The only surprise series is the 3-1 lead the Philadelphia 76ers hold over the severely banged up Chicago Bulls. Credit the 76ers Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes for providing much-needed scoring. Oh, and the Grizzlies are finding the Clippers to be much stiffer competition than expected.
Here's what's on the NBA Playoff schedule for Monday:
San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT on TNT
The Jazz are going to lose this series, it's only a matter of protecting home court and avoiding the embarrassing sweep. History would have us believe the Spurs will drop this one and win at home, but then again, this Spurs team might be the best we've seen in a long time.
It's not entirely clear if the Clippers are better than we thought or if the Grizzlies are worse. Regardless, the Clips are up 2-1 in this series which making this game pivotal. It's hard to imagine the loser tonight moving on.
There weren't many sure things going into this season for the Suns. Although the entire starting five returned from the end of last season, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley hadn't proven themselves as legitimate starters in the NBA, and the two proven starters, Steve Nash and Grant Hill, were creeping dangerously close to age 40.
Overall, that starting five proved to be quite effective, and Dudley was one of the team's most dependable players, finishing the season second in scoring, 3-point %, 3-pointers made and minutes played, and third in win shares/48 minutes. Along with Gortat, Dudley was somewhat of an iron man, missing only one game and playing big minutes in this sprint of a lockout-shortened season.
One could look at Dudley's 12.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and conclude that he under-produced and is in need of replacement. For a team that went 33-33 and missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, that's a perfectly reasonable assessment. If an upgrade is available, a pure go-to scorer who can lift this team to a higher place in the Western Conference's pecking order, I'm all for it.
But finding a clear upgrade from Dudley won't be so easy and, unless a star shooting guard is acquired, Dudley has no intention of relinquishing that starting spot.
"Plays the game with toughness and a highly competitive will to win. Understands the game like few others as Dudley's basketball IQ might be among the best in the collegiate ranks"
"Understands how to initiate contact and draw fouls from opposing defenders. When doing this he will incorporate a number of pump fakes to get defenders off their feet."
"Scrappy player who hustles for loose balls and will do whatever dirty work is necessary to win."
"An overachiever, maximizes his talents."
"Work ethic is top notch as one only has to see how he has developed since entering Boston College's program as a freshman."
On the negative end:
"Too small to play in the post and lacks the speed, athleticism and quickness to guard perimeter players."
"Has yet to fully create offense for himself off the dribble."
"Not especially explosive or athletic."
Well, damn, that sure sounds like the Jared Dudley (now five seasons into his NBA career) we know, doesn't it? The same questions remain: is he athletic enough to keep up with other wings on defense? Can he create for himself adequately?
One question that he has answered is that he's an excellent NBA shooter, as his .409 career 3-point % and .546 career eFG% aren't far behind Steve Nash's .428 and .557. He's not only a "try hard" player, he's a real spot-up shooting threat.
As a shooting guard playing with Nash, spot-up shooting is a critically important skill possessed by Dudley. But the Suns need more scoring, more of a go-to player at that position, someone closer to Jason Richardson in 2009-10 or Joe Johnson in 2004-05. Here are comparisons
Dudley's an efficient, effective player. He's not always sexy and doesn't fill up the box score as some would like. As much as I'd like the Suns roster to be full of athletes who throw down pretty dunks and make the game look easy, having players who are smart, tough, hard working, steady producers is just as important.
The criticism I have of Dudley as a starter is that he's not aggressive enough in looking to score. He shoots at a high percentage, he can draw fouls, and has a little "old man's game" going to the hoop. Maybe it was because it was his first season with the starters, but he deferred on some open shots. If you're the best option, fire away!
Dudley weighed in on the topic of whether he should be a starter, replying to a Tweet from our own Toon Army Sun:
That's the spirit of Dudley, never backing down from a challenge. And that's what makes me put all the "he's not fast enough and doesn't jump high enough" stuff in its place. He brings a professional approach, shoots accurately and displays leadership. Dudley played a nice starting SG for us this season and, of all positions to upgrade, SG isn't at the top of the list.
Coming into this season, Dudley had started 37 games total in his career. This season he started 60. Nobody knew how he could perform as a starter, then he showed up and contributed every night.
Based on expectations and performance, I give Dudley a solid B+. Replace him and send him back to be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate if we can. Until then, he's getting it done with the starters, at a salary of less than $13M total over the next three seasons. This makes Dudley one of the Suns' most valuable assets.
