Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Predictions

Other people like ESPN's Chad Ford rely on insider information to determine which prospect will be drafted by each of the various NBA teams on Thursday night's NBA draft. I use what limited information I have about each player's pro potential, and what I perceive to be each team's needs. Remember 2009, when I inexplicably put DeJuan Blair ahead of Austin Daye? Well, Blair is a solid contributor on a good team, and Daye is a do-nothing forward on a crummy team. So maybe I'm not always wrong.

Anyways, here we go. A wide open draft lottery gets predicted by an amateur...right now:
  1. The Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving, guard from Duke University. The Cavs are feinting that they're still considering Derrick Williams at the #1 pick, but I don't buy it unless they work out a deal with the #4 pick. Irving and Williams are neck-and-neck in this draft, but Irving would be harder to replace with the talent I expect to be available at #4.
  2. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Derrick Williams, forward from the University of Arizona. Even the Timberwolves can't mess this one up, right? Whoever doesn't go #1 is a no-brainer at the second pick, and while Minnesota has made some no-brain picks in the past (drafting Ricky Rubio, then drafting Jonny Flynn, then drafting and trading Ty Lawson), Williams is a lock for #2. It's possible they trade the pick, but Williams will go second, for sure.
  3. The Utah Jazz select Brandon Knight, guard from the University of Kentucky. When you're consistently a good team, you don't have many opportunities at high draft picks. But they've made the most of their limited opportunities, grabbing superstar Deron Williams with their only top 5 pick since 1982. They're back at the top of the draft with a pick they acquired for Williams, and I think they'll use it on the most similar player to Williams in this draft. Knight is smart, agile, and motivated, and he's a great finisher at the rim. He might not be the next Deron Williams, but he also might be.
  4. The Cleveland Cavaliers select Jonas Valanciunas, center from Lithuania. I went back and forth on this pick, and this is where the draft really shakes loose, so each of these picks has a huge impact on the next few. Valanciunas is apparently locked in for another year with his Lithuanian team, which people say is scaring teams off. Hogwash, I say. The Cavs are among several teams that love love love the big man, and I think, with two top picks in the draft, they know they've got a couple years before they can expect to compete. So pick the guy you want, and be patient. And send a coach over there to keep him on the right path, basketball and otherwise.
  5. The Toronto Raptors select Enes Kanter, center from Turkey. I'd like to find a way to have Kanter drop to the Wizards at #6, but realistically he'll go at four or five, and I'll sigh. Anyways, Kanter is a banger with good hands, the kind of guy who can really improve his teammates. His presence, along with the hopeful development of Ed Davis, could allow Andrea Bargnani more freedom to possibly grow into a legitimate star. Good fit.
  6. The Washington Wizards select Kawhi Leonard, forward from San Diego State University. As I said, I think the Wizards would love to have Kanter as a Robin to John Wall's Batman, and they should explore trading up to get him (especially if they can unload that nightmare Andray Blatche). But if things go as I project, I think Leonard is a nice piece. He's unrefined, and he's still growing into his body, but his intensity is the real deal, and it shows in his defense and rebounding. It does mean the team is still on the lookout for a Robin, though.
  7. The Sacramento Kings select Jan Vesely, forward from the Czech Republic. The Kings have a sort of patchwork team right now, one without much of an identity. They've got some interesting pieces, particularly Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Vesely should slide in easily, even though he's still unrefined. He can play either forward slot, and has a lot he can do from mid-range offensively. The Heat's big three they ain't, but Evans, Cousins, and Vesely could definitely guide the Kings back into the playoff hunt.
  8. The Detroit Pistons select Bismack Biyombo, forward from the Congo. Detroit allowed the highest field goal percentage in basketball last year, which is simply unacceptable from the way this franchise has won titles in the past. Biyombo is one of the mysteries of this year's draft, but the physical tools are there to be a defensive force immediately, and a defensive superstar soon enough. There's risk, sure, but there's reward as well.
  9. The Charlotte Bobcats select Kemba Walker, guard from the University of Connecticut. Charlotte is paltry up front, but two things prompt them taking Walker in my estimation. First, he's the best player on the board by a good margin. Second, the word is that Charlotte would like to get someone who can contribute right away, which jives with my assessment of Michael Jordan's preferences. Which are wholly speculative, of course, but as good a guess as anybody's.
  10. The Milwaukee Bucks select Alec Burks, guard from the University of Colorado. Apparently the Bucks cooled on Brandon Jennings pretty quickly, as he's now been the subject of trade rumors. I think Burks is a good fit for the team either way. He's a slasher guard who can make his own shot. There are concerns about his ability to hit jumpers, but some good old-fashioned practice should take care of that.
  11. The Golden State Warriors select Klay Thompson, guard from Washington State University. Golden State's top two scorers from last season were Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, their starting backcourt. So why would they draft another two guard? Well first, Thompson would be a nice complement to either Curry or Ellis, making both expendable if needed. The Warriors could really use a center, but they're better off trying to get one via trade at this draft position.
  12. The Utah Jazz select Jimmer Fredette, guard from Brigham Young University. Honestly, when I started putting this together, I thought the Knight pick at #3 would preclude Fredette going to Utah here. But the reality is that Utah's most glaring need is scoring punch, and if Fredette has shown one thing, it's a knack for putting the ball in the bucket. Utah's best move might be to simply go with a small lineup and try to play Suns-style basketball, running and gunning. Could be fun to watch.
  13. The Phoenix Suns select Tristan Thompson, forward from the University of Texas. Kind of a coup for the Suns to land Thompson, who's more like a top 10 talent in this year's draft. He's a do-everything forward, but in a good Jeff Green way, not a bad Joe Alexander way. He might not project to be a superstar, but I'd be pretty shocked if he wasn't still an effective NBA player in ten years. His character and ability should make him a lifer.
  14. The Houston Rockets select Nikola Vucevic, center from the University of Southern California. The Rockets are a mess. They have needs basically across the board, and since there's no lightning in a bottle at this point in the draft, I think they'll go with the most projectable guy out there. Vucevic played three years of college ball, improving each year, and becoming a very good scorer and rebounder by his junior season. He's not Dirk, but he's got a good shooting touch and can help any team. It's a start.
The Wizards pick again at 18, which will probably be the last pick I watch live. The draft is basically a crapshoot after #9 (and Valanciunas could fall back into that area as well), but one guy I'd like to see Washington take with their second pick would be Jeremy Tyler. He's got size, athleticism, and skill, but is utterly lacking in maturity. My dream scenario would have the Wizards acquiring Shane Battier, and letting Battier groom Tyler. But that's probably just that: a dream.

