Sixers @ Nets Game Preview (4/8/13)

After a poor start to the season, Deron Williams has played at a level worthy of his Olympic status.

Although in the hearts of Sixers fans, the playoffs have not been a possibility for weeks, the loss to Miami Saturday night mathematically eliminated Philadelphia from the postseason.  The Sixers will continue to play out the string toward next year against a Brooklyn team with playoff aspirations of their own.  At 44-32, the Nets find themselves in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, 2 games ahead of Chicago for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  Their pattern of play lately has been fairly straightforward: lose to playoff contenders like the Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, and Bulls, and defeat lottery teams such as Phoenix, Portland, Cleveland, and Charlotte.  Unfortunately for the Sixers, they are most-decidedly a lottery team.

The man keeping the Nets in the top half of the Eastern Conference has been Deron Williams.  After a year and a half of sub-par play in a Nets uniform, talk was everywhere about Williams being out of shape, uncommitted to his craft, and a diva more concerned with assigning blame to his coaches than taking personal responsibility for his team’s struggles.  However, Williams has rebounded in a big way, putting up post-all star break numbers of 23.0 ppg on 48.0% shooting, and 7.9 apg, reminiscent of his prime days in Utah.  Those numbers would rank him top 6 in the NBA in both scoring, assists, and FG% (among point guards).  Williams has torched the Sixers in the team’s three meetings to stat lines similar to those second half numbers; if Jrue Holiday doesn’t embrace the defensive task of limiting Williams, there’s little chance the Sixers pull off the upset.

The other main offensive threat for Brooklyn is 7’0″ center Brook Lopez, who is averaging Per 36 Minutes career-highs over a full season in points (22.6) and blocks (2.4) over a full season.  Lopez is an average shooter from mid-range at 39.6%, but really excels in the painted area.  Spencer Hawes and the other Sixers big men have to establish position early in the defensive possession and force Lopez further from the basket.  The Sixers defeated Brooklyn at home in March for their lone victory against the Nets this season because Hawes greatly outplayed Lopez.  Not only did Spencer nearly record a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, but he held Lopez to just 5 points after a hot first quarter.  Surprisingly, Hawes has probably been the most consistent Sixer over the last few weeks, and will need to continue his strong play against one of the best offensive big men in the game.

Keys to the Game:

  • Go at Lopez on offense.  Although Lopez records a decent amount of blocks, those mostly come off weakside help; noone would confuse him as a rim protector.  The Sixers attacked the rim hard in their March win over Brooklyn, earning 27 attempts from the charity stripe.  Despite the Nets fouling at the second-lowest rate in the NBA, Philadelphia needs to force the issue and not rely on an inconsistent perimeter game.
  • Keep a body on Reggie Evans. The task will fall upon Thad Young to make sure Evans does not approach the 4.3 offensive rebounds per game he’s averaged this season against his former team.  Teams often forget about putting a body on Evans because he’s a non-existent offensive threat.  Young and the other members of the Sixers front line must find him and block him out as soon as a shot goes up.

Prediction:

The Sixers’ road woes have been well documented and the Nets have plenty of motivation to earn every win possible down the stretch.  Jrue Holiday’s defensive game has taken a step back this season, likely as a result of being asked to assume a much larger role offensively.  I would look for Deron Williams to have another big game and lead the Nets to an easy victory.

NCAA Championship Game Preview (4/8/13)

Which team will earn the right to unfurl a 2013 championship banner?

#1 Louisville (34-5, 14-4 Big East) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7, 12-6 Big Ten)

What a treat for college basketball fans as this year’s championship game pits the top defense against the top offense in the country.  While it’s always fun to see the Florida Gulf Coasts and Wichita States of the world make a run in the tournament, eventually the cream rises to the top and these two premier programs will do battle in the final.  Each squad spent a week ranked #1 in the country during the middle of the season and has been among the top teams all season long.  However, the two teams have taken slightly different paths to get here.

Louisville started off the season 16-1 with their lone loss coming in a five-point defeat to Duke.  They then a their biggest rough patch of the season, losing three straight to eventual tournament teams Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown.  However, the Cardinals then ripped off another nice streak, going 13-1 entering the NCAA tournament including a Big East tournament championship, with the sole defeat an epic five-overtime loss at Notre Dame.  In the tournament, Louisville was never tested until Saturday when the upstart Wichita State Shockers jumped out to a double digit lead in the second half.  The Cardinals’ vaunted full court press eventually got them back into the game for an exciting finish an a 72-68 victory.

