Toronto Raptors Draft Preview

By: Norman Yallen

When I was six years old, my father took me to my first Toronto Raptors game, against the Charlotte Hornets. A lot has changed since that day, the Hornets have left Charlotte and the Bobcats have taken their place. More importantly, the Toronto Raptors lost their exciting young star Vince Carter, and then their exciting young star Chris Bosh. With a couple exceptions, the Toronto Raptors have had a very high draft pick just about every season, and they really have fucked it up. There was the year they drafted Rafael Araujo, because after all we needed a center to complement Chris Bosh. Never mind that everyone knew Araujo didn’t have the talent to be a starting centre. I remember his rookie year, my Dad and I were at a half full Air Canada Centre, when Araujo came on the big screen and informed us that it was South American Adventure Day. I swear this actually happened, and to be honest, it almost made me happy we picked the small, slow center that could not jump, and didn’t seem to have anything he was good at. If we weren’t going to be a successful team, at least we’d have South American adventures to look forward to. Imagining General Manager Rob Babcock getting eaten by a piranha never failed to satisfy me. If you think that joke went to far, you obviously never had to watch Rafael Araujo play. In that draft he passed up Andre Iguodola who was the consensus better prospect. Iguodola is now a focal point for Philadelphia while Araujo is “starring” in Brazil.

 

The next year, it was draft time again in Toronto, and I was eager to see what shit sandwich good old Rob Babcock had in store for the good fans of Toronto this time. Pick 8 rolled around, and the consensus was to take Danny Granger, who was the most polished prospect available. Nope, Rob first took Charlie Villanueva. But then we had pick 16 and Danny Granger was still around. Rob Babcock then proceeded to select Joey Graham, whose main achievement is being not quite as bad as his identical twin brother Stephen. Danny Granger is now one of the best scorers in the NBA. Then, Babcock’s employment was mercifully terminated and Bryan Colangelo took over. He proceeded to convince us that we did not want Brandon Roy, or Lamarcus Aldridge. What we really wanted was a big Italian who could shoot the basketball, and he was even still growing. What he did not mention was that Andrea Bargnani had no interest in using his size for anything other than getting cookies from the top shelf. Although based on his lack of boxing out, if anyone with any leaping ability was nearby, he would have to let him get the cookies.

 

The problem with NBA General Managers is Dirk Nowitzki. Now, I don’t mean the Finals MVP himself but rather the events when he was drafted that set up a problematic template. In 1998, Dallas took Robert Traylor with the 6th pick, and traded it for Pat Garrity and the 9th pick, which was used to select Dirk. At the time everyone said this was a terrible trade for the Mavericks, since Traylor was a collegiate star for Michigan, and a sure bet to succeed, while no one really knew what to expect of this jump shooting European. Over time, Nowitzki became an MVP, while Traylor battled obesity, got an unflattering nickname (it’s a pun related to his size and last name, I’ll let you guess what it is), and ultimately died of a heart attack this year. Now, Don Nelson after this got a lot of credit for going against conventional wisdom, and making a risky pick as opposed to a safe one. This became a popular thing to do in the NBA, as General Managers fell into the following pitfalls. It is hard to analyze a success, but it is easy to tell what makes a failure.

1. The Workout Wonder and Measurable-A Lack of In-Game Experience

This is usually a foreign player, and I mean this in a non-xenophobic way. Typically American players will get in game college experience we can evaluate them on. In the absence of that for many foreign players, NBA teams have players work out. Now this would be great if the league were about doing drills but that is not what the league is about. For instance, Leandro Barbosa is faster than Steve Nash, but in no way does that mean he would run a better fast break offense. To be able to accurately evaluate players you have to see them in a game, to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Instead, teams see Yi Jianlian post up a chair and assume that means they can accurately evaluate him. Speaking of which, do you know who has done very well in workouts? Bismack Biyombo. Well, that is until he shot so badly, an NBA scout said, “he played one on none, and lost.” Also often times, a player’s wingspan and other personal statistics will be used in building a player’s case. For instance, Biyombo has a 7”7 wingspan. I don’t care about the wingspan; I care about how he uses that wingspan in a game. I wouldn’t know how he uses it because I’ve never seen him play.

2. Overemphasizing Positional Need-Drafting on an Idea

When Toronto drafted Rafael Araujo they did it because they felt they needed a big man for the future to complement Chris Bosh. This was a nice idea; the only problem was he wasn’t actually good enough to fit the role. As a team you can’t decide what you need, and plug in the best available, you have to try to find the guy you believe to be the best available. People have been talking about the Timberwolves and what they will do if Kyrie Irving is available at 2. It’s a no brainer that if they believe Irving to be the best, they have to take him and figure out which of him or Rubio is not a franchise point guard. If you are in the Lottery, you don’t have many very good players, so one of the best available guys should always fill a need.

3. Lack of Desire

This is the toughest pitfall to avoid because it is the only one you cannot tell. If Jonas Valenciunas is taken number one, I can tell you the Cavaliers have fallen into both Pitfall 1 and 2, but I cannot tell you about this one. I know if a team is drafting based on need right away, and I know if a team is mainly relying on workouts right away. What I do not know right away is that player’s desire. It is in almost every players interest to appear to have a desire to succeed, but once their money is guaranteed, whether they still care is hard to tell. However, there are certainly signs to look for. If it is said a player has a detached demeanor, perhaps they do not have the desire to go in the paint, and physically contribute. Thanks to Andrea Bargnani for teaching me that, the player who meets this is Donatas Motiejunas. The other, maybe even more alarming indication of a lack of desire is the, “well rounded young man.” He might say stuff like, “basketball isn’t the most important thing in my life.” Perhaps as a kid he preferred playing saxophone. This is the type of guy who skips the most important game of his life for a college graduation. I’m not going to mention my examples name, but he is now overweight on Phoenix, and his last name rhymes with farter.

 

So with these pitfalls being accounted for, which of the Raptors potential picks has the best chance to fail and succeed? It is said the Raptors are down to Kawhi Leonard, Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Knight, and Bismack Biyombo. Who has the best chance to succeed, and perhaps more importantly, who is most likely to fail? I will do my best for you the reader to rank who is most likely a mistake pick, to who is the best pick for the Toronto Raptors.

