Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Behind Kobe, Lakers are ready to be champions

Wow. That was even easier than I thought it'd be.

Coming into their best-of-seven series, I figured the Lakers were 80% better than the Nuggets, and thus would dispatch of them in five games. Of course, this is the same Lakers team that lost consecutive home games to Charlotte and Memphis without Pau Gasol, which maybe would've been okay if they hadn't defeated Dallas and Utah in consecutive road games just a week prior.

I believe the term I'm searching for is flaky.

So instead I picked the Lakers in six, assuming they'd win the first two games at home, get a split in Denver, and then, with a chance put A.I. & Co. out of their misery in Game 5 at the House That Shaq Built...blow it and prolong the series for no good reason. Then they'd close it out in Denver in an unnecessary Game 6.

Shows what I know.

Sure, Denver was a challenger to the 2001 Blazers for title of "Most Screwed Up 50-Win Team in NBA History." No, they weren't the truest test. Yes, it will be much more difficult next month.

But these Lakers are serious. These Lakers are ready.

Last night's win was efficient and clutch. Like the great Lakers teams of the beginning of this century, who at one point won twelve straight closeout games over the course of four postseasons, these Lakers showed they know how to execute down the stretch of tight playoff games.

A familiar face led them, in a familiar performance.

Say what you want about Kobe Bean Bryant - and what hasn't been said? - but on a 94-foot piece of hardwood, the man is pretty much beyond reproach. It's unfortunate Kobe involves himself in so much controversy; we don't spend enough time talking about his game. Just the little subtle things, like the little pivot move he put on Najera before setting up DJ Mbenga for an easy dunk last night, a display of shockingly good footwork. Kobe's game is so polished and refined that it's ridiculous; he's taken every single basketball skill that can be taught and learned (and probably a few more that he concocted) be made and put it in his repotoire, ready to be used as an action or a reaction, a move or a countermove, at a moment's notice. Mixed with his creativity and supreme natural ability, he has an answer for every possible scenario, every instance of defense.

Kobe is the most spectacular shotmaker ever; he can get to the basket whenever he chooses; he's a great midrange shooter and a very good three-point shooter; he makes more shots under duress than anyone ever; he's probably twice as good as anyone else when it comes to using pump fakes to draw fouls, and he's an 85% foul shooter; he doesn't get many touches on the low-block, but when he does there isn't a better low-post scoring guard in basketball; he's probably most dangerous in the mid-block/foul-line area; he has the tightest handle of any non-point guard to ever play; and he's a terrific passer, which is probably the most underrated thing about his game.

On top of that, he's good for 5-6 rebounds a game and stellar defense (both team and individual, especially when winning or losing depends on his ability to stop the other team's best perimeter guy and he becomes the best lockdown artist since a ticked-off MJ in his prime).

Was Michael Jordan a better player than Kobe Bryant? Yes.

Was Michael Jordan a more skilled player than Kobe Bryant? No, and I say that with confidence.

But as Kobe might say, I shouldn't shake that tree, because a leopard might fall out, in the form of angry Jordan loyalists (I swear by MJ, too, but I'm also objective). Then again, it might already be too late for that. Oh, well. Fill up the comment box with

Anyways, I can also say with confidence that Kobe has never been a more complete basketball player than he is right now. He's 29 and at that point in an athlete's career when his combination of athleticism, skills, and intelligence meet to form the most effective version of him. It also helps that he's playing on a great team, with a perfect No. 2 to his Dr. Evil in Gasol, a perfect No. 3 star in Odom, and the deepest collection of role players in the league: Fisher, Radmanovic, Walton, Farmar, Vujacic, Turiaf, and even Mbenga.

(And no, I haven't forgotten about you, Andrew and Trevor, I just haven't seen you in awhile. Hope to see you soon.)

Kobe is most impressive when he doesn't have to carry the team everynight, and to me was more impressive this season than he was two years ago when he averaged 35 a game on a mediocre Lakers team. He's able to do more because he has to do less.

He's in his ideal situation, it would seem: He's The Man on a championship contender and he doesn't have to win every game by himself. He won Game 2 with a spectacular performance and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter of the win Monday nght. Gasol was the star of Game 1 and it was a complete team effort in the blowout that was Game 3.

