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Barnes Is Everything Dunleavy Isn?t

With all of the injuries the Warriors have had, it?s surprising that they?re even at .500. One of the biggest reasons for the team?s success is the emergence of Matt Barnes.

Barnes is proving he?s the real deal on a nightly basis. He?s an energy player who does all the little things to win, not to mention the stats to back it up.

He?s in the starting lineup while Mike Dunleavy has been coming off the bench most of the season.

That got me thinking. Not to bash Dunleavy too much, but Barnes is doing everything that we?ve been waiting for Dunleavy to do for over four years ? he?s an excellent 3-point shooter, he?s getting his share of rebounds, assists and steals, and he?s been one of the catalysts in running the fast break.

All those things are supposed to be Dunleavy?s strengths, but Mike has teased us early in his career with inconsistency in all those areas, especially shooting.

I really didn?t think about it until a few games ago when the Warriors were playing the Celtics. During one possession, Barnes had Sebastian Telfair guarding him. They decided to post up Barnes and use his size advantage. The ball went to Barnes and he made a quick move and banked home a shot from about eight feet. That was the last time Telfair guarded Barnes.

This wasn?t the first time Barnes, who has made a living this season behind the 3-point line, had scored inside because of a mismatch. And it wasn?t the last. He did the same thing against Mike Bibby the next game, and then to one of the Hornets the following game (I think it was Jannero Pargo).

So what does this have to do with Dunleavy you say? Well, how many times throughout his career have we seen the other team put a small guy on Dunleavy, and what percentage of those times has Mike made them pay?

Most of the time, Dunleavy starts to back down his man, waits for the double team and passes it out (without really creating a shot). Now that?s not a terrible play. Dunleavy has a smart basketball mind, and he tries to make the right decision. But he?s a big tease in a results-oriented league ? because if Earl Boykins is guarding Dunleavy on the post up (which he has before), we expect Mike to score, period.

Barnes doesn?t wait for the double team. He goes quickly and he scores. Results. Bottom line. No tease.

This column isn?t meant to bash Dunleavy. He is what he is, and Nellie is using him exactly how he should be used ? as a utility player off the bench. It?s not Dunleavy?s fault he was the No. 3 overall pick. Fans need to realize that he?ll never be a star or even close to that (I just wish Mullin realized this when he gave him that ridiculous contract last year).

What?s amazing is that Barnes is playing like the guy everyone expected Dunleavy to be coming out of Duke. In reality, Barnes was a second-round pick in 2002 and the Warriors are his fifth team in five years.

But if you didn?t know any of that, and you only watched Barnes play this season, you would believe me if I told you he was the No. 3 overall pick in that draft.

He?s in the top 10 in the league in 3-point percentage at 45.8%, but he?s contributed in so many other areas. He is very active and has so much energy that he reminds me of a smaller Shawn Marion. He comes up with big steals and rebounds consistently, and he always has one or two huge assists per game.

He?s playing better than his stats show, and his stats are pretty solid (if you?re in a fantasy basketball league, he?s already been picked up off waivers and is starting for that team).

He?s been the biggest surprise for the Warriors in a season in which four guys are having breakout seasons ? Andris Biedrins, Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus are all having career years along with Barnes.

But we?re not surprised by the other three guys. Barnes has come out of nowhere. I remember him as a teammate of Baron Davis at UCLA and he was a nice role player then, in college. I never thought he?d ever get regular minutes in the NBA.

Not only is he getting regular minutes now, but he?s started the last eight games and has averaged over 37 minutes in that span.

That?s not bad for a guy who was going to quit basketball if he didn?t make the team in the off-season. He may not be a superstar, but Matt Barnes is the real deal and he?s here to stay. In particular, he?s playing a bigger role for the Warriors than one teammate with a much larger contract and more fanfare.

You can contact me at pjahromi@sbcglobal.net with any questions or comments

Breaking Down The East

Last week I broke down the Western Conference playoffs in five categories: Sure Things, Most Likely, On The Bubble, Long Shots and No Chance. Here is the same breakdown for the East.