 

Bismack Biyombo

Please, for the love of God do not pick this guy. He has hardly played any meaningful basketball, toiling away as a third division player in Spain. So what changed? He began to play a tiny bit more, but he had a very good performance at the Nike Hoop Summit. So because he had a good basketball camp, and has a very big wingspan he will be good? Against the likes of experienced players who can hit an open five footer, I wouldn’t bet on it. The other problem is that the Raptors just hired Dwane Casey and are implementing a defensive mindset. In theory that is certainly something I agree with, and I also would like a great defensive center. But just because I want a great defensive center does not mean I believe Biyombo can be that guy in Toronto. They don’t like Biyombo, they like the idea of Biyombo as a franchise center, which he is not. Also, I question any one-dimensional player and I believe Bryan Colangelo pursues them far too aggressively. He put together a roster of players who could only score, than he realized they need rebounding. His response was to get Reggie Evans who is one dimensional in only trying to rebound, to the point where he will yank the ball away from his teammate. The answer to making a better team and better defense is not to get a player that can only defend, the answer is to acquire multi faceted players who play great defense along with having other skills.

 

Jonas Valanciunas

He only played 15 minutes a game in Europe so why will he be able to play more in the pros anytime soon? The difference between him and Biyombo is I think Jonas can succeed down the road. With that being said, I don’t think anyone has seen him play to be confident that he can. With the fifth pick, that simply will not do. As well, he might not be able to be bought out of his contract, and the first thing to make sure of is that the player legally can play for you.

 

Kawhi Leonard

We saw him play at San Diego State and he seemed to be well rounded. I cannot say he will be a guaranteed great player. What I can say is that he was very solid in college, and should be solid in the pros. He is the exact sort of multi faceted defensive player who I would not mind wearing a Raptors uniform. I would not complain about this pick.

 

Brandon Knight

I said it at March Madness and I am saying it now, I would like to see him get more consistent before I spend a top 5 pick on him. At the same time, he has shown he can perform during games and has all the physical tools necessary to be successful. He is the only one of these four that I can see being great. The only question mark is his mental toughness.

 

None of the four is my pick. For my pick at number 5, I want someone who has proven he can succeed consistently, and can be a star player. I want someone who has shown they can master the mental aspect of the game as well as the physical. My pick is Kemba Walker.

 

Kemba Walker

With apologies to Jimmer, this was the best player in the league that is most closely comparable to the NBA style of play. He has shown that he can shoot and he can pass. He can get to the paint, he is a leader, and he has won at every level. On a team where the only player who has enough confidence to shoot in crunch time is Jose Calderon, this is the player we need. Is there any way Kemba is not at the very least a rotation player? He has the least downside and the most upside of any of these players. To me he’s not only the right choice, he’s the only choice.

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Ramblings

Noah Bronstein

I’ll be honest: it’s the summer and my mind’s pretty much toasted. After half-writing a half dozen different articles, I realized it’s simpler to get my point across in some Tracy Morgan style quick rants. I hope everybody is insulted…

 

The Mavericks’ overall success as a franchise over the past fifteen years, culminating in a championship, further proves Mark Cuban should be an owner in any other league- no questions asked. Bud Selig, please tell me why you rather have Frank McCourt as an owner than Mark Cuban? You have a bunch of owners stealing money from you every year. Cuban put in offers for both the Cubs and Rangers (and probably for others that we don’t even know about), outbidding everyone else both times. Yet Selig still managed to stop him from buying a team. David Stern might hate all the shit Cuban does, but knows he’s an innovative, successful owner who has created a culture of winning where one didn’t exist before. The most important thing an owner can do is create a culture of winning. Soulless corporations (MLSE, Rogers, Atlanta Spirit) aren’t very effective in doing this. The most successful franchises in the past decade (Lakers, Yankees, Red Sox, Patriots, Colts, Mavericks) all have strong owners who created a culture of winning and success.

 

Now take this fundamental truth and apply it the Canadian Mark Cuban- Mr. Jim Balsillie. Everything you want in an owner- intelligent, determined, has a sense of vision yet is willing to acquiesce to others- is present in Balsillie. The same way MLB needs Cuban to buy one of the Dodgers, Pirates, or Orioles for the sake of the league, the NHL needs Balsillie to buy one of the Coyotes, Predators or Panthers. Is he gonna move the team? HELL YES. Should one of those teams be moved north? HELL YES. Would Tim Horton’s (will go Canadian for the argument) keep a franchise open if it was losing money like Barkley at a casino? No! It would move the franchise to a place where it would be successful.

 

ON TO THE NEXT ONE

Rory McIlroy had one of the greatest golf performances of all time last weekend, leading to his tutelage as the next Tiger (It’s been 18 months, no more sex jokes). But is that really good for golf? Or for that matter, any sport? Does a sport’s professional circuit/league become “better”-more interesting, more exciting- if there is one dominant figure?

I think not. Golf’s best days were the rivalry between Nicklaus and Palmer, with Gary Player, Nick Faldo, and Tom Watson usually contending (sorry for being a pretentious golf nerd there). MJ was exciting but the 90’s were weaker basketball years. I’ll take the intense Sixers-Celtics-Lakers-Pistons battle for hegemony in the 1980’s any day. Basketball enthusiasts say the 1997-98 Bulls had the greatest season ever but that’s one team; the 2010-11 season was the best season ever (damn you lockout!) because there was dominant displays by so many teams. Watching Wayne Gretzky skate circles around everyone is indeed awe-inspiring but watching Crosby and Ovechkin in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semis is way more compelling.

Personally, the fact that McIlroy was so far ahead made me want to watch the U.S. Open less. Sports is drama in real-time; having the tournament in the bag by 4:00 on Sunday renders the last 3 hours pretty much unwatchable.

