Archive for the ‘Pick-and-Pop’ Category

tracy-mcgrady-pre-draft

Tracy McGrady’s announcement of his retirement from the NBA yesterday closes the last chapter on one of the most tantalizing, exciting, and ultimately unsatisfying careers in recent pro hoops history. He won a couple scoring titles, went to a whole bunch of All-Star games and put up some incredible numbers over the course of his career — incuding a PER of 30.3 for the season in 2002-03, higher than any player not named LeBron James has posted in the 21st century — but for many, his career will still be defined by his failure to find team success, losing in each of his first eight playoff series, and only making it past the first round of the postseason as a garbage-time scrub last year with the Spurs. Consequently, everything about T-Mac’s hoops legacy remains under permanent debate, as evidenced by yesterday’s ESPN 5-by-5 about McGrady’s career, which predictably resulted in split decisions about his defining legacy and HOF chances.

We’re not going to attempt to pass judgment on T-Mac here, though. Rather, we’re just going to present the 25 YouTube clips, in roughly chronological order, that best tell the story of his career: the incredible highlights, the tremendous disappointments, the great expectations, the revealing press conferences and the other most indelible moments of Tracy McGrady’s 15 years in the Association. Come to your own conclusions if you want, but if not, just enjoy reliving the highs and lows from one of the most endlessly compelling careers of the last few decades.

And if you see one of the Free Darko guys on the street today, give them a sympathetic hug and an understanding pat on the back.


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jermaine-oneal-cant-believe-anyone-picked-him

With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Pacific Division: the Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, Suns and Kings.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Most Interesting New Player: Jermaine O’Neal

JO might be kind of a tough sell for most interesting on a team that made a much more obvious big-budget acquisition this offseason, but I feel like I know what Andre Iguodala is going to give the Warriors this season — not an inconsiderable contribution, mind you, but I’d be surprised if he greatly deviated from my expectations in any way. O’Neal, however, could play more of a swing role on this team than people realize. He’ll go into the season with a decent shot at the Dubs’ backup center role, unless Festus Ezeli’s shoulder heals and he actually learns how to catch the ball or put it in the basket in the offseason, and he was sneaky good in that role last year for Phoenix, averaging 16 and 10 per 36 minutes (though he only played about half that on a nightly basis) and posting his best PER, by far, since he was on the pre-LeBron Heat.

More importantly, he might end up doing a whole lot more than playing backup if — and based on recent history, more like when — Andrew Bogut goes down with injury. Bogie’s missed double-digit games each of the last five seasons, and over half his games each of the last two, so it’s a relatively safe bet that there’ll be stretches where O’Neal, assuming he stays healthy himself (no easy assumption given he’s missed nearly as many games as Bogut over the last six years), gets pressed into far more than locker-room-leadership duty. Is it too late for Jermaine O’Neal to play a key-ish role on a championship contender? Or will GSW be forced to say “to hell with rim protection,” stick David Lee at center and go bombs away with the rest of their lineup? Maybe the latter is the likelier bet, but I haven’t given up on JO just yet.

Most Interesting Returning Player: Harrison Barnes

Barnesy recently ranked at No. 40 on SB Nation’s projected list of the Top 40 NBA Players of 2017, higher than both young studs like Larry Sanders and Damian Lillard and current superstars like Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker, basically entirely off the strength of his playoff run, in which he averaged 16 and six with decent shooting numbers and a number of big buckets. But it’s worth remembering that in the regular season last year, Barnes was basically a no-show, averaging less than 10 a game and posting a PER that barely cracked double digits, and that next season, he might not even be starting, with the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and the continued presence of David Lee (and the big contracts of both) possibly blocking him in the first five.

To get to be a Top 40 player four years from now, Barnes is gonna have to build on his playoff success — and as much as that run seemed like a breakout for Barnes, he still basically averaged his same shooting percentages from the regular season, with a fairly mediocre 13.8 PER — and prove that his 3-and-D skills are too integral to the Warriors’ run-and-gun attack for him not to get big minutes. And if not, expect for Barnes’ name to replace Eric Bledsoe’s as the go-to Intriguing Trade Chip in every blockbuster mega-deal rumor you hear from now until the end of his rookie deal.

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nate-robinson-baseball

With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Northwest Division: the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Blazers and Jazz.

