Tag Archives: NBA

We Are All Witnesses (to LeBron 2.0)

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By Kelly B. McGillivray

When LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach, the whole nation responded. It became instant news, full of images of torched jerseys, billboards in heaps on the sidewalk, and even the now famous all caps rant in Comic Sans by Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert, complete with a personal guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win an NBA Championship “before the self-titled former King wins one.”

But what people didn’t care to think about was how this would change LeBron.  He later fired back, via twitter, that he was “taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at him” this past summer. And now the NBA is starting to understand what LeBron meant.

Welcome to LeBron James 2.0: (which is what I’m going to refer to LeBron as) a more aggressive, intense, and scariest of all, better LeBron James.  On top of that, at least to me, it seems that 2.0 looks bigger and stronger than his Cleveland days, which doesn’t bode well for opponents. In teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who decides to show up every once in a while and prove he’s worth the $110 million Miami has to pay him, (like he did in Game 4 against Boston with the late tip-in) 2.0 had his ups and downs during the regular season, doing so under a constant microscope.  There was a bump with head coach Eric Spoelstra early in the season that made the media rounds and was critiqued from every angle, his inability to hit shots in the final seconds of games, and a regular season that did not go as Miami had hoped.  But in these playoffs, 2.0 has seemed to embrace the Us against the World mentality, which so far has taken the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He closed out the Boston Celtics in a ruthless, almost revenge-like manner.  He matched Ray Allen shot for shot in Game 4, hitting two huge 3 pointers late, including one directly in front of a Boston bench that was doing their best to distract him.  In Game 5, he fed off the momentum started by James Jones’ 3 pointer with 3:43 left, a shot he assisted on, turning that into two 3 pointers, a steal and uncontested dunk, and an icing-on-the-cake bank shot that sent the defending Eastern Conference Champions home.

So the real question is: why now?

Teamed up with a legit #2, or 1A, however you see it, LeBron seems to have more confidence in his game knowing there’s D Wade right with him to match his intensity.  At the same time, LeBron knows that not everything has to be done by him, a feeling he never felt in Cleveland.  Their collective talent and energy have pushed 2.0 to a level that have the Heat in a position to do something they intended to do, in the words of LeBron himself “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” times.  The Heat are eight wins away from getting to the first one.

The target is on their back, in that fiery shade of Heat red.  And what better color to have than red, when staring straight back at them is a team of Bulls, led by the youngest MVP in the history of the NBA in Derrick Rose?  The Philadelphia 76ers were breakfast, which must make the Boston Celtics lunch.  Dinner is being served, and the Heat are hungrier than ever.  LeBron’s stomach is empty, and so is his ring finger.  Come late June he hopes to have finished dessert, and wear a ring that shines brighter than a South Beach summer sun, for the first of what LeBron, D Wade and company hope will be the first of not five, not six, not seven…

Kelly B. McGillivray can be found on Twitter @kellybmcg

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Pac-10:Top Prospects ’11 NBA Draft.

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This article is brought to you by our friends at SwishScout.com

1 Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA (Sophmore SF,  6’8”, 185 lb.s)- A versatile, ‘do it all’ player’ who knows how to get involved and leave an impact in a game without scoring.  Smart player with great passing and play making ability, but his hallmark is on defense.  Biggest knock is his unselfishness, but if he becomes more assertive and a consistent shot maker, Honeycutt could easily play his way into becoming a lottery pick this year.

Projected Draft Stock: Mid-1st Round

2 Derrick Williams, Arizona (Sophomore PF, 6’8”, 240 lb.s)-Physical banger in the paint who plays aggressive and with a great motor.  Williams is an athletic forward with good footwork and post moves, but limited by his size at 6’8”.  Although undersized for his natural position, he will be able to overcome it to contribute for an NBA team in the paint.  He’s teetering between draft rounds, but expect him to put up big numbers to contend for Conference Player of the Year and raise his stock in 2010-11.

Projected Draft Stock: Mid-Late 1st Round

3 Klay Thompson, Washington State (Junior SG/SF, 6’6”. 200 lb.s)- The best shooter and pure scorer in the conference.  He has a textbook shooting stroke and is deadeye from 3.  He has proven he can lead a team and be a primary scorer, but without elite athleticism, can he do it in the NBA?  Conventional wisdom says no, and he is likely a role player or ‘spark off the bench scorer,’ and a good one at that.  His stock is in questionable, but a solid Junior campaign should show NBA scouts his true worth.

