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Commentator & Reporter, Sport 5 Channel, Israel
|Currently an NBA live commentator & reporter for "SPORT 5" Channel In Israel. Talpaz was born in Michigan and raised both in the U.S. and in Israel. He is covering NBA Finals and All-Star Games for Israeli media since 1997 and has written two books about the NBA.|
T-Mac's greatest test
No more excuses for Tracy McGrady as he's about to join an Allstar player
The numbers are unbelievable. Year after year, this guy scores at will, but also passes and rebounds the ball. He has the complete game, but still, the question remains. Does he belong with that truly elite group known as the NBA's best of the best? Can you put his name, without hesitation, near those of Shaq, Kobe, Garnett and Duncan? Is he that good?Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Jun 23 2004 5:54AM
Well, we should soon find out. Tracy McGrady is headed to Houston and should form with Yao Ming the Texas version of Kobe & Shaq, without the love-hate drama. As of writing this (Wednesday morning), the deal was not done, but the questions about him should be answered even if he joins two other teams that went after him: Indiana, teaming with Jermaine O'neal, or Phoenix, joining Amare Stoudemire.
Such a good player shouldn't have been a part of a team that posted the worst record in the NBA. Something that's not basketball related happened last year in Orlando, because they almost advanced to the second round of the playoffs just a season ago - blowing a 3-1 lead over the Pistons (by the way, Tayshaun Prince earned his reputation as a great perimeter defender against T-Mac in that series, before stopping Bryant in this year's Finals). The Orlando roster was different than the year before, but not dramatically, so you have to look at McGrady for the answer.
He had enough of losing, just couldn't take it anymore. After the Magic started last year by winning the first game and then losing 19 straight, it was over. McGrady was depressed and indifferent. He still took more than 23 shots and still played 40 minutes a game. But he wasn't the same and it showed. He went from 32.1 points a game in 2002/03, to 28 in 2003/04. His field goal percentage dropped from 45.7% to 41.7% and from 38.6% to 33.9% behind the arc. His bad back left him on the bench for 15 games. Now he wants to join a winning environment, to build the Ming-Mac dynasty in Houston.
McGrady is often compared to Kobe Bryant because of their similar size and game. T-Mac is the first to admit that Kobe is a better competitor and defender. He never won a playoff series, feeling he's a superstar playing alone, like KG used to do in Minnesota. Well, Garnett is coming off an MVP season and a trip to the western conference finals. That could have been added motivation for McGrady's trade demands.
Can he be a true winner, a hungry star with killing instincts that will give up a few shots to enjoy winning? The gut feeling is yes, but we won't need any feelings or thoughts to get the answer. It should arrive next season.
The Pistons are worthy
It's going to be a series not only because of Detroit's defense
Sometimes you just can't figure it out. Three minutes, four or five minutes, here comes another scoring draught. They are missing lay-ups when they're supposed to be dunking. Those moments are the major reason why this version of "Bad Boys" won't win the NBA championship. Against Indiana they could still win a game after scoring ten, twelve or whatever ridiculous number of points per quarter, against the Lakers they will lose every time it happens.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Jun 3 2004 8:04AM
However, they have some things going for them. First of all: "Pound for pound", as Rasheed Wallace refers to his coach. Larry Brown wants this ring so much and has the experience of being in the finals and facing Phil Jackson. In only his second trip to the main event, Brown has a deep squad and some options that can make life difficult for L.A.'s defense. One of the keys against Shaq - not a well kept secret - is to make him work on defense. Ben Wallace is not the best offensive option, but he has shown the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper from time to time.
Even more important for the Pistons is Mehmet Okur. At 6' 11" and with an outside shot (37.5 % in 3-pointers this season), Shaq will have to come out against him and that will clear things under the basket for guards driving in. The problem is that Brown doesn't use his Turkish import as much as he did before Rasheed joined the team. They really need a confident and consistent Okur to make Shaq work.
Another option Detroit has is going "big". The best starting five for the Lakers this post season has been the "small" lineup, with Payton, Fisher and Bryant together. Larry Brown can counter with Corliss Williamson as the "3". True, his "nastiness" is not a quick defender and can't even start to stop Kobe, but it's the same on the other side. Bryant can't stop Corliss when he's posting up. All of this "match-up" stuff used to be much simpler in the NBA, when the only defense allowed was "man to man", so of course today each team can and will use the zone, but for underdogs, you're always happy when the opponent is tinkering and changing stuff.
Regarding Kobe, Rip Hamilton will probably have a tough time guarding him so expect Tayshaun Prince to get the assignment - remember how Prince slowed T-Mac down last year in the first round? The Pistons should not double on Bryant. Minnesota is probably regretting that right now. When doubled, he gets other people involved and still gets his points. When Fisher or Kareem Rush score over ten points, forget about beating them. Defend Kobe well, but just one on one. He's then tempted to shoot more and that makes Shaq angry.
On the defensive side, Karl Malone will be happy, as long as his knee doesn't buckle down, to face another challenge at power forward after doing well against Tim Duncan & KG. Count on Malone to push and shove Rasheed with that big elbow of his and really get in his head. The "Wallaces" were physical and dominant against every Eastern opponent, but they won't have the edge in power and rebounding against a not so small pair of Shaq & Malone. This, exactly, is the reason why the Mailman always wanted to play with a big center. All of a sudden, not all the burden is on his wide shoulders.
It should be interesting. Every player, on every team, knows that these opportunities don't come by every year, especially with the uncertainty facing the Lakers. There is always the chess match between the coaches. A solid prediction should be the Lakers in six because of their talent and experience in this stage (facing not only local and national media, but also international media that usually visits in the Finals), but another solid prediction should be six close games. Hard fought games. At least that's what I wish for before traveling about 22,000 miles roundtrip (not that I'm complaining).
Hitting the biggest shots
Reggie and Kobe have the mental edge that C-Webb and Peja don't
You just knew it would happen. Everybody in Conseco Fieldhouse knew this would happen. Reggie Miller will catch, shoot & score at the most important moment of the game. Doc Rivers was saying it on air; Rip Hamilton later admitted that he knew it would go in. How does he do it? "Concentration and hard work", he said after game 1 of the Eastern conference finals, but it's a lot more than that. It's in the head. Either you have it or you don't, but sometimes there are those in the middle. Posted by Yaron Talpaz - May 24 2004 12:31AM
If you have "it", you want the ball at the last offensive possession of every quarter, especially the last. It won't always go in, but you always try to take the shot. Most of the times players say that the true "winners" are not those who necessarily hit the biggest shots but those who take them; Those who are not afraid to try.
