Monday, November 25, 2013

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side

I write this post because I am thankful.  I am gracious to you, who is reading this post.  I have much gratitude for anyone who has ever read my work on Blazer Blog.  I hope this has been a go to spot for Portland Trail Blazers and NBA Draft news.  Thanks, again, for it all.

I have accepted a writing position with, beginning in the coming weeks.  My writing is not going away, rather shifting locations to an already well-respected place.  I hope you continue to follow my work there, as well as the other gifted writers on their staff.

Thanks, and follow me @ZRey12 to continue the adventure!

Monday, November 18, 2013

NBA Draft Stock Report

Stock UP:

Jabari Parker SF/Duke- Parker has been unbelievable.  While his draft spot on the Big Board has remained relatively constant (moved from 5 to 4), he is now given a similar grade of 90 as Julius Randle.  I still give a slight edge to Randle, but at this point the difference in draft slot between the two could come down to positional needs.  Look for Parker to keep up his hot play.

Gary Harris SG/Michigan State- Like Parker, Harris has not seen much of a bump on the board, as he has moved up one spot from 10 to 9.  Harris has been impressive this season in showing more facets to his game than were apparent last season.  Harris is knows for his stellar outside shooting, and has kept that up this year to an extent (his percentage is down, but will rebound).  What is more impressive are the increases in his rebounding and assist totals, which have doubled in both categories despite seeing one 3 more mpg thus far.  Keep an eye on Harris, as he could wind up being a rich man's JJ Redick.

Noah Vonleh PF/Indiana- Wow did I underrate Vonleh.  I was expecting him to put up solid totals in blocks and rebounds with modest scoring.  I did not expect him to come out of the gate with four straight double doubles.  Julius Randle, deservedly, has earned a lot of praise for his streak of double doubles at the start of the season, while Vonleh- a fellow HS All-American in his own right- has gone fairly unnoticed.  If he can develop a more consistent mid-range jump shot, he can fill Cody Zeller's departed role more than adequately.  I have moved Vonleh into the first round picture, but expect his big board ranking to continue to rise

3 others who have impressed thus far:  Spencer Dinwiddie, Dwight Powell, Johnny O'Bryant III

Stock EVEN:

Andrew Wiggins SF/Kansas- After the mega-bowl in Chicago (this would have been a better name for the tournament!) everything heard on cable sports channels was the emergence of Parker, and how he may be surpassing Wiggins on some draft boards.  To that, I say stop overreacting.  Parker was absolutely more polished coming into the season, and his effectiveness, while impressive, still does not overshadow the potential that Wiggins has.  In two games, Wiggins is averaging 19 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.  Given the room he still has to grow, especially in converting his outside shot, Kansas will end the season with the best player in college basketball and the first overall pick.  His grade stays constant at 96.

Stock DOWN:

Patric Young C/Florida- How are we still talking about Young as a potentially draftable player?  His statistics have dipped across the board while playing only 2 minutes less per game.  There is plenty of time to turn it around, but the 4th option on a Florida team that won't contend for much this year is nothing to get excited about.  Young will have to drastically improve his play, and his motor, if he wants to remain in the draft picture.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison G's/Kentucky- I can't say I am surprised the twins have struggled for the most part, but they need to pick up the slack to keep Kentucky in the national picture and to remain as lottery pick candidates.  Andrew, supposedly the more sought after guard due to has ball handling abilities at 6'5", has struggled most, and is averaging only 3 assists per game.  Given the talent around him, I am surprised to see the number so low.  Aaron finally had a breakout performance against Robert Morris, scoring 28, but his struggles were more than noticeable against Michigan State.  It is a bad omen if the twins continue to struggle in big games.  Baylor, North Carolina and Louisville still remain on the non-conference schedule, as well as an underrated Belmont team that knocked off North Carolina yesterday.  There is still time for the Harrison's to show they can hang with the best competition. 

Damyean Dotson SG/Oregon- Dotson was an underdog pick of mine before the season, but has failed to live up to the hype (I may be the only one creating it...) so far.  He has struggled shooting the ball in two games at a shade under 27% overall.  He did have 8 rebounds against Georgetown, which could be important to the Ducks as the season progresses, but has not had much other impact.  Especially with PG Dominic Artis suspended, Dotson needs to elevate his game.