He lifts his team up, and they do the same to him. A month-and-a-half from now, they may lift up the trophy together.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kobe's greatest playoff hits

49 points, 10 assists, 18-of-27 shooting, tons of smack talk and cockiness, and enough theatrics for a performance on Broadway - that was Kobe last night. And it got me to thinking: What is Kobe Bryant's greatest playoff performance? Well, I'll give you the choices to choose from; but I'm not into making lists really, so sorry. You'll have to decide for yourself.

(Note: I excluded Game 6 against Phoenix in 2006 because they lost the game, and Game 2 last year against Phoenix because it was the only game they won in the series. Those were my two cuts.)


6/4/00, Game 7, Western Conference Finals, Staples Center: Lakers 89, Portland 84
Kobe's line: 47 minutes, 25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks.

This was the game where the Lakers rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Scottie, Sheed, and Co. to get back to the Finals for the first time since 1991. Portland did a better job of defending Shaq in that series that anybody ever did before he got old. Kobe led the team in points and had game-highs in boards, dishes, and blocks.

Highlight Reel: "The lob - to Shaq." - Bob Costas. As a Lakers fan, I am forever grateful to Costas for immortalizing that moment in Laker lore for me. Notable because of how badly Kobe fractured Scottie's ankle's at the top of the three-point line, and for how high Shaq got up to get to that ball. Back then, you could throw the ball practically to the moon and he would go up and get it. How times have changed.

6/14/00, Game 4, NBA Finals, Conseco Fieldhouse: Lakers 120, Pacers 118 OT
Kobe's line: 47 mins, 28 pts, 4 rebs, 5 asts, 2 blks, 14-27 shooting.

Shaq fouled out in OT with 36 and 21, leaving Kobe to save the day by scoring 8 of his 28 points in the extra period, and tipping in a missed shot by Brian Shaw for the game-winner. I watched the end of this game on a small-screen TV at El Cholo's.


5/13/01, Game 4, Western Conference Semifinals, Arco Arena: Lakers 119, Kings 113
Kobe's line: 48 mins, 48 pts, 16 rebs, 3 asts, 2 stls, 15-29 shooting.

Well, that stat line speaks for itself. I have the ESPN version of this game on tape, and let me tell ya...no 22 year-old player has ever been more polished offensively. Ever. LA gets it's second of three consecutive sweeps to start the playoffs.

5/19/01, Game 1, Western Conference Finals, Alamodome: Lakers 104, Spurs 90
Kobe's line: 47 mins, 45 pts, 10 rebs, 3 asts, 19-35 shooting.

This was the very next game, if you didn't notice. After this one, Shaq famously said, "I think he's the best player in the league. By far." The Kobe-Shaq relationship thawed that night, and they would play nice for more than two years after that.


5/12/02, Game 4, Western Conference Semifinals, Alamodome: Lakers 87, Spurs 85
Kobe's line: 44 mins, 28 pts, 7 rebs, 3 asts.

The numbers don't tell the story here. Kobe was never more clutch than he was in this series. I mean, you talk about a closer. This is the game where Kobe stretched his left arm all the way back to snag an offensive rebound off of a Derek Fisher missed shot, came down, then went back up like a pogo-stick and scored the game-winning layup. He just wanted it more. For my money, the single greatest play of Kobe's career.

6/9/02, Game 3, NBA Finals, Izod Center: Lakers 106, Nets 103
Kobe's line: 46 mins, 36 pts, 6 rebs, 4 asts, 2 blks, 14-23 shooting.

This was the game where Kobe made a jumper with Kenyon Martin's hand literally in his face down the stretch. Another very clutch performance. People might remember this one more if the series wasn't completely one-sided. A complete walkover. Like taking candy from a baby.


4/28/04, Game 5, Western Conference first-round series, Staples Center: Lakers 97, Rockets 78
Kobe's line: 41 minutes, 31 pts, 6 rebs, 10 asts, 3 stls, 12-21 shooting.

Kobe flies to Colorado to attend legal proceedings, flies back to Los Angeles and arrives at the arena four minutes before tipoff, eliminates Rockets all in one day. Man those were crazy times.

5/11/04, Game 4, Western Conference Semifinals, Staples Center: Lakers 98, Spurs 90
Kobe's line: 45 mins, 42 pts, 5 rebs, 5 asts, 3 stls, 15-27 shooting.

Kobe flies to Colorado and enters a plea of "not guilty" to sexual assault, flies back to Los Angeles, nods up series versus Spurs. Have this one on tape, too, the real, uncut, TNT version: At 25, Kobe may already have been the best pure scorer in the history of the game.