If you don't have "it", you disappear in the clutch. All of a sudden you can't get free, stuck in the corner, you are double teamed, you pass the ball to a player "in a better situation" as you would explain it later and if it does end up in your hands, you probably miss it. "I was hit in the arm", you will cry, but deep inside you'll know the truth: either the hands were shaking or the head was thinking. In order to make those shots, Michael Jordan would say, you have to concentrate on "the moment". Not think about the pressure or the outcome, or this and that, but just about the ball and how you should shoot it. Like you do in every practice.
It's amazing how many playoff games, this year and in the past, have come down to these shots. Reggie Miller has hit so many of them, Kobe Bryant of course is right up there, Derek Fisher hit some 3-pointers and had that miracle in San Antonio (sometimes that's an easier shot because you don't have time to think), Sam Cassell, of course while not struggling with back problems, made crucial jump shots against Sacramento this year and ten years ago against the Knicks in the Finals.
On the other hand, Chris Webber is probably cursed in the clutch. I'm not talking about the famous "Timeout" in his college days, but more about his last-second missed shots. Seriously, have you ever seen such a star have so many big shots fall in & out of the rim? It happened in game 7 against the Wolves, it happened against the Lakers a couple of years ago, he's just cursed, but at least he's not running away from the ball. Peja Stojakovic, bottom line, is just not as good under playoff pressure. Is it the defense, is it in his head, we don't know and I'm not sure he does, but at this stage of his career, he usually doesn't want the last ball in his hands.
Maybe it will come with experience, like KG has been showing lately. Yes, he's been unbelievable at least for the past 5 years, but not aggressive enough down the stretch in all those playoff heartbreaks. All of a sudden, his fourth quarter heroics against the Kings in game 7 were repeated against the Lakers in game 2. He got the confidence, and the big shots are falling.
So many people talk most of the time about physical gifts a player does or doesn't have. People should be talking much more about mental talents. Those are just as important.
What really matters in the Clutch
A different way to figure out winning playoff basketball
You would think that basketball games, even in the playoffs, are decided in a simple matter: who ever shoots better, and hence scores more points, wins. Posted by Yaron Talpaz - May 13 2004 6:04AM
Sorry, but no.
Just ask the players or the coaches. "It's about going out there and imposing your will", said Tim Duncan after game 1 of the Spurs-Lakers series. "We wanted to come out and make a statement", Richard Hamilton of the Pistons claimed early on in the Pistons-Nets series. Imposing your will? Making a statement? Hey, that's nothing. What we're talking about here is aggressiveness and energy - Big words, no doubt, extensive and profound explanations to how you win playoff basketball.
"I was just aggressive", said Mike Bibby after the Kings beat the Wolves in Minnesota. "They were very aggressive from the get-go", explained Gregg Popovich how his Spurs lost in game 3. "We didn't match their energy", said Tony Parker after that same defeat.
What about the Lakers defense stopping the pick-and-roll? Or Shaq enjoying life without Yao Ming around? Or Kobe hitting almost every shot? That, of course, had nothing to do with it.
Much of the same goes on in the East coast. Over there, even if level of play is a bit inferior, it is still not about putting the ball in the basket. It's about wanting it more.
"I think their effort was phenomenal", said Larry Brown after his Pistons got blown away by the Nets in game 3. "Our guys feed off the electricity and energy in this building", sounded off Stan Van Gundy about his young Heat team beating the Pacers in game 3.
If all of this is true, why do we need coaches, or skilled players? Let's replace them with very strong and passionate men coached by special psychiatrists who'll make them want it more and be aggressive. If these were peaceful times we could even joke about it: Get a tough army sergeant with some of his toughest soldiers, and send them out to the basketball court. Unfortunately, and now I'm totally serious, these are not peaceful times so strike that last mark.
Continuing with some serious thoughts, players and coaches are basically right. They are using clichés, but this is playoff basketball. Late in the season, when very good teams are battling for the trophy and the glory, "aggressiveness" could be the difference. Everything quoted here was said during the second round. If you want to know who won the game from now on, don't check the box score. Just check who said aggressive and energy more.
Dream weekend of hoops
9 games in 3 days - what more can you ask for?
The alarm was going off. It was 06.00 AM, I think, on a Thursday morning, and the purpose was to get up for the second half of the Lakers-Rockets game 5, shown here live on NBA TV. As it turned out, I could have slept 20 minutes more because the buzzer just sounded to end the second quarter and for some reason (commercials, I know), halftimes in the NBA these days last about 18 minutes. Posted by Yaron Talpaz - May 3 2004 6:00PM
That's a lot of sleeping time.
The second half was horrible, with only the Lakers showing up, so that didn't make me feel any better about getting up so early.
At work, on "SPORT5" channel news production, we were getting busy for the biggest day of the season for us in Israel. The Final Four in Tel Aviv was hours away. Basketball talk ruled every room and corridor in the entire country. But I had more things to do, like get a close look at one of the top European prospects for this or next year's draft, Martynas Andriuskevicius, the 17 years old, 7' 3", Lithuanian. He was playing in the Euroleague junior tournament, so about two hours after that Lakers game, I was already watching him at the gym.
Later that day, two semi-final Euroleague games were under my belt.
That completed watching 4 games (At least a big part of them), in 18 hours.
The biggest thing here, of course, was Maccabi Tel Aviv beating CSKA Moscow and advancing to the finals against Skipper Bologna. The Maccabi game ended at around 11.30 PM, so that left me about 5 hours before broadcasting the Kings-Mavericks game 5. Getting up was hard, but at least the game was worth it.
That's 5 games in a span of 26 hours.
Later that day, back in the junior tournament, the 6' 11" Nemanja Aleksandrov from Reflex Belgrad, was playing. At 17, he is projected as a top 3 pick for the 2005 Draft, so you can't miss an opportunity like that. Also, the CSKA Moscow junior team had some great athletes and those teams were not playing one another, so that meant watching two more games, consecutive.
Mark it down: 7 games in 30 hours.
It doesn't leave much time for sleeping, but it does guarantee one thing: Even the short dreams have jumping basketballs in them (believe me, I was dreaming about the game).
Waking up on Saturday was easy for two reasons: I knew it would be an interesting day and I also slept for 8 full hours. At noon I was already working a special assignment as the sideline reporter for the junior tournament final (In order to interview the young Aleksandrov live on TV as well as the great Russian legend Sasha Gomelski).
9.45 PM, time for the main event: The Euroleague Final. It was, as stated once in the great movie "Animal House", a spiritual experience. Maccabi played a perfect game beating Skipper Bologna by 44 points and breaking every possible record in the books. Even the TV ratings broke records by scoring more than 50 percent of the viewers in Israel.
The weekend was almost over. I either worked at or watched 9 basketball games in 66 hours.
The bottom line, you ask? Both Andriuskevicius and Aleksandrov have tons of potential but should get more strength and experience in Europe before crossing the ocean; Maccabi is the best team in the continent and NBA playoffs are just warming up.
Oh, by the way, less than 24 hours after Maccabi's victory, I was already broadcasting the Spurs-Lakers game 1. Isn't life great?
