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February 26, 2012

ASG Edition: All-Star Opinons

With the 2012 All-Star Game taking place tonight, Nets point guard Deron Williams is looking forward to representing the Nets while competing against the league's best. Yet one of the most impressive things I've come away with this weekend has been the level of respect other NBA All-Stars have for Deron Williams' game. Here's a sampling of popular opinion from D-Will's on-court peers:

"Oh, hes one of the best point guards in the game. Obviously, hes on a team thats rebuilding, but undeniably in the discussion of top three point guards in the game. He can shoot the ball he showed that the other night when he made them eight 3s. its how quick and how athletic he is, his ability to make his teammates better.

Theyre a few players away from him being the talk, like a few years ago, how there was the talk of him and Chris Paul: Whos the best? We know that team is going to eventually get to where it needs to because theyve got a great start with him and also Brook coming back. Deron Williams, hands down, is one of the top 3 point guards in the league."
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

"Oh, man. D-Will, he knows the game: he can shoot it, he can pass it, he just knows how to play. Its that simple. Were really great friends; we actually went out together last night. Hes in a similar situation to me and guys like John Wall; hes started since he came into the league, so you learn a lot more that way."
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers

"Well, hes if not the best then one of the top two or three point guards in the league, for sure. he can do pretty much everything: get to the basket, get to the foul line, hes got good range and can shoot from 3 or in-between. hes also a good passer, so hes got it all.
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns

"Hes a good point guard." (DEAD STOP END OF ANSWER, cue crickets)
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

"Well, youve got to look at his size, his ability to make plays, his ability to shoot the ball; he has as rare a combination as weve seen around the league. What makes him an All-Star? I think hes one of the top five point guards in this game."
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

"Hes a physical guard, where he plays a physical game, especially where if youre smaller than he is hes definitely going to post you up. we already know that he has a shifty game, where his pace of the game is different, where he slows the ball down a lot, but he has a burst of energy: when its time to take over, he can do it quick.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

"(Laughs) You know, hes so skilled: He can shoot, he can play-make, he can pick and roll, he can post, hes a great scorer, hes a great screener theres not one aspect of the game that he doesnt do well. I think hes shown it, and I think he, too, has the ability to make everyone around him better. He creates easy offense for his team.

Right now, with New Jersey, they were decimated with injury early, but theyre a hard playing team, but theyve had some great wins and now theyll get some guys back. I think its just his overall skill set. Because of the way he shoots the ball, youve got to get up on him; you get on him too far, he blows by you; hes strong and hes very clever."
Tom Thibodeau, head coach, Chicago Bulls

"He can do everything. Hes one of the best point guards in the league and he can do everything on the court."
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

--Posted by Ben Couch at 1:15 p.m.

February 25, 2012

ASG Edition: D-League Dream Factory

Saturday afternoon at the NBA Jam Session Center Court, the NBA Development League showcased its talent and that of the Nets affiliate Springfield Armor during the D-League All-Star Game and Dream Factory. Three players from Armor guards Jerry Smith and JamesOn Curry, along with center Jeff Foote earned spots on the Eastern Conference squad, matching the Los Angeles D-Fenders for a D-League-best total. Guard L.D. Williams participated in the halftime Dunk Contest, and Smith in the postgame Shooting Stars competition. With a center-court seat at the scorers table, I took down the following notes:

2:07 p.m. With the game getting underway, its good to see Smith and Foote out there as starters for the East. Andre Emmett, a recent 10-day call-up to the Nets, is playing on the West roster for the Reno Bighorns just days after playing for the Nets against the Magic. Hes joined by former first-round pick Gerald Green of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, who opened the scoring with the kind of dunk Im hoping to see tonight at the Slam Dunk Contest.

2:12 p.m. In transition, Green skies to one-hand an oop that was headed out of bounds. Getting a sense this could be a good game for him.

2:13 p.m. Foote posts up and Smith hits him with an entry pass on the low block, but the turnaround is short. Good look on everything but the finish.

2:14 p.m. Jerry Smith is quick in transition. Phew. Straight to the hoop at warp speed for a layup. Flies upcourt off a rebound next possession, but stops too short and fumbles the entry pass to Foote. Turnover. Oops.

2:19 p.m. Weird to see Emmett suiting up in this game when he just spent all last week with the Nets, and playing effectively at that. Hes looking sharp this afternoon, too, using a change-of-pace dribble to get all the way to the rim for a layup. As the D-League crew seated next to me points out, thats like swinging with a weighted bat.

2:26 p.m. JamesOn Curry puts up a contested 3. Wasnt a bad idea, save for the defender staying with him. Follows two plays later with a nifty drive and backdoor dropoff to Marqus Blakely for a layup. Play after that, jumps without a plan in transition. Turnover. Hm.