Good luck to all the teams in the lottery, and here's hoping that the Wizards are a winner on draft night. And also that there are lots of trades. Big ones.

2011 NBA Draft Preview

I've always held a place in my heart for the NBA draft. Part of it is the hope that comes with adding the very best newly eligible players. Part of it is the fact that NBA draftees are often the most impactful of any of the sports. And part of it, I'm sure, is the fact that the Bullets/Wizards have had lottery picks more often than not over the past twenty years. They're really quite bad.

This year, however, I'm even more interested than usual. Here are a couple thoughts as to why:
  • The Cavaliers' rebuilding. One year removed from losing Lebron James to free agency, the Cavs ended up with the #1 and #4 picks in this year's draft. They have a chance to acquire two potential all-stars in a single night, and that's exciting no matter what team it is.
  • The Wizards have the #6 pick. It's early enough that you've got a shot at this draft's top tier talent, but not so early that you're out of the mix right away. Having to watch those first five picks go will be good drama for all thirty-six Wizards fans who watch the draft.
  • College players at the top. While Enes Kanter and Jan Vesely will go early, the projected top three picks are all players out of college. I may not have watched much college hoops last year, but these are at least a few names I recognize.
  • Trade buzz! There are always plenty of rumors leading up to the NBA draft, but it seems like the buzz is deafening this year. With so many of the early picks seemingly up for trade (the Timberwolves at 2, the Jazz at 3, the Cavaliers at 4, and the Wizards at 6), we're all hopeful for a flurry of activity on draft night. Usually that hope gets dashed by about pick 16, but hey, dare to dream, right?
  • It's not the NFL draft. The NFL draft this year was just terrible. I'm interested to see if the NBA draft, which I've loved since I was in middle school, is its own machine, or if they suffer from the same shortcomings.
Look for my lottery mockery later today or tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Run Ronnie Run!

