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Why Mark Jackson’s Firing Is Completely Understandable – @Ryan Oak

The Golden State Warriors fired coach Mark Jackson on Monday; one day after the team was eliminated from the playoffs, losing in the first round in a seven-game classic to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Almost immediately there was an outcry, with many pundits believing it was an extremely harsh decision, considering the success Jackson had achieved at his time at the helm.

During his three years as head coach, the team improved dramatically.

In his first season with the club, the team struggled to 23–43 record in the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, as the team adapted to Jackson’s new style and systems.

However, in 2012-13, Jackson led the Warriors to a 47–35 record and a sixth place finish in the tough Western Conference. This marked the first time the Warriors had reached the playoffs since the 2006–07 season.

And this year, the Warriors improved to 51–31, the team’s first season with 50 or more wins since 1993-94, clinching another playoff berth.

The team, however, had championship aspirations, so the first round loss was considered somewhat a disappointment, and Jackson was given the bullet.

Though coaches should be judged on performance – and the Warriors performed relatively well this season, especially considering Andrew Bogut’s injury for the playoffs – something has been off at Golden State for awhile, and this decision was actually rumored weeks ago.

Two assistant coaches were let go under strange circumstances, there was talk of Jackson disrespecting Hall of Famer Jerry West – who is an executive board member at the club – and there appeared to be a personality clash between Jackson and owner Joe Lacob as well.

Whatever was going behind the scenes, all was not well with the Warriors. The decision is therefore a shock, but no real surprise. And I appreciate how stupid and confusing that sounds.

Yet from a pure coaching perspective, I think Jackson was overrated anyway.

He made great time-out speeches, his players loved playing for him, and he brought a long overdue defensive mind-set to the franchise.

However, his in-game coaching was terrible at times.

In the fourth quarter of game 6 against the Clippers, Draymond Green received his fifth foul. Jackson immediately replaced him with David Lee – who also happened to be on his fifth foul. On the very next possession, Lee fouled Blake Griffin – on a converted 3-point play no less – and subsequently fouled out with a lot of time left in the game. That’s just a horrible, irresponsible gamble.

With 12 seconds left in game 7, and the Warriors down four, the play coming out of a time-out ended up being a Steph Curry runner from three-point land. You would hope a team can get a better shot than that out of a time-out.

There were a number of similar coaching mistakes in the playoffs, and though one could use the excuse that Jackson was still learning his craft, such growing pains would be acceptable if the expectations for the team were lower.

Unfortunately for Jackson, the team had grown so much from a talent perspective, that it didn’t really have time to wait for him to catch-up. Rookie errors from the coach were hard to tolerate with this roster.

In any event, it wasn’t just the playoffs that highlighted potential reasons why Jackson may not have been a fantastic coach.

Part of the attractiveness of signing Andre Iguodala as a free agent was the potential to play Curry – the best shooter in the NBA – off the ball more often. Yet during the season, how many times did we see plays run with Iggy as the primary ball-handler?

There was also a strange reliance on the unreliable Jordan Crawford, the inability to get the best out of Harrison Barnes, and a penchant for over-relying on Curry – and to a lesser extent, Klay Thompson – to bail the team out when they were in trouble.

Meanwhile Jackson’s reluctance to play small ball at times seemed counter-productive, considering the Warriors roster is destined to play that style of basketball.

The simple truth is that the Warriors, at this stage of their development as a team, may simply need a better coach.

Yet ironically, I don’t think that had anything to do with Jackson getting fired.



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Early Under/Over-Rated Season Predictions Answered – @RyanOak

Which teams ended up being over, under or properly rated in 2013/14?

In the pre-season I wrote two articles in which I outlined which five teams I thought were over and underrated, respectively, heading into the 2013/14 NBA season. Though you always expect to end up with egg on your face making such public predictions, now that the regular season has been completed, it’s time to see exactly how much yoke is on Oak.

In case you are in need of reminding about my earlier predictions, you can check them out HERE, and HERE.