 

STAY WITH ME HERE

The NBA Draft is tomorrow night and there are a lot of rumours starting to swirl around, which our friend Alex Bogach has summed up well. But all these trade are reminders that while a weak draft is seen negatively by most, it can be a significant opportunity for teams to build solid foundations quickly.  From 2006-2008, which featured drafts ranging from weak to average overall, Portland acquired 8 first round draft picks. In contrast, the Clippers and Timberwolves (two equally horrible teams over that span) had 2 picks each. The sheer volume lead to some great picks: Roy, Aldridge (basically the two best players in ‘06), Batum, Fernandez, and Bayless. It wasn’t like Portland was sucking its way to success either; these picks were all over the first round (ranging between 2nd and 30th) and Portland actually made the playoffs in ’07 and ’08. It can be done.

The Cavs have an excellent chance to do this tomorrow night. Whether it’s sticking with the two picks how they are (likely Irving and Kanter) or being creative, they can easily move their team forward in a relatively weak draft. Teams such as the Kings and Timberwolves have plenty of assets to make moves if they find players they think are important in building a successful team.

 

THAT’S A WRAP

I will be doing a retro diary of sorts for the draft tomorrow (Sorry Simmons is too busy to do one himself so I guess I’ll step up), so look for that on your next visit to TGSB!

NBA rumour pulse check

Quick notes from the NBA as the draft nears:

  • My rule for reporting rumors is that it must be have one or more of the following characteristics: A) Reported by reputable (Yahoo, ESPN, DraftExpress, never ever Bleacher Report etc.) source, B) Reported by several sources, C) Doesn’t contradict another reputable source, D) Gut instinct/reporter reputation. Keep that in mind. There has been tons of garbage spewing around the NBA these past few days but I’m really giving you the stuff that I find legitimate….or at least interesting to talk about.
  • Josh Smith to Orlando is an interesting and fresh rumour that I’m questioning as of now but willing to talk about because of its intrigue and gut instinct I have about it. It seems to make sense and follows alongside some other reports of the Hawks willing to discuss a trade for their athletic forward. From what I’ve read, Smith could go to Orlando with Kirk Hinrich for Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson. (Note: The rumour, on second look, appears a bit too unsubstantiated…but let’s analyze it anyway)
  • Quick take: Fantastic for Orlando. Not only is Dwight Howard a friend of Josh Smith’s (which seems to now be the key factor in drafting/signing/trading for anybody) but they’re able to move forward with a half decent line-up that isn’t completely gutted. Arenas-Richardson-Turkoglu-Smith-Howard is a bit of weird line-up, but presents an ability to mix and match with a lot of versatile players. It also improves the Magic interior defense by putting two of the best shot blockers in the league side-by-side. If this allows Orlando to keep Dwight Howard, I think we have to go all NCAA on Otis Smith’s GM record and vacate the Rashard Lewis signing. It’s been vacated! It’s like it never happened. Otis for Executive of the Year!!!
  • Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo Sports says the Spurs are shopping point guard Tony Parker. No surprise there with the Spurs looking for a fresh look and George Hill emerging as a starting point guard. (Another great draft pick-up by the Spurs—why don’t teams just do whatever the Spurs do in the draft? It’s like copying off the smartest kid in the class with no teacher in the room.) But the shocking part? The Raptors and the 5th pick have been mentioned as a potential suitor for Parker.
  • Quick take: I should have added to my list at the top that rumours explicitly mentioning two teams are often far stronger than rumours that list 3-6 teams that have interest. The article says the Kings and Raptors have talked to the Spurs so I’m not treating this like an imminent move and I’d still have my money on Parker staying in black and silver at least until after the draft. However, the fact that this is a reputable source brings up an interesting discussion about Bryan Colangelo’s feelings with this team. I think one of the following is the motivation behind this rumour if it gains some more steam
    •  A desperation move to put a winning product on the floor to impress ownership?
    • A desire to surround the team with more veterans?
    • A realization that whoever the Raptors could get at 5 won’t be worth the money they will give them and that it is likely that Parker will have more trade value 2-3 years down the road
    • And no, Longoria is not around anymore for Parker so that isn’t a motivation…although if she still was I could see it.
    • I don’t buy the Parker stuff. We haven’t heard one mention of Colangelo trading the pick. There have been constant reports of teams wanting to trade down or out of the draft and the Raptors have NEVER been mentioned. My guess? This is the Spurs calling around and seeing if they can get Jonas Valucionas—who seems like a match-made in heaven with the Spurs organization. After announcing he’ll have to spend next year in Europe, he fell off many teams’ draft boards and I think the Spurs are trying to swoop in and get him at a discount.
    • Chad Ford (ESPN) and Doug Smith (Toronto Star) (Multiple reports, check. Reputable and/or connected sources, check) are pointing towards the Raptors establishing a core four group of prospects they will seriously look at when #5 is on the clock. The names are Kawhi Leonard, Brandon Knight, Valucionas and Congolese mystery-man Bismack Biyombo.

That’s all for my quick pulse check around the NBA. I’ll be tweeting @2_GSB Thursday night so if you’re watching the draft, I’ll ask nicely that you follow my tweets. Should be a fun night. I’m saying the over/under is at 6.5 text messages I receive after the Raptors pick. For the record, I think I was at 10 when the Mavericks beat the Heat. Regardless, follow the Twitter account Thursday night and pray that Kyrie Irving falls to us at 5…

Pray harder.

NBA lockout brings opportunity for change

Of course, after the most fascinating playoffs and Finals in at least 10 years, including TV and attendance records being broken, NBA fans get to stare down one of the most painful beasts in pro-sports—a lockout. The owners say the players are making too much money, the players say they are making too little. It’s the same story every time.

Now, I certainly have my useless opinion on the actual CBA discussions which comprises heavily of limiting the amount of maximum contracts a team can hand out over a time period. So Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko (he got paid 17.8 million dollars this year!) and Carlos Boozer can’t make Kobe and Lebron money and that one team *cough* Heat *cough* can’t sign numerous top notch players in a short period. Contracts should be shorter and the Mid-Level Exception (the brilliant rule that allowed Jason Kapono to make around 6 million dollars every year) should be dumped faster than Juwan Howard’s corpse.

