A Rose by any other name...

In case you missed our NCAA hoops preview, remember the name Derrick Rose. He is the all-world freshman point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies and he is about to blow up. Remember it now, before his name starts appearing on lists with others like Durant, LeBron, Oden and Wade. Before Dick Vitale suffers a near seizure while singing the praises of this diaper dandy. Before he schools every point guard in Conference USA and beyond with his unique mix of athleticism, handles, lockdown defense, passing skills and high basketball IQ. Before CBS runs a pre-NCAA tournament profile on Rose’s life growing up on the mean streets of Englewood, Chicago. Before the millions in salary and endorsements. Before the bandwagon gets too full and you find yourself roughing it on the roof.

The question coming into the season about which freshman is better, Rose or USC’s OJ Mayo, may have already been answered. With two college games under his belt, Rose has left little doubt that the hype that followed him to Memphis was more than legit. Sure, the Tigers have only played Tennessee-Martin and Richmond, two teams that are about as anonymous as an undercover CIA agent, but Rose was the undisputed star in both contests. Rose scored 17 points to go with 6 boards and 5 assists in the first game, and followed that up tonight with 21 points on 6-8 shooting from the floor. If you’re interested in seeing the future, try to catch Memphis’ semifinal game in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic tournament on November 15. And then tune into ESPN on December 4, when OJ Mayo and USC take on Rose’s Tigers in Madison Square Garden.

Though nicknamed “pooh” by his grandma (yes, the Winnie kind), Derrick Rose is all grown up. If Rose continues to play as he has these first 2 games of the new NCAA season, and perhaps even improves as expected during the course of the season, the Memphis Tigers could be hoisting the NCAA championship when March 2008 rolls around.


Steve Nash is over-rated

Like fine wine, Steve Nash has only gotten better with age, seriously better. It doesn’t seem possible now, what with Nash becoming intimately familiar with the NBA MVP award in recent years, but his first four seasons out of Santa Clara University were pretty pathetic. In fact, take a close look at his career numbers, Nash was nowhere near MVP-caliber until he came back for his second run in Phoenix playing under Mike D’Antoni’s “7 seconds or less” offensive system. A system by the way, that has made solid players out of career journeymen like Raja Bell, James Jones and Boris Diaw. But we digress. In Dallas, during his best season, Nash averaged 17.9 points and 7.7 assists. Solid, but sorry, no MVP for you!

We bring all this up because we were having this conversation over the weekend. Where does Nash rank among today’s crop of point-guards? Does Nash really deserve the 2 MVP trophies he took home following the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons? In fact, where would Nash rank among the greatest points of all-time?

Steve Nash fans probably won’t like our answers.

Look we love the little guy’s heart and hustle. His offensive skills are also rather substantial, with a silky smooth jumper, mesmerizing passing ability and high basketball IQ. And to top it off, Nash is a model citizen and all-around good guy off the court. In fact, if every NBA player had his personality, principles and poise, the NBA would be a whole lot more popular with casual fans.

But, on the flip side, Nash is also one of the worst defensive point-guards in the league, he can’t rebound to save the world and, plain and simple, owes a huge chunk of his success in recent years to the D’Antoni system. In fact, to those that watch the NBA closely it is pretty clear that the only reason Steve Nash won the MVP award during the 2005-2006 season, ahead of more deserving candidates like Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki for example, is because the 125 sportswriters and broadcasters that vote for the NBA MVP award are simply fonder of Nash. That’s it, given a close MVP race, the only reason Nash took home the hardware was because he’s the most likeable. Didn’t know we were back in high school, but whatever.

So, given that analysis, and considering the fact that Steve Nash has never won an NBA championship, let’s get back to those pressing questions. Where does Nash rank, among the point-guards both today and all-time? Well, looking at his current peers, the other point guards in the conversation should probably be Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas, Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups. If we had to rate this group, considering current skills, ability to play under a variety of systems, and future potential, we’d do it thusly:
  1. Gilbert Arenas
  2. Jason Kidd
  3. Chris Paul
  4. Steve Nash
  5. Baron Davis
  6. Deron Williams
  7. Chauncey Billups
  8. Tony Parker

By our calculations, Nash is clearly in the middle of the pack among the top point-guards in the game today. What about all-time? Just for kicks, the list below is how we’d rank the top 5 point guards of all-time. Nash would probably appear somewhere near the bottom of the top 15.

