Friday, October 29, 2010

Packers / Jets Preview

The 1-5 Dallas Cowboys have one thing they can hold their heads high about: they are no longer the most arrogant team in the NFL.

That title now falls into the lap of the New York Jets.

It's hard to blame the 5-1 Jets for having confidence about their success on the field. But there are only so many ways to keep your team grounded and humble when you reside in the mega-spotlight market that is New York/New Jersey. Add on the fact that head coach Rex Ryan is smart but also a huge ego-maniac, and you have a football team that can easily let their guard down at any time.

Enter Green Bay: a sudden underdog, down-on-their luck football team with a lot to lose, but a lot more to gain. The Packers are notorious under coach McCarthy for being a second half of the season team. They struggle early to find their identity, then they dominate as the year grows. Here we are, right around the halfway point, with a Packers team who hasn't shown ANYTHING on film that they are known for: a reliable rushing game, a menacing passing game, and a punishing run defense. Injuries could be blamed, but McCarthy's teams simply don't get consistency from those areas until the second half.

Putting a 5-1 Jets team, one that is on top of the world, but can and will look pass an opponent (week 1 vs. Baltimore: the Ravens are a good team, but the Jets just weren't prepared) against a 4-3 Packers team that (hate to use the term) has their backs against the wall, and we might be in a situation where the Jets, fresh off a bye week, are thinking about wrapping up the next few games before the schedule gets a little harder.

Sure, Rex Ryan has thrown a bit extra fuel on the fire with the whole Woodson/Revis debates. But that is mostly fuel for the Packers' fire. And in terms of preparing for this game, the Jets have to go back to late last season in order to find film of the Packers at their best. That could leave the Jets closer to the side of "unprepared." And they have been unprepared a few times this year, most notably in their last game, a turnover fest that they should have lost.

No doubt, if the Packers don't play at the top of their game they will lose. But this is the time of year where they are suddenly at the top of their game. If the Jets end up focusing on the mistakes the Packers have made this year, instead of the potential the Packers showed flashes of last week, it could be a long Halloween day for the Jets on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Predicted Standings: Compilation

This is just a collective gathering of the predictions for season standings. I gathered predictions from ESPN.com, NBA.com, SI.com, CBSSports.com, and HoopsHype.com, as well as input from Rick at Haislip'd and Fell Down and myself.


Central
Atlantic
Southeast
Pacific
Northwest
Southwest
Bulls
Celtics
Heat
Lakers
Thunder
Spurs
Bucks
Knicks
Magic
Suns
Blazers
Mavericks
Pacers
Nets
Hawks
Clippers
Jazz
Rockets
Pistons
76ers
Wizards
Warriors
Nuggets
Hornets
Cavaliers
Raptors
Bobcats
Kings
Timberwolves
Grizzlies

State of the Bucks - Week 1

As part of a brand new Wednesday segment, we'll be looking each week at the Bucks' 2010-11 season. Starting tonight, all the hype, predictions and early analysis come to an end. From here on out, we get to look at actual results in determining the success or failure of this season.

This Week's Games:
Wednesday Oct 27th, @ New Orleans
Friday Oct 29th, @ Minnesota
Saturday Oct 30th, vs. Charlotte
Tuesday Nov 2nd, vs. Portland

Things to Watch For:
Since it's just Game 1, I'll focus on the Hornets. John Hollinger at ESPN said he's heard that Hornets' PG Chris Paul hasn't been in the best shape this year. Perhaps too much focus on franchise direction and possible trade rumors. Either way, a Chris Paul less than 100% is an instant edge for Milwaukee.

Beyond that, pay attention to how newcomers Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden perform. It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, especially when the old dogs get new owners who know how to properly teach new tricks.

Match-up to Watch:
Definitely the point guard battle between Brandon Jennings and Chris Paul. Both are quick, well-focused, and have the potential to hound you on defense. Of course, Chris Paul has built an All-Star career on all of those things, and has the upper hand in every category until Jennings can prove otherwise.

Final Thoughts:
Besides the Portland game, these are all very winnable games. It's reasonable to assume that with a large group of newcomers, the Bucks might take a little time to function completely as a team. If they can get an early start on renewing last year's team chemistry, they can easily be 3-1 or 4-0 after this set of games.