Besides that? The owners should just be smarter. One second they say they are losing 300 million dollars, the next Elton Brand is making more than Lebron. There’s no discipline but at the same time there have to be rules so that you can be competitive without feeling the need to overpay for an Elton Brand, Corey Maggette or Hedo Turkoglu if you’re a smaller basketball market.

However, this is all fairly boring and obvious. Players definitely need to make less money and it will happen whether it takes one month or eight months. But while we’re reshaping the NBA—can I suggest a few more changes that I would like to see?

1. Fines for floppers

There is a huge difference between ‘selling a call’ and ‘flopping’. Selling a call is when there is contact—but the reaction is embellished. Flopping? Well that’s this.

We need fines or even suspensions for those ridiculous “he-didn’t-even-graze-me’ flops. And I don’t have a problem with players doing it now. If the NBA officials stopped calling out of bounds, the players should use it to their advantage. It ruins momentum of games as well. An offensive foul can ignite the crowd, put foul trouble on other players and—most importantly—take away a possession from the other team.

AK-47 stars in 'I just got shot by an AK-47'

I really think NBA officials get too much hate for the job they do. At the end of the day, a good call is expected and any bad calls are a sign of a mass-conspiracy between David Stern, Tim Donaghy and the Illumati. Blatant flops need serious penalties.

2. No more dunk competition fan voting

The marquee event of All-Star Saturday night, the dunk competition, can never live up to the J-Rich-Carter days. It just hasn’t and never will. The dunk competition will forever be anti-climactic. The guy who dunked on TWO baskets at once lost to the guy who dunked over the hood of a car. Blake Griffin could have done a lay-up and won.

I don’t actually care that much if Griffin won with worse dunks. It doesn’t bother me that much. What bothers me is that with fan voting, the result is all but pre-determined. Unless JaVale McGee dunked blindfolded from the halfcourt line, he was going to lose. Justin Bieber won the celebrity basketball game on the Friday afternoon in this year’s weekend even though Scottie Pippen put up a performance that would make anyone born after 1999 think he might have been better than Jordan. It’s all a popularity contest. If fan voting doesn’t change, Griffin will be there again next year.

3. No more automatic double-technicals

Two guys bump into each other, share a few words (sometimes, well worded sentences) and yap about each other’s moms for four or five seconds. Wait! Here comes Bennett Salvatore! DOUBLE TECHNICAL!

It’s not a bad system for an every once in a while occurrence, but trash talk and verbal fist fighting are fully embedded into the NBA game—especially in the playoffs. Why can’t we let these guys settle their own disputes? I’m not saying to start fighting, but let Kendrick Perkins and Tyson Chandler get a little angry at each other. Once you give them technicals, you risk what happened to Paul Pierce against Miami in Game 1 when he picked up a dumb double-tech with James Jones and then got another one in the 4th quarter which kicked him out of the game.

Here’s the worst part of Pierce’s double-tech with Jones—he didn’t deserve it. James nudged his face into Pierce’s cheek after their discussion got a bit too intimate and it led the officials to punish both of the players. It happened to Chandler this year as well (I forgot against who) when someone bumped him on the shoulder and both guys were T’d up. If I was an NBA scrub, I’d be brushing shoulders with the other team’s star the whole game and hope for a quick double tech.

I’d rather see the guys broken up, separated and calmed down. Heck, send them to the bench until the next whistle. I’m okay with that.

Refs have turned into the guys at parties who run up to every guy talking to a girl and complete kills any momentum the guy had. “Hey! What are you guys talking about? Let me in on this! Oh, I totally love that band too!”. The second we start selling those Harry Potter invisibility cloaks, the NBA should buy one for each ref. We really should never have close-ups of refs during a game—in fact, the best-officiated games are often those in which I don’t know who the officials are.

4. Three Stars

Here’s one thing from hockey that I absolutely love. The three stars after each game is absolutely brilliant. It holds no value long term but gives fans a bunch of immediate benefits:

  • A) The post-game cheer-on. I love it. There’s not enough cheering for individual players after a win outside of the time when the game’s over and the best player gets taken out of a game to a standing ovation. But there’s no recognition during close games when the star players can’t go to the bench early for the crowd’s approval. It boosts player and team morale and makes everyone feel warm inside. Not only that but players can develop a little “star-routine”—John Wall dougies after being first star, Blake Griffin throws down a dunk and Deshawn Stevenson does like five monocle signs.
  • B) The in-game debate. While I’m sitting home towards the end of a game I want to predict who the best three players on the floor were that night. It adds to the in-game discussion. You don’t see anybody asking their buddies who the best three players were.
  • C) I want to give unnecessary credit to hustle bench players. I want Zaza Pachulia and Lou Amundson to get a standing ovation after a 7 and 7 game when they had two hard-tough fouls, played stingy defence, waved a towel down the stretch and did at least one ‘wing-flap’ to motivate the crowd and/or dive into the stands for a loose ball. These people need the love.
  • D) Why the hell not?

5. Release all audio from coach’s being Mic’d Up 

This is essentially WikiLeaks for basketball junkies. I know TNT and ESPN have a guy that filters for the most family friendly, ambiguous and non-threatening audio from the coaches during the game—but he also hears all the coaches completely lost on the sidelines, bad mouthing players with the assistant coaches and, of course, projecting the most profanity littered, insulting, ‘you-wish-I-was-talking-about-your-mom’ rants at incompetent players during the game.

Riley is watching. Do. Not. Turn. Around.

I know, it’s all R rated material—but here’s my plan. Do a massive Inside the NBA hour and a half feature in movie theatres where you just have coaches unfiltered on the sidelines. I would absolutely pay to see that. I would pay just to hear from Erik Spolestra in Game 4 of the Finals.

“What the #$!@ is happening to LeBron?”

“We cannot win a Finals game with Wade, Bosh and Mario Chalmers”

“We need to call Mike Brown at halftime”

“Is Jason Terry better than Derrick Rose? Is that the only logical explanation right now??”

“Rashard Lewis?!?!? ARE YOU SERIOUS??”

Or at least TNT and ESPN needs to hire me to go through all that audio.

