NBA: Beast of the East

 The trade deadline has come and gone.  But wait, there are those mid-season free agents. You know, the guys who were part of the  whirlwind of last day deals. Mike Bibby and Troy Murphy were unceremoniously bought out (cut) by their new teams but have already landed elsewhere.  Athletic enigma Corey Brewer is the last (potentially) impact player left and is finding many potential suitors.

With 20-25 games remaining in the regular season, varying by team, FantasySP takes a look at how opening round match ups project, how roster moves may have impacted the races and what players will play a major role down the stretch.  At first glance, Charlotte may have forfeited the 8th and final spot to Indiana by shipping Gerald Wallace West to Portland. The real battles to watch are spots four through six. Why? The teams that finish fourth and fifth avoid the big three (Boston, Chicago and Miami) in the opening round.

Indiana vs Boston– Legendary Larry guides the Pacers into the East’s final slot and is rewarded with an opening round mismatch with his beloved Celtics. Indiana positioned itself for a deadline steal picking up O.J.Mayo from Memphis, only to have the deal voided due to technicality. Bird will need Mike Dunleavy to recover quickly from injury, but Brandon Rush’s return and the improving play of Josh McRoberts should be enough to hold off the Hornets. Boston’s acquisition of Jeff Green will help against the more athletic, perimeter teams, not so much against power teams like Orlando and several Western powers. Many are underestimating Nenad Kristic’s impact, the seven footer acquired with Green, will play a vital  role especially if the O’Neal’s do not return strong from injury.  Todd Murphy choosing the Celts over the Heat could have an impact on that series, should it  come down to that in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Atlanta vs Orlando– The Hawks quietly made the deal that may have the biggest impact on the post season. Combo guard Kirk Hinrich’s game provides everything that departed Mike Bibby’s game had lost. Hinrich is a great locker room guy, plays intense perimeter defense and is a very underrated three point shooter. The three guard rotation of Hinrich, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford stacks up with anyone. Hinrich also serves as a great ring leader for the ATL’s version of the big three (Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith). The Magic have been doing their re-arranging throughout the first half. Athletic guards Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson were added and both are capable of providing spark on a given night to supplement Superman. The biggest acquisition was clearly Hedo Turkoglu. Hedo has displayed some of the Magic that helped Orlando run through the post season two years ago.

New York vs Chicago– The Knicks were easily the centerpiece of the NBA transaction season. The long awaited acquisition of Carmelo Anthony mercifully came to fruition and New York finally had its superstar. While  New York got its man, depth was certainly abandoned. The Knicks will  have to get it done with a three man back court in Tony Douglas, Chauncey Billups and Landry Fields. Up front, New York can score with anyone at the forward position with Melo and Amare Stoudamire. Defending, rebounding and depth will be a huge problem.  The Bulls haven’t made many moves but appear to be stalking Corey Brewer. While Dallas leads (with the mid level exception), Chicago is hoping former Florida mate Joakim Noah can persuade Corey to the Windy City. MVP Derek Rose doesn’t need much help, look for him to carry the Bulls a long way.

Philadelphia vs Miami– The Sixers continue to build through the draft, and are starting to show signs with a very solid young group. Philly has tremendous but inexperience in the back court with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and their unquestioned leader in Andre Iguodola. Thadeus Young needs to step it up in post season, but has tremendous athleticism.  Up front, Elton Brand will never be the stud he once was the center Spencer Hawes has disappointed.  Anything short of a strong showing in the NBA finals will be a huge disappointment for all things Miami.  The Heat have dominated the lesser teams and this should continue easing them into  the Eastern  Conference finals. Perimeter shooting continues to plague Miami as Mike Miller has failed to spread the floor for the slashers. Picking up Mike Bibby may help if he magically finds his lost perimeter game.

Rating the NFL prospects

As college football elite show their stuff in Indianapolis at the NFL combine, club execs are faced with a tough task- reliable player evaluation.

