling more than 500 yards combined, not claiming he deserves 25+ carries a game, not publicly clashing with the similarly broken-down Clinton Portis. All would be goals reasonable men know LJ will not realistically attain.

Forget that the Redskins haven’t won their division since 1999. And that they’ve won just one playoff game since 1999. And that they were lucky to scratch out a 4-12 record last season. And that they have fielded one of the most boring, inefficient offenses in the NFL for years, and that few outside of Washington find them even remotely watchable. Forget all that, Snyder is not going out like a chump. He spends money, damn it, that’s what he does, and he’s not going to change just because there’s a new GM and a new head coach on the team. He’s no fool, that Snyder: c’mon, you all know how awesome Johnson is on Madden ’05.

The Mike Shanahan and Daniel Snyder marriage is perfect in that it brings together two stubborn men who are going to prove their point, that they’re right and you’re wrong, at all costs. Snyder cares not and hears not the criticism of his careless, free-spending ways on free agents every offseason; Shanahan, for his part, will not be told he can’t just turn anybody into an effective, efficient, successful running back. His track record is remarkable, give him that, but this move is one of his most arrogant yet.

It wasn’t enough to think he could resuscitate Portis, who over eight NFL seasons has carried the ball something like 8,000 times and missed half of the 2009 season due to a lingering concussion. To be fair, he’s only one season removed from playing in all 16 games and rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and 9 TDs, but as we’ve seen with guys like Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, and LaDainian Tomlinson, the dropoff in production for aging running backs is often a preciptious one. It happens fast, and once it does, there’s usually little left of value in terms of on-field usefulness. Harsh, yes, but that’s just how it is.

Speaking of Holmes, Johnson recently said he envisions the ‘Skins backfield combo of him and Portis working like it once did with him and Holmes in Kansas City. Hm, no, Larry, can’t see that happening. Now 30 years old, Johnson last rushed for 1,000+ yards in 2006, when he carried the ball 416 times (!) for 1,789 yards, totaled 2,200 combined yards, and scored 19 TDs. The next year he played in just eight games, rushing for 559 yards and scoring 4 TDs. He was eventually fazed out in KC, averaging a paltry 2.9 YPC last season before being released and finishing out the season as a backup for the Cincinnati Bengals.

This is quite a reclamation project for Shanahan, the debilitated duo of Portis & Johnson; let’s not forget the ‘Skins don’t really have a quarterback, either, though I assume they’ll be drafting one. Yep, it’s going to be another thrilling year of offensive fireworks in Washington.

Can’t wait!

Larry Johnson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

3 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 15, 2010 at 2:09pm in NFL

We’d Like to Take This Opportunity to Remind You that the Utah Jazz are Elite

March 15, 2010

Deron WilliamsBy Brian Spencer

We haven’t talked much about the Utah Jazz this season. No particular reason why, we just haven’t. We’re not the only ones though: though this team has successfully been working towards securing home-court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs, if not more, they’ve been doing so relatively quietly, as Jerry Sloan’s teams tend to do, and with very little fanfare.

Know this, however: the Jazz are not to be taken lightly.

Currently holding down the Western Conference’s #4 seed, and just 2.5 games back of the Northwest Division-leading Denver Nuggets, the Jazz are in great shape to make a run for second billing behind the LA Lakers. Though the strength of their remaining schedule (9 of their last 16 games come against sub-.500 teams) is mitigated some by a healthy number of road games (8 home, 8 away), the Jazz seem to be hitting their stride at the right time both individually and collectively.

Carlos Boozer, a big question mark coming into the season, has been stellar all year long and especially the last 2 months: he’s double-doubled in 14 of his past 17 games, dished a season-high 8 assists on February 22 against the Atlanta Hawks, and gobbled up a career-best 23 rebounds on February 21 against the Portland Trail Blazers. All in all, it’s so far been one of the finest statistical seasons of his 8-year career, through 62 games averaging 19.4 points (55% FG), 11.3 boards, 3.3 assists (career best), 1.1 steals, and 74% from the free-throw line, the highest percentage he’s shot since joining the Jazz in 2004.

Fifth-year PG Deron Williams is on his way to a third-straight year averaging at least 10 assists per, and is currently on pace to establish new career bests in three-pointer made (1.3), rebounds (4), and steals (1.2). Paul Millsap is adjusting nicely to the Boozer’s return to prominence and his role as a backup, shooting a career-high 56% while averaging a big 11.4 points and 6.3 boards off the bench. Kyle Korver has realized that less can sometimes mean more, as he’s averaging career-lows of 4.8 field-goal and 2.1 three-point attempts per, but shooting career-bests of 51% FG and 57% 3PT. And unheralded rookie SG Wesley Matthews has adjusted nicely to his elevation into the starting lineup after Ronnie Brewer was traded to Memphis.

