FIVE QUICK HOOPS THOUGHTS
1. TIM HARDAWAY, JR (Knicks): Picked 24th by New York's former GM, Glen Grunwald (honestly, what is owner James Dolan thinking firing him?) is a gem. Saw him on Friday night vs. the Raptors. I was very impressed with him. He's got nice shooting mechanics and plays with great energy and awareness. Played for a terrific college coach at Michigan (John Beilein) who is one of the best in the business at teaching offensive fundamentals and obviously his dad, Tim, Sr. was a wonderful player. He really jumped out at me. He'll be playing for a winning team and will have to earn every minute he gets which is a good thing - it will make him a better pro in the long run. If first impressions matter he made a positive one, that's for sure.
2. GREG ODEN (Heat): Practiced for the first time 5-on-5 on Sunday and got through it okay. Fingers crossed he's able to practice/play consistently. Frustrating start to his NBA career with a rash of injuries. The positive is that the Heat need him in a secondary capacity and he'll be brought along slowly and eased in. In addition, he'll be held accountable by coach Erik Spoelstra, president Pat Riley and a team with good internal leadership - you had better be in shape, do your work and be professional or else. It's an environment that is conducive to a gradual step in the right direction for him if he can stay healthy.
3. NIKOLA PEKOVIC (Timberwolves): Man this guy is a beast. What a load to move in the lane. Felt bad for the Raptors big men watching them try to battle with him last week. When he gets to his spot on the floor - good luck moving him. He's developed into a nice player and when you look around the league there will be nights that he'll have his way in the lane with smaller/weaker big's in the paint. He has no back down and is a relentless rebounder and improving offensive feature for coach Rick Adelman.
4. DEMAR DEROZAN (Raptors): I have been impressed with him and his approach from the start of Training Camp. Definitely stronger and seems to know what works for him and playing the game at an efficient pace. I've always respected his mature approach. He loves the game and works at his craft diligently. He's playing with a greater degree of toughness in the lane and attacking his opponent and working harder to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. Obviously, the Raptors have played only four preseason games so the sample size is very small but he is on the right track. Stay on it and keep improving. People talk a lot about his three-point shooting needing to improve. I totally agree. Let's be real though. He'll never be confused even at his best with Ray Allen. He's a slasher with great explosiveness and increased strength whose biggest positive is getting to the rim. Play to your strengths - be who you are.
5. ANDREW WIGGINS (University of Kansas): Got my Sports Illustrated in the mailbox and see him on the cover. The hype is ratcheting up even further. What expectations and pressure on this young man. Happy that he's getting the PR and it's an exciting time for the growth of Canadian basketball yet I always worry when too much is thrown at a young player. Thrilled for him yet the attention unnerves me. Most times it creates distractions that they can't live up to. I'm hopeful that he has the emotional maturity/makeup to handle all of this. I wish he could ease into this a bit more. With the accelerated pace of development of players these days it's hard for a player to experience the much needed 'growing pains' that shape your character and improve you as a player. Easy does it is not the mode anymore and it can crush a guy. Based upon what I've seen he looks like a guy that will get through it all just fine.