2:27 p.m. Emmett just tried to T-Mac it in traffic (go off the backboard to himself). Then missed an open 360 off the bounce. The crowd is sad. So are NBA scouts. #exhibition #fail

2:33 p.m. Jerry Smith jumps straight up to one-hand tip a miss, with enough hangtime and height to palm the ball and aim it over the crowd. I should mention Jerry is 6-foot-2.

2:36 p.m. 2nd time Footes gone to that left block post, right shoulder turnaround; 2nd time its missed. Two plays later, takes a feed for a quick dunk. So hes got that down.

2:38 p.m. Smith throws down hard to tie the game at 42, forcing West coach Brad Jones calls timeout. Smith can jump, that much is clear.

2:43 p.m. JamesOn with a nice drive, wrapping the pass to Charles Garcia around a defender. Dunk. Thats a good combo guard play. Next possession, he catches the defender napping: stepback, J. Theres the other part of the combo. Follows with a scoop pass to Keith McLeod for a triple.

2:46 p.m. D-Fenders forward Zachary Andrews (69, 230) turns sideways in front of me, and I realize his arms are quite possibly bigger than my head. No wonder everyone cleared out of the lane to let him dunk on that last possession. The finish featured more fierce than RuPauls Drag Race.

At halftime, with the West leading the 56-54, were on to the Slam Dunk contest, with former Net Otis Birdsong, Brian Grant, Eddie Johnson, A.C. Green and NBATV serving as judges. Defending Champ L.D. Williams of the Armor will go last in the first round.

In the first round, Zach Andrews leads off, trying to jump over competitor Osiris Eldridge of the Bakersfield Jam. Gets it on the second try, but took the fun out of it. Eldridge follows by going with an off-the-bounce 360 at full extension, but settles for an off-the-bounce tomahawk. Texas Legends guard Chris Roberts steps up with the first one-attempt make, throwing down an off-the-backboard slam from what seems to be impossibly far away. Williams, after measuring his first toss, goes off the bounce for a full windmill, even with the rim. That was powerful.

For his second dunk, Andrews comes out in a red sundress, wig and horn-rimmed glasses as Grandmama, tries a couple of crazy things (cartwheels, front flips) bails out on the dunk, and ends up throwing it off the shot clock and dunking with two hands. Fun. Osiris goes with a plain, off-the-bounce, one-handed windmill. Chris Roberts, up next, goes glass and 180s while slamming in a reverse two-handed windmill. Quick 50, and no objections from anyone. But Williams matches the score with a Vince Carter special, going left to right, with the up and under the backboard 180 windmill. Thats your finals. Clearly.

Chris Roberts tries to go off glass between his legs, but two misses hurts the surprise factor. So does the third. And the fourth. 10 seconds to go, he plays it straight and misses. Ouch. They give him one last attempt, just to get a score in, and he doubles down on the attempt, going back to the original plan, but loses the ball straight up in the air. Ah well.

Williams follows with JamesOn Curry tossing an alley off the side of the backboard, grabbing it and windmilling hard for the win. Thats fun. On the plus side, theres still a second dunk for each. On the downside, Roberts is STILL TRYING THE SAME DUNK. Give it a rest, homey! He does, and just dunks it to get one down. LD gets one more chance for kicks, and decides to windmill an alley-oop up to his elbow. Thatll do it. 2-time champ it is.

I cant even explain the feeling, Williams said, afterward. It was great to be out here representing the Armor, the Nets and my family. Im truly blessed and its an honor to be out here.

The 6-foot-4 guard said he got ideas from teammate and former Net Dennis Horner, as well as Smith, who pointed him in the direction of Vince Carters dominant, windmill-heavy 2000 NBA Slam Dunk performance. The influence showed. Back to the game:

3:31 p.m. Gerald Green brings the ball up with Smith defending, explosively takes him off the dribble and drops in the reverse. But Green blows a dunk on the next trip, and Smith finds Iowa Energy swingman Moses Ehambe for a transition 3. Ehambe wets another one the play after that. He finishes with six threes (11 attempts) and 24 points.

3:34 p.m. Austin Toros guard Justin Dentmon makes good use of a screen to shed Smith, finding Marcus Lewis for a layup, but Smith responds with a pullup trey on the other end. Cash money.

3:35 p.m. Foote posts left block, spins left shoulder and the drop step carries him all the way to the rim for a layup. Nice lil move, big man.

3:37 p.m. Just realized the halftime score was mid-50s, which means that each team has scored 20 points in 5 minutes. A defensive masterpiece, this game is not.

3:43 p.m. Emmett gunning, unsuccessfully, for several trips. Thats probably not the ticket back to the L.