The Phil Jackson debate
Another war of words between Jackson and Van Gundy
Winning 9 NBA championships (the 10th coming soon?) is truly amazing regardless of the talent you have. Phil Jackson has had MJ, Scottie, Paxson and Horace or MJ, Scottie and Dennis or Shaq, Kobe and Horry or Shaq, Kobe, Karl and Gary. That's a lot of talent but also a lot of ego that mostly presented itself masterfully in the media, but hardly affected play on court (except Mr. Bryant here and there). For all that, Jackson should get the credit. But it's not only psychology. He has a great basketball mind, and he knows the game from every aspect, don't let him fool you.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Apr 20 2004 4:38PM
But in the past decade and a half, he had his run-ins with other coaches. You can say that nobody likes the guy that's always winning, causing Pat Riley (Heat-Bulls rivalry), Jeff Van Gundy (Knicks-Bulls rivalry) and Rick Adelman (Kings-Lakers) to name a few, to take some shots at him. On the other hand, you didn't see Rudy T or Gregg Popovich having problems with other coaches while they won 2 championships. Popovich never asked for an asterisk, he never talked smack about the other team's crowd or city, he always had respect for those standing between him and the trophy.
The latest example occurred between games 1 and 2 of the fresh Lakers-Rockets series. After winning an ugly 72 - 71 game, coach Jackson complained about officiating and said that the league allowed "mud wrestling", describing Houston's hard-hitting defense. Van Gundy, now the Rockets coach, had a strong response:
"I don't even have to look at the calendar to know that it's spring coming on summer, with Phil complaining about the officiating. It happens like a rite of passage every spring".
Van Gundy then talked about Jackson's complaint that the Rockets, not the Lakers, were too physical:
"Yeah, really. Shaq is a finesse player compared to Yao. And Karl Malone and Kelvin Cato, who's more physical? And you have the Patron Saint, Rick Fox, who never touches anybody. And then you've got Bryant who is bigger and stronger than Mobley. You've got a guy nicknamed `Glove' for a reason. And then you've got the flopper, Fisher, bumping and grinding. So who's the more physical team?
"Basically, what he's trying to say in his own way is, `You have no right to compete against us. The fans and the media and TV want the Lakers in the Finals, and I expect the league to accommodate us.'"
That last remark, maybe, was the most significant. The "Zen Master", according to a veteran coach, feels winning belongs to him. Over the years, when asked specifically, Jackson would always talk highly about his peers. He probably does have genuine respect for most of them. But he doesn't always act this way in the heat of the moment, usually in front of cameras when he wants to send a message or just talk trash. Even if his intentions are just to win and his remarks about officiating are made solely to put some pressure for the next game, it sometimes happens on his rival's expense.
In general, this makes things interesting. It adds more stories to a league filled with them. Personally, I don't think he'll get his tenth ring this coming June. But if he does get far into the playoffs, let's see him accomplish it without using his famous tricks on other teams. His in-house problems should be all he cares about.
The shot that saved a season
More connections between Euroleague and NCAA
Jim Calhoun will never forget Christian Laettner's miracle shot at the buzzer for Duke to get to the Final Four in 1990. Kentucky fans will never forget Laettner's other miracle shot that cost them a place in 92's Final Four after receiving a long pass from Grant Hill. Well, forget about those now, the Euroleague just topped them.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Apr 10 2004 1:41AM
It was a similar setting in Tel Aviv. Maccabi against Zalgiris Kaunas, the winner advances to the Final Four. Arvydas Sabonis was absolutely amazing for the Lithuanian team, scoring 3's, scoring inside, rebounding, changing shots but also fouling out before the end of regulation. With 2 seconds on the clock, down by three points, Maccabi inbounded the ball under its basket, just like Grant Hill had to do.
Eight thousand people in the stands were desperate. Two thousand more were already leaving the building. A close-up on Maccabi's boss, Shimon Mizrahi, made you think he was going straight to the hospital after the expected loss. So much effort was put in hosting this year's Final Four, so much effort was put by Mizrahi to keep the Final Four in Tel Aviv after some protest from Spanish and Italian teams. This was the year for Maccabi. They went deep into their pockets, a lot of money was spent for the coach and players. Everything around was set to make sure the team goes all the way. But the dream was fading. The pressure was just too much on the players. A miracle was needed and a miracle they got.
The ball was thrown 3/4 of the court. Of all people, Derrick Sharp, a 6' 0" guard, caught it, turned and scored on a crazy three pointer. Game tied at 94, overtime, Maccabi wins 107 - 99, end of the road for Sabonis who might have played for the last time.
The pressure was relieved and the dream survived. Sharp could hardly speak after the game. He was sitting on the bench crying. "It was a gift from god", he later said. People couldn't leave the arena. Players from both sides were stunned. The words "god" and "miracle" were heard all over. So much was at stake for Maccabi, that's why it was bigger than Laettner's shots. People from the team described the need to reach the Final Four as a "national mission".
Which brings us back to Calhoun and Connecticut and still, the Israeli connection. After winning their second NCAA championship earlier this week, I spoke with coach Calhoun about how it all started for his program that featured two of Israel's best players during the 90's. He more than agreed that Nadav Henefeld, back in 1990, "put them on the map", as he described it. After Henefeld played there (and then came back to play for Maccabi), Calhoun brought Doron Sheffer for 3 great years. "He was one of the best players I ever coached", he said and added on a personal note: "We both beat the cancer, and came out stronger", referring to his condition last year, and the illness that Sheffer handled two years ago (He came back to play basketball and is doing great with Hapoel Jerusalem).
So congratulations to Calhoun and the Huskies, and of course to Derrick Sharp and Maccabi Tel Aviv. They can stop crying now and start thinking about the Final Four, Euroleague style.
The battle of the West
Is everybody learning from the Lakers?
Yes, the Lakers are rolling and scaring all opponents. Yes, when healthy, they have the best team combining offense and defense (Rick Fox's ability to shut down people is not mentioned enough). Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Mar 31 2004 8:59AM
But maybe, just maybe, the other top teams in the west are learning from past experience. Maybe they understand that it's important to have highs and lows during a season and that it's best to have that high period when it matters: April, May and June.
Take the Sacramento Kings. It was kind of obvious that the return of Chris Webber would not go smoothly (although booing from home crowds wasn't expected). I'm not saying they planned the timing of the whole thing, but it might turn out well. Now they are struggling, but if they handle the "Texas Triangle" (playing in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston), the "gelling" process will be much easier and will happen just before the start of the playoffs. There is a reason Bobby Jackson has been kept out for so long with his abdominal injury. "I can't risk anything", he told the Sacramento Bee. The Kings want to make sure he's strong enough because they know that home court advantage is not as important in the playoffs as being healthy. They learned that last year with Webber's injury and from watching the Lakers operate in the past four years. Reach your peak at the right time, was the lesson.
