Thursday, June 25, 2009

Live Blogging the NBA Draft

The 2009 NBA Draft is underway and we'll be bringing you live coverage and analysis. It's a difficult draft to predict, with pretty much every pick up in the air after Blake Griffin goes first overall. Between the parity between the prospects and the blockbuster trades that seem to keep happening (more on those later), it should be an exciting night for NBA fans.

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) [PF, 6-10, 248 lbs, 20 yrs] - And we are underway. The Clippers, as expected, take Griffin. This was really the only pick to make. The funny thing about Griffin is that he doesn't seem to have the upside of your average consensus #1 pick. Don't get me wrong, he's a tremendous talent, but it's hard to see him being much more than Carlos Boozer. But by taking the only sure thing in the draft, the Clippers certainly made the right choice. Now we'll see if they can unload one of their big men to make room for Griffin.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut) [C, 7-3, 267 lbs, 22 yrs] - Not really sure how Thabeet helps Memphis. He'll provide some much-needed defense, but will he give them anything on the offensive end? Also, the Grizzlies already have a solid center prospect in Marc Gasol and it's difficult to envision Gasol and Thabeet playing together. Like the Clippers and Griffin, this is a case of the Grizzlies wanting to know what they're getting, rather than take a chance on one of the many guards expected to go early. Still, shouldn't they have at least considered Jordan Hill with this pick, considering their lack of depth at power forward?

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden (Arizona State) [SG, 6-5, 222, 19 yrs] - The Thunder pass up on Rubio. Wow. Love it. After hinting strongly that they'd take Rubio, they instead opt for Harden. This makes me think that all the rumors of them drafting Rubio were just a scheme to attempt to get Minnesota or another team to trade up for the pick. I guess it didn't work, but I still think it's a great manuever.

Much as I like the trickery, I'm not a big fan of Harden. He's a good all-around guard, but he strikes me as an undersized shooting guard, and not an especially athletic one. I keep hearing Brandon Roy comparisons, but Roy is taller and more athletic. I suspect Harden will be a bust, but he's a sensible pick considering the Thunder's need at shooting guard. (Also, I love the bow-tie.)

4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans (Memphis) [SG, 6-5, 220 lbs, 19 yrs] - Guess the Kings really didn't like Rubio's workout. Needing a point guard, they go for the converted shooting guard. Clearly Evans can play the position, as he excelled in Memphis, but he's earned a reputation as a bit of a selfish player and it's hard to say if he's really suited to be an NBA point guard. Evans has to be singing John Calipari's praises right now because if Evans hadn't been moved to the point, there's no way he would've gone that high.

Evans should be a good fit in Sacramento. He'll give them some scoring out of the backcourt and the tandem of Evans and Kevin Martin will be very tough to defend. Though one does have to wonder if he's up to the task of guarding some of the smaller, quicker NBA guards.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio (Spain) [PG, 6-5, 180 lbs, 18 yrs] - Finally, Rubio is off the board. Well, alright it wasn't that long, but considering he was the consensus #2 pick for months leading up to the draft, it's a little surprising to see him drop to fifth.

This is a great pick for Minnesota. Rubio is going to a young team with a spot for him in the starting lineup and he shouldn't be under any major pressure to produce wins early on. Rubio will need to improve his outside shot, but he should make his teammates better with his passing. Also, I'd just like to point out that I have nailed the first 5 picks in this draft.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) [PG, 6-1, 196 lbs, 20 yrs] - Bit of a head-scratcher here, as Minnesota selects point guards with its back-to-back picks. It kind of makes sense if they think Rubio can defend shooting guards and Flynn can play off the ball effectively, but wouldn't it make more sense to take Stephon Curry here? My guess is they're trading this pick.

7. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry (Davidson) [PG/SG, 6-3, 181 lbs, 21 yrs] - Nice pick for the Warriors, who trade Jamal Crawford and then acquire the best shooter in the draft. Hard to imagine a player better suited for Nellie-ball than Curry. He should look good running the floor with Monta Ellis. He is greeted by a cascade of boos as the Knicks fans watch Curry slip out of their grasp.

8. New York Knicks: Jordan Hill (Arizona) [PF, 6-10, 232 lbs, 21 yrs] - Hill is a nice consolation prize for the Knicks, after missing out on Curry. He's a great athlete, good rebounder, and has a decent jump shot, all of which should make him a good fit in the Knicks' offense.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan (USC) [SG, 6-6, 211 lbs, 19 yrs] - Toronto takes a shooting guard who can't shoot. Let me know how that works out. DeRozan could become a good player, but he's very raw at this point and is basically being picked on athleticism and potential.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings (Italy) [PG, 6-2, 165 lbs, 19 yrs] - Nice pick for the Bucks, who get one of the top prospects in terms of potential. Jennings has been controversial due to his lackluster performance in Italy, but this guy would have been a top 10 pick last year, out of high school, so unless scouts think he actually got worse in his time abroad, I don't see anything wrong with this pick. Jennings and Rubio should have a slight advantage over the other rookies, having played professional basketball already.

11. New Jersey Nets: Terrence Williams (Louisville) [SG, 6-6, 213 lbs, 21 yrs] - Solid pick for the Nets, who now have a shooting guard tandem of Williams and Courtney Lee, following the Vince Carter trade. Williams has the size and athleticism to play some small forward, so they could play together as well. The Nets are years away from competing, but Williams, Lee, Devin Harris, and Brook Lopez could be a nice core.

Speaking of the Nets, I'm a little iffy of the Vince Carter trade, at least on Orlando's end. They got a talent upgrade, undoubtedly, but they have very little in the way of perimeter defense now. Also, Carter is not really a dead-eye spot up shooter. It's hard to see how this trade does not improve Orlando, but I'm not sure it makes them that much better, or enough so to justify taking on Carter's huge contract.

12. Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Henderson (Duke) [SG, 6-5, 215 lbs, 21 yrs] - No surprise here, as the Bobcats get some much-needed shooting guard depth. However, I don't think Henderson will be much of a player. His college numbers were not overwhelming and he's a bit undersized at the 2. He seems like he'll be an average shooter with limited ability to create his own shot, with his biggest asset being his defense. Think Brandon Rush, but a worse shooter.

13. Indiana Pacers: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) [PF, 6-10, 234 lbs, 23 yrs] - Questionable pick here for Indiana as they add Hansbrough. Hansbrough was a tremendous college player...but so was Christian Laettner. His greatest asset seems to be his hustle. He's a good, but not great rebounder, a respectable mid-range jump shooter, but he doesn't have much of a low-post game. On his ESPN profile it says he must improve "finishing above the rim." My point exactly. He's not a great athlete and that's never going to get better. He'll play hard and grab some rebounds, and that should be enough to keep him in the league, but he's never going to be anything special.

14. Phoenix Suns: Earl Clark (Louisville) [SF, 6-10, 226 lbs, 21 yrs] - I really like this pick for Phoenix. Clark is similar to Boris Diaw and would fit in very well with Phoenix, should they try to get back to their pre-Shaq uptempo offense. Clark isn't here to greet Stern, so instead Brandon Jennings comes out, having just arrived. Better late than never.

15. Detroit Pistons: Austin Daye (Gonzaga) [SF, 6-11, 192 lbs, 20 yrs] - Not really sure how Daye fits into the current Pistons roster, but it may not matter since Daye won't be expected to contribute for a few years. He could eventually be a good player in the Rashard Lewis mold, but right now he probably compares better to Yi Jianlian.

Side note: Dick Vitale thinks Tyler Hansbrough was a great pick. Now I feel much better about picking him as a bust. He also thinks Curry will be Rookie of the Year and a superstar. Has Vitale ever even watched an NBA game? He shouldn't be allowed at the draft.

16. Chicago Bulls: James Johnson (Wake Forest) [PF, 6-8, 257 lbs, 22 yrs] - Nice pick by the Bulls, who get a good face-up combo forward. His shooting ability should make him a good compliment to the Bulls less-offensively inclined big men (Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah).

17. Philadelphia 76ers: Jrue Holiday (UCLA) [PG, 6-4, 199 lbs, 18 yrs] - The Sixers get a tremendous value pick here, selecting a promising young point guard in Holiday. Holiday struggled at UCLA, playing out of position at shooting guard. He should be an excellent fit for the Sixers. He is an outstanding athlete and can defend opposing shooting guards, while also possessing very good court vision. With his size and point guard ability, he should be able to play alongside Lou Williams. He may even have the opportunity to be tutored by Andre Miller, if the Sixers opt to re-sign the veteran and ease Holiday into the league.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ty Lawson (North Carolina) [PG, 6-1, 195 lbs, 21 yrs] - ANOTHER point guard? Minnesota could be going for some kind of crazy all-point guard team. Wouldn't that be fun to watch? More likely, they'll trade the pick.

19. Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague (Wake Forest) [PG, 6-2, 175 lbs, 20 yrs] - Solid pick for Atlanta, as they needed a point guard, but they might want to consider trading up for a better distributor. Teague is more of a shooting guard in a point guard's body. I'd suggest trading up for Lawson, but Teague wouldn't do Minnesota much good. They could always trade down to whoevers takes Eric Maynor, though if they were actually interested in Maynor they probably would've just drafted in in the first place.

20. Utah Jazz: Eric Maynor (VCU) [PG, 6-3, 164 lbs, 21 yrs] - Utah adds one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft. Maynor should be a solid backup to Deron Williams as a rookie. Nice pick here.

21. New Orleans Hornets: Darren Collison (UCLA) [PG, 6-2, 166 lbs, 21 yrs] - Another backup point guard is selected. This seems a bit high for Collison, but the Hornets did need a backup for Chris Paul. Collison should be able to knock down open shots and play solid defense, but he may be a bit small for the NBA.

22. Portland Trail Blazers: Victor Claver (Spain) [SF, 6-11, 217 lbs, 20 yrs] - Solid pick for Portland. Claver is very talented and could be a good contributor, but he'll likely stay in Spain for now. Portland doesn't need more youth on the roster at the moment and Claver allows them to build for the future without disrupting the present roster.

23. Sacramento Kings: Omri Casspi (Israel) [SF, 6-9, 211 lbs, 21 yrs] - Casspi is a bit of a project, but he's a good, tough player who draws comparisons to Matt Harpring and Andres Nocioni. Not sure he'll contribute much as a rookie, but the Kings will have the option of letting him stay in Israel for the time being.

24. Dallas Mavericks: B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) [C, 7-1, 258 lbs, 20 yrs] - Good value pick here for Dallas, but they've got a project on their hands. He has a lot of work to do before he becomes a useful NBA player, but he's got good long-term potential. Dallas isn't looking to play a lot of rookies now, so it's a logical pick.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder: Rodrigue Beaubois (France) [PG, 6-2, 182 lbs, 21 yrs] - Apparently this pick will be swapped with the previous one, so Beaubois heads to Dallas and Mullens goes to Oklahoma City. That makes sense, as Dallas needs a backup point guard more than a project center and Oklahoma City could use a true center.