Sure Things:

1. Heat ? They have a lot of new faces with the additions of Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, James Posey and Gary Payton, but Shaquille O?Neal and Dwyane Wade are still the leaders of this team.

Despite all those big names, there are still questions that need to be answered if this team wants to win the East. Can they all share one ball? Walker and Williams are known for chucking up a ton of 3?s, and Payton was ineffective the last time he and Shaq were teammates.

If this team struggles, don?t be surprised if Stan Van Gundy loses his job. Still, this team is a lock for the playoffs.

2. Pacers ? Ron Artest is back, and that alone makes the Pacers one of favorites to win the East.

The loss of Reggie Miller hurts, but the additions of Sarunas Jasikevicius, Danny Granger and the return of Artest should make up for the loss.

The Pacers are one of the deepest teams in the league. Their starting five of Jamaal Tinsley, Stephen Jackson, Artest, Jeff Foster and Jermaine O?Neal are backed up by Jasikevicius, Granger, Fred Jones, Jonathan Bender and Anthony Johnson.

If healthy ? and if Artest manages to behave ? Indiana will be fighting with Miami and Detroit for home court in the East.

3. Pistons ? They are the two-time defending East champs and they didn?t lose any players, so it?s safe to call them a sure thing for the playoffs. However, Detroit could slip a little with the improvement of both the Heat and Pacers, as well as the departure of Larry Brown.

New coach Flip Saunders should be fine as the players will try and prove they can win without Brown.

The starting lineup of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Teyshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace is excellent. But their depth is a question mark with only Antonio McDyess as the only proven impact player. With Brown gone, this could finally be Darko Milicic?s chance to prove he can play. He?s looked good in preseason so far.

Most Likely:

4. Nets ? They were the No. 8 seed last season, but Jason Kidd missed 16 games and Vince Carter played 57 games for the Nets after the trade from Toronto.

If Kidd and Richard Jefferson can stay healthy, and if Carter can play like he did after the trade, this team will roll through the Atlantic Division and grab one of the top three seeds. Those are big ?ifs? however.

The Nets frontcourt and bench are their weaknesses. They don?t have a reliable post player, though the 7-foot Nenad Kristic did show flashes last season, and their bench consists of newly-signed Marc Jackson, Jeff McInnis, Scott Padgett and Lamond Murray.

This team will clearly rely on their trio of Kidd, Carter and Jefferson, and that should be good enough to win the Atlantic.

5. Cavaliers ? The Lebron Show should continue to improve and give James his first playoff appearance.

Outside shooting was their biggest weakness last season as they ranked 28th in 3-pointers made, but the additions of Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, along with a  healthy Luke Jackson will help James and prize free agent pickup Larry Hughes create open opportunities.

Though James and Hughes are excellent defending the passing lanes, interior defense could be a problem. Drew Gooden and Marshall have struggled on that end of the court.

But let?s not forget, James will turn 21 in December. If he stays healthy, there?s no reason not to think he?ll become the best player in the league hands down. We?re talking about a guy who averaged over 27 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists as a 20-year-old.

On The Bubble:

6. Bulls ? Their only significant move of the off-season was trading Eddie Curry to the Knicks for Tim Thomas and Michael Sweetney. And though it may appear that they?re weaker because of that, one must consider that they re-signed the rest of their own free agents, including Tyson Chandler, Chris Duhon and Othella Harrington.

The Bulls struggled offensively last season and Curry was their leading scorer, but Sweetney will get plenty of looks down low, and the improvement of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon could help overcome the loss of Curry.

Defensively, this team was great last year, leading the league in field-goal percentage against. Tyson Chandler will move to his natural center position while Sweetney will be the starting power forward.

The Bulls are a young team that had a magical season last year. They could fall off and miss the playoffs, or they can continue to thrive as they did last year, going 45-22 after a 2-13 start. It?s hard to say.

7.  Wizards ? They lost Hughes and Juan Dixon, but they added Caron Butler, Antonio Daniels and Chucky Atkins.

Daniels was a valuable member of Seattle?s 52-win team as their sixth man last season, and his explosiveness and solid defense should help replace Hughes.

Butler averaged 15.5 points last season and can flat-out score while Gilbert Arenas just keeps getting better.