3 others who have failed to impress:  Isaiah Austin, Demetrius Jackson, LaQuinton Ross

Friday, November 8, 2013

Opening Night

All around the country, someone in vertical stripes will toss a ball straight up to commence the season.  Isn't it beautiful?  Today, 19 ranked teams will open their schedule, most in the comfy confines of home, and others playing neutral site games from Brooklyn to South Korea.  Here are the games to watch tonight:

(1) Kentucky vs UNC-Asheville:  No, this will not be a close game.  This is the first chance to see how well Calipari's elite group of underclassmen perform as a group.  Randle should be dominant.  The Harrison twins will score in bunches.  James Young will impress.  Watch this game for sheer entertainment value.  The game will be telecast on ESPN3.

(5) Kansas vs. UL Monroe:  This will be a blowout as well.  Like the Kentucky game above, this is a notable game because it marks the collegiate debut of Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, and top NBA Draft choice hopeful Andrew Wiggins.  The 3 top frosh may not play many minutes together (due to the score of the game) but the time they do spend on the court as a unit could be magical to watch.  The game will be telecast on ESPN3.

(19) Oregon vs. Georgetown:  From a military base on South Korea, Oregon vs. Georgetown is the marquee matchup of opening night.  Oregon is a talented team who recently lost point guard Dominic Artis to a suspension for selling his team-given shoes.  Georgetown lost their best player in Otto Porter, but return many veterans who could make a run at a Big East Championship.  This is the game to watch of the day, and will be shown on ESPN.

(20) Wisconsin vs. St. John's:  Talk about a contrast in styles.  St. John's boasts a bevy of raw athletes and streaky scorers.  They have, perhaps, the best shot blocker in the country in Chris Obekpa.  Wisconsin has sneakily been the best team in the country no one has talked about over the past few years.  They have an elite player in Sam Dekker, and valuable players around him that fit in Bo Ryan's system.  St. John's will make some highlight plays, but do not expect the Badgers to go away from their methodical ways.  This game will be exciting, and is being shown on the Big Ten Network.

(25) Baylor vs. Colorado:  I am still very intrigued by Isaiah Austin, who ended last season in a slump.  He pairs with Cory Jefferson to make a top frontcourt in the Big 12.  If Austin can be a go to guy- perhaps scoring 17 points with a reasonable FG%- Baylor will be team to watch in the postseason.  Colorado lost Andre Roberson, but returns PG Spencer Dinwiddie and post Josh Scott as potential NBA players and All Pac-12 players.  This will be a competitive game that could head for a down-to-the-wire finish.  The game will be shown on MASN2.

Other potentially intriguing games:
Boston College vs. Providence
Stanford vs. Bucknell
Davidson at (4) Duke

Meyers in the Middle

LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 24.5 points per game.  Lillard is not far behind at 24.3.  Even Wesley Matthews is averaging over 17 points a game.  Nic Batum has not shot the ball particularly well (43%) but is filling up the box score and is the team's leading rebounder from the small forward position.  All 4 players have a PER above league average, with LA, Lillard and Matthews having PERs over 20.  The center position?  Chalk this up to Portland's biggest weakness.

Robin Lopez was not brought in to be "the answer."  He was brought in to defend opposing centers, block some shots and get some rebounds.  In 28.5 minutes per game, Lopez has only managed 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.  His 2.25 blocks per game are a nice addition, but so what?  Lopez was torn to shreds by Dwight Howard, and looked pathetic trying to guard Miles Plumlee (yes, I said Miles Plumlee).  He is constantly in foul trouble, which gives way to our two backup centers:  Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard.  Is there one over the other who deserves minutes?  Throw in Thomas Robinson as a dark horse option to take extra minutes, and Portland has intriguing options at the backup center spot.

Joel Freeland can stretch the floor, and is a good rebounder, but struggles with turnovers and defending athletic 7-footers.  Meyers Leonard is an athletic 7-footer, and shows surprising skill offensively, but struggles mightily with his defensive awareness and positioning.  Thomas Robinson would essentially provide what JJ Hickson provided last year, rebounding and athletic dunks, but below average defense.  Is there a right answer in this bunch?

Meyers Leonard deserves more minutes.  If his mindset is right in improving on the defensive end, he is the obvious choice.  In only 2 games so far, Leonard is above league average efficiency, but much of that could be summed up by his high shooting percentages and solid rebounding rate in his few minutes.  Freeland and Robinson are power forwards asked to play center- not a major shift, but noticeable when average 7-footers destroy the team in the paint. 

Lopez is the team's starter, as he fits well next to LA.  He will continue to be in foul trouble, which opens up about 20 minutes per game.  Meyers Leonard deserves a lot of it, as the upside he offers is more promising than what Joel Freeland or Thomas Robinson (who will continue to get minutes as the backup to Aldridge) could provide.  Stotts sent a message to Leonard by naming him third string center, but it is time for Meyers to get his job back, and play 13-16 minutes per game.  I want to see more Meyers in the Middle.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

College Basketball Arrives- Top Things to Watch For

Exhibitions around the country have been common over the past week- whether secret or public.  Each team is gearing up for the start of the season, ready to show off their players, defy doubters, and bring joy to millions of fans across the country.