 

Five teams I said were underrated for the 2013/14 NBA season:

Miami Heat

Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat - Game One

To be fair, this prediction was based upon people saying the Heat wouldn’t win the title again this season, which I thought was crazy, considering the talent they have on their roster. Especially an individual by the name of LeBron James.
We can’t really judge this prediction until the Finals are over – though my money remains on Miami to three-peat – so this prediction gets a ‘incomplete’ mark for now.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Oh dear.

Though I appreciate the West is loaded and it’s tough to even qualify for the playoffs in such a deep conference, Minny’s talent means they should be a better team than Dallas or Phoenix. Sadly, the Twolves have once again underperformed, frustrating their fans, and making me look like a goose. That’s a cross next to my name.

Washington Wizards

I’ll move swiftly along from the Minnesota fiasco, and restore some pride by gloating about my Wizards prognostication. Plenty to boast about from this prediction. From John Wall fulfilling his potential, to Bradley Beal making a leap, to the Wizards making the playoffs in the East in the 6th seed, it all adds up to a solid ‘tick’ from the suddenly un-humble me.

Portland Trailblazers

But wait, there’s more! Let’s really kick the arrogance into overdrive by reveling in the sensational selection that was the Blazers. Portland got off to a blistering start, and though they cooled off in the second half of the season, they still finished an impressive 5th Another tick, thank you very much.

Los Angeles Lakers

*Thud*

That noise you heard was me falling back to earth. With some serious force, I might add. Let’s just put this one down to irrational bias, while assigning myself a big cross. Though to be fair, I did admit at the time that this pick was wishful thinking and I was deluding myself.

 

Five teams I said were overrated for the 2013/14 NBA season:

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Golden State Warriors

Again, you can’t really judge this prediction until we see how the playoffs unfold, but for a team with championship ambitions this year, the Warriors were kind of disappointing. And that was point I was making: the Warriors playoff run last season heightened expectations for this season, but they were never truly the title team that many people thought.

It’s N/A for now, but I suspect it will be a tick come season end.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Time to gloat again, for I stated that “This team doesn’t deserve some of the lofty predictions I’ve heard touted, and it would shock me little if they only won 30 odd games.” The Cavs won 32 games, and were generally very disappointing all season long.

Tick.

Los Angeles Clippers

Another prediction that probably needs to be analyzed after the playoffs, due to the fact I wrote “ . . . I see this roster crushing teams all regular season, before getting crushed themselves once the real basketball starts in the playoffs.”
The Clips have actually been impressive this season, especially Blake Griffin, but this team had championship aspirations, so it’s incomplete grade for now on this selection.

Houston Rockets

I wrote at the time that this prediction was the one I feared would come back to haunt me the most, and that’s not far from the truth. I figured Dwight Howard would be more trouble than he’s worth, but he fitted in quite well with Houston, and the team did a fantastic job of finishing in the top four in the tough, tough conference that is the West.

Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, I definitely got his one wrong. Cross.

Philadelphia 76ers

This is actually a tough one to adjudicate on. The Sixers struggled to an epically bad 18-64 season. However, my prediction was predicated upon the statement that I didn’t think they’d win double-figure games. Based on that, you’d have to say I got this one wrong.

 

So all up, I’m going to need the Heat to win the title, with the Warriors and Clippers struggling in the playoffs, in order to finish with a solid 6-4 record.

And I actually like my chances . . .



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Coach-of-the-year award wide, wide open

When it comes to voting for the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year, I wish those ‘fortunate’ enough to be asked to fill out a ballot all the very best of luck.

Always a hotly contested award, this season has an even deeper field of worthy recipients, for which I personally struggle to nominate the one eventual winner.

Though there remain roughly 20 games left to play for each team in the regular season, it’s already evident that a number of coaches will be deserving of the accolade.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich has done a remarkable job of managing his roster through injures and advanced age, and once again has the Spurs positioned as one of the best teams in the West.