What about Minnesota, the poor bunch that's still looking for that second round in the playoffs? Well, they got Sam Cassell in a small slump (shooting 44.6% from the field in March, 48.8% for the season), Troy Hudson doesn't even resemble the scoring guard from last year and Michael Olowokandi is still looking for his role under the basket.
Now all they have to do is get Hudson back into shape (he just hurt his healthy ankle), hope Cassell finds his shot again (it's coming back - 8 for 14 from the field against the Rockets on Monday) and the toughest assignment is Olowokandi. Getting one out of three (Cassell) could be enough as long as KG is hitting game winners over Yao Ming.
The team that too many people forgot about is just rounding into form. The Champions from San Antonio are feeling good because Tim Duncan is feeling good. That's the way it goes in Alamo city. It's the big fundamental's team. "To come out a day after a game and be pain free," Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News on Tuesday, "is a really good day". Gregg Popovich is the only coach that beat the Lakers in a playoff series in the past 5 years and has done it twice. He's got a deep team and all he needs is one guy other than Duncan to step up in every big game. With Manu Ginobili and Toni Parker and that great defense, it could happen.
It seems that even Dallas is getting better and everybody knows the Mavericks can be scary in a playoff series, so actually, the Lakers road to a fourth championship in five years is not paved in purple and gold, at least not yet. They look good, true, and they even beat Sacramento and Minnesota last week without playing their best, but it won't be easy in the talented and tough western conference. One injury, one setback, could be the difference.
On the other hand, this all might be wishful thinking - hoping for a tight playoff season.
Phil Jackson gets his tenth ring; Shaq and Kobe their fourth; Malone and Payton their first - finally.
KG THE MVP
There is no doubt who should win the award for best player in the league this season
Kevin Garnett playing the Point. That is just too much. He's 7 foot tall and is not supposed to do these things. After broadcasting the game over the weekend in which Minnesota beat Phoenix, I couldn't stop thinking of that fourth quarter. Sam Cassell had some foul trouble and Troy Hudson some ankle trouble, so Flip Saunders made the decision: KG will bring the ball up court and handle the point guard duties. He would do it better than any other guard he had out there. Coach Saunders wanted Sprewell, Szczerbiak and Hoiberg concentrating on shooting the ball. He knew that KG would be able to think about his scoring, rebounding and blocking while still keeping everybody happy by feeding them the ball. He was right.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Mar 21 2004 6:07PM
This guy is doing it all. Really doing it all. I think there was one sequence in which he brought the ball up court, passed it to Sprewell, ran inside and posted-up, got the ball back, got double teamed, passed the ball outside, rebounded the ball off the miss, assisted on Spree's basket, got back on defense and blocked a shot. That was special. An ultimate all-around player and all-around-the-court player.
Unless this team crashes in the final month, KG should have the MVP trophy with his name written all over it. After a bad first half for the Wolves against the Suns, he dominated. That's what you expect from your all-star. His teammates saw him and raised their game. KG went inside and didn't settle for the outside shots. He still doesn't get to the line enough, but when he's aggressive under the basket, things change.
If there is one thing that should worry Saunders, it's the combination of Garnett and Michael Olowokandi. The first pick of the 98' draft clogs the middle. Balls go his way, but he still doesn't score enough and as opposed to Rasho Nesterovich - last year's center - Olowokandi can't shoot mid-range or long-range. When he's hanging around the basket, Garnett doesn't have room to operate so he goes outside. Of course he can damage teams from there as well, but most of the time he should be aggressive inside, especially when the pace slows down in the playoffs. His better minutes against the Suns came when he tag-teamed with Mark "Mad Dog" Madsen. A lot in Minnesota depends on the way Olowokandi gets back in shape and fits in the offense.
Garnett finished the game with 17 points, 20 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 blocked shots. Two days later he had 20 points, 13 boards and 7 assists in 29 minutes against Denver. What more can you ask? Well, maybe one more thing. Advance in the playoffs. I'm sure that's all he cares about.
Americans' journey of basketball
Anthony Parker & Maceo Baston are two of many american players pushed to Europe
In some places they are heroes, in their homeland nobody cares. When Anthony Parker or Maceo Baston, two born Americans, hang out in Tel Aviv, everybody recognizes them. In Israel, they are true superstars. If they walk the streets of Manhattan, probably no heads would turn.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Mar 13 2004 12:41AM
Parker played 3 seasons in the NBA. Played is not the right word. Listed would be more accurate, as a player for Philadelphia and Orlando. Out of 246 possible games, he stepped on the court in 55, averaging 2.4 points and 7 minutes per game.
"I'm not surprised nobody in the U.S. talks about what we do here", told me Parker, the Illinois native who played college ball in Bradley and was picked by the Nets in the first round of the 97' draft. "It's like nobody in Israel would talk about an Israeli soccer player in the MLS. They would talk about a soccer player in Spain and England because they are the top leagues in the world. American media knows the NBA is the best league in the world so that will grab all the attention".
Baston agrees. The 6' 9" power forward who left Michigan with the school's all-time best field goal percentage (.627) and played 16 games last season for the Raptors, is the second American player in Maccabi Tel-Aviv, one of the top teams in Europe. His dunks get 10,000 people in the stands and hundreds of thousands watching TV, on their feet every time. "The fans here are more vulgar than in the States. College fans are sometimes louder, but these guys can be crazier", said Baston. "I don't care that people in America don't cover me anymore. I got my share of dunks over players in the NBA, i've got the fans here. My family follows the games thru the Internet while in progress. They are the ones that matter. American media usually don't cover foreign sports. That is American mentality", added Baston.
It's an interesting and hard life for a lot of American basketball players. With the number of International players in the NBA rising every year, more and more Americans find themselves out of the League. Than they get the call from their agents telling them about places they sometimes never heard about. When NBA scouts watch them play overseas, it's not them they are watching. "The NBA has become a league of youth and potential", says Parker, 28, "my time is probably up. They want young talent. High school kids and international players are picked before college players".
One thing is a fact both players are sure of: Euroleague level of play is much higher than college basketball. Parker, who averages 16.4 points a night hitting 55 % of his three point shots and Baston (12.6 points, 8.5 rebounds) are joined in Israel and Europe by well known American players. Two examples are William Avery (recently signed for Hapoel Tel Aviv) who played in Duke and the Timberwolves and Will Solomon (Hapoel Jerusalem) who played in Clemson and the Grizzlies. Both of them probably could have found their place in the NBA before it's international era.
It's kind of weird. You're a star away from home and just a regular guy around hometown during the summer. You're a superstar in this foreign country and don't get the respect in the place you grew up. But you still like it. Hopefully there is a cheque waiting every month, sometimes worth well over the minimum salary in the NBA. The fans love you so that handles the "ego" aspect of things. And you play the game you love.
