Sunday, November 28, 2010

Should Knick Fans Be Optimistic Or Fearful?

Since 2008, Knick fans have dreamed of welcoming LeBron James to the Garden; but as the summer of 2010 passed by, Knick fans agonized at "The Decision", where the Big 3 decided to “take their talents to South Beach”. Knick fans cynically watch with a smile, as the Heat is only a mere one game ahead of the Knicks; both teams are hovering around .500. In hindsight, it's a bittersweet feeling. These same Knicks have shown signs of a bright future on occasion, while also showing signs of a regression to last season's woes.

We have been hearing demands to fire Mike D'Antoni as well as some fans screaming how Amar'e is a bust already. Those two statements, and others like them, are completely outrageous. This roster is filled with new faces and it's going to take time for a group of young guys to develop the necessary chemistry to win in this league. But there are a lot of positive things so far that hint a bright future which is why fans should keep faith and remain optimistic. During their recent 5 game winning streak the team went from 3-8 to a respectable 8-8. Winning those 5 games was no walk in the park as New York had a stretch of 5 games in 7 days, 3 road games on the west coast and a home and away series versus the Bobcats. Regardless of the opponent, winning an away game in the NBA is always a daunting task.

1. Amar'e Stoudemire is worth his max contract and is playing like an MVP caliber player.

22.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, and 2.1 BPG

His assist and block numbers are career highs and his points and rebounds are exactly what we fans expected, All Star and MVP type numbers. Obviously he knows and fits into D'Antoni's system and once the offense begins to click we can expect all of his numbers to increase. Amar'e has played much better basketball than Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer has yet to see the court in a Bulls uniform. The Knicks came away with the best deal when it came to signing a high priced big man.

2. Raymond Felton has been the biggest surprise so far this season for the Knicks and maybe in the entire NBA.

It looks like we finally found our franchise point guard; Raymond Felton is putting up the best stats of his career (career highs in: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, ft%, 3 pt%, 3 pointers made, and field goal percentage). 18 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals a game is much better than we expected after Felton averaged 12 points and 5.5 assists last season with Charlotte. He has been criticized for his inability to run the pick and roll with Amar'e and for not being a D'Antoni point guard like Steve Nash was for the Suns. But even if that is true, imagine how much better the Knicks and Felton will be once he learns how to play the two-man game with Amar'e. Felton has been a great defender, clutch shooter, and smart leader all season and will continue to flourish in this system. He is getting everybody the ball and making this offense click. We expected Amar'e to fill the stat sheet but Felton is not far behind.

3. Rookie Landry Fields

The starting shooting guard role was the major point of discussion in the off season, Azuibuike was brought in to play that position; but, he is still recovering from injury and is yet to play a game for the Knicks. Roger Mason and Andy Rautins were thought to be perfect for this system where the shooting guard does just that, shoot 3's. But both players are not even in the rotation and have yet to impress the coaching staff. Chandler and Gallo both were mentioned as potential starters but with their size and offense style they both were better suited to play the opposite wing, with Chandler being the 6th man. Both Douglas and Fields impressed fans with their hustle and defense enough to earn consideration for the starting position. But Douglas is still more of a point guard with a shooting guard style of play. Douglas is probably the best perimeter defender on the roster but his combo guard style did not fit the needs at the 2. So as the season began rookie Landry Fields got the nod to be the team's starting shooting guard and has made the most of his opportunity averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds. Fields is the team's second leading rebounder, which is very impressive for a guard. This should not come as much surprise because Landry Fields average 22 points and 9 rebounds last season at Stanford playing on the wing. He almost always the height advantage over his defenders seeing as he is 6'7", which makes rebounding a huge advantage for the team. He makes the hustle plays and is always working hard and getting up and down the court. He is not the conventional shooting guard for D'Antoni's system, but the way he is playing you can't argue he deserves the minutes.

4. Anthony Randolph's Averages Per 48 minutes (11.6 points, 14.3 Rebounds, and 3.18 Blocks)

Anthony Randolph was supposed to be the main piece of the David Lee trade, a player with All Star potential who has been hurt. Fans had high hopes of Randolph have a Gallinari type breakout season but so far he is barely seeing playing time. The first few games he played in a Knick's uniform did not resemble his high flying-highlight reel style we saw in spurts over for the Warriors. But recently he was put in during a blowout and showed signs of a higher basketball IQ, instead of forcing the ball he slowed it down and made smart passes. Although he finished with 0 points and 2 assists, everyone has to be pleased with the improvements in his mental game. Let's hope his erratic play and constant fear of making a mistake is part of his past. Randolph is only 21 and still has that same potential plus he would be a perfect center in D'Antoni's system. He could block shots, rebound, score on the fast break, and be a presence down low on both sides of the ball. The Knicks have already transformed into a high quality defensive unit that can block shots and cause turnovers at will so with the addition of Randolph down low this team could give any offense a hard time.