Image Courtesy of BallerBall.com

Image Courtesy of BallerBall.com

Pop’s use of his bench has once again been brilliant, and the Spurs propensity to move and share the ball is a credit to their coach. They’ll once again make the playoffs, and it would be a brave man that writes off their chances of making the Finals for the second year in a row.

At the beginning of the season, I struggled to see how the Phoenix Suns would win double figure games. They promptly achieved that feat in the opening month of the season. Egg meet face.

Ex-Suns guard Jeff Hornacek has done a wonderful job with the team, who compete every night, and despite lacking the elite-level talent of other teams, play with energy and hustle.

Though any young team should play with enthusiasm, the most surprising aspect of the Suns’ season is their intelligence. The team plays smart basketball, and full praise for that must go to their coach.

Chicago Bulls Tom Thibodeau has become a victim of his own success. It’s now simply a given that his teams will be outstanding defensively, hustle their butts off, and do their best of overcome their offensive limitations via solid teamwork. And do so in every single game.

Never mind the fact the Bulls are once again without their most talented player and only true creator, Derrick Rose. Never mind the fact that Chicago are currently third in the Eastern Conference. Never mind the fact that they are still beating the league’s best teams despite all evidence suggesting they shouldn’t be.

Image Courtesy of NBA.com

Image Courtesy of NBA.com

‘Thibs’ deserves way more recognition than he gets. The Bulls aren’t just staying afloat and competitive; they actually remain an upper echelon team. It’s an amazing achievement, which could see Thibs take home his second Coach of the Year award.

Not much was expected of the Dallas Mavericks at the start of the year, but via a resurgent Dirk Nowitzki, the surprisingly steady play of Monta Ellis, and the tactical brilliance of Rick Carlisle, the Mavs are right in the thick of the playoff hunt in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

The Mavs execute extremely well, and though the players receive the ultimate kudos, Carlisle is the mastermind behind it all.

Erik Spoelstra is criminally underrated as a coach. I can only assume he doesn’t receive the respect he deserves because people believe that any coach should have success with the stars on Miami’s roster. While there is unquestionably some truth to that sentiment, ‘success’ is subjective until you actually win the title, something Spoelstra has now done twice.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that handling egos is a difficult but vital aspect of NBA coaching, for talent alone doesn’t guarantee championships.

Image Courtesy of ESPN.com

Image Courtesy of ESPN.com

Yet even beyond the excellent man-management skills, Spoelstra has shown himself to be a great tactician. It was Spoelstra who implemented the offence which capitilises on LeBron James’ unique skill set. It was ‘Spo’ who refuses to give players traditional positions, but rather relies on a system that has constant movement and flexibility.

Miami’s smothering defense – particularly their half court press – is further proof that the Heat are a well coached side, of which Spolestra is the chief architect.

Scotty Brooks deserves credit for keeping the Oklahoma City Thunder at the top of the Western Conference standings, despite the fact he has been without the services of his second best player, Russell Westbrook, for large chunks of the season.

Brooks has made some subtle changes to OKC’s offense, however one feels that Kevin Durant will receive much of the kudos for keeping the Thunder rolling – rather than their coach – with KD’s sublime season probably having the averse effect of robbing Brooks of some votes.

Image Courtesy of BallerBall.com

Image Courtesy of BallerBall.com

That’s six coaches I’ve already named as potential recipients of the Coach of the Year award, yet it is far from an exhaustive list.

I could very easily be talked into Portland’s Terry Stotts, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, Los Angles’ Doc Rivers and Houston’s Kevin McHale being legitimate candidates as well.

Even the Charlotte Bobcats’ Steve Clifford has done a fantastic job reconfiguring the team around the offensive skills of Al Jefferson, and may be lucky enough to have the odd ballot with his name on it, yet I doubt he’ll actually take home the hardware.

Likewise, would anyone be really upset if Dwayne Casey’s effort in Toronto was recognised? The Warriors’ Mark Jackson? The Grizzlies’ David Joerger?