Projected Draft Stock: Late 1st Round

4 Malcolm Lee, UCLA (Junior PG/SG, 6’4”, 195 lb.s)- Lee is a solid scoring point guard who excels at attacking off the dribble. He’s not a traditional backcourt leader, but he gets the job done on defense and with his playmaking.  An indefinite ‘shoot first’ point, but is limited by his perimeter shooting inconsistency.  He has a solid build and size for his position in NBA terms, but his athleticism isn’t outstanding.  I don’t buy him as a legit NBA starter, but could be effective as a back up in the NBA.

Projected Draft Stock: Mid-Late 1st Round


5 Josh Smith, UCLA (Freshman PF/C, 6’10”, 305 lb.s)- The hefty big man has yet to prove what he can do in college, but his size and skill set makes him a legit prospect.  Smith is a landmark in the paint who is physical and talented.  He rebounds, D’s up, has great hands and has solid touch around the basket.  Despite his talents, his perimeter shooting and fundamentals are abysmal.  He is a raw post player who hasn’t proven he has moves or post game to compete, but has the potential.  Conditioning is in question as well, but he may opt for another year instead of becoming a ‘One and Done.’

Projected Draft Stock: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

6 Abdul Gaddy, Washington (Sophomore PG, 6’3”, 190 lb.s)- Before his college days, Gaddy was a supremely talented and highly touted prospect.  At UW, he disappeared as a freshman and was underutilized.  With his true point guard play and court vision, he is a legit floor general who will emerge in his 2nd season.  His dribbling ability and passing skills are superb.  However, shooting the ball was not his strength as a freshman, nor was using his left hand.  Good PG build and raw talent, but must raise his draft stock with on-court performance.  Love his upside and overall game, but don’t expect him to leave this year unless has an extraordinary season, in which case his stock should greatly rise.

Projected Draft Stock: 2nd Round

7 Isaiah Thomas, Washington (Junior SG, 5’8”, 185 lb.s)- Quintessential college star who dominates play with his shooting and scoring talents.  Maybe no better indicator of his potential NBA success than his predecessor at Washington, Nate Robinson.  Conversely, being very undersized and not a true point greatly inhibit his NBA stock.  Thomas is a nice shooter with explosive quickness and ball handling, but can become too enthralled with the 3-ball.  Another player unlikely to leave after this season, but in the case he does, some NBA team should be willing to take a chance on him to make a spark off the bench.

Projected Draft Stock: 2nd Round or Undrafted

1 Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA (Sophmore SF,  6’8”, 185 lb.s)- A versatile, ‘do it all’ player’ who knows how to get involved and leave an impact in a game without scoring.  Smart player with great passing and play making ability, but his hallmark is on defense.  Biggest knock is his unselfishness, but if he becomes more assertive and a consistent shot maker, Honeycutt could easily play his way into becoming a lottery pick this year.
Projected Draft Stock: Mid-1st Round

2 Derrick Williams, Arizona (Sophomore PF, 6’8”, 240 lb.s)-Physical banger in the paint who plays aggressive and with a great motor.  Williams is an athletic forward with good footwork and post moves, but limited by his size at 6’8”.  Although undersized for his natural position, he will be able to overcome it to contribute for an NBA team in the paint.  He’s teetering between draft rounds, but expect him to put up big numbers to contend for Conference Player of the Year and raise his stock in 2010-11.
Projected Draft Stock: Mid-Late 1st Round

3 Klay Thompson, Washington State (Junior SG/SF, 6’6”. 200 lb.s)- The best shooter and pure scorer in the conference.  He has a textbook shooting stroke and is deadeye from 3.  He has proven he can lead a team and be a primary scorer, but without elite athleticism, can he do it in the NBA?  Conventional wisdom says no, and he is likely a role player or ‘spark off the bench scorer,’ and a good one at that.  His stock is in questionable, but a solid Junior campaign should show NBA scouts his true worth.
Projected Draft Stock: Late 1st Round