Milwaukee Bucks - Further Discussion

-          Team Chemistry: Chemistry was one of the biggest strengths for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009-10. It can certainly be argued that the Bucks haven’t had this good of a working relationship between players since the 1980s and the days of Sydney Moncrief. Even in the height of the late 90s-2000s, there were too many players that held the rest of the team back. It goes a long, long way when you can build a complete basketball team of players who want to be there, want to buy into the coaches’ system, give full effort at all times, and feed off a hungry fan base. If that can be duplicated this season, this team will be on the cusp of elite status.
-          Top Team Leader: Andrew Bogut will further develop as the face of the franchise. His leadership skills will take an extra step beyond where he left off last year. He’s the guy who spends the most time in the trenches, and can make plays both facing the hoop and with his back to the basket. He excelled last season in drawing double teams and then making the extra pass to assist a teammate. A highly-vocal part of this team, the entire offense runs through General Bogut.
-          Top New Team Leader: While I have Chris Douglas-Roberts ranked in the lower half of the roster, he is the type of player with an extra-rare gift of athleticism. He was criticized often last year in New Jersey for a lack of effort. When he showed flashes of skill, it left coaches and fans drooling over his potential. It’s hard to blame a young player for getting frustrated when they are stuck on a team that loses 70 of 82 games. He is genuinely excited for the chance to play for coach Scott Skiles in Milwaukee, and could end up on the fast track to stardom.
-          Rotations: While there is always the “glory” that comes with starting a game, there is no way around it: some assortment of 5 players must be in when the game begins. When a team has significant depth at every position and expects to contend for a title, the top 5 guys who enter the game off the bench are just as important as the 5 guys who start. For every game played, the star players need time to rest, and when the Bucks’ bench has a huge advantage over every other team’s bench, it gives Milwaukee an opportunity to create distance on the scoreboard.


Top Starting Five:

Point Guard
Shooting Guard
Small Forward
Power Forward
Center
Brandon Jennings
John Salmons
Corey Maggette
Drew Gooden
Andrew Bogut

o        Strength: Besides Jennings, this is a very tall rotation. Lots of speed, athleticism and high basketball IQ in this group. This is the group where team chemistry begins. They need to get comfortable in their roles on the court so that fresh guys off the bench can plug in and contribute immediately.
o        Weakness: If Maggette fails to fulfill his portion on defense, he’ll be replaced very quickly. Bogut needs to get healthy right away, and Gooden must show why he deserves better than the title “Journey Man.”

Top Rotation off the Bench:

Point Guard
Shooting Guard
Small Forward
Power Forward
Center
Keyon Dooling
Carlos Delfino
Chris Douglas-Roberts
Ilyasova / Mbah a Moute
Sanders / Brockman

o        Strength: The three players returning from last year, Delfino, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute, all play extremely well with each other. Delfino and Ilyasova are consistent inside/outside shooters, and Mbah a Moute is well known for defensive ability. Like the first team, there is a lot of height in this group, and that goes a long way. Douglas-Roberts has some growth to do, but will fit in well.
o        Weakness: The weakness is easy to see: the center position. Depending how things play out, Gooden could be asked to serve some backup time behind Bogut. The young guys, and those new to the team, have to follow close behind the veterans and develop quickly.

Milwaukee Bucks Player Rankings

Milwaukee Bucks Player Rankings
(each player's value to the team)


Rank
Player
Height
Weight
Position
Exp
Age
1
Andrew Bogut
7-1
260
Center
5
25
If Andrew Bogut can get to 100% health and improve on the year he was having in 2009, he’ll be runner-up to Dwight Howard as DPOY. Another year of 10+ rebounds and 2-3 blocks average not out of the question.

2
Corey Maggette
6-6
225
Small Forward
11
30
Consistent scorer, works very well around the basket, always gets to the free throw line. If Skiles can get him to play defense, Corey Maggette will be the Bucks' 2nd best player.
 
3
Brandon Jennings
6-1
169
Point Guard
1
21
Lots to improve on: right-and-left handed balance, finishing at the basket, shooting touch. Again, if the potential continues to play out, Jennings’ value to the team is that important.
  
4
John Salmons
6-6
207
Shooting Guard
8
30
Can’t underestimate the importance of a shooting guard with height, one who has good vision and IQ on the defensive side of the ball. Salmons was a big part of last year’s excellent team chemistry.
  
5
Drew Gooden
6-10
250
Forward/Center
8
29
Gooden is undersized at the center position, but has played it well in the past. Bogut and Gooden have had only a short time to play together in the preseason, but compliment each other extremely well.
  
6
Ersan Ilyasova
6-9
235
Small Forward
5
23
The Bucks’ “keep defenses honest” guy: Ilyasova can play smart around the basket and can also stretch the defense outside with his 3-point shooting.
  