On the other hand, Michigan struggled toward the end of the season and had no momentum coming into the NCAA tournament.  After starting the season 20-1 with the one loss being a three-point defeat at Ohio State, the Wolverines went just 6-6 over its last 12 games entering the tournament, including a loss to lowly Penn State.  Michigan has suddenly found its stride in the tournament, cruising to victories excluding a tough overtime victory against Kansas that required some incredible late-game heroics from star point guard and the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Trey Burke.

Despite Burke’s play, the biggest reason for the Wolverines’ tournament run has been the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary.  Over the course of this tournament, McGary has gone from bench player to starter to now being talked about as a first round NBA draft pick if he declares himself eligible.  McGary has jumped from season averages of 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds to 16.0 points and 11.6 rebounds in the tournament, providing an interior component to an offense with a handful of good outside shooters.  He has shown an excellent offensive skill set operating from the high post, setting screens and rolling to the rim.  Those skills will translate extremely well in today’s pick-and-roll NBA.

Aside from his late-game efforts against Kansas, Burke has struggled in the tournament, averaging just 13.8 ppg (down from his 18.5 season mark) on 32.4% shooting, including 25.8% from behind the arc.  He has continued to do a good job distributing, averaging 7.0 assists per game.  Still, Burke will be the most important player for the Wolverines tonight as he will carry much of the burden in breaking the Cardinals’ full court pressure.  Without a performance representative of a player of the year, Michigan’s run will certainly end in defeat.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III are the other offensive threats for the Wolverines.  Stauskas is the best pure shooter, hitting 43.9% of his threes this season, but is mainly a catch-and-shoot player.  Hardaway Jr. and Robinson III are also capable of hitting the three ball, but also need to be accounted for as options to penetrate the lane.

Russ Smith has been a dominant scoring force in the tournament, averaging 25.0 ppg on 50.0% shooting.  The scoring is nothing new for Smith, who has averaged 18.9 ppg on the season, but the efficiency is, as his usual 42.1% shooting labelled him as more of a gunner than an elite scorer.  Smith is surrounded by a bevy of secondary options, whether it’s Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan on the inside, or Peyton Siva, Luke Hancock, and Wayne Blackshear on the perimeter.  Different players step up for the Cardinals on any given night, as evidenced by the 20-point effort from Hancock to guide Louisville to its comeback over Wichita State.

The Cardinals’ true strength is their elite defense.  Louisville uses its pressure to force the second-most turnovers in the country, with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith both top-45 in the country in steals.     Of course, none of it would be possible without Big East Defensive Player of the Year Gorgui Dieng anchoring the back line.  Dieng is 23rd in the country averaging 2.52 blocks per game, and NBA scouts drool over his potential as a defensive game-changer.

This game shapes up to be an instant classic between two elite teams and programs, but in the end, Louisville should bring home the trophy.  The Cardinals feature a deeper array of scoring options, making it more difficult for the Wolverines to shut down every avenue of attack.  While Michigan has plenty of nice pieces on offense, that side of the ball can be a hit or miss proposition. However, a staunch defense will always be there for you and Louisville will ride their defense to a championship.

One Star Enough as the Heat Dispatch the Sixers

James didn’t spend much time wondering when his superfriends would join him in defeating the Sixers.

Sometimes, just having the best player in the world on the court is all you need.  With fellow all-stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh sitting to rest minor injuries as the season winds down, LeBron James returned to the court after a three-game absence and showed no signs of rust in leading Miami to a 106-87 victory.  Sporting a game-high plus/minus rating of +22, James asserted himself during his somewhat limited minutes in recording 27 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.  11 of those points came in the opening quarter when the Heat jumped out to a 15-point lead.  In fact, during the first and fourth quarters when James played the majority of his minutes, the Heat outscored the Sixers 62-29.  To Philadelphia’s credit, they fought back to pull the game to tie the game in the third quarter, but the Sixers had dug themselves too deep a hole to fully complete the comeback.

With James around to draw their attention, the Sixers did a poor job defending the three point arc, as the Heat scorched the nets in shooting 14-25 from downtown.  Seven different players tallied a three-pointer for Miami, led by Ray Allen (3-3) and Mario Chalmers (3-8).  The Sixers also had no response to the high-strung energy of Heat reserve Chris Andersen.  The man they call Birdman recorded a game-high 15 rebounds, including 4 on the offensive glass, in just 25 minutes.  With LeBron back in action, the Sixers absolutely had to win the battle of the boards and limit the outside shooting, and they did neither of those things.