3:44 p.m. JamesOn just pulled the trigger on another contested long 2. Even in an All-Star Game, one might want to avoid that. Next trip down, steps into a pass and swishes a 3. There you go.

3:47 p.m. Curry just no looked teammate Marqus Blakely so hard the pass bounced squarely on Blakely's face. To his credit, Blakely recovers the loose ball to make a layup.

3:48 p.m. Inside the Arena Sidebar: Id like to vanquish whatever demon spawn is responsible for the piercing caterwauls of tween girls.

3:49 p.m. Jerome Dyson decides to press Jerry Smith on the baseline inbounds, manages to get him in a full armbar with no call from the nearby ref. Jerry gets free and turns upcourt while looking at the ref, saying, Hey! HEY! as if trying to remind everyone this is an All-Star Game.

3:52 p.m. Armor backcourt of Smith and Curry getting extended run in this very, very up-and-down game. They hit back-to-back 3s to pull the East within 3 points at 101-98, but Gerald Green throws down in transition to suck the life out of that run. Lame.

4 p.m. Sweet inside-out dribble in transition by JamesOn for a layup. Jerry follows w/ a 3. Armor taking over?

3:48 p.m. Sure seems like the East has been playing well, but all of a sudden theyre down 10 inside two minutes, after being within 3-5 for most of the fourth. Of course, the West is scoring every time down, so any missed shot results in a run. JamesOn trying hard to keep the East in this. Scoring on quick layups and 3s, he has 10 points in the last 2 minutes of game action. Could be 90 seconds, but that seems absurd.

4:12 p.m. Okay, so with the East down 8 and fewer than 10 seconds to play, Jeff Foote dishes to a teammate for two, deflects the inbounds toward JamesOn for a layup, steals the inbounds AGAIN and calls timeout. But the East doesnt have any. Tech free throw is good. West inbounds, but throws away the pass. East gets a final play, the inbounds is deflected out, they reset and Ehambes deep, contested 3 for the tie hits the back rim. East loses by 3 after prematurely aging West Coach Brad Jones of the Toros. My mind continues trying to process that series of events. Whoa.

After the final buzzer, I caught up with Foote and Curry, along with Nets General Manager of Minor League Operations Milton Lee, after the final buzzer. Foote was as surprised as anyone he created that astoundingly quick comeback with two steals:

Thats not something Im really known for, but every now and then, Im like a safety back there. I can stretch the field a little bit (like NFL player) Brian Dawkins.

Foote finished with four points and seven rebounds; Smith put up 14 points (6-11 FGs), five rebounds and six assists; Curry put up 25 points, including 4-of-7 threes, along with eight assists. Lee was pleased with the performance of his players, who he felt represented themselves well throughout the weekend.

I thought they were great, Lee said. JamesOn was very instrumental in the comeback; Jerry kind of ignited it at the beginning of the fourth quarter. JamesOn was trying to close it; Jeff Foote came up with two big steals at the end. Two-point game, three-point game in the D-League All-Star Game? It doesnt get better than that. Our guys played very well. Im very happy. JamesOn was 10-for-16; 25 points; 8 assists if we had won the game, he would have been the MVP.

That final line for Curry was indicative of his strong play for the Armor all season hes averaging 16.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists. He views himself as a much more in-tune guard these days, considering himself a distributor in the early quarters.

Thats just been me all season, Curry said. All season long the fourth quarters are when I play super aggressive; I try to get people shots the rest of the game, but the fourth quarter, thats when I put it up. Coach told me to do what Im doing, and thats what Ive been doing all year long. Thats what got me here.

--Posted by Ben Couch at 4:34 p.m.

February 25, 2012

ASG Edition: Morrow Honoring 3-Point Tradition

Nets shooting guard Anthony Morrow, after three years of watching and waiting for a call, will finally compete in the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout as part of State Farm All-Star Saturday Night. Hell do so wearing the retired No. 3 jersey of former Nets guard Drazen Petrovic, whom Morrow believes to be one of the all-time great shooters.

Morrow said that Petrovics jersey was one of the first things he saw at the PNY Center after signing with the Nets, and the idea came to him instantly. Hes hoping to honor Petrovics memory with a strong performance:

Im just going to go out there and be loose and have fun. I actually was You-Tubing 3-point contests last night, so I watched the last couple years looking at what guys were going. I think Ill have more time to get my shots off than I thought I would. Ive got a pretty quick release and I dont jump. Its going to be fun. Im definitely playing to win. Its an honor to represent New Jersey and wear Drazens jersey.