4 Malcolm Lee, UCLA (Junior PG/SG, 6’4”, 195 lb.s)- Lee is a solid scoring point guard who excels at attacking off the dribble. He’s not a traditional backcourt leader, but he gets the job done on defense and with his playmaking.  An indefinite ‘shoot first’ point, but is limited by his perimeter shooting inconsistency.  He has a solid build and size for his position in NBA terms, but his athleticism isn’t outstanding.  I don’t buy him as a legit NBA starter, but could be effective as a back up in the NBA.
Projected Draft Stock: Mid-Late 1st Round

5 Josh Smith, UCLA (Freshman PF/C, 6’10”, 305 lb.s)- The hefty big man has yet to prove what he can do in college, but his size and skill set makes him a legit prospect.  Smith is a landmark in the paint who is physical and talented.  He rebounds, D’s up, has great hands and has solid touch around the basket.  Despite his talents, his perimeter shooting and fundamentals are abysmal.  He is a raw post player who hasn’t proven he has moves or post game to compete, but has the potential.  Conditioning is in question as well, but he may opt for another year instead of becoming a ‘One and Done.’
Projected Draft Stock: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

6 Abdul Gaddy, Washington (Sophomore PG, 6’3”, 190 lb.s)- Before his college days, Gaddy was a supremely talented and highly touted prospect.  At UW, he disappeared as a freshman and was underutilized.  With his true point guard play and court vision, he is a legit floor general who will emerge in his 2nd season.  His dribbling ability and passing skills are superb.  However, shooting the ball was not his strength as a freshman, nor was using his left hand.  Good PG build and raw talent, but must raise his draft stock with on-court performance.  Love his upside and overall game, but don’t expect him to leave this year unless has an extraordinary season, in which case his stock should greatly rise.
Projected Draft Stock: 2nd Round

7 Isaiah Thomas, Washington (Junior SG, 5’8”, 185 lb.s)- Quintessential college star who dominates play with his shooting and scoring talents.  Maybe no better indicator of his potential NBA success than his predecessor at Washington, Nate Robinson.  Conversely, being very undersized and not a true point greatly inhibit his NBA stock.  Thomas is a nice shooter with explosive quickness and ball handling, but can become too enthralled with the 3-ball.  Another player unlikely to leave after this season, but in the case he does, some NBA team should be willing to take a chance on him to make a spark off the bench.
Projected Draft Stock: 2nd Round or Undrafted

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Dwyane Wade as Justin Timberlake.

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Pretty funny pic. thanks sports pickle.

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Carmelo To Chicago?

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There has been a good deal of discussion in Chicago regarding acquisition of the talented forward.  ESPN has reported that the possible options to get Carmelo Anthony are rumored to be Joakim Noah or a package consisting of Luol Deng, James Johnson and Taj Gibson. We discussed last month the possible trade scenarios and destinations for Carmelo Anthony, and we believe Chicago is a great fit, only behind Orlando.

If you are Chicago, you do everything in your power to bring in Carmelo, even if that means you part with Noah.  They would have a ‘Big 3’ of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Carmelo Anthony.  Noah stirs the pot, potentially putting them over the top in the East, and he becomes that team’s X-factor if they can make a deal that can keep him with the team.  Without him, they are a notch below Wade, Bosh and James in Miami.  The Bulls were 41-41 last season, and with Boozer and Anthony, this is easily a 55 win team, maybe more if they have Noah energizing the paint.

If the Bulls are going to make a play for Carmelo, its going to happen by training camp at months end.  The ‘Big 3’ combination seems to be the winning recipe for the NBA lately, and the Bulls have a shot to assemble their own, potentially even a ‘Big 4’ with Noah.  Given the choice for Noah or the Luol Deng package, they lose a potential all-star caliber center or 3 solid players with decent upside.  Either way you spin it, they get better with Anthony.  The Bulls have emerged as the front runner, and it will be interesting to see if they can pull the trigger on a deal to bring him to Chicago in the coming weeks.”
-Bjorn Zetterberg

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Spicing Up The NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

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2010 was a big year for the NBA.  It gave us the defending champions in the LA Lakers.  The youngest NBA scoring leader in league history with Kevin Durant.  ‘The Decision’ by LeBron James, and an epic free agency year with numerous player movements. Last but not least, the lamest slam dunk contest in NBA history.  Honestly, how many of these dunks really impress you?