But America, please take notice. There are some great people and great basketball players that are doing well overseas. They don't need the attention, but they probably won't mind getting some.
A European team in the NBA
The Euroleague can offer, today, a decent 12 man roster for the NBA
Although it was not addressed at the annual meeting of the press with commissioner David Stern during 2004 All star break, the annual question still remains: When will the NBA expand to Europe? The answers in the last couple of years differed from "by the end of the decade" to "there are still problems with arenas and travel arrangements". Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Mar 4 2004 6:03PM
Until this happens, let's play general managers. Yes, I know this future Euro team will have American NBA players and will probably get some of the European NBA stars playing in other teams. But trying to put another angle on international success, here's a display of strength for the second best basketball league in the world.
The Euroleague, just starting its second round of the regular season, can present right now an NBA team that won't make the playoffs, but in my mind, won't break the all-time losing record. And that can be achieved without using American players such as Tyus Edney, Robert Pack, Anthony Parker or Joseph Blair.
Browsing through the top teams in Europe, It's easy to put together 12 players that are connected in some way to the NBA. They either played in the NBA, have been drafted by an NBA team, have stirred interest or are projected to be drafted. This imaginary squad will play solid team basketball, won't have any problems attacking the zone, will shoot great and compensate for lack of athleticism with size, smarts, experience and playing a lot of mixed defenses.
Leading the way, without a question, will be Arvydas Sabonis. He plans to retire soon, but remember: this Euro team is imaginary so it can play right away. Sabonis, who was offered a deal before the season by the Mavericks after wearing the Blazers' uniform, is doing well in his homeland Lithuania, playing for Zalgiris Kaunas. He finished as the statistical MVP of the Euroleague in the first round, is doing pretty much whatever he wants on offense but his defense is another story, a nonexistent one. Completing the starting five for this "EuroNba Shooters" team are Milos Vujanic, Dejan Bodiroga, Andres Nocioni and Nikola Vujcic.
Vujanic is the leader of Skipper Bologna (the Suns hold his rights), Bodiroga has been the king of Europe for the past 5 years, Nocioni is mostly remembered for his thunderous dunks over team USA and Vujcic is just a great offensive power forward out of Croatia. This starting five is big: 6' 3", 6' 8", 6' 7", 6' 11" and 7' 2".
Coming off the bench: Sarunas Jasikevicius, the Lithuanian point guard for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Arvydas Macijauskas, his friend from the national team, Carlos Delfino - the Pistons' draft pick, Mirsad Turkcan - who had some NBA experience, Nenad Krstic - the Nets future big man, Juan Carlos Navarro, Barcelona's guard (the Wizards picked him in the draft), and Anderson Varejao, who is not yet a star in the Euroleague but should be a first rounder in the upcoming draft.
All of these guys are well known to NBA scouts. The new team from Charlotte should add more spots for international players, especially if you've been reading Bernie Bickerstaff's blogs from his scouting trip to Europe. Personally, I think that 30 teams are enough - you don't want to hurt the level of play.
But, if the expansion across the Atlantic does happen, Europe will be ready.
Our time has come
Can Amit Tamir become the first Israeli ever in the NBA?
After missing out on all of my All-Star picks (hey, Peja wasn't supposed to lose, he's still the best 3 point shooter out there) and after some serious soul searching, it was time to get back on the floor and forget. There is always another game to pick. Or another issue to tackle. The subject: Can Israel finally get NBA representation?Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Feb 24 2004 2:36AM
Berkley lies about an hour's flight north of LA plus half an hour ride. This is home of the Golden Bears from Cal University and a temporary home of Israeli Center/Power Forward, 6' 10" Amit Tamir. "I think he has a chance to make it to the NBA", told me the best Bear ever, Jason Kidd, who added: "He can shoot and pass the ball". Former NBA player, Marques Johnson, who watches Tamir frequently as Fox Sports Net's analyst, didn't even consider the possibility that he won't get drafted. "He should be a solid player in this league, maybe not a superstar, but very good", he said.
Israel had its shots at the NBA. More than 25 years ago, one of its best, Mickey Berkowitz, was close but couldn't get out of his contract with Maccabi Tel-Aviv. About 15 years ago it could have been Doron Jamchi and after him Connecticut stars Nadav Henefeld or Doron Sheffer (he still plays and dreams about the possibility - Portland holds his draft rights). Most recently, Oded Katash had an agreement with the Knicks but didn't want to take a chance that the whole 98/99 campaign would be wiped out by the lockout, came back to Europe and injured his knee. Israel, as the cliché goes, "couldn't get over the hump".
Maybe it will be Amit Tamir. Just maybe. I'm aware that basketball people will always say nice things about a player to media from his country like myself. Why not be nice, especially during All-Star weekend? But still, this was more than usual. Everybody knew who he was. General Managers, NBA players from the area, Rick Carlisle who coached him in Pete Newell's big players camp in Hawaii, they all talked about his understanding for the game and his shooting ability. "You can't teach size", they say and add: "you can never have too many shooters".
After scoring 14.9 points a game last year, with a great 39.4% from behind the arc, his numbers declined a bit this season, to 12.4 and 34.5%. The team lost two important seniors, got some great freshmen (you can write down Leon Powe's name as a future forward in the league), but in general has been having a so-so year. Defenses have crowded Tamir, so he had to improve on his weaknesses: Posting up, defending and being aggressive. They are all not NBA material, he is not athletic enough for the NBA, but he can shoot and pass way better than your average big guy.
It won't be easy for him to make it. That aggressiveness factor could really hurt him. He has a good chance of being drafted in the second round, but that doesn't guarantee a thing. When I told him last week what people have been saying, he answered: "it's great to hear, but it just says that I'm one of many players they will think about come draft time". Hopefully, they will do more than just thinking.
Peja will win again
All-Star suggestions and picks
Starting for the East: Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Tracy Mcgrady and Vince Carter. Starting for the West: Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'neal and Yao Ming. Wow! That could have been interesting to watch.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Feb 11 2004 5:45AM
A Classic "Big Ball" vs. "Small Ball".
Actually, it could happen. All the NBA has to do is stop telling fans and coaches to pick by positions, only by level of play. Is there any place more worthy to feature such a match-up than the All-Star game?
If the fans had the option to pick the 5 best players, then the coaches would pick the next 7 best players, I'm almost certain that LeBron would have been in, with all due respect to Jamal Magloire.
Sure, it will be weird watching KG bring up the ball. He will probably get picked off a couple of times by AI, but on the other hand, can you imagine Shaq standing outside feeding Nowitzki who will be guarded by J-Kidd? After about 5 minutes, the coaches, anyway, will start changing line-ups and things would be back to normal. The so-called "snubs" will be minimized, and the interest level, especially at the start of the game, will rise.