26. Chicago Bulls: Taj Gibson (USC) [PF, 6-10, 214 lbs, 24 yrs] - I don't understand this pick. The Bulls already drafted a power forward in James Johnson and Gibson seems very similar to Tyrus Thomas. If they see Johnson as a small forward, then this makes a little more sense, but wouldn't they be better off adding a guard, seeing as they're probably losing Ben Gordon this off-season?

27. Memphis Grizzlies: DeMarre Carroll (Missouri) [PF, 6-8, 207 lbs, 22 yrs] - Not sure Carroll is going to be much on an NBA player, but Memphis needed power forward help and they got it. Still, this seems like a reach, especially with DeJuan Blair still on the board. I would've picked him just for the sheer comedic value of having Blair and Thabeet on the same team.

UPDATE: Ty Lawson is supposedly headed to Denver. Not clear what Minnesota will get in return. Here's hoping they draft a 4th point guard here.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves: Wayne Ellington (North Carolina) [SG, 6-5, 202 lbs, 21 yrs] - Ellington is a little one-dimensional, but his shooting should be an asset to Minnesota, now that they've got (at least) two point guards to get him open looks.

UPDATE: The Knicks have supposedly swung a trade sending Quentin Richardson to Memphis for Darko Milicic. This is a nice gamble for New York. Not sure exactly what Darko will give them, if anything, but in theory he should fit in well with their system. Regardless of what Darko does for them, they already know what they have in Richardson and they don't need him.

29. New York Knicks: Toney Douglas (Florida State) [SG, 6-2, 183 lbs, 23 yrs] - Douglas is a combo guard who should help shore up the Knicks' perimeter defense. He's also an accomplished three-point shooter; maybe a poor man's Stephen Curry on offense, though Eddie House is probably the better comparison.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers: Christian Eyenga (Congo) [SF, 6-6, 210 lbs, 20 yrs] - Very surprising pick here. Eyenga is a superb athlete but is extremely raw. He'll most likely stay abroad for the next few years. Picking an international project makes some sense, as the Cavs are going for a title and wouldn't have much playing time for rookies anyway. But why not take a gamble of Chase Budinger here? They could probably buy a second round pick if they really wanted Eyenga.

2009 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

Well, it's June 25th. Since the last mock draft we've learned a lot...right? We know Blake Griffin is going first, but after that it's basically anyone's guess. Here's a final version of our mock draft.

First Round

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) [PF, 6-10, 245 lbs, 20 yrs] - The only question here is how the Clippers can modify their roster to accomodate Griffin. Sharing the frontcourt with Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman, and Marcus Camby isn't exactly ideal.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut) [C, 7-3, 265 lbs, 22 yrs] - Memphis really needs a power forward more than a center, but supposedly the Grizzlies are pretty high on Thabeet and they may not be prepared to draft a point guard and effectively give up on Mike Conley. It's hard to imagine Thabeet and Marc Gasol playing together (Thabeet would probably be his backup), but the Grizzlies just need size in general right now.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden (Arizona State) [SG, 6-4, 215, 19 yrs] - Many mock drafts have Ricky Rubio going here, but with Russell Westbrook already in the fold, I can't picture Rubio suiting up for the Thunder next season. That said, it's entirely possible that OKC drafts Rubio and then trades the pick. Harden gives the Thunder a natural 2-guard with a nice three-point stroke. Another option would be Stephon Curry.

On a side note, there's been a lot of Ricky Rubio talk surrounding the Thunder lately, despite there being obvious reasons for them not to draft him. My theory is that this is all deliberate on the part of the Thunder and GM Sam Presti, as they want to create the illusion that they will draft Rubio so that a team like Minnesota or the Knicks will trade up for the pick.

4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans (Memphis) [SG, 6-6, 220 lbs, 19 yrs] - Hard to believe the Kings would pass up on Rubio if he fell to them, but from all reports they were unimpressed with his workout. Instead, they could take Evans, who excelled at the point for Memphis this past season. While he is by no means a natural point guard, he can clearly play the position and, with his size and athleticism, he could provide some matchup problems for opponents.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio (Spain) [PG, 6-4, 180 lbs, 18 yrs] - The Timberwolves would have to be beside themselves if they were able to land Rubio with the fifth pick. While Rubio is not much of a scorer at this point, he's a brilliant distributor and is arguably the most NBA-ready, considering he's been playing professional basketball since he was 14.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Stephen Curry (Davidson) [PG/SG, 6-3, 185 lbs, 21 yrs] - Pairing Rubio and Curry would make for one of the most intriguing backcourts in the league, if a bit undersized. Minnesota might be better off with a more natural shooting guard, after taking Rubio 5th, so they could look to trade down with this pick, perhaps looking to land DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Henderson, or Terrence Williams. However, the Rubio-Curry comparison might be too tempting to pass up.

7. Golden State Warriors: Jordan Hill (Arizona) [PF, 6-10, 235 lbs, 21 yrs] - A point guard seems like the way to go, but Monta Ellis is dead-set on remaining the starting point guard, so instead the Warriors could grab a versatile power forward in Hill. With his athleticism and shooting touch, he should be a good fit in Don Nelson's system.

8. New York Knicks: Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) [PG, 6-0, 175 lbs, 20 yrs] - Flynn would be a very popular pick in New York, having bolstered his reputation at MSG during the Big East Tournament. A great distributor with a good all-around offensive game, he should look good in Mike D'Antoni's system.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan (USC) [SG, 6-6, 200 lbs, 19 yrs] - As one of the best athletes in the draft, DeRozan is considered to have as much upside as just about anyone out there. However, with mediocre shooting numbers in his one year at USC, there are questions about how he'll fare in the NBA. He also rated exceptionally poorly in John Hollinger's draft rater, but, as Hollinger admitted in the article, his draft rater struggles to predict players with a small sample size of data.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: James Johnson (Wake Forest) [PF, 6-9, 245 lbs, 22 yrs] - After trading Richard Jefferson, the Bucks have likely cleared enough salary to re-sign both Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva, so they can opt for the best player available here, rather than drafting out of need. That player would likely be Johnson, who is a versatile combo forward.

11. New Jersey Nets: Gerald Henderson (Duke) [SG, 6-4, 215 lbs, 21 yrs] - This picks likely comes down to either Henderson or Terrence Williams. Williams is probably the better overall prospect, but Henderson is a better shooter and a more refined player, making him a better fit in New Jersey.

12. Charlotte Bobcats: Terrence Williams (Louisville) [SG, 6-6, 220 lbs, 21 yrs] - According to reports, Williams wowed the Bobcats during his workout, outperforming Henderson, though the Bobcats are still very interested in Henderson as well. They will probably take whichever of the two is available, with Williams taking precedence.

13. Indiana Pacers: Jrue Holiday (UCLA) [PG, 6-4, 200 lbs, 18 yrs] - The Pacers are in need of a point guard and Holiday is probably the best available here. He had a so-so freshman year at UCLA, but that can be attributed to playing out of position and in a primarily halfcourt offense. Ty Lawson is another option here, but Holiday's size and defensive ability make him a better fit in Indiana.

14. Phoenix Suns: Eric Maynor (VCU) [PG, 6-3, 175 lbs, 21 yrs] - The Suns need a backup for Nash and Maynor should excel in that role. He is perhaps the most NBA-ready point guard in the draft, which makes this a sensible pick, especially if the Suns think they can still compete in the West. However, after trading Shaq to the Cavs, the Suns may be in full-scale rebuilding mode and could opt for more of a project player, like Brandon Jennings or even B.J. Mullens.

15. Detroit Pistons: DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh) [PF, 6-7, 250 lbs, 20 yrs] - As it is, Detroit will likely lose Rasheed Wallace to free agency and they will need to shore up the frontcourt. It's hard to say if Blair will ever be much more than a potent rebounder in the NBA, but his girth and inside scoring could make him a good fit, when paired with Jason Maxiell.

16. Chicago Bulls: B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) [C, 7-1, 260 lbs, 20 yrs] - Mullens may be a few years away from being a valuable contributor, but his size and scoring ability should be an asset to the Bulls, who are currently using defensive-minded big men like Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas.

17. Philadelphia 76ers: Brandon Jennings (Italy) [PG, 6-2, 165 lbs, 19 yrs] - The Sixers would have a very tough call here between Jennings and Ty Lawson. Lawson is accustomed to playing in an uptempo offense and has to be considered more NBA-ready than Jennings, but Jennings has more sizzle and upside. What this decision might come down to is the perceived status of Andre Miller. If Miller re-signs and sticks around for a few more years, he could mentor Jennings until he is ready to take the reigns, but if they think they will lose Miller, they could take Lawson, hoping that he can play major minutes at point guard as a rookie.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Earl Clark (Louisville) [SF, 6-9, 200 lbs, 21 yrs] - With four first round picks, it's hard to imagine that Minnesota will keep all of them. That said, they might want to hang on to Clark, who is one of the most intruiging prospects in the draft, as a 6-10 swingman who can play both forward positions, plus a little point forward.

19. Atlanta Hawks: Ty Lawson (North Carolina) [PG, 5-11, 195 lbs, 21 yrs] - Atlanta would be fortunate to get Lawson this low. He seems like an ideal fit to run their offense and would be a good long-term replacement for Mike Bibby. With Lawson and Jamal Crawford joining Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, the Hawks could be a very dangerous team next year.

20. Utah Jazz: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) [PF, 6-9, 250 lbs, 23 yrs] - With Carlos Boozer most likely on his way out, Utah will need power forward depth. Hansbrough doesn't have a great deal of upside, but he should be a solid contributor right away and would be a good fit under Jerry Sloan.

21. New Orleans Hornets: Sam Young (Pittsburgh) [SF, 6-6, 215 lbs, 24 yrs] - Young should give New Orleans some much-needed help on offense and, at 24 years old, he should be one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft. The Hornets need a guy who can provide an instant impact. Another posibility here could be Chase Budinger.

22. Portland Trail Blazers: Nick Calathes (Florida) [PG, 6-5, 185 lbs, 20 yrs] - Portland could use an upgrade at point guard, but they are looking more for veteran help than a rookie, at this point. Calathes is set to play in Greece next year, so this gives Portland a very promising point guard prospect who can join the team in a few years after getting some valuable experience in Europe.

23. Sacramento Kings: Jeff Teague (Wake Forest) [PG, 6-2, 180 lbs, 20 yrs] - The Kings can further shore up their backcourt with this pick. Neither Teague nor Evans is a pure point, but the combination of the two should significantly improve the Kings' point guard play.