6/8/04, Game 2, NBA Finals, Staples Center: Lakers 99, Pistons 91 OT
Kobe's line: 49 mins, 33 pts, 4 rebs, 7 asts, 2 stls, 14-27 shooting.

Kobe hits the three over Rip to send the game to OT, where L.A. got the W. After the game, Larry Brown drew criticism for not instructing his team to foul Kobe before he got up the shot. The Lakers would lose the next three games and that would be that, which took a lot of it's luster away. But at the time? HUUUUUUUUGE shot, especially when you consider that up to that point he had only made 4-of-28 three-point attempts in the fourth quarter during the playoffs.

Then again, in a way, that just makes it a typical Kobe shot. But I can't leave it out because of the magnitude of the shot at the moment he made it.


4/23/08, Game 2, Western Conference first-round, Lakers 122, Nuggets
Kobe's line: 42 mins, 49 pts, 4 rebs, 10 asts, 18-of-27 shooting.

You saw the game. Besides, at this point, what more can you say about the man? He's one of the greats.

Let's hope he has a few more in him this postseason, and the ones that follow. He isn't going to last forever, we better enjoy him while he's still here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Was Andrew Bynum's injury a blessing in disguise?

Could it be?

Is it possible the knee injury that has derailed the previously skyrocketing Andrew "Big" Bynum since December was a good thing?

Just think about it for a second.

When the A-Bomb got hurt, the Lakers were 24-11 and on an upward trajectory. Bynum was averaging a 13, 10, and 2 blocks on 64 percent shooting, but those numbers don't begin to tell the true story of Bynum's ascent. He was averaging a 19-13-3 in five December games before he sustained the injury against Memphis, and he was just beginning to post-up. The Lakers were beginning to look scarier and scarier with each passing game.

Then, he came down on Lamar Odom's foot and went to the ground, clutching his knee in pain (and as he lay on the court writhing under the Grizzlies basket, Pau Gasol took a pass from Mike Conley and scored a layup. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Weird, no?)

The Lakers lost 4 of 7 immediately after the injury and it was looking hopeless in Lakerdom. They were sliding, and likely would have kept on sliding, right on out of the playoffs and into the lottery. Then it was announced that they had acquired Gasol and a giddy Kobe scored 76 points on 29-of-43 shooting in blowout road wins over Toronto and Washington. Really, it turned the season back around.

But if Andrew doesn't go down, it's likely that Gasol's 36-16-8 performance against Denver Sunday never takes place. The Lakers would have been contenders without him and only Bynum; Gasol took the Lakers from less than a million over the luxury tax to more than $4 million over this year, and almost $8 million next year (assuming the threshold remains roughly the same), before the likely re-signing's of Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf.

What I'm trying to say is that the Gasol trade had to be happen in order for the Lakers to stay alive this year, but that it wouldn't have happened if Bynum hadn't gotten hurt. Now, they're looking at a 65-plus win season next year when Bynum returns full strength (and at least top-flight contender status for five seasons after that, a potential mini-dynasty if they decide to keep Lamar in the mix - he becomes a free-agent following next season and his future with the team after that is up in the air) only they're also deadly as hell right now and might win the championship without him this year (and for the record, I don't think he'll be back.)

In other words, as good as they look right now, they're not even as scary as they're gonna be yet. Terror is impending. But it wouldn't be possible if Andrew Bymum hadn't hurt his knee.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lakers ironic season should win Kobe MVP

It's a funny thing about MVP's. Not just in the NBA, but in every sport. Virtually every year, there's more than one guy who deserves the award. But only one can win it. And so the question becomes, Who is the most deserving, and the answer to that question is almost always subjective. A.I. won the MVP in 2001; I think pretty much everyone agreed with that pick. But since then? Tim Duncan won it in 2002; many thought Jason Kidd was flat-out robbed. Duncan won it again in 2003; many felt Kevin Garnett got hosed. Kevin did win in 2004, and most thought it was a pretty easy choice, but at the time, Bill Simmons wrote: "Tim Duncan is the best player in the league. He should always be the MVP if he's healthy. Always. Always. Always." It was a legitimate argument then, and it still is. Tim Duncan is the best all-around big man ever, and he's still in his prime. His team wins the championship every other year. And even when they don't win, they're right there in the mix. For at least the next season and maybe the next two seasons, there's still nobody I'd rather build my team around than Tim Duncan. He's the real MVP. Always is. But I digress.

