FIVE QUICK NBA THOUGHTS
The countdown is on. The NBA regular season is starting next week and there's no lockout to deal with. I feel bad for our friends on the hockey side - we went through two of them (last year and 1998-99) and it's no fun whatsoever. Happy to have hoops so let's take a quick look at a few NBA topics.
1. NBA ALL-STAR VOTING: Love the new arrangement for this year's voting. Rather than having the Center and Forwards category, it makes complete sense to me to just refer to it as 'Front Court Players' and vote for the three that are the best in that area. With so few true centres anymore with the lack of emphasis on Back to the Basket/Power Play the 5, the Centre spot has become a dying breed. This allows the best players that are in this frontcourt group to get in the game rather than less deserving guys getting in because they happen to play the Centre spot.
2. RAPTORS (5-1) WINNING PRESEASON GAMES: I'm sure you all know that the last two times the Raptors made the Playoffs they had winning records in the preseason. Since then, nothing above .500 and no playoffs. In 2006 they went 7-1 and won the Atlantic Division and in 2007 they went 6-2 and got back to the Playoffs. Does the fact that they've had success this October guarantee that they'll be playing late into April/May? No, absolutely not. Don't set your chairs up on the parade route just yet but dare to dream a bit. At the same time, don't discount for a minute the positive vibe and bounce it gives a young team with confidence and belief in what they're doing and it definitely encourages "Buy-In" from any potential fence-sitters you might have. Winning and doing things the right way is habitual. You want that early residue of winning to begin to help lay a foundation of expectation, belief and success. Sure beats losing!
3. TRISTAN THOMPSON (Cavs): I'm expecting a nice improvement in his game this year. Needs to become a more consistent free-throw shooter and get a solid low-post/back to basket game going for himself in Year 2. I believe that the overwhelming learning curve for a young man coming in and jumping on a moving train in a lockout season is tough and he did a nice job with it. Now with time to learn the in's and out's of the NBA and to be truly coached in the off-season as well as a full training camp he'll be a much more steady player. Love his energy, rebounding and ability to block shots. The input of this off-season will become output this season.
4. RAY ALLEN & RASHARD LEWIS (Heat): Caught some of their game against Charlotte that was played at North Carolina State (By the way, keep an eye on Mark Godfried's Wolfpack squad this year, they will be tough) and loved what Lewis and Allen brought to the table. 21 combined points and four made 3's combined - Heat fans will appreciate the fact that these two veteran players know how to play within a structured/disciplined offence and can get their games off and space the floor for the better Heat players with their shooting range and experience. Nothing like having smart players who can stick shots to make teams think twice about double teaming LeBron or D-Wade. Choose your poison. Know your team and address your needs. Pat Riley has once again made some smart basketball moves to help his team compete at a big-time level. Nothing flashy about these two guys, they are good pros who will produce in an environment like this.
5. DAVID PENDERGRAFT (VP-Pro Scouting-Raptors): Word on the street has the Raps hiring him to replace Jay Triano (now an assistant coach with the Blazers) in this spot. He's got extensive NBA front office/scouting experience in Atlanta, Seattle, New Jersey and Vancouver. He has also been a coach at the NCAA level. He's qualified to do a very difficult and vital job in my opinion. You absolutely need to know the league cold and know the details of each player/team when you're going to swing trades and sign free agents. The ability to have lots of background on guys both on and off the court allows you to be proactive in your pursuit and make the right calls. The wrong calls turn into more transactions to get yourself out of the previous misstep. A really good scout helps you make the right calls the first time. Good job title for an organization to have (the pros you scout who have a body of work in the NBA game are the guys who help turn your team around the quickest) and he's a good get for them.