24. Dallas Mavericks: Darren Collison (UCLA) [PG, 6-1, 165 lbs, 21 yrs] - Dallas could use another point guard, especially if they don't think they can re-sign Jason Kidd. Collison is a bit undersized, but his defense and three-point shooting should make him a useful role player in Dallas.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder: Austin Daye (Gonzaga) [SF, 6-10, 190 lbs, 20 yrs] - Daye is a very difficult player to project, but the upside is definitely there and, this late in the draft, he's worth a look. If nothing else, he should be able to provide some shooting and shot-blocking. If he can add some muscle and toughness, he could be a very good pro.

26. Chicago Bulls: Toney Douglas (Florida State) [SG, 6-2, 183 lbs, 23 yrs] - The Bulls are probably losing Ben Gordon this off-season and adding Douglas should help to off-set that loss. He won't start as a rookie, but he could be a solid role player off the bench.

27. Memphis Grizzlies: Patrick Mills (St. Mary's) [PG, 5-11, 175 lbs, 20 yrs] - Memphis could use a backup point guard and Mills has shown flashes of being a very good one. He's considered a scoring point guard, but that should make him a solid compliment to Mike Conley off the bench, who better fits the pure point guard mold.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves: Chase Budinger (Arizona) [SG, 6-7, 205 lbs, 21 yrs] - As previously mentioned, one has to think Minnesota trades one of its first round picks, but they would be hard-pressed to if they could land Budinger here. Budinger hasn't improved at Arizona the way many had hoped he would, but he's still an excellent athlete and a very talented scorer, although he leaves much to be desired on the defensive end.

29. New York Knicks: Derrick Brown (Xavier) [SF, 6-9, 225 lbs, 21 yrs] - Brown is an excellent athlete with a much-improved three-point stroke and should be a good fit in the Knicks' run and gun offense.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers: Danny Green (North Carolina) [SF, 6-6, 210 lbs, 21 yrs] - Green hasn't gotten much draft-day hype, but he's proven to be a winner and a very solid role player. He's a good three-point shooter and defender and should be an asset to the Cavs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2009 NBA Mock Draft

It's that time of year again. While most are focused on the NBA Conference Finals, we here at The People's Sports Blog are looking to the future. Here is the first edition of the PSB 2009 NBA Mock Draft. (Note that all the heights and weights are from Chad Ford's list on

First Round

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) [PF, 6-10, 245 lbs, 20 yrs] - The Clippers aren't the ideal team for Griffin based on their current roster (then again when have the Clippers been an ideal team for anyone), but the Clippers would be insane to pass him up. They'll draft Griffin and see if they can get anything for Zach Randolph.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut) [C, 7-3, 265 lbs, 22 yrs] - Ricky Rubio has been the consensus #2 pick for some time now, but rumor has it that he doesn't want to play in Memphis (or Oklahoma City, for that matter) and the Grizzlies are desperate for size. Jordan Hill could get a long look here as well, as the Grizzlies would then have the option of playing him alongside Marc Gasol.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ricky Rubio (Spain) [PG, 6-4, 180 lbs, 18 yrs] - While I don't expect Rubio to suit up for the Thunder next year, I can't imagine Oklahoma City will let him slip past them. Supposedly he is not interested in playing in OKC and even if he was, his so-so shooting would make him a poor fit alongside Russell Westbrook. More likely, they will draft Rubio and then trade down, hoping for a better fit, such as James Harden.

4. Sacramento Kings: James Harden (Arizona State) [SG, 6-4, 215, 19 yrs] - Harden is not an ideal fit for the Kings, but I'm predicting this assuming that they'll grab Harden and swap picks with Oklahoma City. Harden gives OKC a capable shooter to pair in the backcourt with Westbrook, while Rubio gives Sacramento one of the best point guard prospects in recent memory.

5. Washington Wizards: Jordan Hill (Arizona) [PF, 6-10, 235 lbs, 21 yrs] - Drafting Hill gives Washington the option of trading Antawn Jamison, or sliding him over to small forward and seeing if a lineup of Arenas, Butler, Jamison, Hill, and Haywood can stay healthy and make some noise in the East. The Wizards would also have to consider taking a point guard, such as Brandon Jennings or Jrue Holiday, and moving Arenas to shooting guard, or taking a 2-guard like DeMar DeRozan, but Hill seems like the best value here.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: DeMar DeRozan (USC) [SG, 6-6, 200 lbs, 19 yrs] - Minnesota needs a point guard above all, but taking one here seems like a bit of a stretch and there should be point guards available when they pick again later in the first round (18th). DeRozan gives them an athletic swingman who can play at shooting guard or small forward and who ought to be an upgrade over the likes of Rodney Carney and Rashad McCants.

7. Golden State Warriors: Brandon Jennings (Italy) [PG, 6-2, 165 lbs, 19 yrs] - Jennings is an outstanding athlete and would fit in well in the Warriors up-tempo offense. This would also allow Golden State to move Monta Ellis over to shooting guard, where he's had more success. While Don Nelson might prefer a more established PG, such as Jonny Flynn or Ty Lawson, Jennings has the most potential and is the best option here.

8. New York Knicks: Stephen Curry (Davidson) [PG/SG, 6-3, 185 lbs, 21 yrs] - There are rumors that the Knicks have made Curry a promise, and while they may not be true, Curry would be a sensible pick for the Knicks. With his shooting ability, he would be a good fit for Mike D'Antoni's offense. However, it is worth noting that Curry would not work out well for the Knicks on the defensive end, where he would likely be forced to defend taller, more athletic shooting guards more often than Knicks fans would like, especially if he's asked to play alongside the diminutive Nate Robinson.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh) [PF, 6-7, 250 lbs, 20 yrs] - This is a bit of a reach, but the Raptors are woefully thin up front and Blair should provide some much-needed rebounding and toughness off the bench. I believe James Johnson is a better power forward prospect, but his game is too similar to that of Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. Other possibilities here include Earl Clark and Tyreke Evans.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: James Johnson (Wake Forest) [PF, 6-9, 245 lbs, 22 yrs] - Johnson would be a nice security measure in case Milwaukee loses Charlie Villanueva in the off-season. Of course, a point guard is also an option, since there's a chance Ramon Sessions is also on his way out.

11. New Jersey Nets: Earl Clark (Louisville) [SF, 6-9, 200 lbs, 21 yrs] - The small forward position was an area of weakness for the Nets last year, as they struggled through a season of Yi Jianlian, but they can upgrade with Clark. While his work ethic and heart have been questioned, he's a very versatile player who can play point forward and should look good running the floor with Devin Harris and Vince Carter.

12. Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Henderson (Duke) [SG, 6-4, 215 lbs, 21 yrs] - Assuming the Bobcats continue their habits of drafting players with good college pedigrees and limited pro potential, Henderson is a likely pick. Henderson showed progress in his junior year at Duke, but was still erratic and his numbers were not overly impressive (especially the 33.6 3P%). However, he is a superb perimeter defender and a very good athlete. It's not a bad pick for the Bobcats, who only really have Raja Bell at shooting guard and could use a good backup.

13. Indiana Pacers: Jrue Holiday (UCLA) [PG, 6-4, 200 lbs, 18 yrs] - Getting Holiday here would be a great value and he could be a very good fit for this team. He has the size and athleticism to defend shooting guards, which would allow him to play alongside T.J. Ford for stretches. However, the Pacers would do well to try and play him primarily as a point guard, as Holiday had difficulty playing shooting guard at UCLA. As long as they play at a reasonably fast pace and let Holiday run the offense some of the time, he should do just fine.

14. Phoenix Suns: Eric Maynor (VCU) [PG, 6-3, 175 lbs, 21 yrs] - The Suns have been looking for a capable backup to Steve Nash for years now and in Maynor they could have a good one. Frankly, they can't go terribly wrong with any of the PG available here (Maynor, Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn), but Maynor's got the advantage because he has a few inches on Lawson and Flynn and because he is used to playing in an up-tempo offense. While he'll need to add some muscle if he's to guard opposing shooting guards, his height and defensive ability will serve him well when he's sharing the backcourt with Nash or Leandro Barbosa.

15. Detroit Pistons: Terrence Williams (Louisville) [SG, 6-6, 220 lbs, 21 yrs] - Detroit could take a point guard here and trade down, since this part of the draft is very heavy in that position and they are already committed to Rodney Stuckey. However, if they keep the pick, it's likely to be between Williams and Tyreke Evans. Evans is the better prospect, but considering his domination of the ball at Memphis and his questionable shot selection, it's hard to see him fitting in with the Pistons (especially right after they jettisoned Allen Iverson). Williams has been considered underaggressive, if anything, but his all-around ability and willingness to share the ball should play well in Detroit.

16. Chicago Bulls: Tyreke Evans (Memphis) [SG, 6-6, 220 lbs, 19 yrs] - Chicago would probably prefer a better shooter, especially if they have to replace Ben Gordon, but at this point in the draft, and needing a swingman, they can't pass up on Evans. While the team would suffer from a lack of perimeter shooting when playing Evans and Derrick Rose together, Evans has as much potential as any swingman in the draft and he would make a great fastbreak partner for Rose. He'll also give them a capable defender and a guy who can consistently get to the free throw line.

17. Philadelphia 76ers: Ty Lawson (North Carolina) [PG, 5-11, 195 lbs, 21 yrs] - I would rank Flynn as the better point guard prospect, but Lawson makes a little more sense for the Sixers, who may need to replace Andre Miller. The Sixers have been a horrific three-point shooting team for the last two years and Lawson would give them a capable marksman, while also providing a point guard who is accustomed to running an up-tempo offense. The only downside to this pick is that Lawson's small stature would make it difficult for the Sixers to play him with Lou Williams.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) [PG, 6-0, 175 lbs, 20 yrs] - Minnesota would have to be thrilled to get Flynn here, as some might argue that, after Rubio, he's the best point guard prospect in the draft. Minnesota is a few years away no matter who they draft, but with Flynn, DeRozan, Randy Foye, Kevin Love, and Al Jefferson, the T'wolves would have a nice young core.

19. Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague (Wake Forest) [PG, 6-2, 180 lbs, 20 yrs] - The Hawks could really use a backup point guard, as Acie Law has been a bust and reportedly wants out of Atlanta. Teague plays more like a shooting guard than a point, but the Hawks could use him with Joe Johnson and play Teague off the ball. Another possibility here could be Austin Daye, who would give the Hawks another versatile wingman with range, but it could be hard to find him minutes with Josh Smith and Marvin Williams already in the fold.