I'm generally a fan of David Cross. He's got a lot of unique comedic ideas, he does a good job on just about every character he plays, and his stand up is intelligent and scathing. In high school, a friend exposed me to Mr. Show (I didn't have HBO), and while a lot of the jokes were a little over my head, I enjoyed the show a lot.

Run Ronnie Run isn't Mr. Show. It definitely has a hint of Mr. Show, a sniff, but not the full flavor. Part of that is to be expected; movies inevitably have to take on a more focused and conventional story arc. Beyond that, though, it seems to just not have the same irreverent tone that defined Mr. Show. Apparently Cross and Bob Odenkirk disavowed the movie, saying that it wasn't true to their vision, and I believe it. But since I'm just a consumer, I'll try to give you an objective take on the film.

The basic plotline has Cross's character, Ronnie Dobbs, getting rich and famous for constantly getting drunk and leading police on wild goose chases. It's basically how Cops would be if the criminal was the same guy every week. It's a solid premise; I know this because the Mr. Show skit on which this movie was based was one of their most popular ones, and one of my favorites.

And for all of the downplaying and naysaying done by Cross and Odenkirk, the execution isn't bad. It draws on a lot of our stereotypes about country folk, rednecks if you will. There will be plenty of parts where you feel bad for laughing, but you will laugh. And there are several cameos that hit just right. Jeff Goldblum is fantastic, Laura Kightlinger and Jeff Garlin are very good, Scott Thompson is Scott Thompson, and maybe my favorite, Mandy Patinkin brutally critiques his own singing.

In the end, though, it plays more like a collection of kinda funny but jagged scenes rather than a well-constructed full length film. This can work if the laughs are tremendous, but the laughs are just so-so. That means you're left with what basically amounts to an 86 minute episode of Mad TV. And let me tell you, Mad TV isn't something you want to sink 86 minutes into.

The Last Word - It's got its share of chuckles, and a few laugh out loud moments, but overall, it's not really worth the time you have to put into it unless you're a die-hard Mr. Show fan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Super 8

Last Friday I ended up going to see Super 8 with a pretty big group of friends. I knew nothing going in, but as an example of their expectations, I asked a friend what it was about, and his response: "It's about awesome." So it's fair to say they expected a great, great movie. I had no such wild expectations, and that may be why I was the only one in the group who didn't leave the theater disappointed.

The movie was preceded by with considerable fanfare, but minimal explanation in the previews and trailers, which might be why I knew nothing going in. Because of this, however, the movie had to do a better job than most establishing its story early on, and it really didn't. While the story was interesting and very realistic, it took a while to figure out what direction the movie was going.

The other confused part of the movie was that it seemed to be unsure whether it wanted to be a thriller movie about aliens or a heart-warming movie about high schoolers. It did a decent job of both, but an exceptional job of neither. Honestly, I would've liked to have seen the movie split into two different movies with more focused styles. While neither would've been an all-time great movie, they would've both been enjoyable, and maybe more enjoyable than this original film.

But I'm being harder on the movie than my heart will let me. It may have been a little messy, but the two lead young actors in Super 8 (Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) both did fantastic jobs, save for one scene towards the end of the movie where Courtney looked too much like a young actor, and not an actor who happened to be young. The supporting cast was solid and believable. And the effects were good, of course. J.J. Abrams isn't going to put forth anything but the best effects.

So even though my cohorts were disappointed, I found Super 8 to be an entertaining foray into science fiction. My initial thoughts after seeing the movie, and what's apparently been a common thought among moviegoers, is that the movie was an attempt to fuse E.T. with Cloverfield to create an exciting, thrilling, emotionally satisfying, all-time great movie for the whole family. And maybe that movie exists. But it's not Super 8.

