Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grading the annual NBA GM Survey

 By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA  - Each year at this time the NBA polls its general managers to provide fans with an inside look at what the minds of the league's decision-makers really think.

It's a great concept and something the other major professional sports leagues should consider emulating. This year in the ninth annual survey the GMs again predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers will win the NBA championship by defeating the new-look Miami Heat in The Finals.

Considering the movers-and-shakers also picked Kobe's bunch the past two seasons, it seems like a pretty good bet that LA has a three-peat in its future.

Or is it?

Here's one man's view of what the NBA's general managers got right and more importantly what they got wrong:

Which team is the most fun to watch?

NBA GMs - Oklahoma City (51.8 percent)

My choice - Phoenix - It's understandable why people would pick the Thunder. Kevin Durant is coming off a brilliant summer with Team USA and Russell Westbrook is one of the top up-and-coming young players in the league. The Thunder as a whole also look like the Lakers' toughest test in the Western Conference this season but this is all about fun and when I want fun basketball I look for the team Steve Nash is quarterbacking.

Which team has the best home-court advantage?

NBA GMs - Utah (46.4 percent)

My choice - Utah - It's hard to argue with this choice although I will give an honorable mention to the people of Boston, at least for big games. It's wicked loud at the Gah-den. In last year's NBA Finals the drunks were sporting masks of Lamar Odom's wife, Khloe Kardashian, and chanting "Ugly Sister" at poor Khloe, along with "Beat LA" and "Kobe Sucks." Meanwhile, House of Pain was telling me to "Jump Around" and the whole scene morphed into a perfect storm of noise pollution that could rival a jet engine. That said, the Jazz are all Salt Lake City has and up 10 or down 10, those fans never quit.

Which player is most athletic?

NBA GMs - LeBron James, Miami (50.0 percent)

My choice - Josh Smith, Atlanta - James is certainly the best combination of skill, strength and athleticism, maybe of all-time but the best pure athlete? No one can touch the Hawks' Smith. His highlight-reel blocked shots, passing lane gambles, and acrobatic dunks can ignite Philips Arena at any time.

Which player is the best pure shooter?

NBA GMs - Ray Allen, Boston (53.6 percent)

My choice - Kyle Korver, Chicago - Allen is as smooth as it gets and is probably the best shooter in a set offense, half-court environment thanks to his movement skills off the ball. Korver, however, has the purest stroke in the game.

Which player is fastest with the ball?

NBA GMs - Derrick Rose, Chicago (21.4 percent)

My choice - John Wall, Washington - Rose probably edged out Rajon Rondo for me but he's just holding the crown until people get a better look at Wall. Sequel No. 10 in The Fast and Furious theatrical empire will likely be based on Wall's acceleration skills.

Which player is best at moving without the ball?

NBA GMs - Allen (40.7 percent)

My choice - Rip Hamilton, Detroit - Allen is a good choice but when healthy everyone not named Reggie Miller is looking up at Hamilton in this category.

Which player is the best offensive rebounder?

NBA GMs - Dwight Howard, Orlando (37.0 percent)

My choice - Howard - The biggest shock to me is that 63 percent of the league's GMs chose someone else. Howard is the league's best offensive rebounder by a country mile.

Which player is the best passer?

NBA GMs - Steve Nash, Phoenix (75.0 percent)

My choice - Jason Williams, Orlando - Remember this is not about being the best player, it's all about pure passing and Williams is the closest thing to a reincarnated Pete Maravich.

Which player is the best finisher?

NBA GMs - James (60.7 percent)

My choice - Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat - James is certainly a good choice but I went with his new teammate. No one attacks the rack with the fearlessness of D-Wade.

Which player does the most with the least?

NBA GMs - Luis Scola, Houston Rockets (14.3 percent)

My choice - Joakim Noah, Chicago - To me this is the effort category and Scola may not be the best athlete but he is a little too skilled for me. Noah is very long and can run the floor but he lacks fundamental basketball skills and has turned himself into on of the best low-post defenders thanks to his energy each and every night.

Who is the toughest player in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Ron Artest, LA Lakers (37.0 percent)

My choice - Reggie Evans, Toronto - Artest may very well be the toughest "good player" in the NBA but if I am walking down a dark alley in North Philly, I want Evans at my side.

Which player is the best leader?

NBA GMs - Nash (32.1 percent)

My choice - Chauncey Billups. Denver - Nash is a nice selection but after watching USA Basketball this summer and hearing all the young players rave about Billups like he was the Pied-Piper I'm convinced no one leads a basketball team like the Nuggets' point guard.

Which player has the best basketball IQ?