20. Utah Jazz: Gani Lawal (Georgia Tech) [PF, 6-9, 220 lbs, 19 yrs] - It's looking like the Jazz are about to lose either Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsaps and their selection here will depend on which player leaves. If they lose Millsaps, it might make more sense to take a more experienced forward who can step right in and be a role player, such as Tyler Hansbrough. However, if Boozer leaves, they have to take the PF with the best long-term potential, and at this point in the draft that is Lawal, who is a superior athlete to Hansbrough and, if nothing else, should provide some rebounding and shot-blocking as a rookie.

21. New Orleans Hornets: Chase Budinger (Arizona) [SG, 6-7, 205 lbs, 21 yrs] - The Nuggets' first-round dismantling of the Hornets showed that New Orleans needs more help on offense if they are going to make a run in the West. Budinger has not improved the way many thought he would in his time at Arizona, but nevertheless has the potential to be a very good offensive player. His athleticism and shooting ability should make him a terror as he runs the fastbreak with Chris Paul. Another option here would be B.J. Mullens, who could serve as a long-term replacement for Tyson Chandler, but his disappointing performance at Ohio State makes him a tough sell for a team that is looking to make a playoff run next season.

22. Dallas Mavericks: Darren Collison (UCLA) [PG, 6-1, 165 lbs, 21 yrs] - This pick obviously depends on whether or not the Mavs think they are getting Jason Kidd back. If not, Collison would give Dallas a good defensive point guard who is also a good three-point shooter. The only problem with this pick is that Collison's small stature would make it difficult for him to play alongside Jason Terry. However, it's hard to imagine Dallas starting Collison as a rookie, with or without Kidd, so that may not be a huge issue. If Kidd stays in Dallas, the Mavs could opt for a big man, such as B.J. Mullens.

23. Sacramento Kings: B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) [C, 7-1, 260 lbs, 20 yrs] - Mullens is very much a project player and it could be a few years before he is a meaningful contributor, but he's got a rare combination of size and athleticism and should help the Kings down the road.

24. Portland Trail Blazers: Patrick Mills (St. Mary's) [PG, 5-11, 175 lbs, 20 yrs] - Mills should be a good fit in Portland. He's not a pure point guard, but they already have one in Steve Blake and Brandon Roy is capable of running the offense when he and Mills are on the floor together. There are questions about his jump shot and his durability, but he should be able to be a useful role player even as a rookie.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder: Austin Daye (Gonzaga) [SF, 6-10, 190 lbs, 20 yrs] - Daye has had a disappointing college career but there's no questioning his potential. At 6-10 with outstanding athleticism and three-point range, Daye has the raw ability to be a great scorer in the NBA, reminiscent perhaps of Rashard Lewis (though right now I'd say he reminds me more of Yi Jianlian). There's no telling whether or not Daye can get it together and live up to the hype, but if nothing else he should become a useful role player. This is a good gamble for the Thunder.

26. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Brown (Xavier) [PF, 6-8, 225 lbs, 21 yrs] - In Brown, the Bulls get another athlete to run the floor with Derrick Rose, but one who can also knock down some deep jumpers. Brown would be a good player to pair with Joakim Noah. While he isn't the rebounder or shot-blocker that Tyrus Thomas is, having Brown at power forward would space the floor better and allow Rose to penetrate more easily. Another option here would be Toney Douglas, who has drawn comparison's to Ben Gordon. Douglas would be a logical pick if Gordon leaves and the Bulls don't take a shooting guard with their first pick in the draft.

27. Memphis Grizzlies: Wayne Ellington (North Carolina) [SG, 6-5, 194 lbs, 21 yrs] - Memphis could use depth at just about every position and Ellington could be an upgrade over players such as Greg Buckner and Quinton Ross. The Grizzlies are looking for young players with upside and Ellington's shooting should make him pretty valuable.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves: Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga) [PF, 6-11, 235 lbs, 22 yrs] - Having already added a shooting guard and a point guard, Minnesota can use this pick to shore up the frontcourt. Heytvelt isn't a prototypical NBA big man, but the T'wolves can get away with his so-so rebounding if he plays alongside Al Jefferson or Kevin Love. At the same time, his outside shooting should be an asset, especially when paired with Jefferson.

29. Los Angeles Lakers: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) [PF, 6-9, 250 lbs, 23 yrs] - All the Lakers have been hearing during the playoffs is how soft they are. Well, adding Hansbrough to the mix would put a stop to that. His pro potential is very limited, as he is not an exceptional athlete, but his rebounding, tenacity, and basketball IQ could make him a useful role player for a team like the Lakers.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers: Sam Young (Pittsburgh) [SF, 6-6, 215 lbs, 24 yrs] - Young strikes me as the next Al Thornton, both in terms of ability and potential. He should be a good combo forward, but, at age 24, he's not going to get much better than he is now. But that's just fine from Cleveland's perspective, as they are looking for players who can help with a championship. Young is capable of playing both forward positions and is also a capable three-point shooter. Having a player like Young would allow the Cavs to play him and LeBron together and really space the floor. He would almost certainly be an upgrade over Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak.

Second Round

31. Sacramento Kings: Danny Green (North Carolina) [SF, 6-6, 210 lbs, 21 yrs] - Green never blew anyone away in college, but he showed himself to be a good three-point shooter and defender. He may never be much more than a role player in the pros, but the Kings need perimeter defenders and Green could be a good value pick in the second round.

32. Portland Trail Blazers: Victor Claver (Spain) [SF, 6-11, 217 lbs, 20 yrs] - The Blazers already have two Spanish players on the roster and Claver could well be the third. It's not entirely clear what position he'd play in the NBA. He'll need to bulk up to play power forward but he might not be quick enough to guard opposing small forwards, but he's improved his jump shot and the Blazers would have the option of letting him develop in Spain for a few more years before adding him to the roster.

33. Washington Wizards: DaJuan Summers (Georgetown) [SF, 6-8, 225 lbs, 21 yrs] - Summers would give Washington another athletic wingman who already has an NBA body. He's primarily a jump-shooter, but he should be in line for some open looks, playing with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison (if he's still around).

34. Denver Nuggets: Marcus Thornton (LSU) [SG, 6-4, 205 lbs, 21 yrs] - As good as Denver has been this year, the one thing they have lacked is an effective perimeter stopper. Dahntay Jones has done a decent job, but his inability to score makes it hard to keep him on the floor, especially with J.R. Smith waiting on the bench. Thornton, though a bit undersized, is a capable defender and has been a big time scorer at LSU, averaging 21.1 PPG this season. He is not going to be a dominant scorer in the NBA, but his perimeter game is good enough that he shouldn't be an offensive liability.

35. Memphis Grizzlies: Omri Casspi (Israel) [SF, 6-7, 206 lbs, 20 yrs] - Casspi is a scrappy small forward who has drawn comparisons to Andres Nocioni and Matt Harpring. He'll have to improve his shooting to be as valuable as Nocioni, but Memphis will have the option to leave him at Maccabi Tel Aviv for a few years if they don't think he's ready just yet.

36. Detroit Pistons: Jeff Pendergraph (Arizona State) [PF, 6-10, 220 lbs, 22 yrs] - The Pistons stand a good chance of losing Rasheed Wallace in the off-season and they will need new sources of low-post scoring. One of these sources could be Pendergraph, who avergaed 14.5 PPG while shooting 66.0% as a senior.

37. San Antonio Spurs: Jermaine Taylor (Central Florida) [SG, 6-4, 205 lbs, 22 yrs] - The Spurs made a rare first round exit from the playoffs this year and much of the reason was their lack of scoring depth. With Manu Ginobili injured, the Spurs had just two players, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, who could consistently create their own shots. Taylor can certainly do that, though his style of play could be conceived as selfish. If Popovich can get him to buy into the Spurs' system and play a little defense, he could be a spark plug off the bench.

38. Portland Trail Blazers: Taj Gibson (USC) [PF, 6-9, 225 lbs, 23 yrs] - Right now the Blazers should be looking for players who can either contribute right away or who can be stashed overseas. In Gibson, they'd get the former. He'll need to bulk up to play power forward in the NBA, but, if nothing else, he should already be an effective shot-blocker.

39. Detroit Pistons: Curtis Jerrells (Baylor) [PG, 6-1, 208 lbs, 22 yrs] - The Pistons could really use a backup point guard. While Jerrells doesn't have the upside of some of the earlier selections, he should be able to serve as a competent backup to Rodney Stuckey.

40. Charlotte Bobcats: Tyler Smith (Tennessee) [SF, 6-7, 210 lbs, 22 yrs] - Smith is a solid all-around forward that could help the Bobcats' bench and, if all goes well, could be an eventual replacement for Gerald Wallace.

41. Milwaukee Bucks: A.J. Price (Connecticut) [PG, 6-2, 190 lbs, 22 yrs] - This provides the Bucks with another option at point guard, should Ramon Sessions leave Milwaukee. Price has had a tumultuous career at UConn, but has put up good numbers while also hitting some big shots. One has to think that if UConn had won the title this year, Price would be a borderline first round pick.

42. Los Angeles Lakers: Jonas Jerebko (Sweden) [SF, 6-9, 220 lbs, 22 yrs] - Jerebko still needs some time to develop overseas, but when he's ready for the NBA he could be a useful combo forward for the Lakers.

43. Miami Heat: Patrick Beverley (Ukraine) [PG, 6-1, 172 lbs, 20 yrs] - Both in his college stint at Arkansas and with his current Ukrainian team, Beverley has shown the ability to be a solid scoring point guard with NBA three-point range. While he tends to play more like a shooting guard, this would not be a major problem in Miami, as Dwyane Wade tends to do most of the ball-handling anyway.

44. Detroit Pistons: Joe Ingles (Australia) [SF, 6-8, 200 lbs, 21 yrs] - It's hard to imagine the Pistons adding four rookies to their roster next year, so it stands to reason that they will stash at least one of their draft picks overseas. Ingles is a good candidate for that, as he has already established himself as a scorer in the Australian league.

45. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jerel McNeal (Marquette) [SG, 6-3, 200 lbs, 21 yrs] - McNeal showed a great scoring touch at Marquette in his senior year, which had a lot to do with his improved three-point shooting. His shooting could help Minnesota's bench.

46. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dionte Christmas (Temple) [SG, 6-5, 190 lbs, 22 yrs] - Christmas is a good defender with a great three-point stroke who should be able to help the Cavs immediately. He will, however, have to get stronger to defend NBA shooting guards.

47. Minnesota Timberwolves: Vladimir Dasic (Serbia) [SF, 6-9, 225 lbs, 21 yrs] - Minnesota can stash Dasic overseas for now, but in a few years he should be able to contribute as a combo forward who can rebound and make some mid-range jumpers.