The future looks bright for the New York Knicks and fans should be optimistic because as the season goes on the wins will start to come in bunches. Amar'e is one of the best players in the NBA, Felton is playing like a top 5 point guard in his first season under MikeD'Antoni, Chandler is the front runner for 6th man of the year award and is playing to impress in hope a new contract, Gallinai is always a threat when he has the ball and is one of the most versatile wing players in the league, and with the vast depth and young talent on this roster we can look forward to a fun season of quality basketball for the first time in this decade.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mike Tannenbaum Rebuilds the New York Jets

The New York Jets have entered a new era, one that should provide stability and results. Led by Head Coach Rex Ryan, Franchise Quarterback Mark Sanchez, and Pro Bowl Cornerback Darrelle Revis, this New York Jets team has its eyes set on the Super Bowl.

The foundation of the team begins in the front office. Owner Woody Johnson and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum have worked together since 2006 to create the team we see on the field today. GM Mike Tannenbaum has used multiple acquisition techniques to construct this roster; beginning with crafty draft day moves to address the team's weaknesses. Most notably, Tannenbaum and the Jets traded up to the fifth pick in the 2009 draft to select USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Many people criticized this move because the Jets were giving up Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff, Abram Elam and their first and second round picks, but now it's evident that this move could not have worked out better. This season we see a shift from "winning despite Mark Sanchez" to "winning because of Mark Sanchez". Also in the 2009 draft Shonn Greene, RB out of Iowa, was selected in the beginning of the third round. Other running backs such as Beanie Wells, Donald Brown, and Knowshon Moreno were all first round picks in ‘09, which makes Greene look like the steal of the draft because he has out-performed all three of these running backs. In his rookie season he proved he could be the future running back making Thomas Jones and Leon Washington disposable and freeing up cap space. In 2007 and 2008 the Jets used first round picks on CB Darrelle Revis and TE Dustin Keller respectively, and both players have made huge impacts ever since. Keller has been one of Sanchez's favorite and most reliable targets, while Revis has been deemed the NFL's most feared cornerback, shutting down every receiver that dares to visit "Revis Island". The strong O-Line is held together by 2006 first round picks C Nick Mangold and T D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Tannenbaum also made great selections with DBs Kyle Wilson and Dwight Lowrey who are backups on one of the best secondaries in the NFL. And after this week’s Thanksgiving day game against the Bengals, who could forget the versatile Brad Smith, a fourth round pick back in 2006, with two huge touchdowns for the Jets? Brad Smith can catch, throw, run, and return kicks (if only he could kick FGs) and Brian Schottenheimer has multiple plays designed to get their playmaker the ball.

Another aspect that the Jets have utilized is preying upon other teams inability to handle disgruntled players. Tannenbaum has been able to acquire high caliber talent for mid-level draft picks because other teams cannot seem to control their players off the field. In March of 2010, New York traded a 2011 third round pick to the San Diego Chargers for CB Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie was the 19th pick in the first round of the 2006 draft and 2007 was his breakout season. He was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection after picking off 10 passes. He showed his play making ability that season as well after recording the longest play in NFL history: a 109 yard missed FG return touchdown and being the only player to have 3 interceptions against Peyton Manning in one game. But off-the-field issues and a poor playoff performance enticed the Chargers to trade him away. This season he has gone back to his true form and is playing like a Pro Bowl CB again, well worth the third round pick the Jets gave up for him. A few months earlier, in October 2009, the Jets traded for another player with legal issues who seemed as if he hasn't giving enough effort, WR Braylon Edwards (#3 pick in the first round of the 2005 draft). Like Cromartie, Edwards had his breakout season in 2007 making the Pro Bowl and finishing second behind Randy Moss in touchdowns. But the following season Edwards only found the end zone three times and lead the NFL in dropped passes. The Browns had a dismal season and as ‘09 rolled around they were getting tired of Braylon Edwards. Prior to trading him Edwards was involved in a bar fight and charged with a misdemeanor, the Browns were glad to part ways with him and obtain Chansi Stuckey, Jason Trusnik, and a third and fifth round pick from the Jets for this "diva" wide receiver. Edwards had a monster 80-yard touchdown catch in the AFC Championship game. This season Edwards has 6 touchdowns in the teams first 11 games and, despite a DUI offense, has stayed on the field for every game thus far. Alongside Braylon Edwards is late season hero Santonio Holmes. Holmes was acquired in April of 2010 from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a mere fifth round pick. Santonio Holmes was a first round pick in 2006 and named Super Bowl XLIII MVP after catching the game winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. Holmes was suspended the first four games this season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But Holmes has 4 TDs the last three weeks including game winning touchdowns in weeks 10 and 11. Look at the return the Jets received for only a fifth round pick, and if you look around the league this season Tannenbaum's trade looks like pure genius. The Miami Dolphins gave up a second round pick for Brandon Marshall and the Minnesota Vikings traded a third round pick for Randy Moss, and both of these guys have been enormous busts, so Holmes for a fifth round pick was by the far the best investment of 2010.