The Last Word - It was a bold idea, and to make a legendary movie you have to be bold. The execution wasn't there, and while I thought it was entertaining, I don't know if I'd recommend spending $12/person to go see it.

Game Reviews, A New Book

I started playing Demon's Souls last night. Despite my brother's warnings, it was actually even more frustrating than I had expected. I must have died 25 times on the very first level. But when I finally beat the first boss, there was definitely a strong sense of accomplishment, which I assume is what they were going for.

I wanted to explain something here, though. I won't be reviewing video games as I "finish" them. Part of the reason is that it's difficult to say when you "finish" a lot of games. I beat Dead Rising 2 a while ago, but I still play it, and not even to get to things I haven't done. I've done pretty much everything there is to do; I just still like killing zombies. So declaring a game to be "completed" is kind of a vague thing.

The other, more important reason is that I'd prefer to leave the reviews for my annual Top 5 Video Games of the Year list. I expect that I'll do annual Top 5 lists for movies and books as well, but I'm okay with reviewing them as they come. BUT, incorporating the Top 5 lists is the main reason I pulled my ratings from the reviews I've already done. I want a little drama in the Top 5's.

Finally, I finished Twilight the other day, so I need a new book to read. I have a few to choose from, but I'm going to let you, the fans, decide. So I've posted a poll that will let you cast your vote for my next book. Shadow's Edge is the sequel to The Way of Shadows, which I reviewed here. Pawn of Prophecy is the first book in a five book epic fantasy series, which comes highly recommended. And New Moon I'm sure you're all familiar with as the second book in the Twilight series.

Choose wisely.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Reviewed - The Hunger Games

My first exposure to The Hunger Games was on my trip to Disney World this January, though I didn't realize it for months. My sister-in-law was reading the third book in the series (and reacting strongly, nearly shouting at it). I thought it was funny, but didn't think much of it. Historically, there hasn't been much overlap between the books I read and the books that girls read.

Then another friend strongly recommended the series, and my sister-in-law let me know that it was the same series that she had read at Disney World, so I decided to give it a shot. And let me tell you, I was utterly blown away.

Right from the beginning, Suzanne Collins did an amazing job of quickly and effectively painting the desperation of the world of the main character, Katniss Everdeen. If you're unfamiliar with the plot, she finds herself drafted into a horrible contest: The Hunger Games, a fight to the death among several children selected at random from across the country. The story follows her journey from being thrust into the contest, to meeting her competitors and allies, and through the immeasurable tension and panic of the fighting in the arena.

Though the book was recommended to me by a pair of girls (cootie condition unknown), the story doesn't strike me as girly at all. The main character is a strong female, but the story is tragic, violent, and unromantic.

The supporting characters are perfectly framed to their purposes in the book. Allies are sympathetic and supportive in their own various ways, while rivals are competitive and aggressive. Maybe the most impressive accomplishment of this author, though, is that despite their sometimes brief introductions, and the fact that most of them come up in the context of the Hunger Games competition, every competitor in the Hunger Games is decidedly human. While they're strikingly villainous, they're always presented in such a way that you could potentially see a decent person driven to their various acts of barbarism, through the madness and brutality of the competition.

I can't really say enough about how much I loved this book. I would recommend it to literally everybody. One potential stumbling block is that I know that violence among youths is something that some readers will have trouble getting past. The only thing I'll say is that it has to be that way. If the contest were between adults, it wouldn't be as tragic and as barbaric, and the story wouldn't be so completely engrossing. I suppose I'd understand if someone wasn't comfortable with the concept, but I'd still recommend the book.

The Last Word - Incredible. The best book I've read in a long time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thrashers to Winnipeg; Detroit to the East?

As has been rumored for months (years?), the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold, and will be moving to Winnipeg, giving them their first NHL team since 1996. I haven't been a true hockey fan long enough to offer much in the way of "How will this team do in Winnipeg?" or "Will the NHL ever return to Atlanta?" What I can talk about, however, is realignment.

