Amateur observations from around the NBA; The 76ers’ future, the Jazz building a contender, and writing off the Clippers once and for all.
The young and talented Utah Jazz. I would like to go ahead and request a seat on the Utah bandwagon. It won’t happen this year, and next year probably isn’t the year either, but in the fall of 2013, expect the Jazz to be considered among the contenders in the West.
The Jazz are loaded with young talent. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors offer Utah a promising frontcourt for the next decade. Butler legend, Gordon Hayward continues to improve as an all-around player. He may not do one thing great, but he does everything well. He’s the type of player that makes everything around him work because he fills whatever void the team needs at any given time. He’s a poor man’s Scottie Pippen. Flying under the radar is rookie Alec Burks, who has steadily improved throughout the season. Burks torched the Lakers this past Sunday to the tune of 17 points on 7/10 shooting in just 20 minutes. Lastly, the Jazz own multiple 1st round picks in what is projected to be a stocked 2012 draft. If Utah can find a point guard to add to its young nucleus, look out. The Jazz may not have the caliber of players that Oklahoma City has in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but they’re being built to expose the Thunder’s greatest weakness; their frontcourt.
Of course, the Thunder is contending right now while the Jazz are still a few years from being a serious threat. Regardless, don’t sleep on the Jazz. The front office in Utah is building from the ground up in the same fashion the Thunder built its impressive nucleus and just as the Spurs did before them. It’s a proven model that breeds long term success. Based on early results, the Jazz have been making the right moves and will be contenders for years to come just as they were when Stockton and Malone bludgeoned opponents to death with their deadly pick-and-roll.
Kudos to my Philadelphia 76ers for not panicking at the trade deadline and doing something stupid. Two things have become painfully clear over the past month or so. First, the Sixers aren’t ready. Sure, it’s been a nice season. The team’s early success was a surprise and turned some heads. But it’s not their time. The Sixers can’t compete with the Heat, Bulls, and Magic in the East. Come playoff time, I think they’ll struggle in a series against Boston, New York and Indiana. In other words, the Sixers may be the worst team to make the NBA Playoffs this year. Don’t get me wrong, I like what the Sixers have. They’re a nice young team. They’re just not a contending team, yet.
Second, the Sixers DESPERATELY need a polished scorer to close out games and create offense late in the 4th quarter. Right now, they’re awful in close games. They can’t score. Thus, they can’t win. Too many nice players, not enough star power. Hopefully, over the offseason or sometime within the next year, the organization can parlay it’s ever-growing stock of young assets into a superstar caliber player. In the NBA, you’re either competing for championships or running in circles. There’s absolutely no in-between. For the Sixers to take that gigantic step from talented, respected team to feared contender, they need to add a star player who can put the team on his shoulders in crunch time. Or, pray to God a player currently on the roster develops that skill and mentality.
Which leads me to this: this needs to be Evan Turner’s team. Andre Iquodala is a fine player. He’s done so much for the Sixers as they transitioned out of the Allen Iverson era to where they are today. Iggy is an elite defender and exceptional teammate. Unfortunately, his presence is hampering Turner’s growth. As long as Iggy is around, it will never be Turner’s team, or Jrue Holiday’s or Thaddeus Young’s. Turner, Holiday, and Young are the franchise’s future. It’s time to give them the reigns and let them learn/struggle/win together. Trading Iquodala in the offseason or before next year’s deadline won’t improve the Sixers immediately, but it will make them a better team later on, and for a longer period. The blue print for building a winning franchise is out there. The Bulls did it. The Thunder did it. The Jazz are doing it. It’s time the Sixers focus on contending for championships in 2014 and beyond instead of jockeying for the 4th through 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Blake Griffin needs a behavior specialist. I’m a fan of Griffin’s athleticism and his overall talent on the basketball court. I especially love his Kia commercials. I’m not a fan of his attitude or his on-court demeanor, though. I’ve found myself watching the Clippers more recently, and not because I want to see Griffin dunk from the three point line. No, I watch because I’m amazed at how immature and childish Griffin is on the court.
Next time the Clippers are on national TV, count how many times Chris Paul tries to settle Griffin after he’s whistled for a foul or the official misses a foul on Griffin. Then, count how many times Paul looks frustrated at whatever Griffin is doing (holding the ball too long, taking ill-advised shots, etc.). It’s quite entertaining. Griffin takes any and all opportunities to humiliate and stare down the opposition. Teams have started to take notice. As a result, they’ve made a concerted effort to eliminate Griffin’s easy dunks, instead fouling him (hard) and forcing him to embarrass himself at the free throw line. It’s hard for Griffin to maintain that bada** swagger when he’s hoisting air balls from the charity stripe.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence the Clippers have struggled as opponents take away Griffin’s highlight dunks. Those dunks are Griffin’s identity right now. Without them, he loses confidence, and when his confidence goes, his energy level and overall interest decline, too. Last week the Suns implemented this strategy to perfection. Griffin’s frustration boiled over. He was T-ed up, bricking free throws, and became virtually useless offensively. Griffin doesn’t scream at officials or throw his arms in the air like the boisterous DeMarcus Cousins, but Griffin is every bit as temperamental and fragile. Once the calls don’t go his way and the opposition makes him work for his points, he’s just a decent forward, not a great one. Griffin’s immaturity is the most prominent reason I’ve written off the Clippers. Chris Paul is a fantastic player and a great leader, but even he needs Griffin to be a more seasoned superstar before the Clippers can truly contend.