NFL teams are known for signing players to outrageous contracts only to see their investment end in heartbreak, but the Jets have gone down the path of shopping with a purpose to fill needs and get the biggest bang for the buck. It all started in January of 2009 when they secured the man who will control the team. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan signed a four year contract to become Head Coach of the New York Jets. Previously under Eric Mangini the Jets failed to make the playoffs two out of his three seasons and it was clear he was not the right fit for the job. Rex Ryan coached the Ravens defense, which was one of the most feared units in all of football, for ten seasons including a super bowl ring in 2000. Ryan was coveted for many head coaching positions by Baltimore, Miami, and Atlanta but landed in New York. Not only did his persona and legacy come over to the Jets but he even brought along some veteran talent in Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard who both signed multi-year contracts in the off season to continuing playing under Ryan. Rex Ryan has a strong reputation for stressing defense, which factored into Jason Taylor's decision to sign with the Jets in 2010 after seeing how the team's defense transformed. Taylor has been selected to Pro Bowls and All Pro teams numerous times as well as being named Defensive Player of the Year and honored as a member of the NFL 2000s All Decade Team. This adds on to Calvin Pace, the former Arizona Cardinal first round pick, who signed a 6 year deal back in 2008. Also in 2008, Tannenbaum signed RT Damian Woodey to a five year contract to bolster the offensive line. Woodey was a Pro Bowler and 3-time super bowl champion with the New England Patriots. Even with players like Kris Jenkins who is on the IR yet again, but when he has been on the field Jenkins has simply dominated opposing teams and was considered the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year pre-injury in the 2008 season. Hopefully in 2011 Kris Jenkins can return to being that dominant force at nose tackle. Rather than go after one year wonders or unproven players Mike Tannenbaum has given veteran guys long term deals to ensure stability where it matters most.

When we think about the Jets auspicious start atop the AFC elite at 9-2, we give credit to guys like: Rex Ryan for controlling the swirling variables and egos, Mark Sanchez for his growth during his sophomore season, and LaDainian Tomlinson for resurrecting his career. But the man who really deserves the credit for the 2010 New York Jets is General Manager Mike Tannenbaum for his pure genius.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hottest Team in the NFL: San Diego Chargers

Here are some statistics:
1st in passing yards per game
1st in opponents passing yards per game
4th in opponents rushing yards per game

These numbers alone mean the Chargers have the best passing offense, are the best at defending the past, and are the 4th best team at stopping the run. This doesn't even talk about their rushing attack, which when healthy includes Ryan Matthews, Mike Tolbert, and Darren Sproles. Philip Rivers is the offense MVP this season and isn't even getting the credit he deserves. Rivers is leading the NFL's best passing attack led by TE Antonio Gates and WR Malcom Floyd. In addition the list of weapons is endless. Rivers is throwing to receivers like Buster Davis, Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu, and Legedu Naanee. Randy McMichael did a great job filling in for Gates and will be a valuable #2 TE. What is hard to believe is the Chargers and their #1 passing attack is without star WR Vincent Jackson who returns this week against the Colts. With Jackson on Floyd on each side, Gates in the middle, and Sproles out of the backfield defense will need to pick their poison with this offense. Injuries won't even stop this team as players like Crayton, Ajirotutu, and McMichael have proven they can produce when called upon. This rushing offense has been average (ranked 17th) but star rookied RB Ryan Matthews has been injuried but showed signs of making San Diego fans forget about LT. Matthews can be the teams go-to running back with his speed and power. Tolbert has filled in wonderfully and can use his big body to be the 3rd down and goaline back. Sproles cannot be contained on screens and seemingly breaks off at least 1 huge run per game on his speed alone. The Chargers offense is filled with weapons and maintained success behind a strong veteran offensive line. Lineback Stephen Cooper, Shaun Phillips, and Kevin Burnett are racking up the numbers this year in tackles and haven't missed a beat without Pro-Bowler Shawne Merriman. Second year OLB Larry English will also offer containment when he remains healthy and establishes his position down the road and in the playoffs. This secondary is manning the best pass defense in the NFL. Jammer, Gregory, Weddle, and Cason don't give up the big plays and have the ability to take risks knowing their linebacks and D-Line can pressure the opposing QB. After the Colts game their schedule gets pretty easy so they could finish 11-5 on a 9 game winning streak entering the playoffs. We have seen in recent weeks the Jets need luck and big plays to pull out wins and the Patriots have holes in their defense and a sketchy running game. The Colts can't stay healthy leaving Manning with few options. The AFC is strong but most of the elite teams have holes that are drawing huge criticism. The statistics and talent shows it: The San Diego Chargers are the best team in the AFC.

