Frontpaged On SBNation.com. GO BRUINS. -N
When the Cavs and Celtics tip off tonight, the 09-10 NBA season will officially be underway, and I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the Bruins that have made it to the Big Show, and who help ensure the future success of the greatest collegiate basketball program in the country by reminding people across the Southland and nationwide that UCLA is Where Amazing Happens.
In addition to a premiere Eastern Conference matchup mentioned earlier, opening night will also be the night the Los Angeles Lakers receive their championship rings. The World Champions will have a Bruin on their roster this year in Jordan Farmar who will enter his fourth year with many questions to answer about his play. More after the jump.
Last year he suffered a knee injury which caused him to miss a good portion of the regular season. Although he came back to the team earlier than expected, he was still clearly affected by the injury and his confidence and decision making suffered as a result for the remainder of the year. So far in the preseason, Jordan looks like he has made a full recovery and as the only pure point guard on the Lakers roster, he should have a great case for more playing time this year if he continues his solid play and dishes out assists like this:
After being acquired by the Denver Nuggets from the Detroit Pistons, Arron Afflalo enters his third season in the league, and by all accounts is still the same dedicated gym rat we knew in college. The numbers from his first two years have not been spectacular, but he was able to earn the trust of his coaches in Detroit to see action in almost all of their games. Afflalo's strength has always been his defense, and while he hasn't had the same success he had locking down opponents as he did in college, he still routinely draws the toughest perimeter defensive assignments when he is in the game. AA will be asked to replace the departed Dahntay Jones for the Nuggets, and hopefully an increased role in Denver will lead to increased productivity.
The 2006 West Region MVP Ryan Hollins will begin his fourth year in the league on the Minnesota Timberwolves after stops in Charlotte and Dallas. He hasn't been able to firmly establish himself in the rotation in his previous stops and he may find it difficult to find PT in Minnesota with the glut of frontcourt players on the roster. Part of what holds him back is what we saw when he was here at UCLA: He's still thin. He has put on a little weight since joining the league but he still relies largely on his leaping ability and not strength to defend the basket. When he has been in the game, he has been a serviceable (but foul prone) substitute, and hopefully their new coach Kurt Rambis will be able to find a use for him.
Speaking of the Timberwolves, Hollins will be joined in the frontcourt by second year phenom Kevin Love. In his rookie campaign, Love averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds, displaying the knack for the double double that we saw in his all too short career as a Bruin. Although he displayed unusual skill, polish, and smarts for a rookie, he was snubbed from the Rookie Challenge during All Star Weekend, causing a minor stir. That didn't derail him though, as he picked up where he left off in the second half of the season, producing at a steady pace and avoiding the Rookie Wall. All signs point to him continuing his trademark fundamentally sound play and given his high basketball IQ and passing ability, he should be able to earn additional PT by picking up the Triangle Offense that new coach Kurt Rambis will install. Despite his success, it does appear that Kevin is no stranger to snubs and disappointment. Disappointment like his broken hand which will likely sideline him for at least the first month of the season. Snubs like his less than ideal travel conditions as a rookie last year:
Love wasn't the only Bruin rookie that had a highly successful debut last year. Also entering his sophomore campaign in the league is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell "LET'S GO" Westbrook. Entering last season, there were many doubts as to whether Russ would be able to successfully make the move to point guard given that he played off guard alongside Collison in his college years. Russell responded by averaging 15 points and 5 assists (against 3 TOs), putting his name in the conversation for Rookie of the Year and punctuating it with electrifying dunks throughout the season. Although not a pure point guard by any means, Westbrook has found a way to be effective alongside Kevin Durant on one of the league's up and coming teams. In the preseason, he appears to be really focusing on being a distributor and an initiator of the offense, upping his assists to nearly 8 per game. If he can carry that over to the regular season, the Thunder will be that much better for it this year.
To get an idea of the kind of talent we lost after our last Final Four run in 2008, consider that not only did we lose the previous two players who were obviously impact rookies, but we also lost the next one: The Prince, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Luc made his impact for the Milwaukee Bucks in a reserve role in his rookie year, and for him, the stats do not tell the whole story. His ridiculous athleticism for a player his size translated to instant defensive impact; exactly what you would expect from a three year Ben Howland product. Much like Afflalo, he routinely drew tough defensive assignments like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, even drawing specific praise from the latter for his tough defense. If the Bucks get more of the same from him this year, I'm sure they will be quite satisfied with that.
After wandering in the basketball wilderness that is New York and playing a reserve role for Orlando, Trevor Ariza reintroduced himself to his hometown of Los Angeles after being traded to the Lakers and subsequently became the X Factor that helped his hometown team to the 2009 NBA title. So enamored were the fans of their native son that there was much grumbling in the offseason from Laker fans when he was essentially swapped in the offseason for Ron Artest. Since joining the league, Ariza has been known as a high flier on both ends of the court, but in his short stint as a Laker, he began to develop a more well rounded game that included a suddenly deadly three point shot. Now entering his sixth season, he was able to earn his payday with the Houston Rockets. Ariza's newly developed game will be put to the test, as he will be heavily relied upon on both ends of the floor in Houston with the departure of Artest, the injury to Yao Ming, and the unreliability of Tracy McGrady. Ariza will have every opportunity in Houston to prove himself, and hopefully he is up for the challenge because his role will be drastically different than it was in Los Angeles.