It’s a large field, and to those tasked with naming the NBA Coach of the Year, I don’t envy your job one little bit.



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Clippers Sign Veteran Stephen Jackson

Following an altercation with coach Gregg Popovich during last season’s playoffs, 35-year old forward Stephen Jackson was waived by the San Antonio Spurs and hasn’t played a minute in the NBA since. A much publicized and controversial player throughout his career (Malice in the Palace anyone?), Jackson has played with numerous NBA clubs including New Jersey, Indiana, Atlanta, Golden State, Charlotte, Milwaukee and San Antonio. This morning it was reported by Marc Stein of ESPN that the LA Clippers, who have been somewhat hampered by injury this season, had signed the veteran, filling their last remaining roster spot. 

Jackson confirmed the deal, wearing a Clippers jersey, via his Instagram account saying:

One thing about me I never panic. God taught me how to enjoy the bad and good times. It’s easy to be positive when you are thankful and humble. God is Great. Let’s turn up LA. Promise to give my all. #Clips.

An interesting year for Jackson resulted in fines for various altercations including a threatening tweet to Thunder enforcer Serge Ibaka (He ain’t ’bout dis life), and a chocking incident with fellow NBA player Steve Francis at a club. The Clippers should benefit from his services however, following injuries to forward Matt Barnes and somewhat more costly, guard JJ Reddick. Jackson averaged 6.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 19.5 minutes in 55 games for the Spurs last season.

It is expected that Jackson will join his new team when they take on Boston on the road this Thursday (11:00AM AEST on NBA TV)



Steph Curry

Five overrated teams for NBA season 2013/14

Golden State Warriors
There’s nothing quite like a fairytale playoff run to unrealistically heighten expectations for the following season.

I love watching the Warriors play, especially Steph Curry when he’s on fire and hitting shots from 35 feet off the dribble. I also have no doubt the Warriors will makes the playoffs again this season. But a legitimate championship contender? Hhhmm.

I think the Dubs might miss Jarrett Jack a lot more than people think. Curry is a great shooter, and can get to the paint at times, but his slender frame means he’s not built for consistent penetration. Jack provided that, especially in the fourth quarter of games.

Andre Iguodala isn’t bad with the ball in his hands, but I look at this team, and they’re certainly going to have to move the ball around – and have bodies in motion – in order to get cheap baskets, because there are not a lot of elite level creators on the roster. Iggy might have to be relied upon to create a lot of offense for this team. Which is fine, he’s more than capable of doing it. But I get a feeling the loss of Jack (and Carl Landry) will take some adjusting to.

Throw in the lack of defense by key players – Curry and David Lee – and is this team really likely to be holding the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end? I really struggle to see it.

Cleveland Cavaliers
There has been a lot of buzz in the off-season surrounding the Cavs. Though I understand any excitement surrounding Kyrie Irving, I’d be nervous making any overly positive projections for this Cleveland roster.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some nice young talent on the team, with Tristan Thompson and Dion Walters joined by first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett. Combine them with the veteran leadership of Jarrett Jack and the hustle of Anderson Varejao – not to mention the All Star level play of Irving – and you’ve got the bones of a nice lineup.

However, any team that needs to rely heavily on the flaky Andrew Bynum deserves serious question marks about their potential. Even if Bynum returns 100% physically healthy, I fear he’ll never be 100% mentally healthy.

This team doesn’t deserve some of the lofty predictions I’ve heard touted, and it would shock me little if they only won 30 odd games.

Los Angeles Clippers
This team is either wildly overrated, or I wildly underrate the influence coach Doc Rivers will have upon the team.

Yet as much as I respect Rivers, is he really going to help the frontcourt’s free throw shooting, especially in the fourth quarter? Is he really going to improve the team’s low post play? Can he improve the perception around the league that this team can be bullied around?

I’m not so sure.

The Clips added Jared Dudley, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens and JJ Reddick to their roster for the season. Absolutely fantastic recruiting, especially if the team’s biggest concern was outside shooting. Yet I’m not convinced it was.

