Did you enjoy March Madness? There’s actually another basketball tournament that involves only 16 teams with much better players. On top of that, some of the guys you rooted for when they were in college are in this one too!
If you’re an NCAA, casual NBA fan, or somewhere in between, I present to you a handy-dandy guide of what teams and players to watch for.
Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggerts
Davidson’s Stephen Curry lead the Cinderella Davidson team in 2008 to the Elite 8. Shooting a three pointer for him is like a layup for everyone else. For some context, in their first 621 career games, Curry has 621 made 3-point field goals compared to Ray Allen’s 407, Reggie Miller’s 322 and Steve Kerr’s 147.
Check out this move.
Washington State’s Klay Thompson’s career .403 3-point percentage give the Warriors the most exciting and best shooting (I think) backcourt in the league.
UNC rookie Harrison Barnes is a starter and plays a solid 25 minutes per game, while Michigan State rookie Draymond Green provides 13 minutes of energy and defense, but not much more.
The Nuggets are criticized as the “team without a superstar.” That being said, they are one of the deepest teams in the league.
UNC’s Ty Lawson continues to be the speeding bullet he was in college and is a key to their success. Two-time national champion Florida small forward Corey Brewer has a found a niche as a high-energy defensive specialist after struggling with mediocrity in his 7th season in the league.
A key player to watch is Moorehead State second year player Kenneth Faried. Nicknamed the “Manimal”, he plays with a reckless abandon matched by few.
Arizona veteran Andre Iguodala is a key piece at small forward, but unfortunately they’ll be missing Italian forward Danilo Gallinari with a torn ACL.
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks
If you’re a Syracuse alum and followed their deep run into the tournament this year, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be following Carmelo Anthony—2003 SU hero. Melo has developed into one of the elite scorers of the league.
He was head-to-head with Kevin Durant all season in the scoring race and managed to pull away with 28.7 points per game.
Melo scores in pretty much every way possible. Post-ups, mid-range jumpers, 3-pointers, and everything in between. His unique combination of size (6’8”, 230 lbs.,) speed, and quick release give him an advantage over virtually anyone playing one-on-one defense.
The other player to really watch is straight-out-of-high school bench scorer J.R. Smith. He’s the definition of a streak shooter.
After Kentucky point guard Rajon Rondo went down with a season ending torn ACL injury, the Celtics actually improved, but really aren’t as fun to watch, and most pundits have them losing to the Knicks in the first round.
Kansas’ Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (no college) will lead the team, and Georgetown’s Jeff Green can look like an All-star one night, and a complete dud the next.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Indiana Pacers
UNC fans will be happy to hear that “Psycho T” Tyler Hansbrough has predictably carved out a niche as an high-energy rebounding bench guy.
The two players to watch are Fresno State’s Paul George, a 6’9” small forward who has blossomed in his third year, and Roy Hibbert, a 7’ 2” center from Georgetown you may recognize from a few episodes of Parks and Recreation.
George has developed into the Pacers’ go-to guy, and Hibbert and is an old-school, back-to-the-basket center.
The Pacer and then-GM Larry Bird worked hard to erase the Malice at the Palace when then Ron Artest’s (his name is Metta-World Peace now) charge into the stands started probably the most infamous fan/player brawl in sports history. All of the players involved are gone, and the team gave has a promising young squad that gave Miami some issues in last year’s playoffs.
Unfortunately, the brawl has arguably done some damage as fan support hasn’t been the same. Point guard George Hill even complained that there were too many Laker fans at a recent home game.
Two-time NCAA champion Florida forward/center Al Horford may be one of the most underrated big men in the league. He averages a steady 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in his very steady, consistent but unspectacular style.
The most exciting but frustrating player is Josh Smith (no college) who still has decision making issues even after nine seasons in the league. That being said, he can fill up the stat sheet, but the Hawks have a reputation for always making the playoffs but never going too far.
Chicago Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets
It would make the most sense for a Duke fan to follow the Bulls as they are led by Blue Devil forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. Superstar Memphis point guard Derrick Rose has been out all year, and although seems physically ready to play, most will be surprised to see him play.
The thing to watch with the Bulls is their defense. Led by Florida two-time champion Joakim Noah, the Bulls have spearheaded a unique brand of defenses that combines the zone and man-to-man. The Bulls are the only team I pay more attention to on defense, as they are a struggle offensively.