If this seems a bit too radical, the fans can pick the starting five by positions, but the coaches could still have the freedom to choose the best subs. Just a suggestion.
The most interesting contest on All-Star Saturday, in my mind, will be the Three-point Shootout. Can Peja Stojakovic handle the pressure and win for the third time? Can he join Larry Bird and Craig Hodges as the only consecutive three-time winners? I think he can and he will. His percentages are great, but the main thing here is the quick release. That's what hurts a lot of the great shooters. Peja shoots quickly and doesn't get tired thanks to years of daily intensive trainings. Either Voshon Lenard or Chauncey Billups will come second.
My favorite for the Skills Challenge is the smallest name and player. Earl Boykins, the 5-5 point guard, will run all over the floor and do the job although this one is the hardest to pick as Gary Payton, Stephon Marbury and Baron Davis try to do the same. If not Boykins, Marbury is my guy.
It's hard to go against Magic Johnson in any competition, especially when everybody's coming to his house, Los Angeles, but who is better than the San Antonio team in the Shooting Stars debut? Steve Kerr won't miss, Manu Ginobili shoots well and Jennifer Azzi was a 46% 3-point shooter for her career in the WNBA. Everybody will be rooting for Magic, Lisa Leslie and Derek Fisher with the Lakers team, but I'm predicting second place for them.
It's hard to forget John Salley, and if I do remember his game, it wasn't based on scoring so he might be the weak link in the Detroit Squad. It will be interesting to watch the crowd's reaction to the L.A. Clippers team in this competition.
Finally, the Slam Dunk. It's not easy to pick against Jason Richardson, but I'm gonna do it anyway. He's the best out there, but this time something will happen in a crucial dunk. Ricky Davis should be great but I see him hitting one so hard off the rim that the ball will end up somewhere around the luxury boxes in Staples Center. Fred Jones, my gut feeling, will be too excited and that's why I'm going with Chris Andersen from Denver. This guy just dunks over people, but in order for this pick to stick, he has to promise to do that thing with his hands crossed after each dunk and he has to invite a player to just stand there so he can jump over him.
One thing, however, may change everything. LeBron. If he joins the contest in the last minute, it's his to lose. At least once in his career, he has to win the dunk contest. That's just the way it is.
Names you will hear about
A scout's life is never easy. Suppose you travel to Tel-Aviv to watch this Latvian big guy everybody has been talking about. He's still not 18 years old, he's seven foot tall and probably has an inch to grow, he's quick and has been scoring in the twenties most of the season against second level teams in Europe, sometimes even first level. Then he plays with his mediocre team, Skonto Riga, against Hapoel Tel-Aviv, and is benched in the second quarter with four fouls and just two points. Now that can be frustrating.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Feb 5 2004 5:34AM
His name is Andris Biedrins (pronounced BIED-RINSH), this year's version of Darko Milicic. Like the Serbian that was drafted second by the Pistons and has hardly played this season, Biedrins is left-handed. Like Darko he's listed as a center but will probably end up as a power forward. Then, like Darko, he just happened to play against Hapoel Tel-Aviv in Fiba's Europe cup.
"There is no limit to his ability, but he still hasn't decided if he'll put his name in the Draft this year or the next", said his American teammate, Florida product Dametri Hill, before the game. Biedrins, plagued with foul trouble, scored just 7 points on 3 of 9 from the field. He showed some potential with his back to the basket, showed some dribbling abilities, but it might be best for him to stay in Europe one more year, get stronger and get more experience. The adjustment to the NBA life is hard enough for American youngsters; It should be much harder for Eastern Europeans.
His numbers this season (18.6 points, 8.2 rebounds per game) are better than Milicic last season, but Darko's upper body was a little stronger and he showed more promise with his outside shot. Hopefully for Biedrins, even if he puts his name in the upcoming draft and is picked in the top ten of the first round, he'll stay in Europe at least one more year.
Speaking of such players, people in Phoenix and Detroit should be jumping with joy. Milos Vujanic, the Serbian 6-3 guard that was traded to the Suns in the Marbury deal, put on a show last week against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, not a great defensive team, but still one of the best in Europe.
Vujanic, with his teammate Carlos Delphino who was picked 25 in last year's draft by the Pistons, were instrumental in Skipper Bologna's victory. Vujanic has struggled in the beginning of the season, maybe because he was tired from national team duties, but his numbers have gone up recently (until another bad game, this week, scoring just 5 points against CSKA Moscow). He is averaging 17.1 points and is shooting the three extremely well, with hands in his face, from way beyond the arc and with a quick release. His only problems are inconsistency and size. He is a classic combo-guard that might have problems defending the bigger shooting guards. But still, his talent as a scorer is great.
Delphino, on the other hand, might be even better suited for the NBA right now. He is 6-6, has a mid and long range shot, plays the #3 spot in Europe but can play the #2 in the NBA. His numbers have been lower than Vujanic's, but much more consistent (13.0 points and 38% from 3 point land). It's obvious that both players made the right decision to stay in Europe and get major playing time. It should benefit them and their NBA teams in the future.
Talking football, NBA style
View the NBA football dream team
Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Jan 25 2004 6:14PM
These days "Holiday spirit" means "Superbowl spirit". Yes, even here in NBA Blog squad, Football is almost taking over. Almost.
New England and Carolina will fight it off on Super Sunday, and maybe the lack of sleep watching all these NFL and NBA games in the middle of the night here in the middle east is the cause of this crazy idea: Put together the best football team out of NBA players.
Who can stop Shaq when he wants one more yard? Is there a man alive who can get through an offensive line filled with seven footers defending the quarterback?
You're talking full time protection here.
Hey, this is the place where Oliver "325-pound" Miller and Robert "Tractor" Traylor can be applauded for some extra weight.
Starting at Quarterback, Jason Kidd. There is no better passer, and he's strong and fast enough to run away from defenders. He's hated in Boston so that's a good match-up with the Patriots. Charlie Ward will be his backup (you can't leave out a Heisman Trophy winner). Allen Iverson, who did some quarterbacking in high school will be the third-stringer but his main duty will be running the ball. Is there anyone quicker, faster who can take more hitting? He will be the classic "small" running back, while LeBron James could be the bigger and stronger type. And in short yardage situations, of course, Shaquille O'neal. That's a sure yard or two.
At Tight Ends you want bigger guys with soft hands and great footwork. That screams Tim Duncan with help from Karl Malone and Elton Brand. Receivers should be great athletes, high jumpers and fast, so we've got Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Desmond Mason and the quick Stephon Marbury who could always be used as a passer in a trick play. Offensive line will feature Shaq, Oliver Miller, Tractor Traylor, Kurt Thomas and Malik Rose - a combination of size, weight and some speed. For kickers and punters we go international, with soccer specialists South America style: Manu Ginobili and the two Brazilians Nene and Barbosa.