NBA GMs - Nash (46.3 percent)

My choice - Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers - I get the love affair with Nash but few in the history of the game have had the innate ability that Bryant has to survey a game and understand exactly what his teammates need from him on that particular night.

Which player would you want taking the game-winning shot?

NBA GM's - Bryant (78.6 percent)

My choice - Bryant - It should have been unanimous. Bryant is an assassin. Interestingly, however, my second choice, Hedo Turkoglu of Phoenix, didn't even get a mention.

Which team made the best offseason moves?

NBA GM's - Miami (96.4 percent)

My choice - Miami - Adding James and Chris Bosh is tough to compete with.

Which one player acquisition will make the biggest impact?

NBA GMs - James (89.3 percent)

My choice - James - The other players getting votes from various GMs were Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Luckily this is an anonymous ballot because we would all know who to fire with this answer.

What was the most underrated player acquisition?

NBA GMs - Al Jefferson, Utah (21.4 percent)

My choice - Darren Collison, Indiana - Jefferson certainly has talent and Jerry Sloan has quite a history with power forwards but Collison will thrive after being handed the keys by the Pacers. He was really good while filling in for the injured Chris Paul during his rookie year in the Big Easy and now has an opportunity to grow with one of the game's best young scorers in Danny Granger.

Which team will be most improved in 2010-11?

NBA GMs - Miami (39.3 percent)

My choice - Miami - Since they will probably flirt with 70 wins, it's hard to go against the Heat but I would like to make mention of three teams in the East. New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington will all be much- improved.

What was the most surprising move of the offseason?

NBA GMs - LeBron James going to Miami (67.3 percent)

My choice - Amir Johnson's big deal with Toronto - I didn't find the decision of a 25-year-old-man in the prime of his life to chose the sun and sand of South Beach instead of the harsh winters and reeling local economy of the Forest City to be particularly surprising. Dumping a heap of money on Johnson? That's just crazy.

Who is the best head coach in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Phil Jackson, LA Lakers (39.3 percent)

My choice - Gregg Popovich, San Antonio - You can't argue with Jackson's resume but to me coaching has always been about getting the most out of what you have and I think Pop wrings every last drop out of his Spurs.

Which head coach is the best manager/motivator of people?

NBA GMs - Jackson (46.4 percent)

My choice - Jackson - This is Jackson's category. The Zen Master is all about molding minds.

Which head coach makes the best in-game adjustments?

NBA GMs - Popovich (28.6 percent)

My choice - Stan Van Gundy, Orlando - Popovich is an excellent choice but Van Gundy strikes me as the Bill Belichick of the NBA, albeit without the rings. Belichick is the only NFL coach that trusts his players enough to change philosophies from week-to-week. Van Gundy will and often does take a different tact on a day-to-day basis.

Which head coach is the best in the last two minutes of a close game?

NBA GMs - Popovich (32.1 percent)

My choice - Larry Brown, Charlotte - Again Pop is a nice choice but Larry Brown is the best X's and O's coach I've ever seen at any level.

Which head coach runs the best offense?

NBA GMs - Sloan (35.7 percent)

My choice - Sloan - The toughest play in basketball to defend is the pick-and- roll and Sloan's offense has it mastered. First it was Stockton to Malone, which morphed into Williams to Boozer and will soon become Williams to Jefferson or Millsap.

Which head coach has the best defensive schemes?

NBA GMs - Doc Rivers, Boston (28.6 percent)

My choice - Popovich - Rivers got a lot of love after the Celtics' run to The Finals last year but Tom Thibodeau was really the mastermind of Boston's D. Popovich has been more consistent over the years and San Antonio is always torturous on the defensive end.

Who is the best assistant coach in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Phil Johnson, Utah (23.1 percent)

My choice - Mike Budenholzer, San Antonio - Sitting under Sloan's learning tree is great and Tyrone Corbin also got a number of votes but Budenholzer has been ready to be an NBA head coach for at least two years now.

Which active player will make the best head coach someday?

NBA GMs - Derek Fisher, LA Lakers (29.6 percent)

My choice - Billups - Billups is the best floor leader in the game and that has to translate well to the bench. Whether a star in this era wants to coach is another question. An honorable mention shout out goes to Kevin Ollie, the veteran point guard who retired this offseason to join the Connecticut Huskies as an assistant coach. Ollie doesn't have a lot of talent but I've literally never seen him make the wrong decision on the court.

Who will win the Rookie of the Year?

NBA GMs - Wall (67.9 percent)

My choice - Blake Griffin, LA Clippers - A lot of people forget Griffin is eligible after missing all of last season but the Clips will likely be much improved and Griffin will get a lot of credit for that.

Which rookie will be the best player in five years?