They also have a solid frontcourt with Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, and if they get better contribution from Jarvis Hayes and/or Jared Jeffries, the Wizards should be back in the playoffs.

8. 76ers ? The biggest news in the off-season was the hiring of Maurice Cheeks, which bodes well for Chris Webber, who did not get along with Jim O?Brien.

Everybody expected Philly to contend for the Eastern Conference title after acquiring Webber, but instead the Sixers were a major disappointment. If Cheeks can help Webber get close to the old Webber (he is 32), the Sixers will contend for the Atlantic Division crown.

The development of Andre Iquodala, Kyle Korver, and Samuel Dalembert will be paramount if this team expects to return to the playoffs.

Philly has a terrible bench, with newly signed Steven Hunter and Lee Nailon leading the way. How much longer can Allen Iverson play 42+ minutes per game?

9. Bucks ? They will be vastly improved from the team that won 30 games a year ago.

First, No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut should be solid in the middle, and he?s backed up by another solid player, Dan Gadzuric.

Second, newly acquired Bobby Simmons, who was the league?s Most Improved Player last year, will help the Bucks on both ends of the floor. The signing also strengthens the bench, as Desmond Mason goes from the starting lineup to the sixth man.

Third, T.J. Ford is back and he gives the Bucks a solid 1-2 punch at point guard with Maurice Williams.

Finally, the team re-signed leading scorer Michael Redd. Although I think they overpaid to keep him, the Bucks only got better this off-season and should make a strong playoff push.

10. Knicks ? Their biggest weakness last season was at center, so they acquired Eddie Curry and Jerome James and drafted Channing Frye. Yet I still don?t know if they?ll make that much of an impact.

Perhaps their biggest move was the hiring of Larry Brown. It should be interesting to see how Brown and Stephon Marbury get along since they had their problems on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.

The Knicks also traded Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson, and rookie Nate Robinson should provide a spark off the bench.

This team is hard to gauge. It should come down to whether Brown can get guys like Marbury and Jamal Crawford to play his way. If he can, the Knicks will sneak into the playoffs. If he can?t, the drama that is Larry Brown will continue in the Big Apple.

11. Celtics ? They were the Atlantic Division champs last year, but Danny Ainge is going with the young guys by letting go of Antoine Walker and Gary Payton.

That suggests the team is willing to take a step backwards before going forward. Paul Pierce continues to lead this team, but it wouldn?t shock me if he was traded before the deadline.

That might not happen if the Celtics are in playoff contention, but that will depend on the development of young players such as Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Delonte West, Marcus Banks and high-schooler Gerald Green.

Either way, this is a young and talented team that Ainge has put together (though I still have no idea why he gave Brian Scalabrine $15 million over five years).

Long Shots:

12. Magic ? Dwight Howard has limitless potential, and he could soon be the East?s answer to Amare Stoudamire, but the Magic have too many question marks elsewhere to count on a 20-year-old to lead them to the playoffs.

Steve Francis will slide over to shooting guard with Jameer Nelson and Keyon Dooling taking over at point. Francis, who is 6-foot-3, will find himself in size mismatches defensively. On offense, it?ll be compelling to see how Francis manages while not dominating the ball.

First-round pick Fran Vasquez decided to play in Spain, giving the Magic no help from the draft. Grant Hill?s health is always a question mark.

13. Raptors ? Chris Bosh is one of the best young big men in the game, but he likely won?t have enough help to make a strong playoff push.

Last year?s first-round pick Rafael Araujo has bust written all over him while Loren Woods was a bust before he was drafted. That leaves Bosh, a power forward, at the center position.

The trade for Mike James will help the Raptors as he should be one of the leading scorers on the team.

How much of impact their three rookies (Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon) make will determine how competitive Toronto will be.

No Chance:

14. Hawks ? They overpaid for Joe Johnson, who gives Atlanta about 17 swingmen.

I like Johnson. He?s a very good player. But he?s not a superstar and he got superstar money. Nevertheless, the Hawks should be better with the additions of Johnson and first-rounder Marvin Williams.