And now, some "D", the ingredient that wins championships. You want strong and mean, stoppers and blockers. NBA has it all. Ron Artest will be a perfect, hard-hitting cornerback and Gary Payton, as the other corner, will get to show if he's still "The Glove". Safeties need to be smart and long. That's Kobe Bryant and Scottie Pippen who actually played that role with the Bulls ("Rover" was what coach Phil Jackson called him). If that's not working, you can always switch and make Artest a "Ronnie Lott" type of Safety.
The front four will include Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, Big Ben Wallace to stop the run, and Yao Ming to deflect some passes (reviving "Too Tall" Ed Jones, one of my dad's favorite Cowboys from 3 decades ago). Jermaine O'neal could be a blitzing Linebacker, Gary Trent a strong linebacker and Jerome Williams the crazy linebacker. You always need the crazy linebacker. And with a nickname like "Junk Yard Dog", he's got to be on the team.
Coaching is important, even crucial in football, going up against the likes of Bill Belichick. Phil Jackson could be the head coach with Rick Adelman working as offensive coordinator and Jeff Van Gundy as defensive coordinator (hey, nobody said they all have to get along). Another crew could have Larry Brown as head coach, his good friend Gregg Popovich as defensive specialist and Don Nelson as master of the Offense. If no NFL team agrees to meet this squad, than maybe we can add another Allstar activity for the upcoming weekend in L.A.: East vs. West, football style.
Can Stojakovic play as well in the big moment?
We all know that for him, a 3-pointer is just a lay-up. We all know he's carrying the Kings until C-Webb comes back, whenever that happens. We all know that he deserves a spot as a starter in the Western All-Star team since he's leading the best team in basketball record-wise. We also know he won't be voted to start, but that he'll get over it coming off the bench. But what we still don't know is this: Can Peja Stojakovic win in April, May and, dare we say, June? Can he hit a winning shot in a playoff game? Can us, the international media people who usually visit for All-Star weekend and the Finals, get to interview him twice this season? He's always been a good interview around the tables in February, but we never check him out in June. He's never around.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Jan 18 2004 6:22AM
But before tending to these delicate questions, his regular season deserves further notice, since this time it's more important than usual. Following a disappointing post-season, with another Webber injury, the Kings, all of a sudden, were not everybody's darlings anymore. From 'Learning how to win' while 'Playing the right way' in recent years, they fell to 'Losers who can't win when it counts'. Few were picking them to finally do it this season and that's why it's so big for them to hold the best record (28-9, as of January 18) without their main guy.
All the buzz went to the Lakers, Spurs, Mavs and Wolves, but Peja had other ideas even without resting this summer. As opposed to other Serbian stars, he did show up for national duty, playing in a disappointing Euro Championships for the World champion Serbs, but he did the right thing by not playing in the tournament after hurting his ankle.
This season is probably his best since leaving Greek basketball and joining his childhood idol, Vlade Divac, in Sacramento. His numbers are staggering: 25.1 points per game (#3 in the league), 49.7 field goal percentage (#12 in the league), 42.3 three-point percentage (#9 in the league), 91.3 free throw percentage (#3 in the league) and he's even gone up in rebounding (5.9 a game) and steals (1.4 a game).
But can he nail the big shot in the big game? Can he handle the brutal and physical playoff defense? Byron Scott, now the Nets head coach, played against Stojakovic in the Greek finals and held him to just 10 points. "I was the only one who stopped him. I played physical with him and it worked", Scott remembered a couple of years ago, "But he was very young. He's gotten much stronger now, I don't think it still bothers him like it used to", he added.
"Basketball is my life", Peja told me once, "I enjoy every minute of it". Do you Peja? Even when everybody's keying on you, hitting, scratching, pushing and trying to get into your head? If so, prove it. Don't just settle for the outside shot when hard times come. Drive, get hit and shoot some free throws (you're 24 of 24 from the line in the last 2 minutes of regulation and overtimes this season).
Sacramento is waiting for a leader.
It might be your time.
Sam the Man
Why Sam Cassell is shooting 50 percent from the field
So you've got Shaq at no. 1, Elton Brand at 2, Nene is the surprise no. 3. Yes, We're talking league leaders in field goal percentage. Antawn Jamison, ranked no. 6, is the first 'non-classic-big-guy' at the list but he actually does score a lot around the hoop, finishing breaks or slashing inside. Following him are Yao Ming, Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan and Vin Baker, all post up players. The first rated guard shootingwise, at 50.5%, is Minnesota's Sam Cassell. Only ten players in the NBA score at a better percentage, none is a point guard that shoots from the outside and hits more than misses. Just do the math. You don't see too many long-range shooters with these numbers. Only three more in the top 20 (By January 9) are either small forwards or guards (Peja Stojakovic, Richard Jefferson and Carlos Arroyo). Cassell is even ahead of his new buddy, Kevin Garnett (You can only wonder how long that will last).Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Jan 11 2004 6:08AM
Sometimes statistics are overrated and overused. Not on this case. Watching the Timberwolves lately, the guy simply doesn't miss. His mid-range jumper, right now, is the best in the league. Often it's called a lost art in today's game, but not for Cassell who shoots from mid-range like it's a lay-up.
At 34, he's having the best season of his career, a season that should finally earn him Allstar status. It's not as though he's shooting less to raise his percentage. Actually, he averages 12.8 attempts a game for his career, but this season he shoots 16.8 times an outing, even more than his previous high for a season, 16.2 with the Bucks.
The difference for "Sam I Am" could be Garnett. In eleven pro years, the 6-3 Florida State product is mostly remembered for two things: The shape of his skull and more seriously, his clutch performances off the bench in Houston's championship seasons. Since being traded to Phoenix (before the 96-97 season) he earned a problematic selfish image. He loved to dribble and held the ball too long; he always thought he's the best option. But since his Rockets days, with Hakeem Olajuwon, he didn't have a big time player by his side. Not until the trade that brought him to Minnesota and KG.
Cassell needs a superstar to realize the burden is not only his. In Phoenix, New Jersey and Milwaukee, he pretty much thought the ball - and the shots - belonged to him. With Garnett he's relaxed. Like he was as a rookie, hitting big 3's in Madison Square Garden in the 94' finals.
Minnesota will need much more than it has right now to go all the way. The injured players, Troy Hudson, Wally Szczerbiak and especially Michael Olowokandi, will have to be healthy in the playoffs. Another post up presence, Olowokandi's, will be needed in the slower pace of April and May. If they're o.k., Cassell could be the difference. With him and Sprewell, maybe Garnett has the supporting cast he deserves. Maybe he will finally win a playoff series. Maybe even more. And then "Sam I Am" will become "Sam the Man".
Marbury to save the Knicks
A great move by Isiah Thomas, A European move for Phoenix.