Anyways, back to my original point (what was it again?) Steve Nash won in 2005, but Shaq had a very strong case himself. In 2006 Nash won again, but Kobe and LeBron could've won just as easily. Last year, Dirk got the honor for being the best player on the best team - but Nash's numbers were pretty much identical to the previous season, and he won 61 games himself. Needless to say, this isn't an exact science. And usually, there is no clear-cut winner or consensus "right" choice.

Whatever. This year, there are three prime candidates for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy: Chris Paul, Kobe, and KG. I think LeBron, supernatural phenomenon that he is, fell out of the race when Cleveland struggled down the stretch and sort of limped to 45 wins in a very weak Eastern Conference. That's not gonna cut it. So sorry.

Kevin, though, led the Celtics to 66-wins, third-best in franchise history. That's a 42-game turnaround from the previous year, an NBA record. He's the best defensive player in the league - like a basketball version of Brian Urlacher with the amount of ground he covers - and along with Kobe and A.I. the most intense and competitive player in the sport. And his entire essence has spread to the rest of his team, who played every game of the regular season like it was Game 7 of the Finals. The Celtics were a historically good defensive team this year - they held opponents to only 41.9 percent shooting, and Garnett was at the center of it.

But the Celtics went 9-2 without him this season - I understand that his personality had such an impact on the culture of the team that even when he wasn't in the lineup, his impact was still felt on the court. But still. Neither Kobe nor Paul could have missed 11 games and seen their teams go 9-2. For those reasons, I can't give it to him. He deserves it, but I don't think he's the most deserving, so in my book, he doesn't deserve to win, if you follow me.


It has been said that this season Chris Paul submitted the best year in the history of the point guard position, or at least the best non-Magic years. Don't know about any of that. What I do know is that Paul has the ball in his hands as much as any player I've ever seen, and that he's as responsible for manufacturing points as anyone I've ever seen. I know that he's as good at setting up his teammates in positions to score as you can possibly be, and that he can get anywhere he wants to on the floor at any time. You can't run a team any better than Chris Paul ran the Hornets this season. I watched him his rookie year and was absolutely shocked at how in control he was of his club for such a young player, and he's only gotten better. On top of that, he's probably the best defensive point guard in the league.

Most importantly, though, he took a team that would probably win 20 games without him to 56 wins, the second highest victory total in the most competitive year for a conference ever.

But I still can't give him the MVP.


I don't know what to say about me and Kobe. Five years ago, I found myself defending him all the time. Now, it's like I've put so much thought into him over the years that I don't have much to say about him, and I definitely don't want to write about him. Or maybe it's that if I do have a lot to say about him, only if I got started, I might never stop. The guy is complicated like that. He drives you crazy.

Thus, I'll keep it short, simple, and to the point: I think Kobe deserves the MVP because he played the most impressive all-around basketball of his career in leading his team to the best record in the best conference in basketball history. He's was the best all-around player in the league when he played with Shaq, but couldn't win it then because he was only the second most important player on his own team, obviously. Then Shaq left, and he was still the most complete player, but he didn't have the team success to go with his individual prowess. This year, he did.

Nobody expected Kobe to even be on the Lakers at this point in the season. Yet here he stands, still on the Lakers, with homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, the favorite to win the Western Conference. This year has been about Kobe and the Lakers more than anything else, and the only way for the MVP award to reflect that is for Bean to win it.

I mean, it just feels like Kobe's year this year, doesn't it? As Snoop from The Wire once said, "It's just his time, that's all."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lakers First Round Preview

Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

As the Los Angeles Lakers enter the first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs, there are a lot of things they need to know. Referring to what Anthony said, I think the only upset in the West would be the Houston Rockets winning. Other than that, I see no upsets. Despite the Denver Nuggets being a number 8 seed (with no defensive ability), they still can give a fight.

The Lakers have had their defensive slumps. They have allowed teams to score at will in certain instances. It cannot happen now. The Lakers' ability to defend that dreaded pick-and-roll is the key for the Lakers' success.

In general, nobody will be able to guard Kobe Bryant, and the overwhelming frontcourt of Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and even bodies like Chris Mihm and DJ Mbenga (in Andrew Bynum's period of rehab). The Nuggets have tremendous scoring ability, and as long as four of them are sober, they will score points. Let's just hope the Lakers end up with more at the end of each game.