If the Clippers had pulled the trigger on the trade to bring in Kevin Garnett, I would legitimately consider them a championship threat, because he would have addressed their biggest weaknesses. But at present, I see this roster crushing teams all regular season, before getting crushed themselves once the real basketball starts in the playoffs.

Houston Rockets
I fear this is the prediction that will come back to haunt me the most.

Last season, the Rockets were a young and exciting 8th seed in the Western Conference, and won 45 games. In the off-season, they added arguably the best centre in the game, and a player whom – when 100% healthy – is a top 5 talent in the league. All without losing anyone significant from their roster.

So how could I possible think they’re overrated?

Primarily because I’m consistently nervous about Dwight Howard. I have a nagging feeling that he is the epitome of ‘fools good’; a player that gives every impression that he’s a superstar, and yet when you scratch beneath the surface a little bit, he’s found to be lacking true superstar credentials.

He throws his coaches under the bus, he’s a poor free throw shooter, he’s unprofessional, he whinges when things go wrong, he’s unaccountable, he’s unreliable, he doesn’t appear to like pressure, he worries what people think of him, he jokes around too much, and he hasn’t really improved as a player since his rookie year.

Not exactly a player a championship contender should be built around.

Here’s the catch though – the Rockets aren’t really built around Howard. Well, not on offense anyway. On that end of the floor, everything runs through James Harden, who, if he isn’t already a superstar, is on the cusp of being one.

If everything clicks, you could easily envisage the Rockets in the NBA Finals. Yet, it wouldn’t shock me if this team fails to gel, Howard causes issues, and they disappointingly limp into the lower bracket of the Western Conference Playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers
Some pundits are predicting the Sixers will win double-digit games.

Against who? They’ll only play Phoenix twice, won’t they?!

I bow to no one in my praise and admiration for coach Brett Brown and his basketball IQ, but seriously, look at that roster and tell me how anyone could think this team will get ten or more wins.

I sincerely hope Andrew Wiggins is all he’s cracked up to be, because this team has the potential to be historically lousy, and is aiming to be just that. For Sixers fans, I hope the pain of tanking the season is rewarded with winning next year’s draft. Double digit wins for the Sixers? I think that’s overrating them.



Hey-there-Andrew.-Image-via-@JordanRaanan

Ten Things I Love/Hate About You

Hey-there-Andrew.-Image-via-@JordanRaanan

The NBA season isn’t too far away now and there’s a lot to look forward to in season 2013/14 but I thought I’d share ten things that are on my mind as we impatiently wait for the season to begin

10. Pre-season.

It’s better than no NBA basketball at all and it’s the pre-cursor to the real thing. Enough said.

9. The Cleveland Cavaliers.

What can I say about this youthful and talented squad? There’s Uncle Drew with those crazy handles, Andrew Bynum with that crazy, well everything, not to mention the hair watch we’re all constantly on. Then you have the explosive and exciting number one pick Anthony Bennett, who should give us Larry Johnson style highlights on the offensive end and be a disaster defensively. If Head Coach Mike Brown can get this roster to gel, they will be a highly entertaining team to watch, if not, there’s always Bynum’s hair to keep us all entertained.

8. Michael Beasley and Greg Oden.

You’ve got LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, etc, etc but what you now have to add to that locker room is a walking frame and a bong. Talk about two guys on their last legs! Oden is a guy I’ve always wanted to see come back from those knee injuries but now he’s on the Heat I’m not sure I feel as strongly about him overcoming those setbacks. Michael Beasley is one lucky cat. He’s also on his ninth life and if he doesn’t get his act to together then I don’t see any more chances coming his way, but then again, like Oden, I don’t want to see Miami gain another valuable piece to their team. Anyone got Beasley’s dealers number?