Since the New York Knicks are so popular in Israel, it's obvious that many NBA fans here are excited with the return of Stephon Marbury to his hometown. The kid who torched the Brooklyn streets will now try to do the same thing in Madison Square Garden. He will be the new hero, the new face of this franchise.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Jan 6 2004 3:53AM
This is a great move by Isiah Thomas. The Knicks can never be in a rebuilding mode - they have to win now - and now they can.
Starbury led Phoenix to the playoffs last season in the west, which is almost equal to taking a team in the east all the way to the finals. He played great against the eventual champions Spurs, and showed his ability to be a winner and score in the clutch more than once. Yes, he's still unproven as a true playmaker that makes everybody around him better, but players like that are very hard to find.
As far as the price Isiah paid - disregarding the whole salary cap situation - It's not that high for a potential superstar. Two of the three European guys involved in the trade are unknowns even here, in Europe. Cezary Trybanski, the polish center acquired by New York, didn't play here at the top level, and the same goes for the other polish player, Maciej Lampe. They are young players that nobody, including basketball people in Israel, ever heard about.
Milos Vujanic, the Serbian guard, is a different story. Playing for Partizan Belgrade, he was the top scorer last season in the Euroleague (a league that should easily be identified as the second best in the world after the NBA). Now in a better team, Skipper Bologna, he is struggling. He dropped from 25.8 points a game to 12.8, he is dishing out only 2 assists a game and is not hitting the outside shots (only 7 of 34 from 3 point land). Vujanic, at least in the game I watched against Maccabi Tel-aviv a month ago, didn't look like a true point guard, but you can count on Mike D'Antoni to know everything there is to know about him. The Phoenix head coach has strong European connections, after spending about 20 years in Italy (trust us, we know him here in Israel, D'Antoni beat our top teams repeatedly as a player and a coach).
Vujanic will join the Suns next year or the year after that, and will probably do well. It's never easy figuring out a player's success in the NBA based on his Euroleague numbers because the game is still different, but there is a reason that NBA scouts love this guy so much. Marko Jaric, for example, who is doing fine as the Clippers point guard, wasn't a star when he played in Italy. He was good, but not great. Vujanic, in Euro standards, is a little bit better, but it should be noted that he's a couple of inches shorter than Jaric.
It will be interesting to watch the Suns in the near future. They could be featuring three Eastern European players with Zarko Cabarkapa, Vujanic and Lampe. D'Antoni will feel at home.
Kirilenko is an allstar
Why the Jazz should have an allstar even after the stockton-to-malone era.
The first time I saw Andrei Kirilenko he was playing for CSKA Moscow. The top Russian team came to Israel for an international game, and this 18 years old, tall, skinny blond guy was dunking all over the place. It was weird watching a non-American born player springing to such heights. It was clear that never has this continent produced a ballplayer like him. Yes, there were better players like Arvydas Sabonis, the late Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and current stars Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and the Serbian king - Dejan Bodiroga. But, and I'm getting to the point, Europe has never produced such an athletic, American style, power forward. Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Dec 29 2003 3:20PM
Two years later, after being drafted by the Utah Jazz, he was leading his CSKA team in the European Final Four against Israel's top team, Maccabi Tel-Aviv. In the first half, he was abusing former NBA player Anthony Parker, but for some strange reason his coach didn't call his number enough in the second half, resulting in Moscow's loss and Maccabi advancing & winning the Suproleague trophy. Still, it was obvious that Kirilenko experienced all the basketball he needed this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
It was time to join the majors.
Kirilenko's third season in the NBA, is by far his best. Now that the dynamic duo of John Stockton & Karl Malone is gone, he's leading the young and surprisingly successful Jazz team. If Utah keeps winning, and he keeps proving that his outside shot is reliable, he deserves a spot on the Western Allstar team. The Jazz posted a 16 -14 record through 30 games, with Kirilenko ranked tenth in the league in Efficiency (22.83) - posting a combination of solid numbers (16.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg and 2.3 spg).
Kirilenko does it all while playing the right way. Let's face it; you can't get playing time under Jerry Sloan by being selfish and not making smart decisions. He might be one of the best big men when it comes to helping on defense.
If we break down the western team - and according to recent ballots it looked as though the starting five will include Steve Francis, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'neal - the coaches are going to have a very tough task, choosing the seven reserves. Stojakovic must be there, and so does Yao Ming to back up Shaq. Two more guards will probably be selected, Sam Cassell and Steve Nash come to mind. That leaves 3 spots and about 6 deserving forwards to pick from. Zach Randolph is having a super year in Portland, Nowitzki is getting back to form, Brad Miller is saving Sacramento without C-Webb, Carmelo Anthony is leading the Nuggets and then you have Pau Gasol and Kirilenko.
It should be decided according to individual play and team success in January, but dear coaches, please remember this: Kirilenko will also play defense, as rare as it is in All-star games. He just can't help it. It's in his blood.
Last year, in the Rookie Challenge Game, he was the only player hustling, running back on defense, getting some steals. "Basically, I'm a defensive player", he told me then with his famous Russian accent. "I can't let people make baskets on me. I told Tyson Chandler: 'Foul, Just foul someone'. Three year old kids can score against a defense like that", he said, paused and added: "I represent the Jazz system here".
That, alone, should almost earn him the ticket to LA. How many stars do you happen to know, that represent a team and not themselves?
Playing the wrong way
watching the Houston Rockets playing time after time really teaches you how not to play
Steve Francis dribbles the ball. At least 8 seconds go by. Yao Ming kind'a walks to the top of the key to kind'a set a pick. 5 more seconds tick away. Francis passes to Cuttino Mobley who either shoots immediatley or thinks about passing inside to Yao who in the meantime is trying to get good position with his back to the basket. 5 more seconds have passed on. Someone has to force the shot. Nothing but rim. They miss again.Posted by Yaron Talpaz - Dec 24 2003 6:26PM
Coach Jeff Van Gundy said after his Rockets scored 71 points in a loss to the Pacers that they are having problems against good defenses. He's right. Francis is a great player but not always a great point guard. Good teams have figured out the Rockets. Front Yao Ming, be aggressive with him, double team him, and that's it. Yao is a great passer for a big guy, but the players around him are not consistent shooters. For A scorer like Mobley it hardly makes a difference if there's a hand in his face. When he's hot, he can score on everyone. When not, like against Indiana, he'll miss everything and he's not the only Rocket who's like that. They don't move the ball well, but even when they do, they don't have players who will always capitalize.
Watching Yao, it's hard not to think that he's frustrated. taking only 4 shots against the Pacers is bad for him and the team. it's not only Francis's fault. Yao sometimes struggles to get position. But even when he does, players are not moving around him. Why don't they watch the Kings a little bit?
Van Gundy & Rockets management should really think about this. They don't want an unhappy Yao and that will happen if things don't improve on the offense. This team is supposed to reach the playoffs this season. If not, and the offense still struggles, they should consider major changes.