Lakers in 6.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lakers-Nuggets First Round Preview

So I'm sitting in the kichen at the ol' PS3 (raising my created player version of Derrick Rose through "Association" mode on NBA 2K8) when the subject of the now-forthcoming Lakers-Nuggets first-round series comes up. The Mavericks just got finished dispatching of the Hornets on ESPN, and in the process locked up the No. 7 seed in the West and rendered the outcome of Denver's regular season finale with Memphis (in progress) moot. The Nuggets will be your No. 8 seed, and their prize will be Los Laguneros, who clinched the No. 1 seed by pounding Sacto at the Staples Center last night.

Anyways, my dad starts going over all of the big names the Nuggets have on their roster. A.I. 'Melo. Camby. K-Mart. They've been places. They've done things. On top of that, in George Karl they have a head coach with playoff experience and success (made the Finals in '96 with the Sonics, almost made it again in '01 with Milwaukee) and a couple scorers off the bench (Kleiza and Smith).

But I don't care who they have.

Denver is 49-33 in the most competitive conference in NBA history. They have a good basketball team, and they are an offensive juggernaut (110.5 points a game, second behind only G-State). But at the end of the day, to paraphrase Bill Parcells, you are what your seed says you are. The Nuggets are an 8 seed. They finished seven games behind the Lakers in the standings. And while G-State proved last year that the game really is all about matchups, Denver doesn't matchup well with these Lakers. L.A. is too structured and the Nuggs have nobody who has a snowball's chance in hell of even containing Kobe. Camby is a great help defender, but I don't see him offering that much resistance against Gasol one-on-one. Five years ago, Kenyon Martin might have given Lamar Odom hell (remember what he did to Antoine Walker?), but he's not the defender he once was. You'd rather have Derrick Fisher than Anthony Carter, and the Lakers have the best bench in the league (Farmar, Vujacic, Walton, Turiaf) and the best shooter in the series.

Furthermore, they can throw Kobe on A.I. in crunch time and he can take him out of the game as a scorer. Maybe he can't stay with him for a whole game, but he's always had success defending him for extended periods, like the fourth quarter of the game in Denver this year (Iverson had 49 on 23 shots thru three quarters but only 2 on 4 attempts with Kobe hounding him in the fourth), and a game in Philly in 2000, when he held him scorless in the second half.

But don't take my word for it. The Lakers went 3-0 versus Denver this season, winning by an average of 16 points. The proof is in the pudding.

Bynum or no Bynum (and as time goes on I think it's becoming pretty clear that he's probably not going to be back this season). Lakers in 6.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Toast to Mr. Ewing

On Monday, it was announced that Patrick Ewing had been selected for induction into the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Fame. On Sunday, I watched a moving tribute to him on YouTube, with Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" playing in the background. I almost started crying. It was sad. I mean, poor Pat. Did any athlete ever work harder to win the ultimate prize, only to come up empty time and time again and ultimately come up short? I'm not so sure.

Why didn't Pat ever win a championship? For the same reasons Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton never did, mostly. In other words, he had the misfortune of belonging to the same era as Michael Jordan. Pat could never beat Michael. Ever. Not in college. Not in any of the six times he faced him in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Never. It just wasn't happening. Once Mike won the first one, it was pretty much over; save for the two year period when he was either playing baseball or still shaking off the rust from retirement, nobody else had a chance from 1991-1998. When the door opened briefly in '93 and '94, Hakeem peaked, and their was nothing you could do about that, either. The Knicks made the Finals in '94, lost in 7 to the Rockets, and didn't make it back until 1999, by which time Patrick was 36 and failed to average 20 points for the first time in his career. That year, the Knicks lost to the Spurs in 5 games, with Patrick forced to sit out the series with an achilles tendon injury. It just wasn't in the cards.

Still, though, Patrick had one hell of a run. He was one of the greatest college players of all-time, the star of the most intimidating En-Cee-Double-Ay hoops squads ever, and won a championship in 1984 with the Hoyas, under the tutelage of Big John. He played 17 seasons in the NBA, made 11 All-Star teams, and won Rookie of the Year in 1986. First-team All-NBA in 1990 (28.6 pts, 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 blocks). Amassed 24, 815 points (20th all-time) and 2, 894 blocks (7th all-time). He waged some unforgettable battles against MJ and Scottie in the early 90's, and while his Knicks never could quite get to the top of the mountain, they were in contention for most of his time there. He was one of the deadliest shooting big men in the history of the sport, and the image of him trudging up and down the court for the 'Bockers, with the flattop squared perfectly atop his dome, his mug drenched in perspiration, double-sized sweatbands on his wrists, white padding on his knees, is an indelible one.