DENVER NUGGETS

Most Interesting New Player: Nate Robinson

I guess? Like the Mavs, the Nuggets added a whole spate of recognizable new players to their roster this offseason, and none of them are even slightly exciting roster adds. Randy Foye? We know pretty well what that dude can and can’t do by now. J.J. Hickson? The Nugs already have one frontcourt energy guy/rebounding machine, and he’s a whole lot more fun to watch than J.J. Hickson. Darrell Arthur? Don’t think there are a lot of NBA fans who watched Denver last year and thought to themselves “fun team, but would it kill them to shoot more 18-foot elbow jumpers?” None of these guys are gonna make the team League Pass must watches, exactly.

That just leaves Nasty Nate, who is at least always fun to watch on a new team — to see the respective fanbases come to terms with his strengths and weaknesses, to see him make funny friend duos with his new teammates (Shrek ‘n Donkey 4EVA!!), to see him get way too many starts when the point guard he’s backing up goes down with injury. It’s hard to see where he fits into this team that already has Ty Lawson (essentially a steadier, less-maddening version of NateRob) and Andre Miller (NateRob’s inverse in just about every conceivable way), but Nate Robinson always manages to make his presence felt by year’s end, and the Pepsi Center crowd should eat him up. He’ll look great in those Denver baby blues, too.

Most Interesting Returning Player: JaVale McGee

This feels like the fourth or fifth consecutive make-or-break year for JaVale, who has still yet to really be made or broken. He shot a career high 58 percent and posted a career high 20.9 PER last year, but proved weirdly unplayable alongside Kenneth Faried and still couldn’t manage to unseat Kousta Koufos as the team’s starting center, averaging his fewest minutes a game (18.1) since 2010. Well, not only is Koufos now gone, but so is head coach George Karl — the latter’s dismissal supposedly coming in part due to his unwillingness to give the high-upside, well-compensated McGee big minutes. It’s never been nower or neverer for old Pierre.

Amazingly, JaVale will still be just 25 years old on opening night, so the belief that McGee has remaining yet-to-be-tapped potential still remains at least slightly justifiable. And for a team that basically went through an across-the-board downgrade (down to the management and front office) in the offseason, getting that kind of level-up in production from their eternal project of a big man might be one of the only ways that the team can stay a contender in a suddenly very crowded West. Even if not, we should be getting a lot more JaVale this season, which you don’t need me to tell you is always a good thing.

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monta-ellis-sad-bench

With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Southwest Division: the Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Spurs.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Most Interesting New Player: Monta Ellis

All of Dallas’ big free agent pickups were the same basic level of Interesting But Not Really. Seeing decent players like Jose Calderon, DeJuan Blair and Devin Harris in new roles in new jerseys will have some limited novelty, but these are players we’ve seen for long enough now that we basically know who they are and what they do — any legitimate surprise they provide in Dallas will be, well, surprising. Of these players, Monta seems the closest to an unknown quantity, since while we know his strengths and weaknesses a player pretty well, there’s still some debate about how much he can help a solid, veteran team actually win ball games, which is ostensibly what he’ll be called on to do as Dirk Nowitzki’s teammate in Big D. The answer very well might be “little” or “none,” but he’s never played on a team like Dallas, for a coach like Rick Carlisle, or with a teammate like Dirk before, so at least there’s some chance for personal growth there. It’ll be moderately interesting to see.

I would have liked to pick any of Dallas’ rookies in the backcourt for this — Gal Mekel and Ricky Ledo both intrigued in Vegas, and some people seme to think Shane Larkin has sleeper potential — but after the Mavs’ offseason splurging on mid-tier guards, they’re all likely to enter this season buried so deep on the depth chart that they’ll be lucky to even get consistent minutes in garbage time. Wayne Ellington eats first, you know how it is.

Most Interesting Returning Player: Brandan Wright

Brandan Wright is either the league’s most underrated big man, or the best piece of evidence remaining to show how flawed Player Efficiency Rating is as an all-encompassing stat of player evaluation. Wright has had a PER of 21 or better each of the last two seasons, and his 21.0 last year would have ranked sixth amongst all big men in the league. Of course, this is fairly small sample size stuff, as Brandan played only 64 games and just 18 minutes a game. But in those minutes, he shot nearly 60 percent, rebounded decently (about eight per 36) and essentially never turned the ball over, making him a big man of the Tyson Chandler-type, know-your-role offensive efficiency.