One encouraging sign was Sixers’ all-star Jrue Holiday getting back on track in the scoring department.  Holiday scored a team-high 18 points on 7-17 shooting, including 3-4 from behind the arc.  Two of his biggest weaknesses still showed themselves, however, as he only recorded one attempt at the foul line and committed 5 turnovers.  The next progression of Holiday’s game has to include taking better care of the basketball and attacking the rim more rather than settling for as many long jumpers as he does.  He has certainly made strides this year and a limited supporting cast may be partially to blame but he still has a way to go.

Among other Sixers in action, Spencer Hawes recorded another double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.  Dorell Wright returned to action after sitting Friday night with an elbow injury, although he may have still been affected by it as he shot just 1-7 from behind the arc.  The Sixers have a couple days off before finishing their four-game road trip in Brooklyn Tuesday night.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Playoff Predictions

Which team will lift the hardware in 2013?

This is part eight in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts onetwothreefour, five, six, and seven.

Predicted Regular Season Standings:

RS Standings

First Round Byes: Nimble Jacks, Work Horses

Quarterfinal Match-up #1: Throwbacks vs. Urban Legends

In a meeting between two of the best defenses in Kronum, expect a low-scoring affair with quality scoring opportunities at a premium.  The Legends rely heavily on Kevin Clark’s production on the offensive end; Throwbacks’ captain Joe Ferrigno has the knowledge and the personnel to install a defensive game plan to limit his impact.  The Throwbacks feature a more balanced scoring attack which should prove to be the difference in advancing to the semifinals.

Quarterfinal Match-up #2: Evergreens vs. Night Owls

The two least experienced teams in the league meet in our other first round match.  The Evergreens have shown some flashes of greatness in pre-season action but Joe Petrino is the team’s lone member among their top scorers with experience going deep into the playoffs.  The Night Owls should only continue to improve as the season progresses and all their moving parts gel together.  The expansion club will prove to be a tad green behind the ears as the Owls move on.

Semifinal Match-up #1: Nimble Jacks vs. Night Owls

The Night Owls have been talking the talk about having a new defensive mindset; however, the Nimble Jacks have been walking the walk now for quite some time.  It’s one thing to defeat the new kids on the block, but quite another to take down the defending champions.  The Jacks advance to their fourth consecutive league championship game.

Semifinal Match-up #2: Work Horses vs. Throwbacks

The Work Horses have plenty of quality scoring options which should prove to be a huge challenge for the Throwbacks defense.  The Throwbacks have the advantage in terms of speed and within the ground game.  It will be the powerful arms of the Horses against the disciplined structure of the Throwbacks in the most highly-contested game of the season to date.  In the end, the Throwbacks return to the championship game for the second time in three years.

Championship: Nimble Jacks vs. Throwbacks

In a re-match of the Season 2 championship game, the Throwbacks look to avenge a 136-79 loss in that contest.  While they do feature a top defense, the Jacks can match them save for save on the defensive end.  However, while the Throwbacks are still polishing their game offensively, the Jacks are perennially one of the highest scoring teams in the league, able to score in every facet of the game.  A team does not lose only one game across three seasons without learning a thing or two along the way.  It may be unoriginal to pick the favorite, but the evidence in this instance is overwhelming.  The Nimble Jacks make it four straight titles.

With all of that being said, the Kronum campaign is a long, trying slog.  Any number of injuries, internal personnel moves, and shifts in strategy could greatly affect a team’s prospects going forward.  Every team in the league has the talent to make a run at the championship and we will have to see who among that talent rises to the top.  Be sure to check out all the action starting April 7th on www.kronum.com.

Sixers @ Heat Game Preview (4/6/13)

Mike Miller has done a nice job lately in place of a resting Dwayne Wade.

Last chance, best chance to beat Miami this season for the Sixers.  With first place in the Eastern Conference clinched, and the best record overall almost assured, the Heat have been resting their stars down the stretch.  LeBron James (hamstring) and Dwayne Wade (ankle) have each sat out the last three games to rest minor injuries that they would otherwise be playing through.  Miami has also rotated some of its other key players, with Mario Chalmers sitting out three games before returning last night against Charlotte, and Ray Allen sitting out last night with an ankle injury.