Patrick was the heart and soul of not only the Knicks, but Gotham sports in general in the first half of the '90's, NYC faithful's most consistent source of quality athletic entertainment with the Jets, Mets, and Yankees all struggling and the Giants up-and-down. You can make an argument that he was the greatest player in franchise history. Furthermore, the man was simply a warrior (I know you've heard that before) - you could never accuse him of not trying hard enough, of not giving 100% effort, of not playing with enough dedication. Ewing left everything he had on the Madison Square Garden floor, committing himself wholeheartedly to his organiztion, his teammates, and his city.

And when you do that, some fancy-schmancy little piece of jewelry becomes almost inconsequential. Patrick Ewing didn't need no damn ring to solidify his career. He was a champion without it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

You have to foul!

I got the Final Four right, so that was good, but once my prediction for the outcome of the finale - UNC over UCLA - crashed and burned on Saturday, I came into Monday night not really caring who won the national championship. Like most people this time of year, my alliegance's in the tournament lie with my bracket, not any particular team. That's how I base my rooting interest.

So when the time came, I got to just sit back and enjoy a thrilling game between the two best teams in college basketball, no strings attatched. The only thing I was hoping for was a thrilling finish, and I was obliged.

A few observations:

1. All season long, there were two concerns/questions about this Memphis team's ability/inability to win the whole damn 'chip that kept getting raised: 1) Have they played tough enough competition? and 2) Will their poor free throw shooting come back to haunt them? Well, they answered the first one in resounding fashion by thrashing Michigan St., Texas, and UCLA by a combined 51 points in the three games leading up to the finale. And it appeared that they had answered the second one, too: 80 of 89 (89.8 percent). CDR (34 of 40) and Derrick Rose (24 0f 27) were beginning to resemble Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups with their big-game swagger. Of course, as Billy Packer pointed out last night, it's a lot easier to make them when you're up by 20. And true indeed, last night, in a much more competitive ballgame, with the lights shining their brightest, poor foul shooting came back and bit them in the ass: up 62-58 with 1:15 left in regulation, CDR missed the front end of a one-and-one. 59 seconds later, with the score now 62-60, he missed two more. Six seconds later, Rose missed the first of two before sinking the second, but the damage had already been done. The door had been left ajar. Which leads us into our next observation...

2. I think it should become a rule, really: If you're up by three with between ten and three seconds to go, you have to foul before the three is attempted. You have to. If you don't, you forfeit your next possession. Okay, not really. But you have to foul. Obviously, there's a chance the guy will throw up a wild attempt the second he realizes he's being fouled intentionally and the ref will give him three free throws, but I don't think I've ever seen that happen before. If the ref realizes you're fouling intentionally to prevent a game-tying three, he's not going to give the guy three foul shots. Besides, in this case, Rose could have fouled Sherron Collins the second he touched the ball, in the backcourt, 90 feet away from the basket. But he didn't. And now, this is the story.

Of course, as Simmons pointed out today, the argument can be made that Memphis is the only team that shouldn't have fouled in that situation because it would stop the clock and they would have to make free-throws on the other end. But I suppose if you can't make foul shots down the stretch in a hotly contested game, you really don't deserve to win. That's what championship teams do, right? Come through in pressure situations.

3. Rose finished with 18 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in the National Championship - and somehow, it seemed like a subpar game. You know you're a superstar when that happpens. But yeah, I thought Collins did an excellent job on him, especially in that first half. Darren Collison is long and lean; Drew Neitzel and D.J. Augustine are stronger, but none of them are as strong as the squatty (I love that word) Collins, who's a 5-11, 205 pound bundle of power. He was more adept to handle Rose than those other three.

4. Did Kansas win it or did Memphis lose it? I think Memphis lost it in regulation and Kansas won it in overtime. The answer is: both.

5. It always kills me when a college player hits a big-time shot in a big-time game, like Mario Chalmers did last night. The balls these kids have are incredible. I'm in college; I wish I knew what it was like to be so icy.