Morrow inspires confidence in teammates Deron Williams I look forward to A-Mo winning the three-point contest and MarShon Brooks I aint got no doubt in my mind about that. Even former NETS forward Ryan Anderson, who will compete for the hometown Magic, feels Morrow will provide stiff competition:

Anthony has a quick release. Hes like a gunner, the type of guy that can give you 40 on any night because hes just such a great shooter. Hes got a quick release and hes a quick player in general; he gets down the floor and shoots a lot of fast-break 3s and thats how he gets his points. Hes a special shooter, so hell be real fun to see in the competition.

--Posted by Ben Couch at 8:04 a.m.

February 24, 2012

ASG Edition: 'Rookie' Scores for NETS

In Fridays BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Nets rookie MarShon Brooks played only 15 minutes off the bench for Team Chuck in his teams 146-133 victory, nailing his first shot attempt a pullup 3 from the wing and finishing with 8 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists. Though he ultimately shot 3-of-10 from the field and bailed out on an off-the-bounce dunk attempt only after he was airborne, Brooks left the Amway Center feeling the effects of an All-Star Weekend that has only just begun.

It was a great experience, Brooks said, afterward. And its not over yet. Its not over. It was great to play in front of the fans; there was a lot of fans that showed up, and we won like I told you. I cant complain. With so many of his peers in town, we were able to catch up with a few to get their takes on Brooks success this rookie season. Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker, who led UConn to last years Big East and NCAA Championships with a series of spectacular scoring outbursts, faced Brooks several times during their concurrent stays at schools in the conference:

(MarShon) is just a flat-out scorer, said Walker, during Fridays Rising Stars Practice. He can score with the best of them. Hes athletic, hes lanky, and he can score. Hes a great scorer.

Fellow rookie Norris Cole, a four-year player at Cleveland State and now a member of the Miami Heat, roomed with Brooks at the NBA pre-draft camp. The two formed a close bond, discussing their roles as lead scorers at smaller schools, and Cole takes pride in their individual success this season:

Its been great. I know MarShon; hes my guy. We got together at the pre-draft camp; we were roommates. Hes a talented scorer in the NBA, he did a great job at Providence, and he loves to have fun, so its great to hang around with him.

And even 2012 No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving, who played an injury-shortened freshman year at Duke, knows enough about Brooks game to give him a hard time, mimicking his hesitation dribble during a free moment at Team Chuck practice.

MarShons a great scorer, Irving said. He plays the wing and he gets a lot of shots up in New Jersey. I wish we could trade places sometimes, so I can get some shots up and run up and down the wing. his hesitation and the way he gets to the basket and scores in a variety of ways, most rookies arent doing it. He has ISOs in New Jersey for himself, so its been great to watch him this year."

--Posted by Ben Couch at 11:54 p.m.

February 23, 2012

ASG Edition: All-Star Arrival

What is good, NETS Nation? Your boy BC is posted up here at media hotel in Orlando for NBA All-Star 2012, ready to provide all the coverage he can muster and you can handle while trying to track Deron Williams, Anthony Morrow and MarShon Brooks through three days of festivities.

The three players arrived late last night, having left immediately after the Magic game at Prudential Center. I followed this morning, joined by the good homies Patrick Rees (PR Manager) and Lou Pampalone (Mascot Coordinator) and spent the afternoon getting situated and people watching with Patrick at the player hotel as we waited to ferry Rookie to his NBA Cares appearance, even getting to meet MarShon's mother, Darlyn. (She's lovely.) All kinds of NBA personalities were passing through, from Brooks fellow rookies Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio to first-time All-Stars (Andre Iguodala) and returning vets (Paul Pierce, 10th ASG), along with former stars like Chocolate Thunder himself, Darryl Dawkins, and A.C. Green. I even spotted former Bulls center Luc Longley, ha!

Any case, the real action doesnt get underway until morning, when MarShon joins the rest of Team Chuck for their Rising Stars morning practice and media availability. But I wanted to leave you with these thoughts from my fiance, who had some unique takes on activities that would up her enjoyment ante during All-Star Weekend:

  • A real Taco Bell Skills Challenge:

    Who can carry the most boxes of nachos; Sour cream speed caulking; Product identification (Is there a difference between a Gordita and a Chalupa?); Convincing the girl behind the counter that you want cheese but no lettuce; and more!
  • NBA Jam Session? How cute would it be if all the teams made a big batch of jam with fruits indigenous to their cities then traded with each other? So sweet.
  • All-Day Dunk-a-thon. That sounds like there should be snacks involved.
  • More snacks.
  • Paul George sings a cover of Cant Buy Me Love with holograms of John Lennon and Ringo Star.
  • Blake Griffin plays with no shirt
  • Dwyane Wade dresses up like this.
  • I get to come, and we just go to Harry Potter World instead.

--Posted by Ben Couch at 8:54 p.m.

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