There are a couple cool dunks, but most of them are stuff that NBA fans have already seen before.  The dunkers-Nate Robinson, DeMar DeRozen, Gerald Wallace, and Shannon Brown, aren’t players who would be your first pick to watch in a slam dunk contest, with maybe the exception of Nate Rob.  The big stars no longer want to be a part of it as they did in the past.  Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, and Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving gladly participated in the ‘80’s and wanted to win, but the stars of today don’t care.  Instead, the caliber in the past few years has been replaced by the likes of Chris Anderson, Jamario Moon, and Hakim Warrick. Wow.

So how then, do you improve the dunk contest?  There are still current NBA players who people would love to see. Josh Smith and Amare Stoudemire brought back some originality in 2005. JR Smith had an impressive dunk in 2005. Jason Richardson can still throw down, and brought the most impressive dunk in NBA History. Everyone would still love to see LeBron James compete, as he had claimed he would in 2010, but backed out.  Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook are a couple other players who might draw some attention.  Bigger names will draw bigger crowds and better results, if they can be got.  If they cannot be had, then there are some hidden gems playing in the NBDL or other leagues that could beat NBA players in a dunk contest.

Won 3 dunk titles, but excitement is minimal for him

The first few names that come to mind are ‘Air Up There’ and ‘T Dub.’ Taurian Fontenette, aka ‘air up there’ or ‘Mr. 720,’ made his name on the ‘And 1 Mixtape’ circuit with his 720 dunk. The 6’2” athlete literally looks like he can fly, throwing down an aerial display with ease. I can’t describe it legitimately, you have to watch for yourself. He also blew away the competition at the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest last year. ‘T Dub’ is a part of group called ‘Team Flight Brothers,’ and made his mark last month in a Nike Dunk Contest in Los Angeles.  He is a 5’9” spring from the mold of Nate Robinson.  Another dunker is 6’8” John Clark, who has some impressive dunks in his bag.

If you throw any of these guys into the mix, you are instantly given a more enjoyable dunk contest.  Although the NBA Dunk Contest is meant to showcase the best dunkers in the league, it has become pretty clear from the past years that that is no longer the case.  We are given some nice players, but not the best dunkers in terms of athleticism or originality.  Dunkers like ‘T Dub’ and ‘Mr. 720’ stir things up for the contest and make it more interesting.  If they start beating NBA players, then higher caliber players become interested in defending the NBA’s name.  Wouldn’t a dunk contest of field of Lebron, John Wall, Air Up There, and T Dub make for a must see event?  The replay value on news telecasts will be high and the buzz for the dunk contest grows even stronger for the following years.  There will be stuff pulled out during the contest that people have never seen, unless they watch Youtube.  The best dunkers in the league will want to come and prove themselves, not against only the leagues best dunkers, but the world’s.

‘Air Up There’ brings a new dimension

The Dunk Contest product right now is a bit broken and unoriginal.  This is a quick fix that might be a bit puzzling to some who have never heard of the dunkers I’ve mentioned, but watching their videos brings a quick recognition of their talents.  The idea is a bit outside the box, but it would work.  And if this article left you hungry for more dunks, you’re in luck: Top 100:Best Dunks Ever.

-Bjorn Zetterberg

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Greg Oden’s Rebound.

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As a lifetime Blazer fan in May 2007, the NBA Draft lottery provided me with one of my favorite Blazer moments. Coming into the draft lottery, the ‘Zers’ were projected to end up with the #6 overall pick.  I was just hoping that maybe we could get Corey Brewer or someone solid to add depth.  It was supposed to be the Grizzlies or Celtics who were to end up with the top picks.  A few months prior, I had been on a University of Oregon sports business club field trip to see a Blazers game and to hear from then Grizzlies GM Andy Dolich.  He talked about whom they were thinking about taking, because it was a foregone conclusion they would win the lottery with a 25% chance to get the #1 pick.  Dolich had hinted that Oden was the player to anchor a franchise.

So sitting there in my freshman dorm room, I can remember the moment clearly: Seeing us get bypassed at the 6th pick, launching Portland into one of the top 3 picks.  After seeing the then Seattle Sonics get the #2 pick, I could hear screams of joy coming from the streets of Eugene and from all around me in the dorms.  It was a very exciting time, seeing that we were going to get a highly coveted player.  Brandon Roy was just named rookie of the year and becoming the face of our franchise, and LaMarcus Aldridge looked promising.