48. Phoenix Suns: DeMarre Carroll (Missouri) [PF, 6-8, 235 lbs, 22 yrs] - Carroll is a good, powerful athlete who should be able to help Phoenix secure offensive rebounds, while also scoring in transition. He has also improved his outside shooting and could log some minutes at small forward, sharing the frontcourt with Amare and Shaq (if they aren't traded).

49. Atlanta Hawks: Leo Lyons (Missouri) [PF, 6-9, 240 lbs, 21 yrs] - Long and athletic, Lyons would fit in well on the Hawks. The biggest complaint about him is his mediocre rebounding, but since he'll be playing alongside Al Horford and Josh Smith, it shouldn't be as big of a problem.

50. Utah Jazz: Lee Cummard (BYU) [SG, 6-7, 185 lbs, 24 yrs] - While Cummard will certainly need to add some muscle, he is a fundamentally sound player who can really shoot the ball and could be an asset to the Jazz as a bench player.

51. San Antonio Spurs: Sergio Llull (Spain) [PG, 6-3, 175 lbs, 21 yrs] - The Spurs love their foreign players and they really should love Llull; an athletic point guard who does a good job limiting his turnovers.

52. Indiana Pacers: Tasmin Mitchell (LSU) [SF, 6-7, 230 lbs, 22 yrs] - Mitchell is a bit of a tweener at only 6-7, but undersized power forwards are becoming more and more popular in the NBA and he looks like he could be a useful addition to a team's bench.

53. San Antonio Spurs: Milan Macvan (Serbia) [PF, 6-9, 260 lbs, 19 yrs] - The Spurs add another European player. Macvan is a good rebounder and has a very good basketball IQ and skills for a big man, drawing comparisons to Kevin Love.

54. Charlotte Bobcats: Ahmad Nivins (St. Joseph's) [PF, 6-9, 242 lbs, 22 yrs] - Nivins put up impressive scoring and rebounding numbers at St. Joe's, but his lack of athleticism has made his draft stock relatively low. That said, he's probably worth a look this late in the second round.

55. Portland Trail Blazers: Dar Tucker (DePaul) [SF, 6-5, 210 lbs, 21 yrs] - Tucker is very raw, but he is an excellent athlete and the Blazers can afford to bring him along slowly.

56. Portland Trail Blazers: Vyacheslav Kravtsov (Ukraine) [C, 7-0, 260 lbs, 21 yrs] - Another raw player, Kravtsov can spend some time overseas developing. He has the size and athletic ability to be a good defensive center in the NBA.

57. Phoenix Suns: Greivis Vasquez (Maryland) [SG, 6-6, 190 lbs, 22 yrs] - Vasquez is a well-rounded guard with a very high basketball IQ and great passing ability. He's not an elite shooter or athlete, but his basketball IQ and passing would make him a good fit in Phoenix.

58. Boston Celtics: Jon Brockman (Washington) [PF, 6-7, 255 lbs, 22 yrs] - The Celtics will probably lose at least one of their backup power forwards (Glen Davis and Leon Powe) to free agency, so drafting a power forward is their best bet. Brockman's game is very similar to that of Tyler Hansbrough, who many scouts think will be a solid NBA role player, so it stands to reason that Brockman can find a niche as well.

59. Los Angeles Lakers: A.J. Abrams (Texas) [SG, 5-11, 155 lbs, 22 yrs] - The Lakers have had terrible point guard play in the postseason, but Abrams could help with that. He's more of a shooting guard, but he is one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball. With the triangle offense, you don't need a playmaker at point guard, so the only issue would be whether or not he could play effective defense due to his lack of size.

60. Miami Heat: Dante Cunningham (Villanova) [PF, 6-8, 230 lbs, 22 yrs] - Cunningham had a slow start to his college career, but a breakout senior year should be just enough to get him drafted. Cunningham will give Miami a good combo forward. Playing him and Beasley together should create some mismatches.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

PSB Review: Making the Big Game by Jeffrey Fekete

We were recently sent a copy of Jeffrey Fekete's Making the Big Game: Tales of an Accidental Spectator, which just came out in April. It's an interesting book, in which Fekete describes the experience of both getting to and attending Super Bowl XLII; the epic showdown between the Patriots and Giants.

If you're looking for another writer who's going to rave about that game and tell you that Eli Manning is the new Joe Namath, you may come away disappointed. That's not Fekete's angle. He's not the hardcore fan who's been to every single game and can tell you what Jeff Feagles had for breakfast before the Giants win over the Redskins on October 30th, 2005. Rather, he's a casual fan who brings an unusual insight to the table.

Fekete is not a season-ticket holder or a sports writer. He brings a different perspective, as someone who works in radio advertising. While he won't break down stats for you, he'll tell you why the Super Bowl is advertised the way it is and how it's taken over as the prominent sporting event in the country (and arguably the world).

The book is written in a somewhat meandering style, in which Fekete will supplement a point in the main story (his journey to the Super Bowl on short notice) with sidenotes about the history of the game, individual players, and personal anecdotes. The tangents are usually interesting, as is the primary story. What makes this different from many other books written on Super Bowls is the focus is not as much on the game, as it is the arduous process of getting to the game.

Acquiring tickets, making the travel arrangements, and even getting to the stadium play a more prominent role in the book than the game itself. Not that the game isn't discussed. Fekete gives a fan's view of the game, straight from the stands. But the process of getting to the game is what makes the book interesting, as there's little that can be included in a description of the game (that game in particular) that hasn't already been said a million times over.

Making the Big Game is an unorthodox account of one of the greatest games ever played, and all the hoopla that surrounds it. It's in book stores now, or you can find it online.

Friday, April 17, 2009

NBA Playoff Preview: Western Conference 1st Round

#8 Utah Jazz (48-34) vs #1 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17)

Season series: Lakers lead 2-1


Far and away the favorites to win the Western Conference, the Lakers get a tough first round draw in Utah. The Jazz are a veteran, playoff-tested team that should give the Lakers a run for their money. However, we've seen how this series plays out. The Lakers and Jazz met in the 2nd round of the playoffs last year and LA won in 6. The Jazz have a shot in virtually any series because they are such a dominant home team, but without home court advantage, it's hard to see them beating out the Lakers, who beat them last year without Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza.

X-factor: Andrew Bynum

Bynum is not far removed from an injury, so it's hard to know how effective he can be in this series. If he is rusty and Utah can take advantage, they can make a series out of this. However, if he plays as well as he did early in the season, the Lakers could be in position to blow through the Western Conference.

Prediction: Lakers in 6

#7 New Orleans Hornets (49-33) vs #2 Denver Nuggets (54-28)

Season series: tied 2-2


This is a tough series to read these teams have not played each other at full strength. In each game, at least one significant player has been missing. The closest they came was in the first two meetings (which they split) in which Denver was at full strength, but New Orleans was missing Tyson Chandler. Considering Chandler is far and away their best defensive big man, this is very significant. And yet, with Hilton Armstrong at center, the Hornets won one game and lost by just five in the other. With Chandler back, their chances significantly increase. It will also be interesting to see how the stars match up with one another. Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups should be able to exploit each other offensively, with Paul's quickness and Billups' size. Meanwhile Carmelo Anthony and David West could each be limited as their opponents have a number of strong defensive players to throw their way. James Posey, Rasual Butler, and Julian Wright could all spend time guarding Anthony, and Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chris Anderson will have turns defending West.

X-factor: Chris Anderson

Birdman has had a resurgent season off the bench for Denver and now gets the chance to take on his former team. The biggest advantage Denver has over New Orleans is their depth at the size positions and if Anderson can help press that advantage, the Hornets could be in trouble.

Prediction: Hornets in 7

#6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32) vs #3 San Antonio Spurs (54-28)

Season series: tied 2-2


This a very tough draw for the veteran Spurs, who will be without Manu Ginobili. In addition, Dallas can match up pretty well, putting Erick Dampier (a big body and occasionally effective) on Tim Duncan, while offensively Dirk Nowitzki should be able to torch Matt Bonner or the aging Duncan. However, the Mavs have no answer for Tony Parker, who has decimated Dallas this season. He is averaging 31.3 PPG and 8.0 APG in 4 games against Dallas this season. Dallas simply has no one with the quickness to contain him. Ginobili will be missed, but the Spurs ought to have enough to get by Dallas, behind a dominant performance from Parker.

X-factor: Roger Mason

Mason will be filling in for Ginobili, starting at shooting guard. While he's not nearly as good a scorer as Manu, he's shown that he can knock down open shots, including ones in the clutch, and has been a major asset for San Antonio this season. He'll need to pick up even more of the slack with Ginobili gone.

Prediction: Spurs in 6

#5 Houston Rockets (53-39) vs #4 Portland Trailblazers (54-28)

Season series: Rockets lead 2-1


This should be one of the best series of the 1st round, as the two teams appear fairly evenly matched. The up-and-coming Blazers have been very fun to watch this year, with a balanced attack and the emergence of Brandon Roy as a star. Meanwhile, Houston has looked great in the second half of the season, despite (or perhaps because of) the absence of Tracy McGrady. On paper these teams appear evenly matched, but it's a bit hard to see Portland winning this one. While the Blazers have the size to body up on Yao Ming, Houston has enough perimeter defenders to put a damper on Roy's productivity. Roy averaged 21.0 PPG against Houston in 3 games, just 1.6 points off his overall average, but he did so on 39.3% shooting. This no doubt had a lot to do with the play of Ron Artest and Shane Battier on the defensive end. LaMarcus Aldridge will also have his work cut out for him, going against Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes.

X-factor: Greg Oden

Oden has had a fairly disappointing "rookie" year. He has struggled to stay healthy and has been inconsistent when he has been able to play. Oden only played in one game against Houston this year and he was a non-factor. He played only 11 minutes due to foul trouble and he did not manage a single rebound. However, if he can get his act together, at least on the defensive end, he has the physical ability to make life difficult for Yao. It's a long shot, but Oden has the ability to get the Blazers out of the first round.

Prediction: Rockets in 6

Thursday, April 16, 2009

NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference 1st Round

#8 Detroit Pistons (39-43) vs #1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16)

Season series: Cavs lead 3-1


While this has been a competitive rivalry in recent years, it's hard to imagine the 2009 edition living up to that hype. The Pistons are a veteran team with ample playoff experience and they will not go down easily. Expect close, physical, hard-fought games. Well at least in Detroit. But the Cavs just have too much. LeBron James cannot be stopped be wiry Tayshaun Prince (or anyone in the league, for that matter) and, with the Allen Iverson trade a bust, the Pistons simply do not have enough left in the tank to take this series deep.

X-factor: Kwame Brown

I know this sounds crazy, but Brown has actually shown signs of life in the last month and a half of the season, logging significant minutes for Detroit and playing reasonably well at times. He's certainly not going to dominate either side of the ball, but one of the Cavs' biggest advantages over Detroit is the superior play of their big men and a strong performance from Brown would close this gap a bit.