Fantasy Playoffs and Trade Deadline

Sell High:

QB: Mike Vick- He is posting ridiculous numbers but it is hard to believe he will replicate these numbers throughout the fantasy playoffs. He will be great no doubt but if you have another elite quarterback like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers than trade Vick for an elite RB or WR to fill a weakness and add balance.

RB: Arian Foster and Ryan Torian- Injuries, bad teams, meaningless game all of these factors could impact these guys numbers. Like Vick, sell Foster at his peak value when you could get RB of equal value and a solid RB2 or WR1/WR2. Torian is hurt and the Redskins have about 8 other RBs but if you could unload Torian to someone who is just looking at his stats then go for it. Torain will be riding everyones bench the rest of the season, including the Redskins. Keiland Williams (available in most leagues will be a solid flex play or RB2 in deep leagues for the rest of these season)

WR: Percy Harvin, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant- All of these guys have had up and down seasons and Marshall has seemingly forgotten where the end zone even is. But Harvin and Dez have fought to put up some huge games at times but have also been killers for some owners. The risk is not worth starting them on a week to week basis. Dez was a huge fantasy dud this week against the Saints which could cost owners a playoff spot, Kitna is no Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense is risk/reward each week. Harvin lives and dies by Favre which at this point is not a safe risk. Trade both of these guys for safer options while their value is still high due to some huge fantasy weeks. Marshall has been a consistent player and put up solid scoring outputs all season with only one touchdown. But with Tyler Thigpen (3rd string QB) starting and spreading the ball around to everyone on the field Marshall's yardage will decrease and he already is rarely targeted in the red zone. He will be a WR3 or flex play at best for the remainder of the season.

TE: Antonio Gates- Injuries have killed owners the past few weeks and this season TEs are coming out of nowhere and putting up huge games. Gate was the fantasy MVP a few weeks ago and trade him now while he is still hot for a top 10 TE and WR2. Marcedes Lewis is guy I like going forward to lead the NFL in TDs for tight ends as he is Garrard's favorite red zone target. And when it comes to TEs touchdowns are the smarter way to go than yards.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The One Reason the Heat Will Not Win the Championship

The Miami Heat have worst the starting pointing guard in the NBA.

Think about that, in all likelihood 31 teams have a better starting point guard. If you look at any other contender the have a top 10-15 starting point guard leading their team.

The Elite Teams

Lakers: Derek Fisher- Although he is not considered an elite statistical point guard he is a winner. A 5-time NBA champion, all with the Lakers says it all. The past 5 seasons he has played in all 82 games. He runs the offense and is a smart player. 9 points and 3 assists seems mediocre but 5 time NBA champion means he must be doing something right.

Celtics: Rajon Rondo- He might be the best pure point guard in the league right now. He is the best defensive point guard around and already has a ring. He leads the league in assist with an outstanding 15 a game. That number will obviously go down but he has cemented his place into the "Big 4" and is the best player on the best team in the east.

Hornets: Chris Paul- The Hornets have started off undefeated and Chris Paul is the favorite in the MVP race. He has been the face of the organization despite trade rumors surfacing this summer. If you look at the roster it doesn't seem like one that would be undefeated after this many games but Chris Paul can score, make plays, and win games. With Durant, LeBron, and Kobe putting sub-par numbers up so far Chris Paul is my early MVP favorite.

Magic: Jameer Nelson- His game has taken a step backwards due to injuries but once he is healthy the Magic will be a force again in the east. He is averaging 15 points and 6 assists so far this season which is a good sign.


Thunder: Russell Westrbrook- The Thunder's success or failure rests in the hands of pre season MVP favorite Kevin Durant. He has not lived up to that label or his new contract but he will come into form soon. But this might be the biggest surprise of the season, the play of Russell Westbrook. This is only his third season (4th pick in the 2008 draft). The Thunder traded away back up point guard Darren Collison in the offseason because they knew Westbrook was their point guard for the future. He averaged 16 and 8 last year and this season his assists have stayed about the same, at 8, but he's scoring 24 points a game while also grabbing 6.5 rebounds a game. He has 5 double doubles and 2 30+ point games already. He has shown he IS a top 10 point with room to grow.