Illinois point guard Deron Williams and Arkansas shooting Joe Johnson finished the season strong after starting listlessly. After years of irrelevance in New Jersey, their move to Brooklyn has improved almost every aspect of the team, including on the court.
Stanford Center Brook Lopez is one of the best offensive centers in the league. He’s also really into comic books goes to the NYC Comic-Con every year.
Anyone who knows Kris Humphries outside of basketball will be disappointed by this season after only averaging 18.3 minutes and 5.6 rebounds which is a big decline from last year’s 34 minutes and 11 rebounds.
UNC fans should celebrate the fact that Jerry Stackhouse is a key contributor off the Nets bench.
Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Every since Harvard’s Jeremy Lin signed with the Rockets this year, he’s developed into an above average point guard. He has started every game this season.
But the true superstar is Arizona State’s James Harden—a key sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder in his first three seasons, he was traded in October, and pundits wondered whether he would continue his play against the league’s starters. He has since developed into a top ten player.
He’s also the guy with the cool beard.
Texas’ Kevin Durant has joined the hallowed 50-40-90 club, which means he’s shooting over 50% in field goals, 40% in 3-pointers, and 90% in free throws.
To put that in context, the only other players in NBA history to that are Larry Bird (2), Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash (4) and Dirk Nowitzki.
While UCLA point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the most explosive and athletic players in the league, they still don’t seem to complement each other completely after five seasons together.
Widely considered a colossal bust, UConn star Hasheem Thabeet is finally proving to be somewhat useful playing 11 minutes a game. Emphasis on the word somewhat.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat
When J.J. Redick entered the draft in 2006 as one Duke’s most celebrated players with fellow white dude Adam Morrison of Gonzaga, Redick was predicted to have a very limiting career as perhaps a 3-point specialist off the bench.
Morrison sadly, is out of the league.
Now in his seventh season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks and has developed into a a much more well-rounded player. Even though he continues to come off behind the bench behind Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, (neither of whom went to college but share similar traits as relatively undisciplined but more dynamic shooters), Redick is on the final year of his contract and is constantly mentioned as the missing piece for contenders in need of a shooting guard.
UNC rookie John Henson didn’t make an impact all season until his last five games when he averaged 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game.
LeBron James is by far and away the best basketball player on the planet. If you’re still mad at him for publicly dissing Cleveland, get over it and appreciate him.
Marquette’s Dwyane Wade and Georgia Tech’s Chris Bosh complete the Big Three, and Kansas hero and champion Mario Chalmers continues to do what he does best by hitting 3-pointers as LeBron and Wade drive to the hole.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have one of the best organizations in the league. The trio of Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker (France, and Eva Langoria’s ex), and Manu Ginobili (Argentina, but not at 100%) have been playing for eleven years. In an era of free agency and super-teams, this is incredible.
UNC’s Danny Green starts at shooting guard, but the real curiosity here is former superstar Tracy McGrady—who just signed with the team after playing in China. McGrady has never made it past the first round of the playoffs.
Kobe Bryant has unfortunately tore an achilles tendon and will be out for 6-9 months.
What remains is a menacing front line led by Pau Gasol (Spain) and Dwight Howard (no college). Santa Clara’s Steve Nash has a hamstring injury, and if/when he plays will not be 100%.
UNC forward Antwan Jamison chips in with 21 minutes a game.
The rest of the roster is pretty disgusting.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Michigan State’s Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol (Spain, Pau’s brother) make up a formidable front line. They don’t get a lot of national attention, but Gasol is one of the best centers in the league.
Ohio State’s Mike Conley provides a steady presence at point guard.
Ever since they traded UConn’s Rudy Gay in February, they’ve actually improved.
The Clippers have finally overtaken the Lakers (at least this season). Led by high-flying but slightly overrated Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin and Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul—who happens to be the best in the league at his position. Griffin’s ferocious dunks overshadows the fact that he’s a poor mid-range jump shooter, free-throw shooter, and defender, but it doesn’t make him any less fun to watch.
Paul is a player who steadily distributes the ball to his teammates throughout the game, but is capable of taking over in the fourth quarter.
Duke elder statesmen Grant Hill has reinvented himself as a top perimeter defender in remarkably his 18th season.
All eight teams play this weekend, and the Finals go all the way into June. So have some willpower on these beautiful days to stay inside!