(Sidenote. The NHL for sure needs Mic’d Up. I feel like hockey coaches discuss more strategy on the bench—as opposed to just yelling “LET’S PLAY DEFENCE” and “HEY! C’MON! LET’S GET GOING” like in the NBA—and Mic’d Up would 100% allow us to get closer to these coaches. They feel so isolated from us. We don’t hear them and the only time we see them is just pacing behind the bench. We need more emotion)

Bring these five elements into the game next year and I might be able to tolerate unbelievably high player salaries.

By the way, at this point in his career, aren’t we just paying Gilbert Arenas 17 million dollars to run a Twitter account?

My NBA posts are now being syndicated on Beating the Buzzer. You can check out Beating the Buzzer on Twitter @btbsports. Follow Two Guys Sports @2_GSB or my own Twitter @the_REAL_alexb. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.

What Tim Thomas’s Success Says About Him

By: Norman Yallen

Why is Tim Thomas so good? I don’t mean this as a matter of being bitter over the Bruins winning (although I am); I mean that when you watch him play he logically should not be good. Any time a friend of mine watches him they remark that he flops around in the net and opine that he can’t be successful. I then look at him and say, yeah, he’s just lucky and snipe that I am sure his run of luck will end soon. Then I watched game after game, as Thomas stopped shot after shot, and during tonight’s Game 7 I began to think that perhaps this isn’t luck. Perhaps Tim Thomas knows something about playing goaltender that I, my friends, and hockey fans and experts do not know. In an age where almost every goalie plays a butterfly, or a systematic style, it is Thomas and his free-flowing style based on feel, that stands alone atop the hockey world.

In the early days of hockey playing goalie was a much different job than it is today. For starters, before Jacques Plante, no goalie used the facemask. Now, when I think about this I think that they must have gotten hit in the face very often. While that did sometimes happen, it did not happen as often as fans would think because as a result of not wanting their face knocked off goaltenders played differently. They played a standup style where they would never flop down on their pads to save the pucks. This was done because if a goalie were to go down to save the puck, he would get hit in the face. With the introduction of the facemask, the position changed. It now became logical to go down because without fear of a puck hitting your face, it increased the goalie’s chances of stopping a shot. Inherently today we know that a good goalie goes down to protect against most shots, since he is taller than the net and can now cover more ground.

After the popularization of the mask, it eventually became apparent that a good goalie had to go down on most shots. By the 1980’s, a young goalie named Patrick Roy was taking Montreal and hockey by storm. Besides talking to goalposts (look it up that actually happened) his other prime innovation was popularizing the modern pro butterfly style that goalies such as Roberto Luongo use today. Now, I don’t want this article to get bogged down by the finer points of the style, as I am no goaltending expert and am not trying to write as such. From what I gather, the major points of the butterfly are that the goalie plays low, and as stationary as possible. When they go down, they spread their legs with toes facing outward, and knees close together. This way they cover most of the net, and it logically seems like the way goaltending would most efficiently be done. However, when I watch Carey Price he does this perfectly, and when I watch Roberto Luongo he does this perfectly, yet they are not holding up the Conn Smythe Trophy and Tim Thomas is.

Tim Thomas could not get a starting job in the NHL until he was 31. He bounced around the minor leagues, and spent some time playing in Finland. He made the NCAA Frozen Four, and was a star in Finland winning a championship and an MVP, yet it took him years to find a job in the NHL. You and I know the reason for this, which is that Tim Thomas does not look like a good goalie, he looks like a man just guessing where the puck is. If he stops it then it must be luck. But once he stops it over and over it must not be luck. Finally the Boston Bruins figured this out and made him there starting goaltender. He had a form and a style that made a goaltending coach cringe, which is to say a lack of a set system, but that style is the reason why he is the goalie he is today. After watching him tonight, and throughout these playoffs fans are acknowledging it is not a fluke. What is it that Tim Thomas has that his peers, who logically should be stopping more shots than him, do not have?

If I were to go to a goalie coach and offer him a lot of money to be a great goalie here is what he would and should do. He will assume that I have no inherent gift of recognizing where the puck will go. He will probably play me in a butterfly, or a hybrid style like Martin Brodeur’s that also has sound, consistent positioning. Now we know I am covering the most net by going down into the same position. We have recognized I am a fallible human being who cannot stop every shot so we have put me in a situation where I have stopped the most shots possible. However, Tim Thomas is not like me because Tim Thomas has a gift for assessing where the puck is going to go. Wayne Gretzky had a gift for assessing where the play would be at the forward position, and Tim Thomas has it at goaltender. If you don’t believe me I suggest you put on the tape of Game 7 (unless you are a Canucks fan, although I’m sure if you are then you already believe me). These goalies that consistently go in a similar position are putting themselves in a place where they believe they can stop the most shots possible, although some are bound to go in. What Tim Thomas is trying to do is unique, because he will go into a different position on every shot with no set method because his goal isn’t to stop as many shots as possible; his goal is to stop every shot.

Say you and me are writing a science pop quiz, and there are 4 true or false questions. We do not know the answers but we do know 2 will be true and 2 will be false. The logical butterfly approach to this problem would be to write 4 true or 4 false, because that way we know we will get 2 correct. Tim Thomas would try to answer based on feel, so he would risk getting all 4 wrong for the chance to get all 4 right. For most kids that would be dumb, but I have a friend who is brilliant at science. Why should he confine himself to this system that limits his potential? Even if he is not sure, he should trust his logic and scientific sense and believe they will guide him for 4 answers. Because 2 answers right will be a 50 percent, and my friend should want to get it perfect. Tim Thomas is to goaltending what my friend is to science. The goal of a goaltender should not be to stop as many shots as possible; the goal should be to stop every shot. That is why you will see Tim Thomas risking a goal by coming out of the net to challenge the shooter, because his goal is simply to stop every shot. He does this on feel and feel alone, because if you have a knack for knowing where shots would be, you should not guess on probabilities, you should answer with what that gifted science student just knows.