Even without the two big stars for the Heat in the lineup during the past three games, Miami has played well. The Heat won a close game over the Spurs and easily defeated the Bobcats, while only losing to a red-hot Knicks team with Carmelo Anthony going unconscious from the outside on his way to 50 points.  The team has maintained its strong defense, with a nearly identical defensive rating over the past three games to its season-long mark.  However, the offense has understandably struggled without two of the best players in the game around, dropping from a league-best offense to a more middle-of-the-pack 103.9 offensive rating.

With a depleted roster taking the floor, the Heat’s remaining all-star has taken on more of a central role within the offense.  Over the last three games, Chris Bosh has returned to his pre-Heat numbers, scoring 21.3 ppg and collecting 7.7 rebounds.  In addition to the ex-Raptor, another unexpected player has also emerged lately.  In the past 4 games playing as a starter, Mike Miller has stepped up, averaging 15.5 ppg on 55% shooting, 5.5 rpg,  and 3.8 apg.  As you might expect, Miller has done the bulk of his scoring behind the arc, averaging 4 threes per game over that stretch, including hitting a season-high 7 last night in Charlotte.

All of the Miami Heat stars are still listed as game-time decisions, but there is really no reason for them not to continue resting rather than face a lottery-bound Philadelphia squad.  While a starting lineup featuring Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and Rashard Lewis may not seem imposing, these guys have played well and the Sixers cannot take things lately if they want to win two straight road games.

Keys to the Game:

  • Defend the three point arc. The Heat’s offense has fallen off track a bit without James and Wade but they still have plenty of dangerous options from the perimeter.  Battier (42.5%), Miller (39.9%), and Chalmers (41.0%) are all shooting well above average from three-point range.  The Sixers absolutely can not afford any defensive lapses and provide these guys with open looks; Philadelphia defenders should have a much easier time without James and Wade around to penetrate and kick.  If the Sixers can limit open three point opportunities, Miami will have almost nowhere to turn to put up points.
  • Fight for second chances. Given the Heat’s lack of size down low, they predictably allow the sixth-highest percentage of opponent’s offensive rebounds.  This problem has only been further exacerbated without LeBron James around to assist on the defensive glass.  The Bobcats collected 23 offensive rebounds in last night’s game against the Heat.  In the teams’ last meeting, Thad Young had an outstanding performance with 24 points and 15 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards.  Though the Heat have played great defense without their stars, this is one area Young, Hawes, and the rest of the Sixers front line can exploit.

Prediction:

Assuming the stars continue to sit for Miami, Philadelphia has a great opportunity to avoid the season sweep by the Heat. The Sixers have come agonizingly close to the upset on a couple occasions earlier this year and should have plenty of motivation to earn a victory here.  With the recent form they’ve shown over the last couple weeks, especially in Atlanta last night, the Sixers should win a close one over an undermanned Miami squad.  Of course, if King James takes the court, all bets are off.

Surprising Start Propels Sixers to Victory

The SIxers came out of the starting gate strong to cruise to a surprising road win over Atlanta.

After a poor defeat to the Bobcats a few days ago, Sixers fans expected the worst heading into a road game against a team in the thick of the race for home court in the first round.  Instead, supporters were treated to the best 12 minutes of basketball they’ve seen all season.  The Sixers tallied their highest-scoring quarter of the season to win the first 40-26, and cruise to a eventual 101-90 victory over the Hawks.

In that first frame, Philadelphia shot 72.7% from the field, not only swinging the ball well to find the open man on the perimeter, but relentlessly attacking the paint as well.  The Sixers are not known as a great shooting team, but it’s funny how much better they look when they’re swinging the ball around, rather than taking contested jumpers.  The Sixers’ big men got things rolling in this one as Thad Young and Spencer Hawes combined to score the team’s first 15 points.  From then on, Evan Turner also got into the action as his outside shot was working, hitting two threes on his way to 10 points in the first.

Despite an early cushion, fans knew the game was not over after seeing the Sixers cough up a 16-point lead to Charlotte.  However, on this night, Philadelphia kept playing good ball with Atlanta never getting closer than 9 points the rest of the way.  Turner continued his strong play, finishing with a game-high 24 points on 9-15 shooting, and 11 rebounds.  The other members of the front court also recorded double-doubles; Hawes ended his night with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Thad Young accrued 14 points and 13 boards.  The team did an excellent job on the defensive glass, limiting Atlanta to just 6 offensive rebounds.