Prediction: Cavs in 5

#7 Chicago Bulls (41-41) vs #2 Boston Celtics (62-20)

Season series: Celtics lead 2-1


What at first looked like an easy series win for Boston could now be a tightly contested matchup between the defending champs and the up-and-coming Bulls, thanks to Kevin Garnett's uncertain status. It was reported today that Garnett could miss the entire playoffs so it's a safe bet he won't be playing in this series. That will make things quite difficult from the Celtics, who lost their most recent game against the Bulls 127-121. The Bulls match up very well with the Celtics, now that Garnett is out of the picture. Ben Gordon and John Salmons should be able to match Ray Allen and Paul Pierce point for point and Derrick Rose should be able to limit Rajon Rondo's production. This is a tough series to call but in the end it likely comes down to homecourt advantage. The Bulls are the worst road team in the playoffs (13-28) and the Celtics are one of the best home teams (35-6). This series should go much like Boston's first round series against Atlanta last year, where the home team won every game and that was the only reason Boston won the series.

X-factor: Brad Miller

Miller played brilliantly against the Celtics in the Bulls' March 17th win, putting up 21 pts, 14 reb, and 5 ast off the bench. Miller's shooting ability should allow him to draw shot-blockers like Kendrick Perkins away from the basket, opening up the lanes for Rose, Salmons, and Gordon. If he provides a spark on the glass as well, he could be a major asset for the Bulls.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

#6 Philadelphia 76ers (41-41) vs #3 Orlando Magic (59-23)

Season series: Magic lead 3-0


On paper, the Sixers actually match up reasonably well with the Magic. Athletic forwards Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala should be able to do a decent job containing Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. In addition, the Sixers have an advantage at point guard, after another strong season from Andre Miller. However, the Magic have Dwight Howard and the Sixers have no way to stop him. Samuel Dalembert the size and athleticism to at least make Howard work a bit, but he has been so erratic this season that it's hard to know what the Dalembert will give them in the playoffs. Unless Dalembert can slow down Howard one-on-one, the Sixers will be forced to double team and the Magic will kill them with three-point shooting.

X-factor: Marresse Speights

Speights has shown flashes of brilliance all season long, but has not always gotten the minutes he's needed to really shine. This is largely because of his spotty defense and inconsistent rebounding effort, but if the Sixers are going to have any shot at the upset, they will need Speights to come up big.

Prediction: Magic in 5

#5 Miami Heat (43-39) vs #4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35)

Season series: Hawks lead 3-1


Last year the Hawks were one of the stories of the playoffs, bringing the Celtics to the brink of playoff extinction, before succumbing in Game 7. Now they get to enjoy home court advantage for a round against the Heat. The Hawks didn't have much trouble with the Heat in the regular season, but it's hard to pick against a team with Dwyane Wade on it. The Hawks boast one of the most athletic and high-flying teams in the NBA, with Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford, plus veteran Mike Bibby at the point. On paper, they are superior to the Heat, but the Heat will have the best player on the floor in Wade. However, Wade can't do it by himself. He will need help from the likes of Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Beasley.

X-factor: Michael Beasley

While on the whole Beasley has had an uninspiring rookie season, he has caught fire of late since replacing the injured Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup. He has averaged 24.2 PPG in the last 5 games; a good sign for the Heat who need Beasley to be a solid number two for Wade.

Prediction: Heat in 6

Friday, February 20, 2009

Best Job in the NFL?

Has to be new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. Think about it:

- He cannot do worse than Rod Marinelli did in 2008.
- The Lions have a slew of draft picks in the first 3 rounds (5 I think?).
- He has a virtual carte blanche to do whatever he wants with whoever he wants.
- No Matt Millen.
- Calvin Johnson is a dominant wide receiver no matter who the Lions draft at quarterback.
- They play in a weak division.
- Expectations are low after 50 years of being in the NFL's basement. A winning season would be just as good as a Super Bowl victory for Detroit.
- Starting cap space of somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million depending on who they release/retain.

So yeah, having Tom Brady....err, Matt Cassel would be better, but realistically it's a pretty good situation. We'll see if it's still a good situation in late December.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

NFC Wildcard: Cardinals-Falcons (Live)

Miles and I will be bringing live updates and opinions on the Cardinals-Falcons game. Everyone seems to have counted the Cardinals out, but as long as they can throw the ball they've got a good shot. They're in a dome, so why can't they beat the Falcons?

Pretty pitiful start for the Cardinals, who follow a sloppy kickoff return with a 3 and out.
4:42: Matt Ryan makes a terrible pass which is intercepted. We have yet to see a first down in two drives. Weren't we expecting at least 10 points by now?
4:47: After three straight rushes by Edgerrin James (um, is this 2004?), the Cardinals just bombed it 42 yards on a flea flicker to Larry Fitzgerald who out-leaped two Falcons' defenders. If the Falcons can't stop Edge and let Kurt Warner set up play action, this is going to be a blowout.
4:54: The Falcons finally got their first first down, and an interesting matchup will be Pro Bowl-bound Roddy White against rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. In other news, Michael Turner is getting stuffed so far.
5:03: A surprisingly balanced attack from the Cardinals so far, with 5 rushes and 5 passes.
5:09: The Falcons offensive line is looking just awful. Michael Turner has no running lanes, and Matt Ryan has been sacked twice so far in the first quarter.
5:11: Warner throws 2 straight passes that probably should've been intercepted. Both team's offensive lines have been terrible. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the NFC!
5:26: Falcons are finally on the board with a field goal after a good-looking drive.
5:31: Just as the commentators were talking about how Anquan Boldin was averaging around 6 yards after the catch, he turns an 8-yard Kurt Warner check down into a 71-yard touchdown. Lawyer Milloy had a chance to tackle Boldin near the sideline, but pulled a Roy Williams (safety) and whiffed. Rackers drills the extra point and the Cardinals are up 14-3.
5:37: Roddy White drops a wide-open pass. I thought the Falcons' receiver woes left with Michael Vick. Apparently not.
5:45: Finally the Falcons offense shows signs of life, as Ryan methodically leads the offense down the field and Turner caps off the drive with a 7-yard TD run. Cardinals' lead is down to 4.
6:00: Halftime. Why is Matt Millen on NBC? Sigh. The game break actually helps the Cardinals more at this point, as the Falcons had built up some nice momentum and currently have a 3-point lead on a 2-yard pass to Justin Peele.
6:16: Halftime ends with a Jerious Norwood 26-yard kickoff return. On the first play, Michael Turner had the ball stripped by Darnell Dockett and it landed right into Antrelle Rolle's hands, who took it to the end zone. Cardinals lead again 21-17 after an exciting Neil Rackers point after.
6:26: The Falcons' drive after the turnover has been a disaster; a run for a short loss, a first-down pass negated by a holding penalty, a false start, and a deep pass incomplete. On the resulting punt, Steve Breaston was hit after calling for a fair catch to give the Cardinals' another 15 yards in field position.
6:32: Pathetic looking drive from the Cardinals, who ran once for 5 yards and then threw two incompletions (both to Larry Fitzgerald), one of which should have been a defensive holding penalty. Neil Rackers then missed a 51-yard field goal.
6:46: After trading possessions, the Cardinals just dominated the Falcons on a methodical 14-play, 76-yard drive finished off by a Tim Hightower run that resembled Michael Turner's walk into the end zone in the second quarter. The Cardinals converted four third downs and extend their lead 28-17.
6:50: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just made a great pick over Roddy White. The Falcons tried an up-and-out and Matt Ryan held it for about a half-second too long. Considering the ease at which the Cardinals are moving the ball, one more score by them could put this game away.
6:55: End of the 3rd quarter, Falcons ball.
7:06: After a confusing holding penalty against the Falcons on a Cardinals punt, Matt Ryan held the ball way too long in his own end zone and the Cardinals capitalized with a safety. Cardinals 30, Falcons 17.
7:20: The Falcons have the ball with about 7 minutes left and Matt Ryan just played with fire and almost threw a pick to Roderick Hood. On 4th and 6 Jerious Norwood took a little dump off in the flat for 30 yards.
7:24: Roddy White just scored a touchdown on a short pass to the right. Cardinals 30, Atlanta 24.
7:30: Huge catches by Larry Fitzgerald (15 yards) and Steve Breaston (25 yards) have put the Falcons' playoff hopes in severe jeopardy.
7:32: And right after Breaston's big game, John Abraham blew up a stupid reverse and tackled him for a loss of 8. A 22-yard completion to tight end Stephen Spach takes us to the 2-minute warning.
7:37: Since the Falcons burned all their time outs before the two minute warning the Cardinals will kneel it to advance in the NFC.

The Expectations Power Rankings, 2007-2008 32-17

Every year teams go into the season with baggage- a Super Bowl victory or defeat, major offseason acquisitions or releases, a history of being horrible, or perennial underachievers. While it's true that win differential doesn't tell the whole story- the Patriots couldn't be expected to repeat their perfect regular season, nor could anyone have reasonably expected the Lions to lose every game in 2008 (or could they?)- it provides a unique look at the league's booms and busts. Context means everything for teams like the Chargers and the Cowboys, while the same weaknesses that plagued the Bills and the Texans in 2007 helped them to a repeat performance in 2008. Here's the list with commentary starting with the largest negative differential to the largest positive differential. In cases of ties, the team that had more wins in 2007 got the lower ranking on the negative side while the team that had less wins in 2007 got the lower ranking on the positive side.

32. [-7] Green Bay Packers (2007: 13-3, 2008: 6-10) - It is genuinely difficult to pin down the root causes of the 2008 Packers' ineptitude. Some people might point to the Brett Favre saga/trade installing Aaron Rodgers as the franchise quarterback. That doesn't fly very far when you look at Rodgers' numbers (4038 yards, 28 TDs, 13 interceptions) compared to Favre's (3472 yards, 22 TDs, 22 interceptions). Ryan Grant's slow start might have played a part, but the Packers were doing well in the first half of the season. The defense certainly played a part, but outside of a couple games (New Orleans, Carolina) they were averaging around 18-20 points per game which isn't terrible. So I guess the only thing we can say is that it was a team effort.

31. [-7] Detroit Lions (2007: 7-9, 2008: 0-16) - You'd think that teams with more to lose might stand a better chance to make #31 on this list, but the 2008 Detroit Lions' season was epic. Starting the season with Jon Kitna before placing him on IR in week 5 under suspect circumstances, Dan Orlovsky's casual romp out of the back of the end zone against the Vikings in week 6 (final score: 12-10), firing General Manager Matt Millen, and bringing in Daunte Culpepper back to the NFC North, the Lions managed to finish in the bottom 5 in almost every meaningful statistical category. The silver lining? Calvin Johnson is living up to his draft status, finishing the season with an exceptional 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns, tied for the league lead with Larry Fitzgerald. Head coach Rod Marinelli has been fired as the Lions begin the rebuilding process.