The Great Debate

This created the great debate in Portland: Oden of Durant?  I had seen Kevin Durant play in his junior year of high school for Oak Hill Academy.  At the time, he was a 6’9” lanky forward who looked pretty athletic and raw, but couldn’t make a jump shot to save his life.  I had never seen Oden play in person, but knew he was considered a highly rated big man who could change the face of a franchise.  There were comparisons, at the time, of him to Bill Russell.  He was injury prone, even before entering the NBA, but I had seen what he could do in the NCAA tournament and was sold on the big man.

In high school, Greg Oden was a beast; he was a 7 foot man among boys at Lawrence North High School, playing alongside another top recruit in Micheal Conley Jr.  As a junior in high school, he was widely considered the best prep player in the United States.  Oden was a big body with long arms, great athleticism, defensive instincts and a nose for the ball.  He grabbed seemingly every rebound within his vicinity and shut down the paint to opposing teams.  He was a 2-time Gatorade Player of the Year and led Lawrence North to 3 state titles in high school.  When he committed to Ohio State, along with Conley, they quickly jumped out as a contending team in the NCAA.

Oden dominated the NCAA Tournament

Before the ‘06-’07 NCAA season even started, Oden had surgery on his right wrist.  Perhaps it was an early sign of his fragility, but back then, it was no big deal.  Ohio State was cruising without him, and with him they looked even better. In 32 games his freshman year, he averaged nearly 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks.  He was a promising prospect to say the least. He made some big plays to lead them to them all the way to the 2007 NCAA title game against defending champion Florida.  Florida was loaded, with every returning starter in Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah.  The Buckeyes were getting solid play from veterans Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis, as well as Conley at point and Daequan Cook at guard.  It was Oden who was the dominant star of the team throughout the tournament and played like it in the title game, with 25 pt.s, 12 reb., and 4 blk.s in a 75-84 loss.  Oden’s amateur legacy was that he was a prove winner that he never lost a home game in either high school or college.

Getting back to the draft debate, Kevin Durant was an extremely talented scoring forward for the Texas Longhorns, who was Naismith player of the year as a freshman, averaging 26 points and 11 rebounds.  He was a hard working player who had become a dominant scorer and outstanding shooter in the years since I had last seen him.  The thought was that Durant would be a great forward and starter for any NBA team, maybe even lead the league in scoring someday.  Next to Roy and Aldridge on the Blazers, he could have been a good fit but there would still be pieces missing.  The thought at the time was that dominant centers would help win titles, and the Blazers needed more defense down low.  Greg Oden could be that center who would anchor the team for over a decade and his ceiling for development was very high.  He would be the player who could lock down the paint during future Blazers playoff runs and be the one to help lead us to a title, as he had done in high school and college. The new age Bill Russell was a ‘can’t miss’ type of player. Durant was the type of player who could win scoring titles, but Oden would be the kind of player that could win NBA championships.  The Blazers agreed with this philosophy, taking him #1 overall in the ’07 Draft.  Then injuries happened.

Greg was supposed to be a beast before injuries

Oden played in the 2007 Las Vegas Summer League, but struggled through out, even fouling out of games where the limit was 10 personal fouls.  It was discovered that he had a micro fracture in his right knee and would need surgery to repair it, costing him all of the ’07-’08 season.  It was a big disappointment and shot to the Blazer franchise, but encouraging that the team finished 41-41 without him, just missing the playoffs.  In his 2008-’09 rookie season, Oden looked solid in 61 regular season games, averaging 9 points, 7 rebounds and a block in 21 minutes of action per game.  Greg looked to build on that this past season in ’09-’10, averaging 11 pt.s, 8.5 reb., and 2.3 blk.s in 24 minutes per game. 21 games into the season, the injury bug bit again, this time fracturing his left patella and leaving him out for the rest of the season.  In Oden’s time since being drafted, he has missed nearly 2/3 of his NBA games due to injury. In that same time span, Kevin Durant has won rookie of the year, been an NBA All-Star, All-NBA 1st team selection, and led the NBA in scoring last season with 30 points per game.

Forever haunted by not picking Durant?

