#1 – No Props for Dunk Props
The dunk contest seems to have more people bashing it these days than people willing to [admit that they] commit a Saturday evening to watching it. While the arguments seem to be persistent and valid, it also seems pretty clear that the NBA won’t be doing away with this event any time soon. That said, DeMar DeRozan’s frustration over the use of props in Saturday’s contest is both valid and misguided. It’s pretty clear that Blake Griffin’s use of the car in his final dunk made an otherwise ordinary dunk look spectacular, you might argue too that Griffin made it to the finals mostly on reputation. Ever since Griffin began unleashing his never-ending series of power boofs on the league, fans have been looking forward to his “dunk-porn” inclusion in the competition. Griffin’s power though plays much better in game situations, at full speed on the break while making posters out of the opposition. Still, DeRozan has been in the contest before, and certainly watched previous editions. The use of props is not only fair game these days, it’s the expectation.
JaVale McGee unleashed 3 insane dunks in his first 3 tries, but laid an (intentional perhaps?) egg with his 4th and final dunk of the contest, and as props go, setting up a second, regulation sized NBA rim next to the existing one is pretty forgivable. Serge Ibaka pulled down a stuffed gorilla from the rim with his teeth while dunking (a new and moderately less impressive version of the Gerald Green cupcake dunk). He also gave us the first true dunk from behind the free throw line in the contest’s history, a trick also widely overlooked by the judges (maybe a prop would have made it better).
While it would seem that all of the dunks that are humanly possible have already been done, McGee at least proved otherwise. The dunk is still an evolving art form like so many X-Games types of tricks and stunts. Turn back the clock 10 years on one of those events, and the tricks that were winning contests then are part and parcel to everyone’s repertoire these days. While dunking should be the same, and can be, these are guys who get paid to play basketball, and therefore owe it to themselves and their families to practice honing actual basketball skills that they can use to refine their games and not acrobatic tricks. Outside of the rookie Griffin, none of this year’s other competitors are All-Star caliber players or even close, time spent in the gym working on things like trick dunks is wasted time dedicated toward an already maligned event.
As we continue to encourage players to not only compete, but to push the envelope and keep us interested, the compromise that has been the biggest issue overall with the competition, but seemingly a necessary evil nonetheless is the 2-minute clock with unlimited attempts to complete your dunks. As impressive as a number of the dunks on Saturday were, particularly McGee’s, the 5 failed attempts that preceded it clearly tipped the dunker’s hand and took some of the luster off of their masterpieces.
If McGee were paid to compete in dunk contests only, and had real time to dedicate to refining those dunks, then we could expect to hold him to a standard that doesn’t allow for misses, but as long as those guys are trying to hang in the NBA, that’s too much to ask.
In the end the fan voting component probably would have tipped the scales in Griffin’s favor anyway. Bieber-fever tainted the celebrity game vote on Friday night, and the NBA surely has a mean case of the Blake-plague.
#2 – A Wall With No Foundation
For those who have largely slept through the Wizards season to this point…welcome to the club. As a lifelong Knicks fan with little to cheer about (other than my fantasy team) from an NBA standpoint for quite some time now, I embarked on this season determined to find an interest in the Wizards and John Wall. They have not made it easy.
In rookie John Wall, the Wizards clearly have a franchise type of player to build around; and although his genius (no exaggeration here…he has a special understanding of lanes and angles for a player of his experience) has been somewhat lost at times as a member of the Wizards this season, look no further than his rookie game performance (12 pts. 22 asst.) to see what he can do in open space and with playmakers around him.
Playmakers after all are what the Wizards seem to be lacking these days. Aside from Wall, there are few players on the Wizards’ roster that look long (or serviceable) for a team looking to build itself into a contender around Wall. In JaVale McGee and Nick Young the team seems to have a front court and back court option that can at least be serviceable in a first off the bench capacity, with possible upside beyond that. Aundray Blatche is slowly rounding into form and could be a strong pick and roll partner for Wall for years to come. Everyone else however (with the possible exception of Yi who is surprisingly just 23 years old) looks to be just along for the ride.
Sometimes when you draft highly in the NBA you get a franchise player to build around, but just as often it seems the draft will be devoid of that type of top end talent. In those seasons serviceable, credible role-players can (and have to) be just as valuable. The Clippers and Knicks for example have been quietly accumulating some of that type of talent for the last few years (although the Knicks just sent most of it to Denver), in those cases, when infused with a star player and seemingly only then, they begin to realize the upside of some of the other talent they’ve assembled. In other cases (see Derek Rose’s early Bulls or Kevin Durant’s Sonics/Thunder & Tyreke Evans’ current Kings) the marquee player comes first and the talent has to fill in around him. Kyrie Irving or Josh Selby might sure look good in a backcourt next to Wall, or Jared Sullinger in the frontcourt. To their credit, the Wizards don’t look to play themselves out of a high draft pick anytime soon.
#3 – Ozzie’s Shopping List
Even though everything that we know about the history of the NFL would suggest otherwise, it’s still somehow impossible as NFL fans not to base next season’s expectations off of last season’s performance. Three straight trips into the playoffs as the Ravens have done should inspire confidence, but history says with each trip into the playoffs, the likelihood of returning becomes slimmer and slimmer. Even if that proves true for the Ravens this season, they have never stayed down for long, but as we try and look ahead hopefully, the number of apparent/potential holes on the team moving forward can be somewhat alarming.
Running Back – We’ve already discussed the likelihood of the Ravens parting company with Willis McGahee; LeRon McClain too in the minds of many is unlikely to be back next season, which may necessitate finding a fullback as well. Although the need here seems urgent, recent history suggests that you can get away with shoe stringing this position. Whether by design (Tampa, New England) or necessity (Green Bay, New Orleans, Indianapolis) teams have thrived while using second-rate talent at running back lately.
Wide Receiver – Anquan Boldin is back, Mason looks like he’ll be too, beyond that question marks abound. Most seem to think the Ravens need at least one speed merchant, field stretching wide receiver at least to round out their corps. Add that to the list.
Offensive Tackle – Whether you believe that Michael Oher is better suited for left or right tackle, most seem to be in agreement that the Ravens are better served with Marshall Yanda at guard. Whichever side of the line Oher winds up on (I’m still betting left) the Ravens will need another bookend for the opposite side.
Center – Regardless of how you feel about the play of Matt Birk going forward the likelihood of him being around much longer gets less and less. Sooner or later a replacement will have to be decided on. It’s not an urgent need, but likely a need nonetheless.
Quarterback – It looks like the Ravens will likely be in the market for a credible backup for Joe Flacco again. I’d guess that this is a need more likely to be filled through free agency with a veteran than through the draft with a rookie. It still seems like a pretty urgent need.
Inside Linebacker – Sooner or later Ray Lewis’ tank is simply going to run out. The sooner they start thinking about grooming a successor (preferably under Ray’s influence) the better.
Safety – See inside linebacker and insert Ed Reed.
Rush End / Outside Linebacker – Freeney has Mathis, Harrison has Woodley and Suggs has Kruger and Kindle, sooner or later the Ravens need to hit on a complimentary pass rusher. Jarrett Johnson’s versatility is a strength here, but how much gas is left in his tank too?
Corner Back – Can you ever have enough quality corners?
It seems that the only places that the Ravens can be completely confident are tight end (putting a lot of faith in a couple of second year players), defensive tackle, offensive guard (provided they find a tackle) and in the kicking game. Ozzie’s sure got his work cut out for him this off-season. When he gets to begin that work though is another matter altogether.