As technology explodes, so does the amount of information gathered in advance of the April NFL draft.  ESPN and the NFL Network are the best in the business of grading and projecting college players transition from the college to the pro game.  Mel Kiper Jr carved a niche for himself  at ESPN in the 80’s when the draft was a mere blip on the radar.  Kiper’s persona is such,  he insists to have received interest from pro teams to run their player personnel departments, offers he claims to have rejected. The NFL Network’s superstar is former player Mike Mayock. Mayock gained notoriety by absolutely “owning”  the 2010 NFL draft coverage alongside analyst Jon Gruden. “Chucky” benefited from the magical Mayock performance to the extent of landing the Monday Night Football ‘gig”.

The information overload peaked with the NFL Network began carrying the combine “tryouts” Live. The Internet was the first big plaeteau in the NFL Combine’s rise to prominence on the annual calendar. Mock drafts are everywhere, sites are devoted entirely to the process leading up to the NFL draft, the Combine serving as the main course. What is the most important factor when choosing a young man and paying him, in some cases, tens of millions of dollars?

On field performance:  How an athlete performed during his career used to be the only real barometer when slotting talent for the draft. Is he a “good football player”? seems reasonable to me.  Further to the evaluation, what level of the competition did he perform against?

Measurables– This has had the biggest impact, especially since the meteoric rise of the NFL combine. How much can he lift? How fast can he run? How high can he  jump?How does he look in his underwear? Without a doubt, how a player performs at the combine is having a huge impact on where they land on draft day(s). Bruce Campbell is a perfect example. A year ago, Campbell performed like Adonis at the combine, blowing away the competition. Following a pedestrian  career at the University of Maryland, most figured he would be a free agent, bypassed in the draft. But wait!  following the herculean workouts at the combine,  “experts” and scouts (notice not one in the same)  had him possibly a 1st rounder! Cooler heads prevailed, he ended up right smack in the middle of the  draft, taken by the Oakland Raiders in the 4th round.

Off the field: Does the athlete have character issues? Again, is character good or bad? In NFL terms, a “character guy” is a guy with issues, a “high character guy” is a leader. Make sure you know your character or at least that of others. Interviews with coaches and in some case owners and upper management seem fair enough. But how about the Wonderlic test? Vince Young is well known for virtually failing it several years ago, while Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy (who can’t throw) nearly aced it this week. Who cares what kind of animal they would be anyway? (one of the questions sometimes asked)

Future is Now and Need: Do we have time to wait for kids to develop or are they took risky to take altogether?  George Allen, the legendary Redskins Head Coach of the 70’s believed “the future is now”.  Dan Snyder who at times runs the Skins like a fantasy team seems to share the future is now belief. The Redskins were also involved in the famous Ricky Williams trade where New Orleans Head Coach Mike Ditka traded his ENTIRE draft to Washington for  the opportunity to take the dread locked running back from Texas. What about need? Do we take a guy at a position where our  situation is a disaster? or do we simply take the best player available, every year- every pick.  In my opinion, New England displays the PERFECT patience in running a franchise. You need only look at the 2011 NFL draft, where you find the Patriots with an extra pick in each of the first four rounds.  Patience, trading back, and trading picks for next year, Bill Belichick knows how to coach and just as importantly how to stockpile talent. The Pats have gone  from old to  young in a couple of seasons without missing a beat, on the field.

Finally, more Mike Mayock man love…. If you want to exponentially increase your knowledge of the X’s and O’s of football, watch what is left of the combine this week. Mayock is a wealth of knowledge and shares it in a very conversational fashion.

NBA: Deadline Impact

The decks have been re-shuffled and its a race to the finish in the Association!

For months we heard rumors of the final destination of Carmelo Anthony.  New York,  New Jersey, back and forth, who would it be.  As the world knows, the Knicks won the prize, but across the river, it was the Nets setting the bar with a shocking trade for mega point guard Deon Williams.  The Williams deal surprised everyone, no rumors, mock salary cap experts making it balance. Simply done deal.