In retrospect, maybe the Blazers should have picked Durant.  He is dominant scorer who would have added another dimension to the already stable pillars in the Blazers offense with Roy and Aldridge.  Durant would have thrived in the half court offense and would have created a ‘Big 3’ for Portland because of his versatility.  Oden has been so injury plagued for the Blazers, they would have been better off taking Al Horford to anchor the paint.  It’s easy to say all of that 3 years down the road.  Durant would have been the better pick, but the logic back then said Oden was the way to go, and numerous NBA GM’s would have chosen him over Durant.  After all, Durant has been just as far into the playoffs in three seasons as Oden has been with the Blazers in one.  The Blazers also have a similar type player in Nicolas Batum, who is a budding player that could be the Scottie Pippen to B-Roy’s Jordan, so to speak.

Many in the NBA circle of fans are quick to call Oden a bust.  In the sense that he is nowhere near what people expected, maybe he is.  He probably will never be that dominant, #1 pick who will throttle the NBA and be a ‘Dwight Howard of the West’ type center, but he can still be a great player for the Blazers.  The only thing that has been holding him back is injuries, and that the a major concern.  If he can stay healthy, he will anchor this team extremely well.  The Blazers locked up Marcus Camby for a couple years, and Oden can learn from the former Defensive Player of the Year.  In a worst-case scenario, the 22 year-old Oden continues to recover while Camby fills in during those couple years until Greg is ready to take over at full strength.  If Oden will be a complete lost cause, then you should be able to find some team that will be willing to take a chance on him and hopefully salvage some value for him.    G.O. is still a popular figure in Portland and his personality is embraced by the city. Despite some controversial photos, all seems to be forgiven, as he confronted the situation quickly and addressed concerns.

Biggest Question: Can He Stay Healthy?

I still think the potential to be an All-NBA player is there for Greg Oden.  I have faith that Portland may yet have made the right pick in 2007, but it’s likely that this might be the last season Oden has to prove it.  He’s on the final year of his contract, its time for Portland to decide if they want to extend it.  If you can get at least 60 games and around 24 minutes out of each of those games, Oden’s production should warrant the gamble of keeping him.  I hate to say it’s a ‘gamble,’ but it truly is a hazard at this point in his career and with the Blazers.  He is still a relatively high-risk player because of his injury track record, but his young age and potential are too great to ignore.  I would hate to see Oden thrive with another team and become a star just because the Blazers wouldn’t be patient with him.  He is definitely testing the Blazer’s patience right now, but he could still be worth it, if not more.  The 2010-’11 season will be the true test of Greg Oden’s worth and health.  I have a great deal of faith in his abilities and skill.  The real questions will be do the Blazers too and can he stay healthy?

So sitting there in my freshman dorm room, I can remember the moment clearly: Seeing us get bypassed at the 6th pick, launching Portland into one of the top 3 picks.  After seeing the then Seattle Sonics get the #2 pick, I could hear screams of joy coming from the streets of Eugene and from all around me in the dorms.  It was a very exciting time, seeing that we were going to get a highly coveted player.  Brandon Roy was just named rookie of the year and becoming the face of our franchise, and LaMarcus Aldridge looked promising.”
-Bjorn Zetterberg

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Westhead Changes the Game.

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“Most coaches preach that playing with discipline, taking good shots, and playing good defense, you maximize your chances of winning.  It has been the foundation of sound fundamental basketball for over a century.  Get the most out of your possessions and if you play lockdown defense, you will go far. What if I were to tell you that if you did the exact opposite of that, you might be able to win?  It may not sound too far fetched now, but 25 years later, it would revolutionize the game.  A lot of credit goes to one man-‘The Guru of Go’ himself, Paul Westhead.

Westhead revolutionized the game of basketball with what he calls “The System.”  This game scheme is based on simple math:

More Possessions + More Shot Attempts = More Points

The fundamental idea of ‘The System’ is to create a vigorous pace that will catch the other team off guard and leave them gasping for air by the time the 4th quarter hits. Westhead’s variation seeks to put up a shot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, with  3-point attempts encouraged.  Also known as ‘controlled chaos,’ the fast pace changes the game altogether, hopefully taking the other team out of their element.  It may look to some more like a track meet more than a basketball game because of the amount of running involved.  Along with the scoring frenzy, a full court press is employed throughout the entire game to create turnovers and convert those into points off fast breaks.  Overall, defense often gets sacrificed in favor of maintaining the pace, ideally leaving the team creating the tempo with more points.  With the right players in ‘The System’, wins can be counted up and records can be broken.  No other coach in the history of basketball has proven this better than Westhead.

