Monday, January 17, 2011

NBA at Halfway: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Earl Watson

Are we here already?

Like always the first half of the season has blown by. Unlike most seasons however, it seems like no one has really learned anything yet. Except for maybe Eva Longoria. Which teams are the most likely to reach the finals out of each conference? I don't know. I don't think anyone does. Most of the contenders seem to be all be playing okay, but not great with the notable exception of the San Antonio Spurs. I'm not sure I have even learned anything about my beloved Utah Jazz yet. I have no idea how good they are. They may be terrible. This team seems to be one of those teams that is either going to get swept in the first round or make it to the conference finals. I can't tell which.

There is one thing I have learned though. With no further ado here is my player by player breakdown of the 2010-2011 Jazz at the halfway point followed by comparing my predictions for the rest of the NBA to the actual results have way through.


Deron Williams - Deron has been Deron. He was the MVP of the league at the end of November. Without question he carried the Jazz to every single victory they got. Watching him in the Orlando Magic comeback game was like watching a great painter paint. As he got in December though, I think Deron just wore out. He has not looked the same. I think once he catches his second wind, he will be back to normal, but until then the Jazz are going to be a little streaky.

Paul Millsap - Paul has surprised almost everybody with his soft shooting touch and his ability to be the go to scorer during the game. However, his rebounding has left much to be desired. Really it's been a little shocking. When Boozer was out last season he had his streak of double-doubles which seemed to indicate he would be a 10 RPG kind of player. Instead he is at exactly 8.

Andrei Kirilenko - He became a US citizen. Other than that, it has been a quiet season from AK. His blocking ability has never really come back. Andrei always shoots the ball well to start the season, which always prompts the inevitable "Andrei's Offense IS BACK!" blog posts, radio segments, etc. Than he comes back to earth and everyone remembers that he can't shoot. When was the last 3 AK hit? It's been a while.

CJ Miles - Breakout season. Definitely the most confident that CJ has ever been. I (like everyone else) would still like CJ to use his excellent handle more, but this is still the most confident I have been in CJ. He has reached the everytime he puts up a shot I think it's going in level.

Kyrylo Fesenko - I thought Fes has played well when he gets in, but is currently buried behind a deep Jazz front-court. The biggest surprise from Fes has definitely been his much improved offense game. He suddenly has nice touch around the rim. I hope he sticks with the Jazz beyond this season, but I get the feeling he is at the point where he really desires minutes which might now be available at the Jazz.

Ronnie Price - Ronnie seemed to have rediscovered himself when he was paired up with Earl Watson as a SG. It allowed to run around and cause havoc and do what he does best. He has not been able to find his shooting touch though and has fallen off in the past month or so.

Mehmet Okur - Memo gets an incomplete. You can tell that he still doesn't have his legs under him yet which makes a lot of his shots fall a bit short. The good news is his touch seems to have stuck around.


Al Jefferson -  You can tell that Big Al still hasn't quite gotten the hang of the Jazz offense yet. He goes through long stretches were it seems like he doesn't even see the ball. Also when he does get the ball you can tell he is thinking to much because he is unsure when to pass and when to look for his shot. He still hasn't shook his Minnesota self where he shot every time he touched the ball, and has not learned to pass out of double teams. I think that next season (whenever that may be thanks to the coming lockout) is going to be the season that Al breaks out, ala Richard Jefferson in San Antonio.

Gordon Hayward - I still think Gordon is pretty far away from being a legit NBA player. He needs a couple more years to build up the kind of body you need in the NBA. He also still needs time to figure out how to contribute in the flow of the Jazz offense. He has definitely shown signs though.

Jeremy Evans - Love him. Teams seem to have figured out his "early oop" as Matt Hapring calls it. Like Gordon, he needs to build his body up, but unless Portland has heard of him, he should be around beyond this season.

Fransico Elson - the perfect 11th/12th man. When he is asked to play he always brings good defense and hustle. His shooting touch has been surprising. He won't play as much now that Memo is back, but will be a nice utility player.

Raja Bell - Now that is shooting touch is back he is a lot more bearable. Early in the season I was cursng his name. One of the bigger disappointments of the season early.

Earl Watson - This is what I wrote about Earl Watson right before the start of the season: "The leading candidate of the Milt Palacio Memorial Award for the guy who plays a lot for a guy who shouldn't be playing on a good team. No offense to Earl. He seems like he has a good feel for the system and defends well. However, he is not a good shooter but shoots too much. The Jazz do this every year. Milt, Jason Hart, Brevin Knight, Howard Eisley (2nd stint), etc. Ronnie Price should be playing the backup PG, but I am convinced it will be Earl. He would be a great 3rd PG, not 2nd."

Yikes. I could not have been more wrong. I think Earl has single-handedly won the Jazz somewhere between 5-10 games this season. I fear where we would be without him. He comes in and changes the game. Often times he dominates it. All season I have been trying to figure out which player I would choose for my newest Jazz jersey. I already have Deron, Millsap, AK, Memo. I wanted a new player. If I decided purely on how well they have played this season, I would have to pick Earl right? He is the best backup PG the Jazz have had since Howard Eisely's first stint with the Jazz. He might be the most valuable member of the Jazz this season. Well maybe that's going too far. Still.


Here are some of the predictions I got right:
New York Knicks - Here is what I wrote in October: "This is a classic case of the team that is going to win a bunch of games at the beginning of the year, spinning NYC into a frenzy, before ultimately falling apart as the season progresses. They will be fun to watch. Anthony Randolph could not have gone to a better situation for him. Same goes for Raymond Felton. Amare is going to find life to be a little different without Steve Nash though. I think they will compete for a low playoff seed, but will fall short.

" Sound familiar? With the exception of the Amare comment that has been right on.

Miami Heat - I predicted the Heat to meet their sky high expectations heading into the season. Even in November when the Heat were not playing well after getting Millslapped, I never doubted they would be there in the end. Well, they are going to be there in the end. As long as LeBron is healthy, the Heat will be in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Portland Trailblazers - Here is what I wrote in October: "It is beyond me how people keep picking this team ahead of the Jazz this year. NBA commentators keeps saying “if this teams stays healthy this year”, but at a certain point don’t you just have to accept that a team that gets injured every year is GOING TO BE INJURED EVERY YEAR? Andre Miller and Brandon Roy don’t like eachother. Rudy Fernandez pines for the shores of Espana. Still haven’t won a playoff series. No thanks. Playoff team, but nothing more." Thank you, thank you. I will be here all week.

Houston Rockets - A trendy pick for a playoff team before the season. I shook my head and picked them to underachieve. There you have it.

New Orleans Hornets - I predicted that the Hornets would overachieve and Chris Paul would be carried on the shoulders of the media once again and people would forget that Deron's team is much better. Dead on.

Here are some I got wrong:

San Antonio - I claimed their window was closed and were destined for a middling playoff seed. Umm... nope.

Indiana Pacers - I said they would overachieve. This pick looked really good early in the season. It looks awful now. They stink.

Boston Celtics - I said that Boston was too old, and that Rajon Rondo was going to have a tough year. Why do I have this blog.

The Cleveland Cavaliers - I picked them to overachieve and have a little of that 03-04 Jazz magic. They are the worst team I have ever watched with my own eyes. Yikes. Seriously, I do not understand anyone who doesn't say that LeBron is the best basketball player in the world. He carried this exact same team to 60 wins year in and year out. Knowing that now... he has probably been underrated.