Tim Thomas has bettered Roberto Luongo in this series because playing by feel, if you are able to do it, is better than playing by a set system. For a goaltending of limited ability, the butterfly is the system that allows them to stop the most shots. For a goaltender of unlimited ability to anticipate where the puck will be, he should not confine himself to a certain place; he should flop to where that puck will be. Roberto Luongo had some great games and some terrible ones, because he was doing what he always does to stop the most shots. This consistency gives him a weakness the shooter can exploit because they know where he is not going to be. Tim Thomas does not have any set positioning, so he could be anywhere. That is much harder for a shooter to anticipate and attack.

I was talking with my Dad about how to act in social settings the other night. I was saying that while I believe I am funny, sometimes I act too much like a comedian, and I go overboard. He said that there is not set rule or system on knowing how much is going overboard, you just have to rely on feel. In essence, what he was saying what that I could just rely on my internal filter. I find in thinking about it, I often know when I am going overboard with the jokes, and that playing it on feel is a much better way to do better on social interactions than to have a set system. A butterfly approach to social relationships would be there is a set rule of jokes you should tell at this time so as to prohibit you from going overboard. I know as a funny guy that that limits my humour, which is one of my strengths. Right now, almost every goalie in hockey is playing a system that limits their potential to stop every shot, except for one goalie. In an age where goalies are limiting where they can play and how they can play, Tim Thomas has become the best goalie not in spite of removing the conventional limits, but because of it.

Game 7 Preview

Myles Dichter

Now that we are (thankfully) done with the NBA Finals, and Lebron James’ epic collapse, the NHL will take centre stage Wednesday night with the biggest game of the year. Will Vancouver be able to continue the trend of the home team winning, and take home Lord Stanley’s hardware? Will it be Luongo in net at the end of the 3rd period, or Schneider? Can Tim Thomas put up yet another outstanding playoff performance? If he does, but the Bruins still manage to lose, does he deserve Giguere-esque praise, and the MVP trophy? Will at least one Sedin show up? Will we have to endure that Johnny Reid song on CBC (let’s go higher) any longer? Will Tomas Kaberle take a shot (for the record, his “shot” that led to the fourth goal wasn’t officially a shot as it was tipped in)?

I can’t think of a better time for the NHL to have its game 7. With the NBA season done, and headed for a lockout, it is more important than ever before for the NHL to come through with an exciting finish. The NHL has a chance right now that doesn’t come about very often. They have the opportunity to overtake a dominant American sport, and it is vital for the NHL to make the most of this opportunity if they want to get out of this stage of mediocrity/irrelevance. Of course, it is up to the players to make this Stanley Cup as memorable as possible, not for blindside hits to the head, but for genuinely well-played, exciting hockey.

On to the actual game now. The big story thus far has been Vezina candidate goaltenders (though at this point, there really is only one candidate) Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo. Thomas has been nothing short of incredible all postseason, while Luongo has been shaky, as we’ve seen in this series (he’s won 1-0, 1-0 and 2-1 and lost 8-, 4-0 and 5-2). Back on Vancouver, Luongo needs to have a good start. You could see his confidence go down after a questionable Marchand goal then a downright ugly goal scored by Milan Lucic. I think Luongo will show up tonight. On a sidenote, Luongo WILL NOT be traded this summer, to all the people that think he will. Even if the Canucks wanted to, his value has never been lower because of the perception that he is a choker. As for Thomas, I have never liked him. Maybe that stems from being a Leafs fan, or the fact that I don’t like his style of play. Either way, he’s been a brick wall and at this point seems like a lock to win the Conn Smythe no matter who wins, barring a total meltdown.

There is no questioning how badly both of these teams want to win. The Bruins haven’t won since ’72 (only 5 more years than the Leafs), and Vancouver hasn’t won a Cup in their entire history. The Bruins are playing for Nathan Horton, the Canucks Mason Raymond. So as far as “intangibles” go, these teams are dead even. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the series has been the on-ice antics from the likes of Alex Burrows and Brad Marchand. Both are very talented players, who have come up big in clutch situations (see Burrows game 2). That is what makes this so interesting, that these guys aren’t your typical Sean Avery super-pests. They have an added value to their team beyond getting under the opponent’s skin. They aren’t the biggest, most physical players on their team but they are extremely important. Speaking of physicality, Boston must keep this style of play in order to win tonight. It is how they have been playing all year, and it brings out the best in this big team. At home, Vancouver must set the tempo early, and play their fast-paced style of game. If they can set this tone early, then they can win tonight’s game hands-down. It has been frustrating watching the Canucks try to play a different game than their own, and I’m not sure it will hold up much longer, even playing in Vancouver (fun fact: home teams are 18-2 in the Stanley Cup since 2009).

It says something about this series that I have yet to mention the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron. It is the role players that have defined this series; however, it is the stars that must step up in game 7. Daniel Sedin guaranteed victory for Vancouver tonight. Wouldn’t it be a nice way to win a game 7, after Mark Messier guaranteed a win for the Rangers in 1993 and came through? I think this game will be defined by the first period, and whether the Bruins can rattle Luongo. Ultimately, I  think the Canucks will pull this game out in front of their home crowd, with a 3-2 win. We know that a European will be handed the Cup, and that an American in all likelihood will will be named MVP, but in the end, the Stanley Cup will finally come back to where it belongs, in Canada.

Lebron’s Collapse Explained

By: Alex Bogach

I couldn’t resist…

Reactions After a Mavs Victory and a Heat Defeat

By: Norman Yallen

What is in a reaction? More importantly what is the right reaction in victory and in defeat? In victory do we want to see quiet humility or brash bravado? In defeat do we want to see stoic composure or tears and a promise to do better? The reactions last night ran the gamut from the crying, to the composed, to the swearing on national television, to naturally Lebron who had the most compelling reaction of them all. While there be no right way to react, there certainly is a wrong way. Maybe in and of themselves they don’t mean much but in the future a reaction to victory or defeat can mean a hell of a lot.