In the an otherwise impressive game, there were two sore spots for Philadelphia.  First, the struggles continued for Jrue Holiday, who went 2-3 from the floor in the first quarter, but just 1-11 the rest of the way to finish 3-14 for 9 points.  For the team to eventually get back to a place among Eastern Conference contenders (i.e. able to beat anyone not Miami), the Sixers need to do it behind the efforts of Holiday, not in spite of them.  His recent struggles are very concerning after such a promising first half of the season.  The other issue is minor as Dorell Wright sat out with an elbow injury, which led to 14 minutes for Nick Young.  Swaggy P was back to his chucking way, missing 5 of his 7 shots, many of them those the inefficient long jumpers he loves so much.  It does not ultimately matter in this lost season, but the less Nick Young the better, from a purely aesthetic perspective as a fan viewing from home.

The Sixers have a quick turnaround as they travel to Miami to face a Heat team resting its stars down the stretch.  A new Sixers winning streak may depend on just how many players suit up for Miami.

Sixers @ Hawks Game Preview (4/5/13)

Josh Smith looks ahead to what may be his final days in Atlanta.

After a long winter, baseball returns to Philadelphia as the Phillies host the Royals in the team’s home opener…wait a minute.   Let’s not get ahead of ourselves sports fans, there’s still basketball left to be played.  Following a disappointing loss to Charlotte Wednesday night, the Sixers look to bounce back against an Atlanta team trying to make a final push for home-court advantage in the playoffs.  The Hawks currently trail Brooklyn by one and a half games for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.  The two teams split their earlier two meetings, with Jeff Teague greatly outplaying Jrue Holiday with a 27 point, 11 assist line, in an easy Hawks victory last month.

Do not expect to see many free throws taken in this game as, much like the Sixers, one area where the Hawks struggle is getting to the charity stripe, ranking 5th worst in the league.  Atlanta doesn’t foul opponents either though, as opponents get to the line at the third-lowest rate in the NBA, and we know the Sixers have a strict aversion to earning free points.  Atlanta also does a poor job on the offensive glass, collecting the 5th-lowest percentage of offensive rebounds.  The way the Hawks go about having an above-average offense is by distributing the ball well, with the second-highest assist ratio in the league at 19.0%.  When Jeff Teague isn’t running the show from the point (7.1 apg), the Hawks like to funnel the offense through their enigmatic star, Josh Smith, in the post (4.4 apg).  The high-low post game chemistry between Smith and fellow big man Al Horford is one of the more impressive sets to watch in the league.

It’s a little easier to collect those assists when you have some shooters on the outside able to knock down shots.  The Hawks rank fourth in the NBA in three-point shooting at 37.7%.  Kyle Korver is second in the league behind Jose Calderon in 3PT% at 45.7%, while Teague (36.6%) and DeShawn Stevenson (37.7%) also shoot the three at an above-average rate.  The Sixers will have to do an excellent job within their defensive rotations to star near those guys on the perimeter and still offer help when Teague and Smith drive into the lane.

Keys to the Game:

  • Bounce-back game for Jrue Holiday. After having his worst shooting performance as a professional (and probably as a non-professional as well), Holiday cannot afford to come out tentative in this one.  He still needs to be the driving force of the Sixers attack and if he fails to do his job attacking the lane, both to score and find open teammates, Philadelphia will not stand a chance.  Of course, if he shoots under 10% again, they’ll likely lose as well.
  • Spencer Hawes needs to play Horford at least to a draw.  This proposition doesn’t sound as crazy as it might have a month or so ago given Hawes’ excellent level of play lately.  Still, Horford is one of the best big men in the league, ranking 31st in PER among all players, and ranking 4th in the league in double-doubles with 41.  Josh Smith may get all the attention given his propensity highlight-reel dunks and blocks, but Horford is the foundation of this Hawks’ squad.

Prediction:

Atlanta sports a solid 24-14 record at Philips Arena and still has something left to play for at this point of the season.  The Sixers have to be deflated from the loss in Charlotte the other night and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them come out flat.  Given Philadelphia’s poor play on the road this season and the amount of talent on the Hawks, Atlanta should win fairly convincingly.