30. [-6] Jacksonville Jaguars (2007: 11-5, 2008: 5-11) - While most of the Jaguars' woes can be attributed to an incredible number of significant injuries on their offensive line, their problems went much deeper as the season went on. Their starting middle linebacker was benched for disagreeing with Jack Del Rio in a team meeting. Newly resigned David Garrard threw 15 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 2008 compared with 18 touchdowns and 3 interceptions last year. The defense couldn't muster a pass rush despite drafting Derrick Harvey 8th overall and Quentin Groves in the second round. Fred Taylor started complaining before getting hurt and placed on IR, possibly (and probably) ending his career. The playoff victory over the Steelers in 2007 is just a fond memory, and the Jaguars have some major issues to address in the offseason.

29. [-6] Cleveland Browns (2007: 10-6, 2008: 4-12) - The Browns' dismal 2008 showing has already drawn blood with the firing of GM Phil Savage and the firing of former head coach Romeo Crennel. Honestly I'm not sold on putting the blame on Savage- it's hard to win when the first three quarterbacks on the depth chart go on IR- but not scoring a touchdown in 6 straight games is amazing and goes straight back to the playcalling. Also in fairness to Savage, Brady Quinn did look like he could be successful before his injury. The Browns' easy 2007 Cinderella season came back to haunt them with a much more difficult schedule and the re-emergence of the Baltimore Ravens as a force in the NFC North. They have the talent to be successful, but key stars such as Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are malcontents and it might leave the Browns better off if they found trade partners.

28. [-6] Seattle Seahawks (2007: 10-6, 2008: 4-12) - The main reason the Seahawks' were so pitiful on offense stems mainly from injury. Franchise quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed the majority of the season with a back injury, and before that Seattle wide receivers were dropping like flies. When you end the season with your starting wide receivers being Koren Robinson and Courtney Taylor, you know you've hit rock bottom. Offseason acquisition Julius Jones predictably wasn't stellar, starting only 10 games and finishing the season with just under 700 yards and 2 touchdowns. Since the offense couldn't do anything, the defense spent the entire game on the field and as a result finished 25th in scoring and 30th yards allowed. Mike Holmgren's parting gift was, apparently, a top-5 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

27. [-5] New England Patriots (2007: 16-0, 2008: 11-5) - Losing Tom Brady in week 1 (further proof that he sold his soul to the Devil last year) put a serious damper on the Patriots' plans to continue their domination of the AFC. Backup Matt Cassel had a slow start, but developed into a viable NFL starter and only just missed taking the Patriots into the playoffs. Since Cassel is in the final year of his contract and with all signs pointing to him earning a monster contract in the offseason, recent news of complications with Tom Brady's knee surgery make the situation that much more interesting. Other significant injuries- Adalius Thomas, Rodney Harrison, Teddy Bruschi, Lawrence Maroney, among others- also contributed to their fall from grace. The Super Bowl Curse is real.

26. [-4] Dallas Cowboys (2007: 13-3, 2008: 9-7) - The Dallas Cowboys soap opera reached new heights this year. Tony Romo's finger injury cost him 3 games in which the Cowboys went 1-2. A host of chemistry issues with (surprise) canonical loudmouth Terrell Owens and apprentice Roy Williams about the offensive playcalling along with Jerry Jones' repeated refusal to admit anything was wrong with things like the defense (after giving up 34 points to the Rams and 35 to the Giants two weeks later) only fueled the fire. Losing in spectacular fashion to the Ravens in the Texas Stadium finale on 80-yard runs by Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee followed by a 44-6 thrashing in Philadelphia exposed the Cowboys for what they really are; a team with lots of talent that simply can't win big games. Wade Phillips has to be on the hot seat, while offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has seen his stock fall from speculation that he would be named the Cowboys' next coach to whether or not he will keep his job in the offseason as well.

25. [-3] San Diego Chargers (2007: 11-5, 2008: 8-8) - Things didn't go right for the Chargers from the start of the season when Jake Delhomme rifled a pass in between three Chargers defenders to hit Dante Rosario in the end zone for a last-second victory in Carolina. Shawn Merriman's knee injury cost him the remainder of the season, while star running back LaDainian Tomlinson was slowed for much of the year with a toe injury. Lack of a pass rush exposed a ball-hawking secondary that all of the sudden wasn't able to stay in man coverage long enough for the defensive line to get to the quarterback. While their final record should really read something along the lines of 8-7-0-1, with the fourth column denoting Ed Hochuli's contribution to the season, the Chargers did not play up to their opponents and as a result were beaten by all of the 2008 teams that made the playoffs.

24. [-3] Cincinnati Bengals (2007: 7-9, 2008: 4-12) - Why Marvin Lewis gets to keep his job while Romeo Crennel loses his is beyond me; at least Crennel has had a winning season as head coach in the last 5 years. Chad Johnson's ridiculous offseason demand to be traded fizzled before he shutup and went through the motions of masquerading as an NFL starting wide receiver. He certainly didn't up his stock any with his 540 yards and 4 touchdowns. For once it was not the Bengals' defense that shoulders the majority of the blame, as the offense finished 32nd in points and total yards per game. When Cedric Benson is signed off the street and represents an upgrade to your starting running back corps, you know you're in trouble. The good news? They've earned a high draft pick that they can spend on another linebacker to put on IR.

23. [-2] Kansas City Chiefs (2007: 4-12, 2008: 2-14) - The Chiefs traded Jared Allen to the Vikings in the offseason and subsequently finished the regular season with 10 team sacks. Allen finished with 14.5. The Kansas City defense was like a sieve finishing 30th in rush defense and 28th in pass defense (and they only finished that high because teams could run as much as they wanted to). 20-year GM Carl Peterson announced his resignation effective immediately after the season, although Head Coach Herm Edwards says he doesn't plan to step down. The Chiefs' quest for the number one pick in the 2009 Draft was foiled by sneaky Detroit, and Larry Johnson has recently started asking for his way off the team (blessing in disguise?). Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez will probably either retire or be traded in the offseason as well.

22. [-1] Indianapolis Colts (2007: 13-3, 2008: 12-4) - The Colts started the season 3-4 before things started to fall into place for them and finished the season with a 9-game winning streak. As seems to be a trend with the Colts, injuries to running back Joseph Addai, left tackle Tony Ugoh, center Jeff Saturday, safety Bob Sanders, middle linebacker Gary Brackett, and cornerback Marlin Jackson as well as two preseason surgeries on Peyton Manning's knee contributed to the early ineptitude. The Colts lost the AFC South title for the first time in 6 years to the first-seeded Tennessee Titans. Questions remain about the future of aging Saturday and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who clearly lost a step after last season's knee injury, but as long as three-time MVP Peyton Manning is still healthy the Colts will be contenders.

21. [-1] Washington Redskins (2007: 9-7, 2008: 8-8) - The Redskins started the season with a loss on opening day to the Giants before ripping off four straight wins including two impressive road victories at Dallas and at Philadelphia. At the bye they were 6-3 with all of their remaining division games at home; the Redskins seemed like contenders for the NFC East title. Clinton Portis was leading the league in rushing while the media was singing the praises of rookie head coach jim Zorn. However, losses to Dallas, the Giants, Baltimore, and Cincinnati put them firmly out of the playoff picture, leading Zorn to proclaim he felt like "the worst coach in America" an also starting speculation that Redskins owner Dan Snyder might be looking to replace him. That probably won't happen, but the Redskins really need to take a look at what happened in their Dallas Cowboys-esque late season collapse.

20. [-1] St. Louis Rams (2007: 3-13, 2008: 2-14) - The Rams started the season 0-4, allowing an average of 36.8 points. In their week 5 bye, head coach Scott Linehan was fired and defensive coordinator (!) Jim Haslett was promoted to take his place. Despite the dangers of promoting a defensive coordinator whose schemes were allowing 36 points per game, Haslett managed to pull out two wins before losing every single game after week 7. To Haslett's credit, he did lower the Rams' defensive points per game to 26.5 after the bye (which still would have been 6th-worst in the league). It remains to be seen what will happen with the Rams' staffing- the record begs replacement, but the players recently petitioned to keep Haslett on board.

19. [0] Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2007: 9-7, 2008: 9-7) - The Bucs didn't count on having a difficult time in the doldrumic NFC South, but the re-emergence of the Panthers and the surprise of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and Michael Turner in Atlanta conspired to keep the Bucs out of the playoffs. Early in the season the offense struggled to put points on the board and Jon Gruden & company leaned heavily on Monte Kiffin and the defense. Going into week 16 the Bucs were 9-5 with the languishing Chargers and the perennial whipping boys the Raiders left on the schedule. Everything seemed to be going fine until news broke that Kiffin was leaving the Bucs after the season to join his son Lane as defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Volunteers. The result? Epic collapse; allowing 41 points to the Chargers and 31 to the Raiders- both losses at home. Without Kiffin the Bucs are in for an interesting 2009.

18. [0] Houston Texans (2007: 8-8, 2008: 8-8) - The Texans had a roller coaster season but things aren't looking so bad. For the second straight season they didn't finish with a losing record, while Andre Johnson solidified his status as the most dangerous wide receiver in the game. Rookie third-round pick Steve Slaton exploded onto the scene after replacing washed out Ahman Green as the starter and finished with 1282 yards and 9 touchdowns. The defense is still the weak link, but Mario Williams finished with 12 sacks and the defense as a whole is young. Gary Kubiak is borderline hot seat if he doesn't at least get the Texans to 9-7 next season, but if Matt Schaub can stay on his feet the Texans offense should be able to carry them to 9 wins.

17. [0] Buffalo Bills (2007: 7-9, 2008: 7-9) - The Bills' excuse last season was a starting lineup with 10 starters on injured reserve. This season there's not such an easy explanation. The Bills and second-year quarterback Trent Edwards made some noise early on, starting 5-1 before getting into division play. That's where things took a turn for the worst as the Bills finished 0-6 against AFC East opponents. Head coach Dick Jauron, rumored to have signed a 3-year extension during the Bills' week 6 bye, somehow managed to keep his job as head coach after being shut out in Buffalo against the Patriots (and, in fairness, against the wind) in week 17. The Bills list of needs is long, and includes fundamentals like a halfway decent tight end, a pass rush, and a possession receiver to draw some coverage away from Lee Evans. With the future of the franchise in flux due to the economics of running any sort of major business in Western New York, the Bills are going to need a major spark to sell their seats.