Starting out as head coach of the La Salle Explorers from 1970-79, Westhead led the team to a pair of NCAA births before becoming an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers.  Upon arrival, Westhead took the helm of a talented Laker team 14 games into the season after then head coach Jack McKinney went down in a injurious bike accident.  The Lakers starred NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a 6’9” rookie point guard by the name of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson.  During the 1980 season, the Lakers won 60 games and made it to the NBA Finals.  Against Dr. J and Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers took a 3-2 series lead, but lost star center Abdul-Jabbar to an ankle injury, leaving him unable to play in a critical Game 6.  It was then that Westhead dared to start Johnson at center, and was it ever a gamble that paid off.  In Game 6, point guard ‘Magic’ Johnson compiled 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists in a win from the center position, seemingly playing every position on the floor throughout the game.  The Lakers won the 1980 NBA Title, thanks to Westhead’s vision and Johnson’s ‘Finals MVP’ performance.

Shortly after the beginning of his 3rd season, Westhead was forced out as head coach after a slow start.  Johnson complained that Westhead’s offense was too predictable and slowed down the Lakers.  As you will read later, this is a statement that’s hard to believe in retrospect.  In the ’82 season, Westhead coached a year for the Chicago Bulls without nearly the same level of success, finishing 28-54 a couple years before the Michael Jordan era.  Perhaps a blessing in disguise, he was offered the head coaching position for the Loyola Marymount Lions a few years later.

Kimble & Gathers

While at the West Coast Conference small school, he began to put ‘The System’ into effect.  The Lions started off slow in his first couple seasons, but then immaculately given a gift that changed the college landscape.  Transfers Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were both touted players who were unhappy with the USC program and looking for a new start with a different college. Westhead talked them into coming to Loyola, and it started a basketball revolution that made the fast paced system what it is today.  With Kimble and Gathers, Loyola Marymount went 27-3 and 20-10 in their sophomore and junior season.  In 1988, they advanced to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament and in ’89 were a first round exit.  In Kimble and Gather’s 1990 senior season, there was a lot of hype surrounding the team.  The Loyola Marymount Lions set the all-time NCAA record for points per game with an average of 122.4 per contest.  They set the NCAA Tournament single game scoring record with 149 points in a win against Michigan.  They are among the all-time top 5 scoring games in NCAA history, with numbers like 157, 152, 150, 149 and 145 point games. In the record books, their name is riddled with entries for most assists, 3 point field goal attempts and makes, and points scored in games.

With all the hype in college basketball, the team looked like a serious contender to win an NCAA title. That 1990 season, Bo Kimble led the NCAA in scoring with 35 points per game and Gathers was putting up nearly 33 points and 14 rebounds. Both Kimble and Gathers were looking like top notch NBA prospects and running the WCC.  In a 1989 December home game, Gathers collapsed on court and was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat shortly after.  He was allowed to continue playing but was prescribed medication to counteract the effects.  However, he complained that the drugs made him feel slow on the court and drastically impacted his performance.  He limited the dosage on the medication in favor of playing at a higher level. In a WCC Tournament quarter final game against the Portland Pilots, Gathers collapsed again. He was immediately transported to the local hospital and pronounced ‘dead on arrival.’ It was one of the saddest and darkest moments in college basketball.

1990 NCAA Tournament

The 1990 WCC was called off and LMU was given the automatic bid because of their regular season title.  As the 11 seed in the tournament, they made an inspiring run to the Elite Eight, knocking off returning champion Michigan in the 2nd round and losing to the eventual champions in UNLV. The most magical moment of the tournament was when Bo Kimble shot and made his free throws left handed, in honor of Gathers. Gathers was a notoriously bad free throw shooter who was right handed, but tried shooting lefty throughout his career to improve his percentages.  After that inspired run through the tournament, there was fallout and controversy surrounding the death of Gathers, and Westhead left LMU for the NBA.

Now the coach of the Denver Nuggets, Westhead looked to shake up the league with ‘Paul Ball’ and hopefully have similar success to what happened at LMU.  The Nuggets led the NBA in scoring with 120 points per game in 1990-91.  Unfortunately, they also gave up an NBA record that season of 130 points per contest.  They also gave up an NBA record 107 points in a half, earning the nickname ‘Enver Nuggets’ because of their lack of ‘D’. Compiling a final record of 44-120, Westhead was released from his coaching duties.