Holiday’s Miserable Shooting Spoils Family Affair

Brick Laying Clip Art

Jrue Holiday taught his big brother the fine art of brick-laying Wednesday night against the Bobcats.

On the night his older brother Justin joined the team, Jrue Holiday showed big bro exactly how not to succeed at the NBA level.  The young guard from UCLA played easily the worst game of his career, shooting a laughably bad 2-24 from the floor.  Despite the abysmal shooting performance from their all-star, Philadelphia still found themselves down one with 30 seconds left.  Then, in typical Sixers fashion, Evan Turner’s in-bounds pass was deflected by Gerald Henderson and taken the length of the floor for a breakaway dunk.  On the subsequent possession, Holiday missed yet another runner and the Bobcats earned their first victory of the season against the Sixers, 88-83.

Philadelphia came out of the gates with much more energy than the Bobcats, recording 7 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone, including three put-back slams.  As he has often lately, Damien Wilkins got out to a hot start, scoring 10 points and collecting four rebounds in the quarter.  Gerald Henderson kept the Bobcats reasonably close, making his first three shots and ending the first quarter with 8 points.

After the Sixers got out to an 8-0 run to start second quarter and build a 16 point lead, the wheels came off a bit.  The team was very sloppy with the ball, finishing the half with 11 turnovers; Kemba Walker especially took advantage as he accrued 4 steals.  Philadelphia also went almost five minutes without making a field before an Evan Turner jumper with two seconds left before halftime.

Things continued to unravel for Philadelphia in the third quarter; Charlotte went ahead 55-53 to take their first lead since 2-0.   As Charlotte continued to build its lead, the Sixers team could not buy a bucket.  Damien Wilkins was the only Sixers to score in the quarter until there were four and a half minutes remaining.  Kemba Walker turned things up on the offensive end for the Bobcats, hitting two threes in the quarter and doing a great job getting into the paint and kicking to open teammates.  

With Holiday shooting 1-12 in the fourth quarter alone, a couple nice efforts from his teammates went to waste.  Damien Wilkins narrowly missed a double-double with 20 points and a season-high 9 rebounds.  Coming off the bench, Dorell Wright scored 14 points in just 19 minutes, hitting 4 big threes in just 7 attempts from behind the arc.

The Sixers were burned time and again by the Bobcats’ backcourt duo of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.  Henderson scored a game-high 24 points on 10-18 shooting, hitting a number of timely jumpers down the stretch.  Following his third quarter surge, Walker ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists.  Josh McRoberts recorded 12 points to go along with a career-high 16 rebounds, many of them off Holiday misses.

Justin Holiday made his debut with two minutes left in the first quarter.  The older Holiday brother immediately missed two shots and committed a foul as he looked a little overeager to make a good first impression at the NBA level.  The Holiday siblings became the first pair of brothers to play in the same game for the Sixers.  They also became the first pair of brothers to shoot 3-29 combined.  Philadelphia will travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks Friday night.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Night Owls

McGrath will have to handle more of the scoring load this season with so many new faces on the Night Owls.

This is part seven in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts onetwothreefour, five, and six.

2011 Results: 6-4 Regular Season, 0-1 Playoffs, 3rd Place

2011 Leaders:

NO Stats

Key Losses: Phil Cavalcante (to Work Horses), Luke Dougan (to Work Horses), Matt Sola (to Work Horses), Greg Ashton, Derek Clouser (to Work Horses)

Key Additions: Bill Zane (from Work Horses), Bob Zane (from Work Horses), Brett McGlensey (from Work Horses), Corey Chubon, Matt Nuding, Tyler Katz, Can Duman

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; that’s been the story during the first three seasons for the Night Owls.  Despite finishing above .500 every regular season, the team’s trophy case remains bereft of hardware, with zero Captain’s Cup or League Championships to their name.  Much like the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA, the Owls were stuck as an above-average team unable to make the leap to the next level.  Seeking to change their fortune, the team engineered the largest roster turnover the league as ever seen as part of a new defensive organizational philosophy.  With only 8 returning professionals and 5 roster returnees (both figures lowest among non-expansion teams), the Owls will be counting on a lot of new faces in 2013. 