It’s surprising to me that Wright didn’t garner more interest in free agency. True, he’s never done it in big minutes, partly because he’s too much of a defensive liability against more physical post players to earn those defensive minutes, but offensive numbers that good, attached to a player only 25 years of age (and still with a lottery pedigree), generally tend to draw some interest around the league, more so than the two years and $10 mil he re-upped for with the Mavs. If he ends up taking big minutes from Samuel Dalembert — and considering Sammy couldn’t hold down starting gigs the last three seasons with the Kings, Rockets or Bucks, I’m guessing he won’t lock this one up either — he could end up being as important to Dallas as any of their bigger-name new pieces. Hope so for Dirk’s sake.

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dennis-schroeder-celebrate

With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Southeast Division: the Hawks, Bobcats, Heat, Magic and Wizards.

ATLANTA HAWKS

Most Interesting New Player: Dennis Schroeder

Yeah, I know this guy is kind of a trendy pick after his Summer League success and all, but man, did you see this guy? That video of assists-that-weren’t Trey posted a few weeks ago should be all you need to see to get excited about Schroeder, and every game I watched of his left me more convinced that he was eventually going to be Rajon Rondo with better shooting range. “Eventually” might not be next year, but I don’t think the court vision and basic floor general confidence on the level Schroeder seemed to display in Vegas could end up being a mirage — if there was one showcase rookie this year whose skills were legit, I’d bet it’s Schroeder. It was a little disappointing that Atlanta balked and re-signed Jeff Teague. It’s a fair deal, sure, but if they’d seen Schroeder’s Summer League game first, I think they’d leave pretty convinced this was their Point Guard of the Future.

Also disappointing that Schroeder probably won’t be joined by fellow rookie Bebe Noguiera on the court this year, as it looks like the Hawks are keeping him stashed overseas for a season. Nogueira was extremely impressive himself in Vegas, and the two showed surprisingly good on-court chemistry and such awesome rookie duos are pretty rare these days. Between them and John Jenkins/Mike Scott in ’12, Atlanta has had a couple sneaky awesome drafts now since Danny Ferry came over.

Most Interesting Returning Player: Al Horford

I guess? I didn’t find any of the players on their roster last year all that interesting, which is why I hoped they’d blow it up in the offseason, which they sorta did but not really. I actually kinda feel bad for Horford, since after a half-decade of playing out of position at center to accommodate the undersized Josh Smith at power forward, Smith finally flew the coop, and they just replaced him with another undersized power forward, one who should also take plenty of post touches away from Horford. At least this is the East, where there are only like two centers you really have to worry about killing you down low on offense, but man, it might be nearly a decade into his career before Al gets to maybe play his actual position on the court with any regularity. Seems like a raw deal.

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tony-snell-showing-off-uniform

With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Central Division: the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers and Bucks.

CHICAGO BULLS

Most Interesting New Player: Tony Snell

Not a ton to choose from here, obviously — it’s Snell, fellow rookie Erik Murphy, and reserve sharp-shooter Mike Dunleavy, now about a team away from officially reaching journeyman status. Murphy seems unlikely to make a huge impact, Dunleavy’s impact will be decent but predictable, but Snell intrigues me. From his play in Summer League, he looks a lot like budding Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, and I of course mean that in the most literal sense — with his dreads, tall but slight build, and expressionless demeanor, there’s probably not a better physical comp in the league for Leonard than Snell. But he also looks like he could maybe provide a good poor man’s facsimile of Leonard’s skills: solid three-point stroke (39 percent his final season at UNM), long and athletic wing defender (6-foot-7 for a nominal shooting guard), toughness to spare. We’ll see if it actually pans out as such, but from the little I saw, I was impressed.

In general, I was also impressed with the way the Bulls basically oriented their entire offseason around one simple strategy: improving their outside shooting. Maybe not all of Snell, Murphy and Dunleavy will end up being legit contributors to the team, but if two of them do, that’s a simple dimension added to the Bulls’ attack that simply wasn’t there last season, when Jimmy Butler and the departed Nate Robinson were the only outside threats of any consistency. Nothing too sexy, but you never know when an outside shot or two could make the critical difference in an Eastern Conference playoff game, even a whole series. Definitely better to have than not have.