"How can you not get better with someone who makes everybody better?" Dudley replied when asked whether the Suns can rebuild with Nash. An excellent question, and it might be asked back of him.
Four games on the slate for today, as the Bulls find themselves in an unexpected predicament, down 2-1 to the 76ers and now missing Joakim Noah after having already lost Derrick Rose for the rest of the playoffs. Game four is today in Philadelphia.
The Heat have the Knicks on the ropes 3-0, and a first round sweep out of the playoffs looks like a foregone conclusion for the Knicks as superstar Carmelo Anthony is shooting only 34% from the field and Amar'e Stoudemire has done more damage to fire hydrant casings than he has to the Heat. Stoudemire will be a game-time decision, so maybe he'll pull a Willis Reed with his self-inflicted mangled hand and help the Knicks to their first playoff win since 2001.
When I reflect on Stoudemire, I will think not of the punch but of the person he has become since being drafted by the Suns a decade ago, of the man many expected to fizzle in the high school-to-NBA experiment who last season was treated to MVP chants in New York.
Tonight, the Nuggets have a chance to even their series at home against the Lakers, and the Celtics and Hawks battle it out in what is probably the least entertaining remaining series.
More on today's games after the jump, and a recap of yesterday's action, which featured the completion of a first round sweep of the defending champion Mavericks.
Today might be the end of another disappointing Knicks season, and that doesn't make me sad. The passing of legendary Beastie Boys member Adam "MCA" Yauch, does make me sad, and since the Beastie Boys were proud Knicks fans, enjoy a little music on this Sunday. RIP, Adam Yauch.
The voting for the NBA's Most Improved Player award was revealed yesterday, and Ryan Anderson of the Orlando Magic took home the hardware with 33 first place votes and 260 points overall.
Ryan Anderson posted career highs in points (16.1 ppg), rebounding (7.7 rpg), field goal percentage (43.9 percent) and free throw percentage (87.7 percent) and also lead the league in 3-pointers made (166) and attempted (422). Those numbers are up from 10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 43 percent from the field and 81.2 percent from the line. Anderson also started every game he played in after last season's starter at the power forward spot, Brandon Bass, was traded to Boston. With the new role came a bump in minutes, from 22.1 mpg last season to 32.1 this year.
Full results can be found after the jump.
Here is a table showing how the votes shook out, courtesy of NBA.com.
As you can see in the table, Suns center Marcin Gortat finished tied for 19th place after receiving one first place vote and one third place vote for a total of 6 points.
I do not have a problem with Gortat not winning it, but 19th place? Only two people voted for him? Gortat had a much stronger case than that.
Gortat also put up career highs in scoring at 15.4 ppg, rebounding at 10 rpg and minutes at 32 mpg. Those numbers are up from 10.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 25.4 mpg. Everyone here saw him elevate his game this year to become the Suns leading scorer and rebounder. He became much more comfortable and effective in the pick-and-role in his first full season as the starter in Phoenix.
Gortat slowed down later in the season and that hurts his argument. But I don't believe there are 18 players more deserving than the Polish Machine/Hammer.
The voters obviously have a different set of criteria for this award than I do.
For example, only in rare occasions would I give it to a second-year player. If a player doesn't improve from his rookie to sophomore year, then there is a problem. They are supposed to improve. So while Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, and Paul George are very good players and have certainly improved, I would not vote for them for this particular award.
Nikola Pekovic and Jeremy Lin both qualify as the rare cases I mentioned, but both players arguments are hurt by injuries. Pekovic only played 47 games, and Lin 35. That is not enough for me to give you my first place vote.
Avery Bradley gets a double strike for me, as he fits the sophomore disqualifier, plus he didn't even enter the national spotlight until the last month of the season when Ray Allen went down. If it is an in-season award, than our own Sebastian Telfair deserves plenty of votes.
Steve Novak would not get a vote for me either. His numbers are only slightly up and he's basically the same player he always has been: a 3-poin shooter. He just found a situation with a shallow roster and a team didn't care that all he did was shoot.
Roy Hibbert doesn't fit the mold of someone who made a big jump from one season to the next at all. He's made steady improvement each year he's been in the league, and his point an rebounds are only up slightly this year compared to last.
In my opinion, Gortat has a much stronger case than most of the players I listed, and he's right there with several other players that finished higher than him.
What do you guys think? Did Gortat get robbed here? What are your criteria for the Most Improved Player?