7
Larry Sanders
6-11
235
Power Forward
R
21
This is again, strictly a potential ranking: Sanders needs to bulk up in size, but his defensive ability won’t be questioned. His 7’7” wingspan will cause harm to a lot of other teams.
  
8
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
6-8
230
Power Forward
2
24
Mbah a Moute might be the biggest one to suffer playing time with the team as deep as it is. But don’t underestimate his important in eating up minutes off the bench or because of injury. Top-10 defender. 
  
9
Carlos Delfino
6-6
230
Guard/Forward
6
28
Depending on the team the Bucks go against, Delfino can start any game or get a lot of time off the bench. Defense can use some improvement, but he’ll hit the clutch shots every time.
  
10
Chris Douglas-Roberts
6-7
210
Guard/Forward
2
23
Too many players with too much “assumed potential.” Douglas-Roberts can be a great player, but in my opinion he will need some time in a good system to get there.
  
11
Jon Brockman
6-7
255
Forward/Center
1
23
Brockman is a good option off the bench. Undersized in height, but bangs around with the best of 'em. He has a high-percentage shot in the paint and rebounds like a player much taller than he is.
  
12
Keyon Dooling
6-3
195
Point Guard
10
30
A taller backup than last year’s backup Luke Ridnour. That could be an asset on defense, but by how much? We won’t know until he hits the court. If he is as scrappy as Ridnour was, his veteran role will be a big help.
  
13
Earl Boykins
5-5
133
Point Guard
11
34
Not much to say here. Boykins can be difficult to defend because he is so small. He has a surprising range of things he can do, but will mostly serve to eat up clock or help in cases of foul trouble.
  
14
Darington Hobson
6-7
210
Forward
R
23
Hobson is a multi-faceted player, leading his college team in points, assists and rebounds his junior year. Hard worker, but wont see much playing time for a few years until he can fully develop.
  
15
Michael Redd
6-6
215
Guard
10
31
Hard to think of a higher-class player than Michael Redd, a man who remained dedicated to the team and community through so many terrible Bucks’ teams. Sad to see him end up in this spot. When he retires, put his #22 in the rafters.
  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bucks GM John Hammond - Vision for the Future

The Bucks during the 2009-10 season saw a great deal of success, and enter 2010-11 with sudden expectation. It’s hard to picture them at this juncture just 3 years ago, when they seemed to be a team with complete lack of direction. Following the 2008 season Milwaukee dismissed General Manager Larry Harris and replaced him with John Hammond, an executive with the Detroit Pistons. During his 5 years in Milwaukee, Harris had become known as the type of manager to give out maximum contracts like candy. Mediocre performance suddenly became overly-rewarded, and the Bucks became stuck in a financial disaster. Hammond came in after some good success with the Pistons, but the task appeared too daunting for anyone arriving in Milwaukee. Yet Hammond, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, has worked near miracles in rebuilding a franchise with much hope for the future.
There were two different routes Hammond could have taken towards construction of a respectable Milwaukee Bucks team: the very long-term, “gut everything immediately, cut all losses, and rebuild brick-by-brick, year-by-year model”, or the acrobatic route, the very dangerous route of trading up, and up, and up, until you have the parts that fit the system you desire. Many people have heard the story of the man who started with a common piece of junk, and constantly traded for something of better value, finally working his way up to a brand new sports car. That system of bartering for pieces a little bit better than yours is what brought Hammond his success. And he did it without completely shutting down the Bucks’ current motto of “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Hammond knew that the fan base was losing interest, and had to take the route he did in order to maintain a desirable product on the court. In the league’s smallest market, he couldn’t afford to take that first route, the one populated by the Golden State Warriors, or MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates, or the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Hammond had to strike gold immediately. That gold happened to be named Scott Skiles.
Hammond’s very first decision as Bucks GM was to hire new head coach Skiles, a former player with the vision, aggressive attitude, and defensive mindset required to succeed in the NBA. Skiles had a reputation as a highly-demanding head coach, and he immediately installed a system that was the exact opposite of Harris’ model: if you cannot or will not play defense, there is no place for you on this team. Hammond now had to shed the dead weight, and began bartering some lagging pieces for better pieces. In his first year alone, Hammond dumped off the remainders of two massively-bloated contracts: Mo Williams (6 yr, $52 million) and Bobby Simmons (5 yr, $47 million), along with botched first-round draft pick Yi Jianlian. The goal on the court was to bring in players who would buy into coach Skiles’ system and perform at a high level on defense. While the transactions made in the first year weren’t groundbreaking, they allowed the Bucks to clear up a big chunk of financial burden while improving +8 games from the previous year.
The same model continued the following season, with a revolving door of players brought in to improve the team’s performance while at the same time freeing up some much needed salary cap for the future. In year two of the Hammond/Skiles system, the team saw a +12 improvement in the wins category and a return to the NBA playoffs. The Bucks ended the 2009-10 season one horrifying wrist injury away from the second round in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Former #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut transformed into a top-5 center in the league, becoming a strong force on both offense and defense before suffering the wrist injury at the end of the year. The emergence of rookie point guard Brandon Jennings and the shift to a bigger, more athletic basketball team is what has lead to the hype entering this season.
Losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, especially with the absence of Bogut, lead to criticism of the Bucks’ ability to match up athletically with most of the elite teams in the league. Along with trimming the wasted contracts of Dan Gadzuric (6 yr, $36 million) and Charlie Bell (5 yr, $18.5 million) before this season, Hammond brought in a series of players who were either known for defensive ability or had high potential to perform on that side of the court. Corey Maggette, John Salmons and Chris Douglas-Roberts are all players in the upper height-range for their position. While not known for their defensive expertise, it’s known that coach Skiles ties defensive effort directly into playing time, not matter the size of your contract. The 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks are close to being the deepest team in the entire league at all 5 positions and guys who don’t perform will be replaced with someone who will. That’s the system in place for a team that just two years ago dwelled at the bottom of the league, with no hope in sight. Many experts and fans see this current team contending heavily for the division title, which would be their first in 10 years.
Under any other route taken, the current state of the Milwaukee Bucks wouldn’t be nearly successful. A simpler path would still have optimism for the future, but wouldn’t have the same “success now” results that Hammond has obtained with his high-risk, higher-reward vision for this franchise. The Bucks are here, here to stay. It’s time to “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