The Josh?s ? Childress and Smith ? along with Al Harrington are all young and should get better. The Hawks will be better than they were last year, but they only won 13 games so that?s not saying much.

15. Bobcats ? They don?t have a shot this year, but the Bobcats are building their team the right way. Draft picks Raymond Felton and Sean May should play significant minutes right away. And the fact that they come from North Carolina should help the Bobcats sell more tickets.

Emeka Okafor won the Rookie of the Year award and looks to be an All-Star player for years to come, and expansion draft picks Gerald Wallace and Primoz Brezec give the Cats an excellent frontcourt.

Combine all those young players, along with the fact that they?ll have tons of cap money next off-season, and Charlotte should be very competitive within a couple of years.

If you can any comments or questions, you can reach me at pjahromi@sbcglobal.net.

Breaking Down The West

The start of the 2005-2006 season is right around the corner and here is a look at the Western Conference with the Sure Things, Most Likely, On The Bubble, Long Shots and one no No Chance team.

Sure Things:

1. Spurs ? The defending champs have everyone back, and they added Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel and Fabricio Oberto. I think it?s safe to say they?ll be in the playoffs.

2. Suns ? They lost Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson and won?t win 62 games again, but they?re not in danger of missing the playoffs. News of Amare Stoudamire?s knee injury could change that, but until we know for sure that it?s serious, you can assume the Suns will win over 55 games, win the Pacific Division and easily make the playoffs.

Everyone talks about their losses, but the additions of Kurt Thomas and Raja Bell will help their defense and toughness. Also, Amare is a year older and a year better and could give the Suns back-to-back league MVPs.

3. Mavericks ? They lost the heart and soul of the team in Finley, but with Josh Howard?s improvement along with Jerry Stackhouse, Marquis Daniels and newcomer Doug Christie, the Mavs should be able to replace Finley.

Warriors fans know that Erick Dampier cannot be counted on to be consistent, but he?s good enough at center for this team to make the playoffs. With head coach Avery Johnson?s emphasis on defense, they should win 55+ games again.

4. Nuggets ? They were 49-33 last year, but everyone expects them to improve on that with George Karl at the helm for a full season. This team still needs a shooting guard and a 3-point threat, but their overload at point guard could offset that a little.

The way this team finished last year ? 26-4 in their final 30 games with Karl ? and with Carmelo Anthony?s improvement with Karl, the Nuggets have a good shot to challenge for one of the top two seeds in the west.

5. Rockets ? The Tracy McGrady/Yao Ming duo didn?t really get going until the end of last season. With a full year together in the books, I expect them to be much better. Oh, and they had arguably the most important free agent pickup in Stromile Swift.

The Rockets major weakness last year was at power forward (Ryan Bowen and Scott Padgett played PF in the Dallas series), so the addition of Swift should have a major impact. And if Derek Anderson can stay healthy, lookout.

There are question marks at point guard with Bobby Sura injured, Charlie Ward retired and Mike James traded for Rafer Alston. But with a healthy Yao and T-Mac, this team will win over 50 games again.

So that leaves three spots open, and more realistically, it leaves only two because?

Most Likely:

6. Kings ? I know many experts are picking Sacto to win the Pacific, and although it could happen, they have too many new faces to call them a sure thing.

Yes, Bonzi Wells and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are very talented and they give the Kings a great starting five, but we?re talking about Bonzi Wells and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Peja Stojakovic, Brad Miller and Mike Bibby will continue to lead this team. They will be in the playoffs and could win the Pacific Division if Bonzi behaves and Shareef is ok with winning, but there?s also a slim chance that everything falls apart.

So that realistically leaves two spots up for grabs in the west.

On The Bubble:

7. Sonics ? They won 52 games last year and got no respect. Well, they?re not getting my respect this year until they prove that A) Last year was not a fluke, and B) they can overcome the losses of Antonio Daniels and Jerome James.

I don?t know if Luke Ridnour can be the man at point guard. He was the starter last year, but Daniels played nearly as many minutes (31 for Ridnour to Daniels? 27) and often played late in games for his defense.

James was an underachiever, but anytime you lose your starting center and don?t replace him, that can?t be a good thing. And power forward Reggie Evans is still unsigned.