Formerly, the Night Owls always relied on a fast-paced, high-octane offensive attack, finishing last regular season barely behind first in points per game at 121.2.  They scored almost exclusively via the air, tallying by far the lowest amount of wedge shots made with just 15 total all season, and only recording 1.3 dunks per game.  The Owls excelled from the cross zone, making a league-high 73 cross shots at 30.2%, and from the flex area, the Nights Owls trailed only the Nimble Jacks in flex shots made and efficiency (46.8%).  However, much of that success can be atrributed to the league’s second and fifth leading scorers, Phil Cavalcante and Luke Dougan, who were both sent to the Work Horses in the teams’ blockbuster trade.  Even if the defense improves in 2013, the team will still need to score, and will look toward some old and new faces to do so.

Any discussion regarding the Night Owls’ offense has to start with captain Kyle McGrath.  The self-proclaimed ‘Voice of Kronum’, McGrath has a penchant for big plays only topped by his love of on-field chatter.  The man certainly backs up the talk as he finished last season 10th in ppg, 8th in apg, and 3rd in blocks at 1.8 per game.  McGrath features a loaded offensive arsenal, scoring from the flex (6th-best in the league) and cross zones (tied with now-teammate Brett McGlensey for 9th-best), and knocking down big 4-point flex ring shots (tied for 5th with 4).  McGrath will need to be the anchor for an offense looking to integrate a litany of new players and players within new roles. 

One of those players in a new role and looking to fill the scoring void is veteran Joe Tulskie, who will be switching from wedgeback to ranger.  Tulskie recorded the 5th-best Points Per Shot mark in the league last season (min. 5.0 ppg), as he was the third most efficient shooter in Kronum at 59.2% (min. 3 shot attempts per game).  Featuring a deceptive, ambidextrous shot from the flex, Tulskie should be able to maintain some level of that efficiency with an increase in volume within the Owls’ offense.  He has also been taking and making cross zone shots in preseason action after shooting just 0-4 from that area last season.  The Owls hope the added scoring will make up for losing a wedgeback who finished 5th in the league in saves per game.  In fact, Tulskie, former teammate Greg Ashton, and former Urban Legends wedgeback Cory Robertson were the only players to average a double-double last season.  PPS Shots

Other veterans who should figure prominently in the offense include former Work Horse, Bill Zane, who like Tulskie, is making the transition from wedgeback to ranger this season.  He has also been playing more from the cross zone following just an 0-2 mark there last campaign.  Chris Von Tanhausen will be back to help run the offense for the Owls, after finishing 5th in assists per game last season.  He is also one of the most active defenders in the league, ranking 2nd in steals (1.5) and 5th in blocks (1.5) per game, and will play a central role in the team’s new defensive focus.  Finally, crosser Jay Klein has also done a great job distributing the ball in the past, ranking 9th in assists per game.  Klein is the rare Night Owl who adds a foot element to the offensive attack, finishing 7th in kick points with 30, though he may need to refine it as his 40.7% off-goal percentage was worst in the league among players who attempted at least 15 shots. 

With their top four wedgebacks no longer in net (Tulskie moving to ranger, Ashton no longer with the team, and Sola and Clouser traded), the Night Owls’ back line will be manned by a trio of rookies alongside veteran Bob Zane, who finished 12th with 8.3 saves per game for the Work Horses.  Matt Nuding, Tyler Katz, and Can Duman may very well be the most influential rookies to take the field this season.  The wedgebacks have looked solid in preseason action, but if it takes them a while to adjust to league play, it will not matter how much the team talks about focusing more on defense.  Another rookie, Corey Chubon, will start at crosser for the Owls, and has displayed all the makings of being a solid defensive specialist.  Chubon exemplifies the fast, defense-first mindset the Night Owls are trrying to instill.

The Night Owls have taken a gamble in moving the team in such a new direction.  McGrath recognized that the transitional process would take some time and focused more on getting players acclimated to new roles during the preseason, rather than traditional game-planning.  The Owls’ chances of success in 2013 will depend upon whether those steps have adequately prepared a young squad for the rigors of a Kronum campaign.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-6 (T-5th Place)

With so many new faces in the mix and playing adapting to unfamiliar roles, the Night Owls may face a steep learning curve entering the 2013 regular season.  With some struggles in the pre-season, it remains to be seen whether the team’s newfound defensive commitment will stick.  They still feature an elite scorer opposing defenses will have to account for in McGrath, as well as a handful of viable secondary scoring options.  However, it’s tough to say a team has improved by losing two of the league’s top five leading scorers like the Night Owls did this past offseason.  Unless their batch of rookies prove to be immediately up to the task, look for the Owls to get caught up in the middle of the pack.