‘The System’ is a basketball extreme that does not work in the professional ranks, similar to how the ‘the spread offense’ and ‘option’ being effective in college football don’t work in the NFL.  NBA players are too athletic, conditioned, and talented to be full court pressed and outpaced for a full 48 minutes, making you pay on the offensive end for your lack of defense.  Don Nelson is one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, using small ball (Nellie ball) as a scheme to get regular season wins, but has never worked out in the playoffs.  Nor has Nelson ever made it to the NBA finals as a head coach.  Current New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni runs a variation of run and gun offense, but don’t expect any titles from him anytime soon.  His best shot to win a title was in Phoenix, but the defensive inabilities of his Suns proved to be their biggest downfall in the playoffs.  The coach who may have found an answer to the run and gun in the NBA is D’Antoni’s replacement in Phoenix, Alvin Gentry.  He noted that if you play to the rhythm of the game, as opposed to the pace, then the team can not only still get more possessions, but more points out of the possessions on a regular basis.  Instead of putting up shots in under 7 seconds, you scale it back to about 12 seconds, and are still able to have success with more of a defensive emphasis.  It paid off, as the Suns made it to the Western Conference Finals in Gentry’s first full season, losing in a 6 game series that was decided by an outlandish Ron Artest play.

2007 WNBA Champions

Westhead tried to reestablish his presence in the college ranks during a 4-year stint with George Mason, but was largely unsuccessful at 38-70.  From there, he was an ABA coach for a season, head coach over in Japan’s pro league for a couple years, and an assistant for the Orlando Magic from 2003-05.  In 2005, he became head coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, trying his luck with women’s basketball.  With stars Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, the Mercury won the 2007 WNBA Title, making Westhead the only coach in history with an NBA and WNBA title to his name.  Along the way, he set the WNBA record for team scoring in a season, along with the 2nd highest point game in history (112).  However, in ’07 he resigned his post to return to the NBA as an assistant for PJ Carlisimo with the Sonics/Thunder for a couple of seasons.  In 2009, he became head coach of the University of Oregon Women’s team.

In his first season with the Ducks, he has already broken the school record for points scored in a season, in addition to most 3 pointers made by a team in Pac-10 history.  Guard Taylor Lilley lead the NCAA in 3 pointers made with 124, which broke the Pac-10 record for 3’s in a season.  The Ducks also lead the Pac-10 in scoring, but were amongst the league lead in points given up per game.  They play an exciting brand of basketball that has energized the Oregon fan base.  Some even called for Westhead to be considered as a replacement for the men’s head coach during Oregon’s recent search.

To this day, the influence of the 71 year old Westhead and ‘The System’ is everywhere in basketball.  I credit him with spawning the latest trends of playing fast and increased emphasis on the 3.  North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, and numerous other NCAA programs run a brand of basketball influenced by ‘The System’.  Although not as extreme, there are numerous adaptations that can be seen through the ranks.  Of note, Division III program College of the Redlands runs a variation that has set numerous NCAA records.  They execute ‘The System’ to a tee by running the entire game, shooting 3’s early in the shot clock, and subbing in 5 at a time to keep their players on the floor fresh to maintain the tempo.  In 2005, Redlands upped the ante, averaging 132 points per game. The Redlands are littered throughout the Division III record books as well.


If you want to know more about Paul Westhead, I highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary ‘The Guru of Go.’ Although before my time, he is someone that I have always admired in basketball.  Westhead dared to be different and unconventional.  He was truly before his time, changing the game and how it’s played. ‘The System’ is not played by every team to the same extreme of how he runs it, but Westhead is truly an innovator for inducing the style.  He demonstrated that if the right pieces are in place to run it, ‘The System’ can be truly unstoppable.  He has proven this at more than one level, winning titles in multiple ranks.  There are extreme highs and lows to ‘The System,’ but it’s an enjoyable roller coaster ride.

As an Oregon alum, I am excited perhaps just as much for Women’s basketball as I am for Men’s. If you haven’t seen them play yet, do yourself a favor and watch them at least once this season. I promise you, this is no plug for Oregon Women’s Basketball.  Not only will you enjoy the brand of basketball, but also get to do it seeing a living legend and coaching icon in his element – running ‘The System.’”

-Bjorn Zetterberg

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