This will force the Sonics to rely on guys like Nick Collison, Danny Fortson, Vitaly Potapenko, and possibly Robert Swift and Johan Petro.

Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis give them an excellent chance to get back to the playoffs, but don?t be shocked if the Sonics go from the No. 3 seed to the lottery.

8. Grizzlies ? Talk about a team with some changes. They?ve lost Swift, Wells, Jason Williams, James Posey and Earl Watson while adding Eddie Jones, Bobby Jackson, Damon Stoudamire, Raul Lopez and Hakim Warrick.

They were the No. 8 seed last year with a 45-37 record, and 45 wins is about what it?ll take to get back to the playoffs. Something tells me that won?t happen. They still have Pao Gasol and Shane Battier, but with the loss of Williams, they don?t have a proven point guard or center.

If the Warriors are going to make the playoffs, they need at least one of last year?s playoff teams to fall. The Grizzlies are most likely to be that team.

9. Warriors ? One of the best backcourts in the league. If Baron Davis and Mickael Pietrus ? two guys who have missed time with injuries ? can stay healthy, and if they can get some production from their frontcourt, the drought will be over.

This team is deep, and you never know who will have a breakout season. It could be Pietrus, Zarko Cabarkapa, Mike Dunleavy, or maybe even young players like Andris Biedrins or Ike Diogu.

Jason Richardson could be an All-Star.

10. Timberwolves ? They were the No. 1 seed two years ago and in the lottery with a 44-38 record last year, one game behind No. 8 seed Memphis.

Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Fred Hoiberg are gone, and their biggest acquisition was Marko Jaric. It doesn?t look too good for Kevin Garnett?s team.

A healthy Garnett will keep the Wolves in the playoff hunt, but like last year, he probably won?t have enough help.

11. Lakers ? Although they finished with the same record as the Warriors, the two teams finished the season in opposite directions.

Kobe Bryant has something to prove after a tough season and he should have a great year. But there are plenty of questions in SoCal.

Can Kobe and Phil Jackson get along? Can Kobe and Lamar Odom share the ball and maximize their potential together? Will Kwame Brown turn around his career and play more like a No. 1 overall pick? Can they get by with Aaron McKie at point guard?

If the answer to all those questions is yes, the Lake Show will be back in the playoffs. However, it?s a little bit of a long shot for everything to pan out.

Odom hasn?t been able to practice at full speed because he?s recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, but he should be 100% by opening day. Don?t expect first-rounder Andrew Bynum to be a factor this year.

12. Clippers ? The Clippers won 37 games last season, then lost their best all-around player (Bobby Simmons) in free agency.

They added Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley, but Simmons and Jaric (gone to Minnesota) were their best defenders and I don?t see where the defense will come from.

The Clips have a strong starting five with Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Mobley, Cassell and Chris Kaman, but their bench is weak with Chris Wilcox and Shaun Livingston being the only notable players.

Livingston could be the key to this team. He?s a pure point guard with great vision, tons of potential and he plays great defense. But Livingston wasn?t able to stay healthy and he?s only 20.

Long Shots:

Expect two of the six teams above to grab the last two spots. But injuries happen, and if everything goes right for the following teams, you never know:

13. Jazz ? They only won 26 games last season, but their best player missed half of the season and they had no backcourt.

Andrei Kirilenko is back, and the Jazz took point guard Deron Williams with their first pick. Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer are talented players and they should definitely win more games than last year. The question is, can they win 20 more? In the tough western conference, they should fall short.

14. Trail Blazers ? They have a ton of young talent with first-round pick Martell Webster, Sebastian Telfair and Travis Outlaw. But young teams don?t win in the NBA.

With Stoudamire and Van Exel gone, Telfair will run the team with help from first-rounder Jarrett Jack and Juan Dixon. Even if Telfair and Outlaw have breakout years, I still don?t see this team cracking the top eight.

No Chance:

15. Hornets ? Chris Paul has a good chance to be the rookie of the year, but this team simply doesn?t have the talent to win 30 games let alone 45.

If you have any questions or comments, you can reach me at pjahromi@sbcglobal.net

 

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