I posted my preview a few weeks ago, and am linking it here in case you missed it-

I love NBA basketball, but the professional ranks cannot match the number of significant storylines that take place around the country in the college game.  Here are my top things to watch for entering the season:

1.  Is Kentucky legit?  Ken Pomeroy recently published an article discussing the merit that 7 Kentucky players could be drafted in the first round, using previous DraftExpress preseason mock drafts as a mode to identify whether highly touted players before the season remain top prospects (

Chad Ford, with ESPN, currently has Randle, Harrison x2, Young, Poythress, Cauley-Stein and Johnson slated as top 30 prospects for the 2014 draft.  Pomeroy sees 4 Kentucky first round picks as the most likely scenario, slightly edging out 5 in rd. 1.  Looking at my big board (linked to the right!), I currently have 6 UK players in the top 30.  Though I still see a bright future for Alex Poythress, it would not surprise me if he loses his status as a top 30 player on a variety of platforms.

Last season, Kentucky had a top recruiting class that massively undewhelmed, with the Wildcats missing the tournament before losing to Robert Morris in the NIT first round.  I don't have too much of an issue with Kentucky as the preseason number one, as the team has lots of talent, but analysts are blinded by the high level recruits who may not pan out.  In a down SEC year, Kentucky will win the conference, but this is a 6-10 ranked team at this point, and not #1.  Time will tell.

2.  Does Wiggins stay the consensus number one draft pick?  I boldly say yes!  Wiggins is legit.  But didn't a lot of experts say the same thing about Shabazz Muhammad- who eventually went 14th on draft day.  I doubt Wiggins is found to be older than he really is, but seeing him underwhelm in Lawrence is a possibility, especially considering the high level players around him. 

I would say there is a 95% probability Wiggins goes #1 at this point, and I am very excited to catch a glimpse of Kansas in games that count.  I look forward to a match-up with #4 Duke on November 12, and I am borderline desperate to see Wiggins and Parker match-up on each other.  Gahh, what's not to like?  That game will be the best in the month of November. 

3.  Can Louisville repeat?  Louisville lost a lot.  Peyton Siva is gone.  So is Gorgui Dieng.  Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell return to lead the team, and big contributions will be expected from Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear, and Final Four hero Luke Hancock.  Chane Behanan is currently under suspension for violation of team rules, but will be an important piece of the puzzle when he returns.  It is never easy to win back to back titles, but this Louisville team is talented, and should not be overlooked.  I think Rick Pitino's squad finds a way to make it back to the Elite Eight, at minimum.

4.  Is this the year a mid-major wins the title?  Gonzaga disappointed as a 1 seed, but is back with another dominant squad.  VCU has perhaps their most talented, and deepest, roster under Shaka Smart.  Wichita State reached the final four last year, and returns over half their starting core.  Can Greg Marshall's squad do it again?  

Given the talent of Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville, etc., I do not think this is the year a mid major wins it all, but I sure hope a team makes a deep run.  When Brad Stevens' Butler squads made back-to-back title game appearances, there was a terrific story and an underdog to root for.  VCU may have the best chance to reach a final four this year, but has issues with turnovers that need to be rectified.  Gonzaga will likely win 30 regular season games, but do they have the infrastructure to make a deep run?

Want a darkhorse to make an elite eight appearance?  Harvard is the pick.  They return all of last year's squad that upset New Mexico, and bring back a pair of players who missed the season over an academic scandal (guilty or not...).  Nicole Auerbach provides a good read on the Crimson- a team you do not want to overlook this year:

5.  What draft prospects emerge from obscurity?  This is a pertinent question, especially after top 3 draft choices Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter were not ranked as top 100 high school prospects.  Oladipo had a breakout year last year that was, perhaps, the best in the country.  This season's draft will be like many others before it- strongly led by freshmen and sophomores.  The top seniors on my board are late first round candidates in Russ Smith and Doug McDermott.  Here are 5 prospects who could emerge as legitimate 1st round (or higher) draft prospects despite a relative lack of chatter at this point:

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson/Arizona
, Best Case NBA comp: Gerald Wallace
Sam Dekker/Wisconsin, Best Case NBA comp: Gordan Hayward
Leo Westermann/France, Best Case NBA comp: Sergio Rodriguez
Dwight Powell/Stanford, Best Case NBA comp: Thaddeus Young
Jerelle Benimon/Towson, Best Case NBA comp: Taj Gibson (I am reaching a little on this one, but Benimon is overlooked)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blazers vs. Suns

In just over two hours, Portland and Phoenix will kick off their respective seasons.  Both teams in this match-up have varied goals.  Portland has high hopes of taking the next step into the playoff picture, while Phoenix is in position to take a step back, fading further from the playoff picture to help add a top talent from the 2014 draft.  That said, this Suns squad has young players with a desire to prove themselves, led by their potential leading scorer Eric Bledsoe.