7. Lakers Losing It.

Now I know I’ll cop some grief for this one, especially considering I converse all too often with many Laker fans, not to mention my fellow NBA Nation Australia writers, but it has to be said that things don’t look too promising in Laker land this year and I for one won’t be losing any sleep over it. Kobe is on his way back from a serious injury at 4000 years old, Steve Nash is 5000 years old and Pau Gasol is just too nice to be a big man in the NBA. Whatever happened to that nice fellow Dwight? Sounds like a sub .500 year for the second best team in L.A. Yes I just called the Clippers the best team in L.A and it feels so wrong, yet so right.

6. Tank For Wiggins?

Things could get really ugly this year between the cellar dwellers. Next year’s draft is off the charts and there’s no shortage of teams willing to tank for Wiggins. I mean seriously, the mighty and proud Boston Celtics blew up their team to have a chance at getting that elusive number one pick next year so you know tanking is the new winning in 2013/14. I fear for my mental health when I switch on League Pass whilst nursing a hangover on a Sunday morning only to see the 76ers playing the Bobcats. Also, MJ, what the hell were you thinking with Cody Zeller!?

5. New Orleans Pelicans.

Of all the names you could choose for a sporting team, the Pelicans is the best you could come up with? Whoever is responsible for this atrocity should be forced to watch Austin Rivers rookie season over and over again. I’m sorry but I’ll never be able to take this team seriously now, actually, come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did beforehand! Move on.

4. Sun Shines In the Golden State.

One team I thoroughly enjoyed watching in last year’s playoffs were the Golden State Warriors. Those huge games from the sharp shooting Steph Curry were ones to remember and although they failed to beat the Spurs in the Western Conference semi-finals they showed they’re not a team you want to take lightly. They have made some solid off-season moves and providing Curry’s glass ankles stay healthy and Bogut can avoid whatever freak injury may occur then the Warriors will be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Can the sun shine on the golden state?

3. Bring Back Wilt!

It’s about time we seen a scoring champ who averages over 30 points per game this season. KD, Melo, are you there? Shit, I don’t care if it’s Kobe and he shoots .400 to do it, actually I would take great pleasure in witnessing this; see number 7 on this list. I just think the scoring title isn’t the same when the winner averages a mere 28.7ppg. Bring back Wilt!

2. The NBA Finals.

The NBA Finals! What more do I need to say? I’m no fan of the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs but watching that Finals series last season was unbelievably great. The spectacle, fanfare and meaning that comes with each and every game is what keeps me coming back every year to see it all play out. One thing though, hoop gods, can we not have the Heat again this season? Sincerely, Bulls fan Dan

1.The Return.

Ok, so it’s a little later than first anticipated but it’s no less exciting. The prodigal son returns, Chicago’s very own, D Rose, rises from his injury exile to take the league by storm destroying everyone in his path! Ok, so I’m going with the best case scenario here but after almost 18 months it’s my god damn right to be so optimistic! Bring on the season!



Shooting Stars Who Fell From the Planet

SheedBall

Foreword: I really just wanted to list half of the players that both Minnesota and Portland have ever drafted but I figured they’ve been kicked enough over the last 20 years, no need for me to rub salt into the wounds.

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All-NBA Teams Announced

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So, the results are in and as you may have guessed LeBron James was a unanimous pick for this years All-NBA First team, while Kobe Bryant earned a record tying 11th selection.

A panel of sports journalists and leading broadcasters all voted for James (119 votes), and Kobe tied up with HOF’er Karl Malone.

Below are all 3 teams that were selected, do you agree with the selections?

All-NBA First Team

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Video – Blake Griffin dunks on the 76ers

Blake dunks all over the 76ers Spencer Hawes.



NBA Nation Australia’s Preseason Previews: Part 4

Every day brings us closer to the new NBA season and we are all waiting with baited breath to see our teams run out on the pine in a few weeks time. During the lead up we’ve been updating you with our 2012/13 preseason team previews! Today, we take a brief look at the Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons and the two sides in Los Angeles, the Clippers and the Lakers.

Let’s get into it!

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