Taken with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, Jrue Holiday will enter his rookie season after his one year at UCLA. He will have to be patient though, as the Sixers recognize that they have drafted a project. The good news for Jrue is that Andre Miller is no longer in Philadelphia, and he won't have to go through both Miller and Lou Williams for minutes. The bad news for Jrue is that Andre Miller is no longer in Philadelphia, and the wisdom and experience he brings could have significantly lowered the learning curve for Jrue. So long as Philly fans don't expect production out of Jrue right away, he should find a low pressure environment to...who am I kidding, it's Philly. They boo and throw snowballs at Santa Claus. Please practice hard and realize that potential Jrue, for your sake and ours.
If you were to pick one player we've had thus far to define the Ben Howland era, I defy you to find a better pick than the New Orleans Hornets' draft pick at #21: Darren Collison. DC has been to three Final Fours and has had four years of running the point for CBH as well as four years in the defensive crucible that Ben Howland demands. All of this will serve Collison well in finding playing time in his rookie campaign, especially behind a world class point guard like Chris Paul. Darren will have the opportunity to learn from the best, and given that Paul's minutes were a major concern for the Hornets last year entering the playoffs, the situation seems ripe for DC to make an immediate impact. Hornets coach Byron Scott has on multiple occasions expressed confidence in Collison's abilities. It remains to be seen how this will translate to the regular season, but look for Collison to struggle less than your average rookie due to his experience, maturity, and a demonstrated ability to perform under pressure:
Had enough yet? Those were just the Ben Ball Warriors. Of course we haven't forgotten about the old guard, a group of players that deserved a real coach, but were able to persevere despite not having one in college, and have each found their niche in the league.
Entering his 9th year in the league on his sixth team; Earl Watson will run the point for the Indiana Pacers this year. Throughout all of his years in the league, Watson has been a solid player, alternating main and reserve roles as his teams have seen fit. At this point in his career, he still has what it takes to be a contributor, but the shift to the younger generation has begun and Watson will increasingly rely on his veteran savvy to school the young kids in the league. While TJ Ford will be the starter for Indiana, expect Watson to assume his familiar role of the solid backup.
Another Bruin playing the solid backup role will be Luc's teammate on the Bucks: Dan Gadzuric. Now entering his 8th season, all with the Bucks, he will back up Andrew Bogut. While he may see reduced playing time as Bogut develops, Gadzuric seems to now be a Milwaukee fixture, and is another player that the Bucks will keep around for his defensive presence and experience. Serviceable backup centers are hard to come by in the NBA, and that's exactly what Dan is.
Quick, name all the teams Matt Barnes has played for. Did you get them all? You did? Liar. Now entering his 8th season, Matt will play for the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, after previously playing for the Suns, Warriors, Knicks, Sixers, Kings, and Clippers. He was a prominent part of the 8 seed Golden State team that took down the 1 seed Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs and has always been a fantastic utility player. He's the guy who can do a little of everything, even if he doesn't do them spectacularly, a box score filler. In a way I can see why he hasn't been able to find firm footing in the league for one team, because his style of play tends to make GMs think they can find better players, but this is rarely the case, as Barnes is one of the great utility glue guys. If the Magic are smart, they'll keep him around for at least a couple of years.
Joining Jrue Holiday in Philadelphia is 7th year veteran Jason Kapono. One of the things Jrue needs to develop as a guard in the league is range and consistency on his jumper. If I were Jrue, I might stick around Jason a little bit. Why? Well the guy is a two time Three Point Shootout champion and he once shot 51%...from three point range...for an entire season. He's the only player I know that shoots better from 3 point distance than his overall FG% for his career. There are few players that will be able to spread the floor more effectively than Jason, as an opponent would be foolish to leave him open on the perimeter. I think this video will more than adequately prove this point:
Last but certainly not least. The King of the pre Ben Ball Warriors, or should I say, the Baron. Yes, Baron Davis is still around and he's still kicking. He struggled with injuries last season, which isn't particularly unusual for him over his career, but he's back in his hometown of Los Angeles for the second year now, hoping to lead the Clippers out of the wilderness with their #1 draft pick Blake Griffin. This will be his tenth season, and while he doesn't have the quickness or the hops he once had, he still has more than enough for 90% of the league and he hasn't declined in those respects nearly as much as some other players with his mileage. There is no doubting Baron's abilities as a leader, but the question for the Clippers is whether he will be able to restrain himself from trying to get too aggressive. He has been on teams that have needed his creativity his entire career. This may be the first year that he won't need to do that for the team to succeed, and it may require some adjustment for Baron. If he can pick and choose his spots to assert himself offensively while getting his teammates involved for the rest of the game, the Clippers have a chance to make some noise in the Western Conference.
Other Bruins of note:
Josh Shipp: Signed with Bornova Belediyespor (Turkey)
Lorenzo Mata-Real: Halcones de Xalapa (Mexico), Mexican National Team
Dijon Thompson: Hapoel Jerusalem (Israel)
Cedric Bozeman: Anaheim Arsenal (D-League)
I don't know if you all can tell, but I love seeing Bruins on the big stage. Even if you aren't fans of the NBA or any of its teams, I think it's important to realize that sustained success at this level is important for sustained success in Pauley, which we can all agree is a good thing. To all the recruits, please take note: UCLA is not only Where Amazing Happens, it is also Where Amazing Begins.