 

Seeing Dirk Nowitzki walk off the court a champion made me incredibly happy, but it was watching the Miami Heat walk off the court that fascinated me more. I was doing what it is that I as a fan do, analyzing this moment to get a glimpse into the deeper psyche of players, which perhaps doesn’t even exist, but which almost any sportswriter will tell you does. I saw Chris Bosh cry in the tunnel, and I had two conflicting thoughts, first that he was not exactly the toughest guy around. The second was that with that being said, he had given this series everything he had, and he was very disheartened that it hadn’t been enough. I may not love to see a player crying but I respected the fact that he had passion and cared about the series. In the other tunnel was Dirk Nowitzki, who had to take a few minutes to compose himself. He just needed a few minutes alone to savour his accomplishment, that after all the tough playoff exits, and criticisms, and missed shots earlier in the night, he was now a champion. It is something that no one will ever be able to take away from him. Then there was Lebron James at the interview podium after the game, where he couldn’t quite give a straight answer on how he felt. At one point he showed what I wanted to see, saying he failed. But then King James came out, opining that any of us who criticized him will be going back to our sad lives while he goes back to his great life. He then went on Twitter and wrote (I refuse to say tweet) that God didn’t plan on him winning this year. Because after all, God was the one who had him pass up open jump shots, stop driving to the basket, and stop covering Jason Terry. God must have wanted him to lose so he could be a prick at the post game news conference.

 

Pat Riley announced after the end of the 1987 NBA Finals, that his Los Angeles Lakers were going to win another. It can certainly be argued that this confidence helped pave the way for Magic Johnson, an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a veteran Lakers to win again the following spring. You weren’t going to be hearing any of that from Dirk Nowitzki, or Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, that simply isn’t their style. Dirk didn’t need to play up his celebrations, or his reactions throughout these playoffs. He didn’t react at all before any of his previous victories, and even after this one, he retreated to the privacy of the locker room before doing so. As opposed to Lebron James, and Dwyane Wade who celebrated at centre court in the middle of Game 2. This was right before Dallas rallied to win the game and the series. It is a celebration, which I would have rather done without if I were a part of the Miami Heat. For that matter, another bad reaction was James, Wade and Bosh’s infamous celebration in mid-July of last year. On a more broad level of what went wrong, this was where the entitlement, and the hatred, and the refusal of the Miami Heat to adapt, began. That reaction and the arrogance on display in July could still be seen in a losing effort in June.

 

I wanted Lebron to show some delayed humility, to express that he could have done better, because I felt he could have done better. However, the truth is that I should not matter to Lebron, what should have mattered to him was his teammates. In the 1969 Finals, Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics upset the heavily favoured Lakers. It was the player-coach’s final game and marked his eleventh championship in thirteen seasons. After the game he kicked out every media member, and anyone else from the locker room. He wanted to savour his final victory with his teammates, his brothers who he had played with for years. To me that reaction represents what basketball is all about, that you don’t play for the sponsors, or the media, or to become a cultural icon, you play to win for your teammates, and you play to win for yourself. That is exactly what Dirk Nowitzki did last night and has done his entire career in Dallas. He did not need to celebrate and cry at midcourt because he did not need to show everyone how much he cared. He and his teammates knew it all along.

 

Lebron says we’ll all go back to our pathetic lives. He wants us to believe that he doesn’t care what we think, that he doesn’t care, but that is not the truth. The unfortunate truth is that Lebron cares deeply about public perception. That is why you will see him celebrating in the middle when he wins, so he can show us, and prove to everyone that he cares. He’s that kid who just wants to be cool, to fit in, and it is cool to be emotional in victory. What is not cool is to be vulnerable in defeat, to say that he may have screwed some things up. To say that he is wasting away his potential, and he knows that as well. That is something he will never say because King James can’t admit fault, he has to show us all that he’s perfect.

 

I see the Heat being very good again next season. The people who say the team needs to be torn apart are the same ones who said Lebron was better than Jordan a couple weeks ago. The team needs a big man, and they need more role players, but they have Wade and James so as long as they are both healthy, they will contend. To win, they need Lebron to play at his best, and to do that he needs to mature in his game, which means developing a jump shot and a low post game. He is the most intriguing player in the game today simply because of his potential and the question of whether he will put it together. The second part of that equation is that he will need to mature in his attitude and outlook. After his answer at the press conference last night it seems this may never happen but it is something I would like to see, because the game is at its best with the best player at his best.

 

I will be waiting until that moment when Lebron begins to live up to his potential. I think the first sign of that moment will be when Lebron calmly walks back into the locker room after a playoff victory, and when he accepts responsibility over a playoff defeat. Then maybe the most talented player in basketball can work at becoming the best one. In the gym all day in the summer, developing his shot and his post game, until he knows that he cannot be stopped or deterred. Once it becomes not about showing us how great he is, but knowing himself that he is the best he could be. Then he can stop boasting in victory, and stop evading responsibility in defeat. Then maybe, someday, if we’re lucky, instead of being the player he is, Lebron can take a page from Dirk Nowitzki who never stops improving, and become the player he is capable of being.

The Last of His Kind-Vladdy Guerrero and the End of The “Ballplayer”

Jordan Wajs

When I think of Vladimir Guerrero, I think of a “ballplayer”. Not an athlete, or a professional, a “ballplayer”. He sticks out. Vladdy Guerrero does not fit into those roles. In fact, he doesn’t fit into his time.

The name Vladdy brings a thought to my head – an imaginary at-bat. I see him standing in the batters’ box, twirling his bat behind his head, leaning out over his feet. In my head, Vladdy is waiting for a pitch. He’s holding his head high and his front elbow low. It’s late in a ballgame. Guerrero needs to come through. Pressure mounting, his dugout and thousands of fans focus their eyes and spirits on him. And all the while, Vladdy is smiling.

Guerrero has never won the World Series. He has never won a batting title, or a gold glove. As his career winds down, his numbers and statistical legacy are beginning to dwindle. However, he has never been more significant. Vladdy Guerrero is the last pure “ballplayer”.