6. What is this Kansas team's legacy? They remind me of that '98 Kentucky team with Scott Padgett and Nazr Mohammed; I don't know if any of the players on this Kansas team will be anything more than role players at the next level. (As much as I like Brandon Rush, he reminds me of Devean George.) Doesn't matter. They had a deep, athletic collection of excellent college players who sacraficed individuals numbers for the sake of the team, embraced their roles and never strayed from the all-for-one, one-for-all concept. A fabulous college team, even though I must admit I wasn't drinking the Kansas Kool-Aid until two days ago when they destroyed Carolina.

7. Coach Self, you've got it made now. You just won Kansas their first national title in 20 years, so the Lawrence faithful won't hold it against you if you take the cash and dash. $10 million for the first year?!?! Are they really offering you $10 million for the first year?!?!

Anyways, spock, talk, Mohawk and all that good stuff. Congratulations, fellas. You deserve it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Seeing through Rose-colored glasses

Let's make something very clear here, right from the outset: Michael Beasley was the best player in college basketball this season. It's indisputable. Tyler Hansbrough may very well win Player of the Year, and probably deserves it: he's an upperclassman who putting up a 23-10 on an ACC team that's 36-2 heading into their Final Four matchup with Kansas on Saturday. That resume pretty much speaks for itself.

But Beasley was the best player.

Maybe Kevin Durant captured more of your imagination, but Beasley had just as good a year. And his game and body translate directly into the NBA. As I've written before, he's the most talented college power forward since Chris Webber.

And with all that being said, Derrick Rose should be the first overall selection in the upcoming draft.

Forget for a second the concerns surrounding Beasley's maturity (or lackthereof). That doesn't even factor here. And for the sake of the argument, let's throw out team needs, or roster makeup. In fact, let me rephrase my assertion:

Derrick Rose is, at least in my opinion, the #1 prospect in the upcoming draft. He's the most valuable. He's the guy you'd most want to build yor team around.

In the wake of Deron Williams and Chris Paul, two world-class point guards under the age of 24 who have spurred their franchise into serious contention, someone like Rose is as attractive as ever. Rose's potential is limitless: at 6-3, 205 lbs, he's big and has a strong, well-defined, NBA-ready body. He's an excellent rebounder for the position (4.4 a night in only 28.6 minutes per), and he can run the offense in the half-court or push the pace. He plays under control. He's a top-flight competitor who raises his game when it matters (20.5, 6, and 6 on 58 percent so far in the tourney). And most impressive of all, he might be the best athlete to ever play the position.

Think a young Jason Kidd, only with a better jumper and insane hops.

Think a young Gary Payton, only if Payton dunked on putbacks and threw down Kobe-esque reverses on fast breaks.

Think a younger Stevie Francis, but with a pure point guard's game (like the 2001 Francis mixed with CP3, that's probably the most apt comparison.)

Think a guy who can lead your team to a championship.

Not that Beasley couldn't, but as good as he is, he's not a center and he's not a gamechanger defensively. He's not a dominant shotblocker. He's not an anchor. He's not Tim Duncan. He might become the first player to average a 30-10 since Karl Malone in 1990, but what will it all mean, ultimately, if you get my drift. Meaning no disrespect.

But imagine Rose, teammed with talented forwards Durant (playing splendidly the last month) and Jeff Green with the Sonics. Picture Rose, feeding Al Jefferson in Minnesota.

(Although to be fair, a pairing of Beasley and D-Wade in MIA would also be dynamite. As would throwing B-Easy into the mix with Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, M&M, Rudy Gay, and Hakim Warrick down in Tennessee. Of course, that's taking into account roster makeup. Which we aren't doing, so let's move on.)

The Jordans and LeBrons and Kobes and Wades are few and far between; the seven footer who protects the rim, controls the boards, and funnels the offense is and will always be the most valuable commodity. But other than that, and especially with the way the game has sped up in recent years, a dominant point guard - a guy who can get into the lane at will, score 20 a night, get double digit assists, and basically run the offense to a T, like Rose will do at the next level - is the fastest way for an irrelevant team to become meaningful. Like Williams and Paul, Steve Nash took a team mired in mediocrity and made them matter. Also like Williams and Paul, his team will figure prominently in what happens over the next 2 1/2 months.

Someday soon, the NBA team Rose is on will have an important stake in the proceedings, too. Even more so than Beasley's.