How did the projected playoff teams fare? We start atop the Atlantic Division with Boston.  Not unlike The Deron Deal, The Celtics surpised the NBA world by shipping their big body in the middle, Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. It was certainly no secret the C’s wanted a reliable swing man to back up Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but not by parting with the blue collar glue that bonded the four All-Stars together.  From a fantasy perspective don’t expect the numbers to change much. Perkins will continue to rebound and man the middle, while Jeff Green’s shots will be limited for many of the same reasons he had to share in Oklahoma. Atlanta was the other big mover in the East. The Hawks finally getting a point guard that can do it all. Kirk Hinrich brings leadership, a strong on ball perimeter defense and the ability to both distribute and score.  Hinrich’s assist numbers should explode and Atlanta’s big three of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith should see increased scoring numbers across the board. Out West, watch out Lakers, yes that Thunder you hear in the distance is coming from Oklahoma.  Not only did OK City acquire Perkins but another big body in Nazr Mohammed.  Nazr won’t bring you any fantasy numbers, but does bring the body to help Perk bang the Duncan’s, Dirk’s and Gasol’s of the West. Portland pulls in best supporting actor out West, adding the mercurial Gerald Wallace. Wallace will continue to stash multiple fantasy categories and provides some insurance for the hobbled Brandon Roy. Like New Jersey in the East, Denver did what it had to do to salvage value for Deron getting a future fantasy stud in Derrick Favors. For now, Devin Harris assumes Williams’ assists while Favors continues to develop. The focus now shifts from the trade chat rooms to the court for what promises to be one of the more anticipated post-seasons in years.

NFL Combine: A Fan’s Guide

While the NFL has an uncertain future, the NFL’s future is on display this week in Indianapolis.

Tight ends, kickers and other specialists got things started with the combine staggered by position with each group getting four days to show their stuff.

The first three days are uneventful for You The Fan.  Day one, athletes go through orientation and receive clearance from medical staff.  Day two filled with measurements, media time and interviews. Day three features meetings with the players association and more mental testing. Finally, on the fourth day the NFL network gets real involved and we get to see the athletes in action.

For your viewing pleasure, the 4th day is when we get to see the meat market.  Here’s a quick calendar to make sure you catch the position groups you seek!

Wednesday : Offensive lineman, tight ends, kickers, specialists (Saturday)

Thursday: Quarterbacks and wide receivers (Sunday)

Friday: Defensive lineman and linebackers (Monday)

Saturday: Defensive backs (Tuesday

Remember the visual stuff for us doesn’t come until the 4th day. (shown in paranthesis for each group)

What exactly will we see on Day 4?

-40 yard sprint

-2o yard shuttle

-3 cone drill

-60 yard shuttle

-standing long jump

-vertical jump

To wrap things up, players execute a half dozen drills specific to position. This is where we get the directly “football related” activities.

Who is participating? We have the full list for you: bine/participants

What’s new this year? Cablecam technology! No, not specifically for Cam Newton, but a cutting edge overhead angle which promises a unique and more intimate view of the workouts.

Best of the Best. If you don’t know Mike Mayock. You need to. The NFL Networks draft expert IS the best in the business.

With the NFL combine and April’s NFL draft continuing despite labor unrest, this may be NFL fans last taste of pro gridiron action for awhile. More than 300 athletes and more than 30 hours of LIVE NFL Network coverage, certainly enough to satisfy any football appetite.

Nets pull surprise

Wow, didn’t see that one coming…. Or should we have?

Deron Williams joins the New Jersey Nets as the marquee player they desired to open their new digs in Brooklyn a year and a half from now. After Carmelo Anthony opted for the New York Knicks, the Nets snuck in the back door to get one of the top young point guards in the game. Nets management has been trumpeting their ability to drive up the Knicks price for Melo and it looks like they were right. Williams was, and still may be, one of the big free agent targets on the horizon along with Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Orleans’ Chris Paul. It appears to be a bargain for the Nets, compared to the fortune given up by the Knicks.

For the now, the Nets have a great young building block at the two most important and hardest to fill positions in the NBA. Center Brook Lopez and Williams combine to form a centerpiece that will certainly entice other talent around the league to come join them.  Extending Williams is the key. Deron has a player option for free agency after next season, but the Nets cannot extend his current deal until this Summer.

Devin Harris will be the key to Utah’s side of things. Rookie forward Derrick Favors is a great building block for the Jazz, but the immediate lies in Harris’ ability to handle the point. Utah also gets New Jersey’s 1st round draft pick, Golden State’s 1st round in 2012 and $3 million in cash. Favors adds to an already promising young front court with Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.