Here are the projected starters for Portland tonight:
1 Lillard
2 Matthews
3 Batum
4 Aldridge
5 Lopez

No surprises here.  Look for Stotts to play around 10-11 guys, with Leonard as the wild card for a few minutes out of the backup rotation.  Mo Williams likely plays the most minutes off of the bench, though it will be intriguing to see the lineups Coach Terry Stotts pairs together once the starting unit earns some rest.  I would imagine we will see a backcourt of Lillard/Williams at some point, as well as a rotation of Robinson/Aldridge.  I hope to see Dorell Wright at the stretch 4 spot some too.

Matchup To Watch: Matthews vs. Bledsoe
Storyline to Follow:  Channing Frye plays again! 

Keys to the Game:
1 Win the turnover battle- The best way to keep a lesser team in the game is to give away possessions.  Winning the turnover battle, and keeping them under 12, will help the Blazers put the game away early.
2 Win the rebound battle- Can LA and Lopez rebound together effectively?  We saw a preview that it may be a sustainable starting duo in the preseason, but, the sample size is far too small to make any true judgements. I want to see tenacity on the boards tonight.
3 Lillard scores 20- Like it or not, Lillard is this team's go to player, and he will need to score early, and keep his foot on the pedal to pace the team's scoring output.

Prediction:  Blazers 101, Suns 91

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NBA Mock Draft 1.0

  1.  Philadelphia- Andrew Wiggins SF/Kansas- Is there really any other option at this point?  No.  Unless Wiggins struggles or another player truly shines, this is the "Wiggins Draft."
  2.  Charlotte- Dante Exum PG/Australia- This would be a toss up between Randle and Exum, but given the recent signing of Al Jefferson I think Charlotte would opt for Exum.  He is an elite prospect who can play both guard positions, and would be a scorer that Charlotte needs.
  3.  Phoenix- Julius Randle PF/Kentucky- Phoenix is tanking, and gets Randle in this scenario.  A frontline of Randle/Len would be a very good start, and Phoenix would be one their way to a new future.
  4.  Boston- Aaron Gordon PF/Arizona- Gordon reminds me of Blake Griffin, and would be an immediate favorite of Rondo's- assuming he is still a Celtic.  Boston needs talent, and Gordon is best available.
  5.  Sacramento- Jabari Parker SF/Duke- Sacramento has been poor with the draft as of recent.  Ben McLemore should pan out, though, and matching him with Parker gives the Kings a high octane wing duo.
  6.  Utah- Joel Embiid C/Kansas- Utah lost much of their frontcourt depth, and adds Embiid to challenge Kanter for minutes.  He is a project, but long term offers potential All-Star appearances along the lines of a Roy Hibbert- a big if given how raw he is.
  7.  Orlando- Marcus Smart PG/Oklahoma State- Orlando's biggest preseason need is the one, assuming Oladipo is a 2 like most of the population believes.  Smart is smart (see what I did there?), and is an automatic improvement over Jameer Nelson.
  8.  Dallas- Andrew Harrison PG/Kentucky- Dallas is going to miss the playoffs.  Jose Calderon will have a good season, but he is not the long term answer at the point.  Harrison is a good passer when he wants to be, and would find himself in a good situation in Dallas.
  9.  Toronto- Semaj Christon PG/Xavier- Toronto needs a PG most, and has to reach some here to take Christon.  He is a scoring guard, and an improving passer, which is important considering the shot happy wings on the Raptors.
  10.  Milwaukee- Mario Hezonja SG/Croatia- The Bucks go international again, adding the athltic slasher from Croatia.  Look for Hezonja to have a big season abroad.
  11.  LA Lakers- Willie Cauley-Stein C/Kentucky- Chris Kaman is a stop gap.  Cauley-Stein is a great defender who must improve his offense this year.  Given the presence of Kobe Bryant for the foreseeable future, his developing offense can be nurtured.
  12.  Denver- Glenn Robinson III SF/Michigan- Denver lost Iguodala, their best player.  Here they add GR3, who may one day be a similar player.  He needs to shoot better this year, but his NBA body and athleticism scream starting 3-man.
  13.  Atlanta- Dario Saric SF/Croatia- Saric could have been a lottery last year, but withdrew.  He is a point forward who needs to improve his shot and defense.  A lot of talent and potential is present with Saric, and Budenholzer knows from his days in SA that international players can be a terrific source on draft day.