  1. Magic Johnson
  2. Oscar Robertson
  3. Isiah Thomas
  4. John Stockton
  5. Bob Cousy

Then you’ve got players like the aforementioned Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Walt Frazier, Gary Payton, Pete Maravich, Nate Archibald, Dennis Johnson, et al. Take Kevin Johnson for example. The guy averaged 18 points, 9 assists and 1.5 steals a game, while shooting 49 percent from the floor for his career -- better than Nash's numbers. Or, how about Nate Archibald? He averaged 19 points, 7 assists and nearly a steal per game throughout his illustrius career. In comparison, Nash has a paltry 14 points, 7.6 assits and .8 steals per game over his career. And, Nash, unlike Archibald, and a lot of the other players on the list, is yet to win a championship.

Just because Steve Nash is the flavor of the day, particularly among sportswriters who seem to be in love with the Suns star, history, and a quick statistical analysis, shows us that he isn’t quite as prolific as some would have you believe.

Obligatory Note: On any all-time list, you can’t compare skills across eras, but gauge talent by comparing to other players in their own era, and by measuring the impact they had on their particular team. So, don’t even get started with “Jason Kidd is so much better than Bob Cousy” – arguments like that are pointless.

Patriots so-called confidence is starting to wear thin

The New England Patriots are treading carelessly close to that thin line between confidence and arrogance. All season opposing fans and neutral bystanders alike have questioned whether the Pats and Head Coach Bill Belichick were purposefully running up the score. Now the Patriots themselves are whining about possible rules infractions by conference rivals the Indianapolis Colts.

After his team squeaked out a slim 24-20 victory against the Colts on Sunday, Patriots President Jonathan Kraft accused the Colts of distracting tactics, including enhancing the home crowd by playing digital crowd noise over the stadium speakers. Apparently, that would be against NFL rules.

The Patriots were obviously hoping for another blow-out, while making a serious statement to the rest of the league, the media and fans. Unfortunately for them, Peyton Manning and the Colts were not at all interested in conceding such a result. But, just because you didn’t roll over your opponents as you had hoped, does that mean you accuse your opponents of cheating? And even if they were cheating, the Patriots, who themselves earlier this year were implicated and fined for cheating, are in no position to act all high and mighty when it comes to scrupulous tactics that bend the NFL rules.

After being the door-mat of the NFL for decades, under Belichick the Patriots had become a classy NFL franchise. Unfortunately, it seems that the unprecedented success this season is going to their head a little bit, as the confident swagger is starting to look a little like obnoxious haughtiness.

This New England team hasn’t won anything just yet and last time we checked, despite the result on Sunday, Indianapolis is still the defending Super Bowl champion. It would be wise for the Patriots to keep that in mind and maintain some humility, lest arrogance be their ultimate demise during what otherwise could be one of the most historic Super Bowl runs ever.

Defensive Hornets developing into Western powerhouse

The young New Orleans Hornets seem to have learned their lesson. The team, which hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season, is finally buying into the age old mantra that defense wins championships.

"Our training camp was all about improving our defense," said team leader and all-world point guard Chris Paul, following a 93-88 win over the generally high-scoring Denver Nuggets. "Our defense was a reason we didn't make the playoffs the last two years. We could always score with the best teams in the league. We just couldn't make defensive stops."
The Hornets have certainly had the individual defensive talent, in players like Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, but Coach Byron Scott, who incidentally was known more for his shot than his D on the fast-breaking Lakers teams of the 80s, is finally starting to implement both a team-wide defensive mentality and effective defensive schemes.

As a result of their work on the defensive side of the ball and all-out hustle on both ends, the Hornets are the surprise team of the new NBA season. A team that finished with 38 and 39 wins respectively over the past 2 seasons is 3-0, and is only giving up 90.3 points per contest, putting them on par with traditional defensive power-houses like Detroit, Houston and San Antonio, at least early in the season. Compare that to last season, when the Hornets gave up 97.1 points per contest and it seems that Scott has found the Cajun recipe for defensive success.

Of course, injuries, for a team that lost starters David West, Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic for major chunks of last season, will also bear watching. But, if they can stay healthy, and continue to play defense like they have the first 3 games on the season, the New Orleans Hornets will find themselves back in the Western Conference playoffs, likely knocking out a team like the Golden State Warriors.