As a sports fan, realignment is in my blood. Some of you may remember a time when the Atlanta Braves were in the NL West?* A time before wild cards and Central divisions? With expansion in all four major sports over the past few decades, we've seen countless adjustments and realignments, and with the Thrashers moving way, way north, we've got another one coming.

So how will it shake out? The NHL has basically committed to the new Winnipeg franchise being moved to the Western conference, and they've suggested three teams as possibly moving to the East to replace the old Thrashers: the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Detroit Red Wings, or the Nashville Predators.

First things first, I don't see the Red Wings going East. Ever since the Western Conference came into existence in 1993, Detroit has been one of the staples of the conference, a powerhouse that's won four Stanley Cups, made the finals two other times, and qualified for the playoffs every single year. Additionally, Chicago is the only other member of the Original Six in the Western Conference.

The NHL may like to say that they've got great parity, and they definitely have a strong salary cap system, but moving Detroit to the East would swing the balance of power (and hockey history) pretty heavily. So I think that will prevent them from getting realigned.

That leaves Columbus and Nashville. Both franchises are fairly new (Nashville started play in 1998, Columbus in 2000), and neither has had a great deal of success. Nashville won their first playoff series just this year, while Columbus has never actually won a playoff game. Geographically, both are far enough east that they would logically fit into the Eastern Conference, and neither has any tremendous history that would be lost with a realignment.

If Nashville were the team of choice, the move would be pretty easy, actually. They would slide right into Atlanta's old spot in the Southeast division, and would immediately contend with Washington and Tampa Bay for the top spot in the division. And their defense-first mentality would add another layer to a heavily offensive division.

Columbus coming to the East might complicate things a bit. They could still fit into the Southeast, but that wouldn't jive with geographical logic. Working from a purely geographical standpoint, we'd move Philadelphia into the Southeast, and Columbus would take their place in the Atlantic, joining Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and the two New York teams.

My expectation, and my preference, would be for Nashville to move to the Southeast. Not only does it make the most sense geographically, but I like the idea of Washington having to face a stout defensive team like Nashville six times a year. Obviously teams change over time, but in the short term, I think it'd help these Caps to continue to grow as a team.

*The Braves are the only team in baseball to win a division crown in both the East and West divisions; the Brewers are the only other team to play in both an East and a West, but they never won the West (where they started as the Seattle Pilots).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book Reviewed - The Way of Shadows

My cousin Nick gave me this book a year ago, maybe longer, but I only recently got around to reading it. I was on a roll after storming through the Hunger Games trilogy, and I had the book handy, so I read it.

It's a story about a young street rat named Azoth who, through a few traumatic experiences, finds himself apprenticed to an assassin. He grows up, learns the trade, and in the end, plays a large part in an attempted coup of his home city. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but suffice it to say, he makes a few friends and a ton of enemies.

The framework of the book is interesting. It skips around at the beginning, touching on a myriad of characters and checking in with several different storylines that are unattached and seem and unrelated, but you can start to see things take shape about halfway through. And at the culminating event of the book, pretty much everyone is there. The different paths draw together nicely, and having them split up is a worthwhile exercise to get to know all the different players.

The one problem I had with the book is that, with the sheer volume of characters, more effort could have been done to flesh them out, to give the reader an easier time keeping track. I constantly found myself having to backtrack to determine which guy had said what line, because they hadn't been distinguished enough in my mind, or the last chapter about them had taken place so long ago that I forgotten. For a couple characters, I think their stories may have been intentionally left vague, and perhaps they'll be resolved in future books (it's a trilogy...as most books seem to be these days). But for others, like some who don't survive the book, it'd be nice to have a little more in the way of individualization.

All together, though, I was happy with the intricacy of the story. The main character is mostly likeable, with a few shortcomings that make him human. There's a lot of death, but enough people are left alive that you have some compelling characters still around going forward. So maybe, just maybe, I'll read the next book.

The Last Word - Not exceptional, but entertaining and encouraging. I'm looking forward to reading the other two books.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...