Packers TDA - Week 7

This moment has been 2 years in the making: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have finally beaten Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. Welcome to Packers "The Day After" - Week 7

- Pass Protection: After being sacked by Minnesota 14 times in 2 games last year, Aaron Rodgers barely got touched. Left Tackle Chad Clifton returned to his prime against monster Defensive End Jared Allen, and Clifton made Allen look foolish. Rodgers didn't wait long after the game to thank his front 5 for protecting him all day. I'd say he owes them each gifts.

- Timing: Way off. A mostly solid performance by Rodgers was overshadow by some mistakes he made. Early in the game he gift-wrapped an interception right to Viking DE Jared Allen. Another interception along with 6-8 overthrows, underthrows, and miscues stuck out like a sore thumb.

- 3rd down: Much improved! 6 of 11 on 3rd down conversions is way beyond where they have been in recent weeks. These were the moments when Rodgers really shined, especially in crucial moments of the second half.

- Challenges/officiating: Coach McCarthy finally got his first correct challenge of the year. Then he went out and got a second one! Big day for him. Beyond that, there were plenty of mistakes by the officiating crew, but while I understand that Vikings coach Brad Childress was upset, his frustrations shouldn't go too far past his own offense. Minnesota dominated the time of possession in the 4th quarter, and forced an already tired and injured Green Bay defense to stay on the field. But in that crucial 4th quarter, the Green Bay defense made all the right moves (or Vikings offense made the bad moves), but you can't blame the refs.

Overall a great emotional victory for Green Bay. The defense used a lot of unique new schemes because of further injury, but handled the adversity well. Next week at the Jets will be a much tougher game. Gotta get a few more bodies healthy and stay focused.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Packers TDA - Week 6

When did we go back in time to 2009? President Obama was still more liked than disliked, the iPhone 4 didn't exist yet, and the words "MLB Postseason" and "San Francisco Giants" did not make any sense together.

But here we are, a second straight Packer season that began with a lot of hype, but was suddenly sunken to a .500 record near the halfway point of the season. And while 2010's 3-3 record is better than 2009's 4-4 record, it's hard to choose which scenario is better. Halfway through '09, the team was relatively healthy, but completely dysfunctional. They still went on to finish 7-1 and make the playoffs, but that shaky first half was utterly disappointing. As for 2010, it's convenient to blame injuries, but the dysfunctionalism (maybe a word??) is no better or worse than a year ago.

Welcome to Packers "The Day After" - Week 6:

- Aaron Rodgers can't get over these nerves: Close to half a season has gone by, and once again Aaron Rodgers struggles to get the ball out on time, makes rough decisions, and seems overly frustrated. It would be nice to know, deep down, he will get over it, because he did last year. But now it's just a waiting game to see it happen.