Sixers @ Bobcats Game Preview (4/3/13)

The Sixers will enter the mouth of the Bobcat to try and take down Charlotte.

In what will be the closest Philadelphia comes to achieving its dream of only having to play Charlotte, the Sixers had a few scheduled days off in between Saturday’s home win against the Bobcats and Wednesday night’s contest in Charlotte.  Sandwiched around their two meetings with the Sixers, Charlotte traveled to Milwaukee Monday and got plastered by the Bucks, 131-102.  We went into great detail on the Bobcats’ team profile prior to Saturday’s game.  To recap, Charlotte has consistently been an abysmal defensive team all season, and their offense has gone from among the worst in the league to about average over the last couple weeks. 

Zach Lowe’s latest Grantland piece described the increased role for Josh McRoberts within the Charlotte offense since coming from Orlando via trade in February.  However, the Bobcats’ attack still runs through Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.  On Saturday, the Sixers made a concerted effort of forcing other players besides Walker and Henderson to beat them.  Although the Bobcats’ starting backcourt did a good job distributing, with Walker and Henderson tallying 9 and 7 assists, respectively, the Bobcats got away from what they like to do offensively and it worked out for the Sixers in the end.

That Lowe article also mentions the resurgence of the Sixers’ Damien Wilkins.  In his 12 games as a starter, Wilkins has averaged 13.0 ppg on 53.5% shooting and 3.4 apg.  In addition to providing some stability to the half-court offense, Wilkins is a willing defender and has averaged nearly a steal and a block per game over that stretch as well. 

The other starting forward for the Sixers has played a big role in the Sixers’ improved play of late.  March has been the highest-scoring month for Thad Young, who has averaged 16.7 ppg on 58.0% shooting, whiile recording nearly two steals per game.  Young has been the most consistently positive presence for the Sixers this season, which can lead to his contributions sometimes being taken for granted.  In addition to the excellent scoring and rebounding he provides, Young always does the little things that help this team win ball games (taking charges, diving on the floor for a loose ball, tipping an offensive rebound to keep the possession alive, etc.).

However, the biggest factor in Philadelphia’s recent success has been Spencer Hawes.  The big man has averaged 14.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and 3.8 apg in March, all of which are high marks for him in a given month this season (excluding the one game in October).  It hasn’t been just due to the increase in minutes as his efficiency numbers are off the chart, shooting 51.0% from the field, 50.0% from three (small sample size of 9 for 18), and 84.2% from the foul line.  In short, Hawes has looked the part of a lottery pick center, but rather than just seeing a flash of it a game here or there, it’s been over the course of an entire month.  I would say it’s an example of the classic ‘playing for a new contract near the end of the season’, but Hawes is already signed through next year.  Is the new Spencer here to stay?  Sixers management and fans certainly hope so.

Keys to the Game:

  • An all-star caliber performance from Jrue Holiday.  It’s no secret that Holiday has struggled following the all-star break, with his numbers dipping to 17.0 ppg on 41.9% shooting, and 7.7 apg.  Holiday’s splits between Sixers’ wins and losses read like a different player (20.7 ppg / 47.1 FG% / 9.0 apg, compared to 16.6 ppg / 41.9 FG% / 8.1 apg).  Even though he didn’t play especially well against Charlotte Saturday, it wasn’t until he came alive in the fourth quarter that the Sixers put the game away.  As Holiday goes, so go the Sixers this season.
  • Once again employ the strategy of making Bobcats other than Walker and Henderson beat you.  The main reason Charlotte was able to hang around with the Sixers was that Michael Kidd-Gilcrist had his best game in months since hitting the rookie wall.  If he doesn’t shoot an unsustainable 9 for 11 during the game, the Sixers have a comfortable lead before the closing minutes. 

Prediction:

Philadelphia has largely taken care of business against the worst defensive teams in the league this season, with a combined 9-4 record against Charlotte, Sacramento, New Orleans, Orlando, and Cleveland.  As evidenced by their 3-0 record against the Bobcats, the Sixers match up extremely well with Charlotte.  The usually stagnant Philadelphia half-court offense plays reasonably well against the tissue-soft Bobcats defense, while Charlotte does not have the interior scoring needed to take advantage of the Sixers’ lack of depth in the front court.  The Sixers overcome their troubles on the road and complete the season sweep of the Bobcats for the second consecutive season.