NBA GMs - Wall (67.9 percent)

My choice - Wall - The No. 1 overall pick definitely has the biggest upside of this year's rookie class and is a can't miss type player.

Which rookie is most likely to be a "sleeper" success?

NBA GMs - Luke Harangody, Boston Celtics and Patrick Patterson, Houston Rockets (11.1 percent)

My choice - Harangody - A "sleeper" depends on the person defining the term. Some GMs picked top-10 picks like Derrick Favors and Greg Monroe. To me, they are supposed to be successes so I look down in the draft and Harangody is a big body that knows how to play on the blocks and went to a rock-solid franchise.

Who is the best international player in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas (57.1 percent)

My choice - Nowitzki - It's a three-horse race between Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Nash but Nowitzki is still the most well-rounded of the bunch.

Which international player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2009-10?

NBA GMs - Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas (21.4 percent)

My choice - Beaubois - The Mavs need to get younger and Beaubois flashed some serious athletic skills during limited playing time in his rookie season. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry aren't exactly ready to step aside but Beaubois offers a change of pace that could be a shock to the system of the opposition if he plays with consistent effort.

Who is the best international player NOT in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Ricky Rubio (42.3 percent)

My choice - Rubio - The Spaniard took a bit of a hit with a poor performance at the Worlds but the talent level has dried up a bit overseas and Rubio remains at the head of the class.

Who is the best center in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Howard (96.3 percent)

My choice - Howard - This is a one-horse race.

Who is the best power forward in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Gasol, Nowitzki (28.6 percent)

My choice - Tim Duncan, San Antonio - Yeah, he's aging but Duncan brings a little more toughness to the position than either Gasol or Nowitzki.

Who is the best small forward in the NBA?

NBA GMs - James (67.9 percent)

My choice - James - You have to be tempted to pick Durant he plays a ton of power forward and dissing "The King"James is just a hangover from the "Summer of LeBron." James is still the top player in the league and it's not really all that close.

Who is the best shooting guard in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Bryant (85.7 percent)

My choice - Bryant - Kobe may have started to lose a little tread on the tire but he's still the game's best closer and a top-tier perimeter defender. He has probably started his descent but Bryant is still got a long way to go before he's resting his head with the mere mortals.

Who is the best point guard in the NBA?

NBA GMs - Deron Williams, Utah (50.0 percent)

My choice - Chris Paul, New Orleans - Coaches in all sports are often fond of saying you can't lose your spot due to injury. That cliche only gets ramped up if you are a star. CP3 deserves a chance to defend his throne while healthy and I have a feeling he will do exactly that.

Which player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2010-11?

NBA GMs - Griffin, Westbrook (14.8 percent)

My choice - Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia - Westbrook has already broken out so that choice is ludicrous. The book on Holiday before the 2009 draft was the cliched "raw with the huge upside." Normally, I shrug off talk like but one longtime scout who I respect assured me Holiday would be the best point guard from that '09 draft in five years, a bold statement considering Tyreke Evans, Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson and Collison also went in Holiday's class. A true quarterback, Holiday thinks pass first and is already one of the top 10 defensive point guards in the NBA. Experience should turn the former UCLA guard into an All-NBA defender and a more consistent jumper could turn him into an All-Star.

Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments?

NBA GMs - Bryant (35.7 percent)

My choice - James - It's not a knock at Bryant but there are players around the league that can match up with him physically. That don't have his skill or basketball IQ but that's another story. James is an athletic freak with the speed, strength and quickness to keep opposing coaches awake at night.

If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?

NBA GMs - Durant (55.6 percent)

My choice - James - I know "The Decision" turned people off but James is still the best player in the world and has many more years in the prime of his career.

Who will win the 2010-11 MVP?

NBA GMs - Durant (66.7 percent)

My choice - Durant - The voters tend to look for new blood and James' tattered reputation will open the door for "The Durantula."

Which team will win the Western Conference?

NBA GMs - LA Lakers (96.4 percent)

My choice - LA Lakers - Most of the Western Conference took a step back and the Lakers stand alone as a significant championship contender.

Which team will win the Eastern Conference?

NBA GMs - Miami (70.4 percent)

My choice - Miami - All of a sudden the East, at least the top of the conference, is significantly better than the West. There are three serious finals contenders in Miami, Boston and Orlando but the Heat bring the most talent to the dance. Chemistry looks like the only thing that could possible derail Miami.

Which team will win The 2011 NBA Finals?

NBA GMs - LA Lakers (63.0 percent)

My choice - Miami - Most of the NBA GMs are expecting a three-peat for the Lakers but remember who originally trademarked the term for commercial use -- former Lakers coach and current Heat basketball chief Pat Riley. Riley has done everything possible to stop the Lakers juggernaut and I think he and the Heat will get it done.

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