- Pass rush does not exist without Clay Matthews: Entering the game, the Packers' defense lead the NFL in sacks. Exiting the game, the Packers failed to pick up a single sack, at home, against a Miami Dolphins team that allowed 9 sacks to QB Chad Henne. When an elite player is missing, backups have to step up to fill in. Otherwise an opposing team can find ways to cheat around it.

- Effort: Why is it that multiple players on both sides of the ball look unmotivated? Charles Woodson and James Jones are just two names that come to mind. Poorly-timed catches and missed tackles are happening all over the field at alarming rates.

Nothing good to say at this point. The Packers are notoriously a second-half team under Mike McCarthy's reign. Hopefully they can get that started in Week 7 against the Vikings. Otherwise there will be serious panic across Packer Nation.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Packers TDA - Week 5

Where to begin? The Packers leave the Washington DC area (stadium technically in Maryland) for a long trip home after a very uninspiring defeat to a team that had no business winning this game. But wait, you ask. If the Packers had won this game, wouldn't we be saying they "had no business winning this game??" And yes, you are very true. This is a game that both sides are going to be forgetting very soon. But before all is forgotten, let's try to take away something we can learn from.

- Conditioning: Is there something horribly wrong with the Packers' conditioning? Football is in fact a terribly dangerous sport. Injuries happen. But this frequently? This is officially uncommon, and borderline freakish. Somewhere along the way, the Packers' Strength and Conditioning team might need some serious analysis.

- Passing: 293 yards for Rodgers? Not bad. 27 of 46 completions? Not great. I know after the Lions game, Rodgers complained about opening the passing game more, but you can't forget about the rushing game. Rodgers attacked Washington's defense early and often, hitting 9 different receivers. Still, a below-average passing game.

- Rushing: Not counting Rodgers' 4 attempts, there were only 13 rushes by the Packers. Take away Brandon Jackson's 71-yard play, and he only rushed 9 times for 44 yards. 4.9yds/rush isn't bad, but we need to sustain those numbers throughout the game.

- 3rd Downs: 2 of 13 in 3rd down efficiency? That's just nasty. This football team is not making the big plays when they should be. That is what separates the top playoff teams from the rest.

- Penalties: They made a big deal talking about the 3 penalties they had last week, vs. the 18 the week before that. This time around? 9 penalties for 63 yards. Discipline still isn't where it should be. Coach McCarthy needs to start connecting discipline with playing time. Hold these players accountable.

- Pressure: The Packers' front 7 seemed to finally break out of a small slump, and put some real pressure on QB Donovan McNabb. He's always had success against the Packers, so taking him out of his comfort zone was a top priority. However, they too used a pass-heavy system that resulted in similar numbers to Green Bay. Too many big yardage plays were given up.

- Kicking: Mason Crosby looked exciting early on with his 52 yard field goal that could have went from 60. But he missed twice in the second half, from 48 in the 3rd, and from 53 in the closing seconds. That one would have won the game.


- Overall: Crappy game. McCarthy needs to put some pressure on the players to perform consistently. Ignoring injuries, we didn't have the right players on the field. Aaron Rodgers mentioned that last week. Playing time needs to be rewarded by good judgment on the field. Missing a tough catch or a difficult tackle is one thing. Making mental errors is unacceptable. Players need to be disciplined for bad decisions.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Closing - Ken Macha

In the world of sports, the manager/head coach is always the top scapegoat for failure. In the case of the Milwaukee Brewers, I think it's a shame that Macha gets the ax while Doug Melvin sits comfortably. In hindsight, was Ken Macha the best manager for the job? No. Was it entirely his fault? No. Some thoughts:

- Macha was very no-nonsense, but too calm. He had high nonsense, high attitude players in Braun and Fielder, both of whom are not close to being team leaders. Big conflict of interest.
- Macha seemed to think too much long-term. It's important to plan for next game's relievers, but you also have to go short-term, grind out each victory. Focus on stealing bases, better defensive plays, etc.
- If at the start of the year, we had John Axford closing every game, and we had 2nd half Randy Wolf, how many more wins is that? +10? +15?
- Whose fault is the pathetic pitching game? The pitching staff? Rick Peterson? Doug Melvin?

At the end of the day, could another manager have been a better fit with this team? Perhaps. Still, the veteran players need to set better examples for the arrogant younger portion of our team. Maybe we go after a hard-ass manager. One of the newly retired guys like Joe Torre or Lou Pinella could be tough on Braun and Fielder. Realistically, the Brewers need to hire a manager who gets their players to check egos at the door, or shows them the door.