  14.  Philadelphia (from NO)- Gary Harris SG/Michigan State- Philly added Wiggins earlier in this mock, and now adds the best shooter in the draft- assuming another great season from 3pt range- to pair with him.  Philly also will have Noel as a rookie next year.  If they land Wiggins, the tanking was worth it.
  15.  Washington- Mitch McGary C/Michigan- Washington acquired Gortat, but this team isn't built to be much more than a 7 or 8 seed in the East.  McGary is a great passing big man with a good post game, and could replace the expiring deal of Gortat if he walks.
  16.  Cleveland- Wayne Selden SG/Kansas- There are no guarantees Selden enters the draft, or falls this low if he does, but he is a terrific young wing with impressive athleticism.  He is an improving shooter and defender, and will play across from Wiggins at Kansas.
  17.  Memphis- James Young SF/Kentucky- Like Selden, Young is uber-athletic, and is somewhat raw at this point.  There are high expectations for Young, and I don't expect him to disappoint.  If he enters, he will be a first round pick in 2014.
  18.  Charlotte (from DET)- Isaiah Austin PF/Baylor- Austin wasn't quite what he was expected to be as a freshman, but returns to Waco poised for a big season.  If he improves his efficiency and plays more harder and physical, he could still be a top 10 pick.
  19.  Phoenix (from MIN)- Alex Poythress SF/Kentucky- Poythress, like Austin, was slated at this point last year as a top 10 pick.  He didn't shoot well, and made poor decisions on the court.  He may not start at UK this year, but the talent level around him should bring out the best.
  20.  Charlotte (From POR)- Doug McDermott SF/Creighton- Charlotte cannot stay in the cellar much longer, so they add an NBA ready shooter in McDermott who could wind up being an Ersan Ilyasova like player.
  21.  Orlando (from NYK via DEN)- Montrezl Harrell F/Louisville- Harrell's turn to help lead Louisville has come.  He needs to prove he can defend both forward spots and rebound at a high rate to move into the lottery.
  22.  Boston (From BRK)- Jahii Carson PG/Arizona State- Rondo may not be a Celtic for long, and Carson could be a potential replacement.  He scores in bunches, and is very athletic for 5'11.  He could be a steal this low.
  23.  San Antonio- Aaron Harrison SG/Kentucky- The twin of Andrew Harrison (pick 8), Aaron is an off guard who is a better shooter than his brother.  He needs to work on his passing, and basketball IQ at UK.
  24.  Houston- Jarnell Stokes PF/Tennessee- Houston already has a few power forwards, but they don't have a high motor big man who rebounds as well as Stokes.  He fits next to Dwight Howard better than Terrence Jones.
  25.  Chicago- LaQuinton Ross SG/Ohio State- Chicago has needed an off guard ever since Rose came into the league.  Ross should be the go to player (not Craft) for Ohio State this year, and could be a riser up a lot of draft boards.
  26.  Utah (from GS)- Chris Walker SF/Florida- Billy Donovan's system should bring out the best in Walker, who does a little of everything.  If he is effective this year, 26 will be on the low end of his draft board.
  27.  Indiana- Vasilje Misic SG/Serbia- Kevin Pritchard hasn't had a problem drafting international players in the past, and the current roster may not have slots available next year.  A sweet shooting combo guard, Misic could be stashed for a few years.
  28.  Oklahoma City- Nikola Milutinov C/Serbia- Just like Misic above, Milutinov is one of Europe's best young players.  Oklahoma City can only stay with Perkins/Thabeet on the team for one more year, and Milutinov could be a good addition to Steven Adams.  Plus, wouldn't his name be an entertaining one for Adam Silver to read??
  29.  LA Clippers- Russ Smith G/Louisville- The Clippers may lose Jamal Crawford by the time the 2014 draft winds around.  Enter the player in the draft who most closely resembles him.  Smith gets a bad rep. for his inefficiency, but a more controlled senior year could put him in the first round picture.
  30.  Miami- Adreian Payne PF/Michigan State- Miami's bench has some aging components.  Payne is very athletic, and can score inside and out.  He could be a great backup to Chris Bosh, especially if the Michael Beasley situation does not work out.