Let’s take a trip into the not-so-distant past; I’m thinking 1960. Baseball is “America’s Pastime”. To be a “ballplayer” is every boy’s dream; to play the game for as long as possible is every “ballplayer”’s dream. In 1960, baseball wasn’t a profit-based media conglomerate. Baseball, along with the other major sports, was still a game. It wasn’t an enterprise of millionaires; Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the time’s two biggest stars, shared a small apartment in Queens. Men played because they enjoyed the game. There were no designated hitters, no in-depth scouting, batting and pitching reports, and no steroids. Guerrero fits this era. He doesn’t concern himself with modern intricacies (pitch selectivity, batting gloves, etc.), only with swinging and running as hard as he can, and basking in the beauty and pure pleasure that baseball can afford him. Vladdy doesn’t step into the batters’ box to earn his paycheck. He doesn’t do it to have a productive and patient at-bat, or to strategically expose a pitcher’s easy-to-hit cutter. He does it, simply, because it’s what he likes to do.

At this point in my fantasy, Vladdy’s facing his first pitch. It’s a strike – he swings and misses. He doesn’t need to collect himself; he’s the epitome of a free swinger. Next pitch is right down the middle – he’s late on it. Strike two.

Vladdy plays baseball like the true “boys of summer”. His approach to the game does not fit into the modern sports world. Baseball is a game he gets to play every day, not his job.  His naïve yet driven attitude towards the sport is unparalleled. Most players spend hours each day studying their opponents and developing strategies and theories towards specific parts of their game. Guerrero is different. He takes prolonged batting practices, and warms up with his glove, even though he hasn’t played the role of an everyday fielder in years. He cares about turning on strikes and pushing for that extra base.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Vladdy Guerrero’s life is his nonchalant attitude towards the lifestyle of the common athlete. In today’s over-scrutinized sports scene, athletes’ every move is documented, and their every thought transcribed. They have willingly accepted the position of role models to their fans. Kids grow up idolizing them, and learning from their character and image. This is one of sports’ greatest problems. Athletes are not true role models; they don’t fit the part. They can speak as thoughtfully and act as maturely as they want, but in the end, they are just playing a part. Realistically, their careers and ideals are not incredibly positive. The modern athlete is driven by money and material success. Very few are highly educated. No matter how mature LeBron James dresses and tries to speak, when push comes to shove, he’s not someone who should be emulated. Vladdy Guerrero embraces the notion of the classic pro. He plays to enjoy himself, staying away from the tailored image of a media darling. He doesn’t go out of his way to participate in interviews – he has yet to learn English properly. He hasn’t been swept into the wave of the celebrity athlete. In this day and age, Vladdy is extremely unique. He doesn’t focus on his image or his statistics. Vladdy plays the game he loves, the way he feels comfortable. His dreadlocks hang down, his bat circles high, and his smile shines. Vladdy looks goofy. And it’s beautiful.

I enjoy watching Vladdy Guerrero play because he’s so different. He’s like a record player; his style is outdated, yet the beauty and quality of his nature persists. He isn’t graceful at the plate, or incredibly disciplined. He swings at any pitch he likes, not the pitches that stat reports favor. He doesn’t follow the technological or professional norms. Vladdy does what he wants. He is a “ballplayer”.

As Vladdy bends awkwardly over the plate, bare handed, the third pitch comes. He doesn’t flinch. His smile vanishes. Vladdy is upset. He isn’t out; the count is one and two. Vladdy’s unhappy because like him, the pitch was way outside the box, too wild to connect with.

Heat need to regain inner Zuckerberg

By: Alex Bogach

When Dallas beat Miami in Game 2, I tweeted (which I rarely to never to do on my @the_REAL_alexb account) numerous times in pure excitement. I changed my BBM name description 5 times until I settled on “YES.WE.DID”. I went literally insane. I went into full We Just Killed Osama mode. It was one of those moments where you wake up in the morning and would be totally unsurprised if none of that actually happened. Like if I sat down at breakfast the next morning and the Heat won by 20, I’d be less surprised than I was that morning when I saw Dirk on the front of ESPN. And there’s a reason. Dallas didn’t just win Game 2—they gave themselves an opportunity to win the series by shaking the Heat.

(Watch the scene for full effect)

In the Chicago series, I compared Miami to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network in that both are wildly invincible. I begged for Chicago to understand that while winning the series—or in Eduardo’s case taking down Mark—would be nearly impossible, that it would be important for Zuckerberg and the Heat to have a moment of self-reflection, a rattling moment. For Mark, it was when Eduardo stormed out of his office, smashed his computer and completely flipped. For the Mavs, they pulled it off in Game 2. They had the Heat have their “%^*#, we totally screwed up” moment just like Mark. And that was essential.

 

The only way the Mavs were going to win this series is if the Heat beat themselves and by not just beating Miami on their homecourt for the first time all playoffs, but doing so using that absurdly improbable comeback, it gave the Heat a moment of reflection. A moment of contemplation. A moment of “wait, can we actually do this?”

 

The Mavericks needed to shake up the Heat and they did it in the absolutely most perfect way at the end of Game 2. Then, after losing Game 3—and only Game 3—they put even more pressure on the Heat because they won two in a row. Now the Mavs get to go back to Miami and make the Heat beat themselves. These words will be running through Miami’s heads before Sunday’s tip-off:

 

“We’ve beaten you twice”

 

“Remember last time we were here?”

 

“This” 

 

And lo and behold, the Heat have lost heavily due to mental errors and lapses. The Mavs did it by winning Game 2. That’s why I was so ecstatic. During the Chicago and Boston series, I had no hope. The Heat had their Zuckerberg meter at 11. But then the Mavs gave them the best Eduardo Saverin routine ever! By letting the Mavericks come back in Game 2, they made the Heat look vulnerable and paranoid. The only people that could beat the Miami team that was in Chicago and Boston was that Miami team and they have done exactly that.

 

(And Pat Riley is Sean Parker, by the way, with the “oh, you’ll sign it” line. Plus, the fact that we would love if a Heat meltdown ended in Riley getting busted at a frat house party for snorting lines off an 18 year olds stomach)

 

Now, with Game 6 looming…the Mavs have to look the Heat in the eyes and say: We aren’t coming back for 3 wins! We’re coming back—for everything.