As a team, the Jazz are incredibly difficult to stop or even slow down when they’re on their game, like last Wednesday when they breezed past the Pistons 115-104 in Detroit. I was bowled over by the crispness of nearly everything they did: precise outlet passes, well-timed and constant cuts to the basket, smart backpicks, ball movement around the perimeter, jump shots from Korver, Okur, Williams, and Boozer that consistently hit nothing but net. On defense, they made up for their lack of an intimidating presence in the paint with smarts, namely help rotations that were rarely late.

They have shooters a-plenty, they have one of the NBA’s top-five point guards and one of its most productive big men, and they have a roster full of unselfish guys who know their role and are happy to fill it to the best of their ability. Yes, the Utah Jazz are very impressive, and as long as they stay healthy, the Utah Jazz are very dangerous too.

As an aside, maybe that unpopular trade that sent Brewer to Memphis for a first-round pick wasn’t such a bad idea after all. They did lose a helluva wing defender and high-percentage shooter, but Matthews and the combination of Ronnie Price and C.J. Miles off the bench have proven serviceable replacements, and there’s a good chance the Jazz would have lost Brewer to free agency after the 2010-11 season anyway. Plus, don’t forget that thanks to the Knicks, Utah will have at least a top-10 pick in this year’s draft to use either on a big man or, possibly, an off-guard to compete with Matthews next season.

Yep, the Utah Jazz are in a good place, and it’s only getting better.

Deron Williams Photo Credit: Icon SMI

5 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Mar. 15, 2010 at 4:18am in NBA

Friday Boxscore Breakfast, Starring John Salmons’ Good Luck for the Bucks

March 12, 2010

By: Zachariah Blott

John Salmons, Milwaukee BucksMilwaukee on a roll with Salmons: Chicago couldn’t wait to get rid of John Salmons by the trade deadline. He’s making $5.8 million next year, which got in the way of the Bulls’ ability to offer a max contract this summer. So he was sent to Milwaukee for Hakim Warrick, and the Bucks ended up with a good luck charm. Since his arrival, Milwaukee has won 10 of 11 contests. They beat Cleveland. They beat the Celtics. They barely lost in Atlanta. Most impressively, they moved from out of the Eastern Conference playoffs into 5th place faster than you can down a Milwaukee’s Best.

Playing similar minutes as he did with the Bulls, Salmon’s scoring is up from 13 to 19 points per, his assists are up from 2.5 to 3.2 per, and his free throw attempts are up from 3 to 5 per. His FG% and FT% have both increased, and he’s clearly a bigger part of his new team’s offense. Whereas he had trouble getting his hands on the ball in Chicago with Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng controlling the action, Milwaukee is more than happy to let him share lead scoring duties with Andrew Bogut and ball handling duties with Brandon Jennings.

John Salmons photo credit: AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

Evans completes third rookie triple-double in a month: Tyreke Evans went for 19-10-10 on Wednesday in a win over Toronto, completing the third triple-double by a rookie this season. Not only that, they all occurred within a month of each other. Exactly 28 days before Evans turned the trick, Stephen Curry blew up the Clippers for 36 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. Darren Collison joined in the fun last week, abusing the Pacers for 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. While this season was supposed to be Blake Griffin’s Rookie of the Year showpiece, it’s turned out to be a year belonging to first-year guards (don’t forget about Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, and Jonny Flynn).

Yet another rookie PG makes his mark: Dallas selected Rodrigue Beaubois with the 25th pick of the 2009 draft, making him the 11th point guard taken that night (depending on how liberally you classify all those players). The speedster started the year slowly, but he’s really stepped up in Dallas’ last five games. From March 3 through the 10, Beaubois played significant minutes each night, earning pers of 18 points, 3.4 assists, 1 turnover, 0.6 steals, and 1.6 triples. He shot well during the stretch, connecting on 55% from the field, 35% from deep, and 86% from the free throw line. His top single-game performance was on March 6 in a tight 122-116 victory at Chicago, during which the youngster had 24 points (10-17 shooting), 5 assists, and 0 turnovers in a starting role.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Mar. 12, 2010 at 2:32pm in NBA

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