The Expectations Power Rankings, 2007-2008 1-16

16. [+1] Oakland Raiders (2007: 4-12, 2008: 5-11) - Al Davis missed his second game in more than four decades and the Raiders won their week 17 matchup 31-24 against the Bucs in Tampa, knocking them out of the playoffs. Coincidence? It's the same old story with the Raiders; the trickle-down effect from the top has the franchise in a total mess. The Raiders have a personnel-based roster lacking the scheme to exploit their talents, and like the Jets they found out the hard way that throwing money at the situation (Tommy Kelly, Javon Walker) won't buy you success. On the bright side, 2007 first-overall pick JaMarcus Russell showed flashes of talent and 2008 fourth-overall pick Darren McFadden mostly lived up to the hype before he got injured. The future of the franchise hinges on how well these two turn out.

15. [+1] New Orleans Saints (2007: 7-9, 2008: 8-8) - I'm not sure a bad team has ever been so entertaining to watch. On offense, Drew Brees came up just 16 yards shy of Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record- and he would have had it if the last throw of the season had connected instead of landing at the feet of two Carolina Panthers. The Saints led the league in offensive points per game, and they needed it since they were in the bottom quarter in defensive points allowed. The amazing thing about the 2008 Saints is that they managed to get to 8-8; Brees turned crappy receivers into stars while dealing with a trip to London as well as a re-emergence of division rivals. During the upcoming draft, the Saints should pick up where they left off last season and continue to get some young talent in the secondary.

14. [+1] Denver Broncos (2007: 7-9, 2008: 8-8) - The Broncos' 2008 season will go down as one of the biggest collapses of all time. They held a 3-game lead on the second-place Chargers with three weeks to play for the division title and a home playoff game, yet somehow they managed to lose both games before meeting San Diego in the season finale and getting embarrassed 52-21. In a move that surprised nearly everyone, owner Pat Bowlen fired 14-year head coach Mike Shanahan. Once again, the Broncos' Achilles Heal was the defense, which despite having several high-profile names (DeWayne Robertson, Champ Bailey, Dre' Bly) managed to finish 26th in pass defense and 27th in rush defense. To make matters worse, in every game where the defense was giving them a chance to catch up the offense sputtered. Part of this could have been due to 6 Denver running backs put on IR throughout the season, but come on- 10 points against the Raiders in week 12? The Broncos are going to be a team to watch in the offseason, as they've got so many holes it's hard to even know where they'll begin to clean up the mess.

13. [+1] Philadelphia Eagles (2007: 8-8, 2008: 9-6-1) - Despite tying the lowly Bengals and losing a couple really weird games in bad ways, the Eagles snuck into the playoffs and knocked the Cowboys out in week 17. As usual, fans have been calling for Donovan McNabb's head despite the shortage of quality quarterbacks and the team's success with him under center. Andy Reid- "The Bloated One"- continues to take Philadelphia fans on the playcalling roller coaster- running the ball 10 times one week and 30 times the next. What part of "Brian Westbrook needs 20+ touches per game" is so hard to understand?

12. [+1] Arizona Cardinals (2007: 8-8, 2008: 9-7) - Matt Leinart losing the quarterback competition in the preseason paved the way for Kurt Warner to resurrect his career, putting up an MVP performance through 12 weeks and leading the Cardinals to the NFC West division title. Even though nobody thinks they'll actually win a playoff game outside of Arizona, the Cardinals and Ken Whisenhunt certainly have the weapons to make things interesting. However with star receiver Anquan Boldin upset about his contract, virtually no running game to speak of, and an immature defense that was one of the most penalized in the league this season, the Cardinals have lots of things they need to fix in order to remain on top in the west. Warner also isn't getting any younger, so they need to decide whether or not Matt Leinart will remain in a Cardinals' uniform and start scouting to draft his replacement.

11. [+2] San Francisco 49ers (2007: 5-12, 2008: 7-9) - Head coach Mike Nolan was fired early in the season and replaced by Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, who finished the season 5-4 and was rewarded with the reins for 2009. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was fired along with quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and running backs coach Tony Nathan. Singletary seems to be just the breathe of fresh air that the stagnant 49ers franchise needs, and has told the press that they need a new quarterback, offensive lineman, and help in the secondary. Even if they can get to 8 or 9 wins next season, Singletary will be considered a success.

10. [+2] Chicago Bears (2007: 7-9, 2008: 9-7) - The Bears started out strong and even won some games behind their offense with Kyle Orton winning the starting job in training camp. A bad loss to Houston in week 17 ended their season as the Vikings clinched the NFC North and the Eagles took the last wildcard spot. With an aging defense and little to no offensive firepower outside of rookie running back Matt Forte, the financially stingy Bears will be looking to inject some youth through the draft. Lovie Smith could be on the hot seat in 2009 if he fails to take the Bears back to the postseason.

9. [+2] Minnesota Vikings (2007: 8-8, 2008: 10-6) - Adrian Peterson carried the Vikings into the playoffs. Along with the Williams Wall, a renaissance from aging cornerback Antoine Winfield, and the offseason acquisition of marquee defensive end Jared Allen, the Vikings defense finished first against the rush and 18th against the pass. Issues that need to be sorted out at quarterback could take place this January, and while head coach Brad Childress probably saved his job with the management by winning the division the fans certainly aren't going to give him a break unless he comes home with the Lombardi trophy.

8. [+2] New York Giants (2007: 10-6, 2008: 12-4) - The defending champions let everyone know that they were intent on repeating, earning the first seed in the NFC and the requisite first-round bye. First in rushing offense and 5th in scoring defense, the Giants have a proven winning formula. In what could be defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's last year with the team, he could earn himself quite the payday with a second ring. Despite the numerous distractions from Plaxico Burress, the Giants haven't given anyone a reason to believe they shouldn't be favored in all of their playoff games.

7. [+2] Pittsburgh Steelers (2007: 10-6, 2008: 12-4) - What really makes the Steelers' 12-4 record impressive is that they had one of the most difficult schedules in recent memory, facing the brutal NFC East and the AFC South. Plagued by injuries across the offensive line and at running back didn't slow them down as free-agent acquisition Mewelde Moore proved more than able to meet the challenge. As usual, Dick LeBeau's squad led the league in scoring defense, yards per game, and passing yards per game, while outside linebacker James Harrison had a legitimate shot at the AP MVP award with 101 tackles, 16 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and an interception. Offensive line should be a priority in the offseason, but the Steelers should remain on top of the NFC North for the immediate future.

6. [+3] Tennessee Titans (2007: 10-6, 2008: 13-3) - The Titans finally moved out of Peyton Manning's shadow behind a stellar defense and rookie running back Chris Johnson. Albert Haynesworth was nearly unstoppable in the middle, playing for a new contract and making the Pro Bowl. Kerry Collins replaced Vince Young at quarterback and led the Titans to a 10-0 record before losing to Brett Favre's Jets. While they've managed to do well enough so far, this team would benefit greatly from a legitimate threat at wide receiver. Like the Cardinals, the current starter isn't getting any younger. If Vince Young can get over his depression, the Titans are going to have to decide how to handle that situation in order to play at the same level in 2009.

5. [+5] New York Jets (2007: 4-12, 2008: 9-7) - Acquiring Brett Favre seemed like a good idea at the beginning of the season and even made it look like a good idea for the first half. Then Jets fans were reminded that he was Brett Favre after all as he threw just two touchdowns against nine interceptions (including 3 against the Dolphins, handing them the division title) in the final five games of the season. For some reason Favre's failures were put on Eric Mangini, who was fired ending his three-year tenure with the Jets. To make things more interesting, recent comments by several Jets players have revealed chemistry problems created by Favre's poor performance and general presence in the locker room. 6th-overall pick Vernon Gholston managed to flirt with the bust tag after just one season, notching only five solo tackles and starting zero games. You can almost hear Bill Belichick snickering during the Jets recent press conferences regarding the search for a new head coach featuring reporters asking pointed questions at Mike Tannenbaum and Woody Johnson about how they were actually the ones who brought in Favre and released Chad Pennington, who coincidentally had a career year. Even if Favre returns, it's hard to imagine them being this high on next year's list.

4. [+5] Carolina Panthers (2007: 7-9, 2008: 12-4) - Jake Delhomme bounced back from Tommy John surgery rather nicely, and coupled with a monster season from running back DeAngelo Williams the Panthers earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Steve "sucker punch" Smith finished with 1421 yards (3rd in the league) and averaged over 100 yards per game. Julius Peppers returned to dominance and finished the season tied for 5th in the league with 14.5 sacks. While the defense as a whole has been inconsistent, the Panthers force their opponents to choose between stacking the box against Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart or double covering Steve Smith. It's not a situation defensive coordinators want to be in.

3. [+6] Baltimore Ravens (2007: 5-11, 2008: 11-5) - The Ravens managed to turn the fortunes of their franchise around in a matter of months. Firing longtime coach Brian Billick and hiring little-known John Harbaugh raised eyebrows. Drafting quarterback Joe Flacco out of Delaware raised further doubts. People forgot that the Ravens defense has three of the best players at their positions- middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, and outside linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs- and a proven scheme under coordinator Rex Ryan that gives opposing offenses fits. Pair a dominant defense with a strong rushing attack (the Cowboys found that out the hard way) in Willis McGahee and fullback Le'Ron McClain and you've got a team that strongly resembles the top teams in the league.

2. [+7] Atlanta Falcons (2007: 4-12, 2008: 11-5) - Finally making a break with the ugly Michael Vick/Bobby Petrino/DeAngelo Hall past, the Falcons cleaned house in the offseason. Free Agent Michael Turner finished the season second in the league in rushing. Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan played like a seasoned veteran, and wide receiver Roddy White had a breakout year. On the other side of the ball John Abraham returned to relevance with an incredible 16.5 sacks. However like the Ravens, one can't help but wonder if this year's success was more due to the easier schedule than to the beginnings of a dynasty. The Falcons still need help on defense and a No. 2 receiver could turn a good offense into a great offense.

1. [+10] Miami Dolphins (2007: 1-15, 2008: 11-5) - The 2008 Dolphins completed a historical turnaround beating the Jets in the final week of the regular season, snatching the division title from the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots. To make it even sweeter, the winning quarterback was Chad Pennington- the former Jets quarterback traded to the Dolphins as an afterthought. Head coach Tony Sparano and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells brought an entirely different culture to the franchise and made the Dolphins watchable again. Longtime Dolphins fixture Jason Taylor was traded to the Redskins where he spent most of the season in anonymity. Joey Porter led the conference with 17.5 sacks. The wildcat offense spread throughout the entire league and, although its effectiveness generally decreased as the season went on, made things interesting. While the impending sale of the team to mogul Steven Gross has left Parcells' future with the team in doubt, the Dolphins have some great building blocks in place and have dragged themselves out of the AFC East's gutter. At least until next season, they've exceeded all expectations.