Most Interesting Returning Player: Derrick Rose

Would’ve loved to say Jimmy Butler here, since I’m fascinated to see if he can continue the improvement of his breakout season and become the near-All-Star contributor I feel he might could be, but c’mon. There’ll be no bigger story the first month of the season — with the possible exception of Dwight’s first games in Houston, but I can certainly tell you which of the two I’m more excited for — than D-Rose’s return to the Bulls lineup after a full year’s absence. I practically had heart palpitations when they announced that the first TNT game this year was going be the Rose-led Bulls against the two-time-defending Heat — there might not be a better opening night matchup possible than those two old foes squaring off with both sides finally back at full strength.

Can a fully healthy Derrick Rose lead the Bulls past the Heat in the East playoffs? For now, I’m still pretty skeptical, but to have one more legitimate challengers to the throne — in a season where there are already one or two other credible contenders on the far side of the map as well — should certainly make things more interesting (and less depressing), for the regular season and beyond. I can’t wait.

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kelly-olynyk-horse-smile

With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series kicks off today with the teams in the Atlantic Division: the Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers and Raptors.

BOSTON CELTICS

Most Interesting New Player: Kelly Olynyk

Obviously, the Celtics’ offseason was more about the purge of the old than the welcoming of the new, as the departure of franchise-defining players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was balanced by the dudes in this super-depressing picture – hardly an even reconciliation of the team’s ledger in any respect. It’s unlikely that any of the guys received by the Celtics in their mega-blockbuster deal with Brooklyn will be of terrible consequence for the Celtics moving forward, and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if none of them even ended the season on the C’s roster.

A brutally depressing Boston offseason may have been slightly redeemed, however, with the drafting — well, more so the Summer League play — of Kelly Olynyk. The Gonzaga big man seemed like a minor stretch when Danny Ainge traded with the Mavs to move up in the draft and take him with the 13th pick, but Olynyk made the selection look like a steal with his impressive exhibition play in Orlando, scoring with ease both in the post and from the perimeter, rebounding and passing well, and generally showing a ridiculous feel for the game for a not-even-rookie. Olynyk was one of the stories of the summer’s exhibition season, averaging 18 and 8 on 58 percent shooting, with the name “Dirk” even being invoked on more than one occasion. Suddenly, there was a non-ping-pong-balls-related reason to be excited about the ’14 Celtics.

Of course, the list of Summer League mirages in the NBA is a long and foreboding one — ask Bill Simmons about Kedrick Brown some time (or maybe don’t) — and there’s some legitimate worry about how Olynyk will fare against the size and strength of pro-caliber big men, so it might be prudent to hold off on calling him Canadian Moses right away. Still, after the loss of Pierce and Garnett, Olynyk will undoubtedly be a focus for Celtics fans, hoping that they might have gotten a guy worthy of being included in future Boston Big Threes.

Most Interesting Returning Player: Jeff Green

It’s hard not to go with Rajon Rondo here, since Rondo is never not one of the league’s most interesting players, and will be particularly so next season, coming back from ACL surgery and now all of a sudden being the virtually uncontested Face of the Franchise after spending the last six seasons trying to get out from the Big Three’s shadow. But who knows when Rajon is returning next year, and in the meantime, Jeff Green will be one of the most fascinating case studies in the league, as he gets to be The Guy for the first time in his NBA career.

Lest we forget, Green came alive late last season as a starter for the injury-plagued C’s, averaging over 20 a game (on over 50 percent shooting both from the field and from deep) in 17 starts, and then leading the team in scoring with over 20 a game in their first-round series against the Knicks. And now after six years of overlapping on the depth chart with the likes of Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce, Jeff Green will open the season is Boston as the team’s obvious first scoring option, finally given the chance to be the offensive focal point that other guys have to adjust their games to fit around. He could average 22 a game, push for the All-Star team and solidify himself as a huge key for the team’s future, or he could struggle to score efficiently, serve as an offensive black hole and effectively be the tanking engine for Boston’s 2014 lottery push. Both seem pretty damn plausible at this point.

Either way, this is probably it for Green — after six years of Yeah Buts and Well If Onlys, he basically has no excuse now not to be his awesomest self. If Green disappoints at age 27 on a young team with (eventually, hopefully) one of the league’s best point guards setting him up, he’ll probably never totally live up to expectation. If there’s a bigger make-or-break season for any one player this year, I’m not sure what it is, and I can’t wait to watch to find out which way he goes.

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