Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Should the Orlando Magic trade for Eric Bledsoe?

According to Chad Ford at ESPN, the Orlando Magic "have a lot of interest" in Clippers PG Eric Bledsoe. The floated trade is Arron Afflalo to LA, with Bledsoe and Caron Butler (and his expiring contract) coming back to Orlando. The trade makes a lot of sense for both teams, but I Imagine that LA will want another piece coming back in the deal. Let's throw in rookie PF Andrew Nicholson and analyze a potential trade as such.

Sidebar: For the sake of this piece, we're going to assume the rumors are true. Because I read them on the Internet. And if they are posted on the Internet, they must be true.

Why Orlando makes this move

Bledsoe is a 23 year old freak athlete with a first round pedigree. He's still learning the PG position, but has been privileged to do so under Chris Paul for the past two seasons. He's shown flashes of brilliance on offense and has been a devastating defender coming off of the Clippers bench. Guys like this rarely become available. Bledsoe would be the "old man" of Orlando's young core of talent joining Nikola Vucevic (22), Tobias Harris (20) and Moe Harkless (20). He wouldn't be expected to come in and play 40 minutes a game right away with Jameer Nelson still on the roster, but it would be understood that the position will soon be his. Chris Paul missed a few games this past season, so I wanted to take a look at how Bledsoe did playing in big minutes. In 9 games this year where Bledsoe got at least 30 minutes of playing time, he averaged 15.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6 APG and 2.3 SPG on 41/43/80 shooting. Since 2000, five players have accomplished that feat: Jamaal Tinsley (yikes), Dwyane Wade (two times), Jason Kidd (2x), Baron Davis (4x) and Chris Paul (5x). Not too shabby.

Acquiring Bledsoe would also free up the #2 pick in the draft to add a shooting guard like Ben McLemore or Victor Oladipo. While a backcourt of Bledsoe-Oladipo-Harkless could be terrifying defensively, I think McLemore fits in better with Orlando's core. His shooting would help space the court and keep driving lanes open for Bledsoe and Harkless. Either way, a core of Vuc-Harris-Harkless-McLemore/Oladipo-Bledsoe, along with next years assumed lottery pick, is a great foundation.

Why Orlando does not make this move

While Bledsoe has shown flashes of greatness, he is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. He could be an All Star waiting to be unleashed, or a guy that was privileged to play 20 minutes a game with a crew that made the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Bledsoe was low on the list of things to figure out for opposing coaches. How will he fare as a starter and focal point of opposing defenses? The bigger point, for me personally, is that Bledsoe is heading into the last year of his rookie deal. This basically serves as a one year audition for a team looking to throw money at him the following year as a restricted free agent. Would Orlando want to match an insane offer if a team overpaid? Or risk losing Bledsoe after only a season to avoid overpaying him for the next four or five seasons? It's a legit question with GM Rob Hennigan wanting to keep the books as free as possible for the 2014 free agent class. Orlando would also be giving up early on last year's first rounder Andrew Nicholson. While not a stud, he definitely showed glimpses of a solid low post game that should keep him in NBA rotations for years to come.

Why LA makes this move

Because Chauncey Billips or Willie Green started every game at SG for the Clippers this past season. It's that simple. Afflalo is a huge upgrade to either of those guys, and he's neither old (27) or overpaid (a very reasonable $23 million over the next three years). He was miscast as a leading player in Orlando but would fit right in as a role player in LA. LA will need a perimeter defender with Matt Barnes probably playing himself right out of the Clippers price range with his great season. Though, they may be able to find some room for him with the cost certainty of Afflalo/Nicholson for the next three seasons and the uncertainty of any Bledsoe extension hanging over their head. LA also gets Nicholson to replace Lamar Odom as a big man off the bench. Nicholson can surely produce the 4 PPG on 39% FG shooting that Odom put up this season. Hell, I could probably produce the 4 PPG on 39% FG shooting that Odom put up this season.

Why LA does not make this move

While Butler has slipped as a player, he is still a physical defender and shot 39% from the three point line this past season. If LA trades him and loses Barnes to free agency, they'd have to find a new starting SF unless they wanted to roll the dice with starting Grant Hill. Yikes. LA might also be willing to hold on to Bledsoe, see how the draft and free agency plays out and find a desperate partner left without a PG. It's somewhat of a risky move, but could pay off if the right team comes calling.

Do I want Orlando to make this move?

As I have the deal currently constructed? Yes. The cost uncertainty of Bledsoe somewhat worries me, but as a 20-62 team, I feel like Rob Hennigan's job is to acquire assets and figure the rest out later. Bledsoe is an asset. Even if he's not a star, if he can have a Mike Conley-esque career, you have your point guard for the next several seasons.  With Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington's contract coming off the books over the next two seasons, Orlando should still have plenty of cap space to make a splash in free agency and start thinking about extensions for some of their younger pieces. I'm in favor of this deal, but Rob Hennigan has earned my trust. I have faith that he will make the right decision.

Of course, everything above is assuming these rumors are even real and that the Internet did not lie to me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

NBA Draft Chronicles Part Two: Trey Burke

This is part two of my personal NBA draft chronicles. In this part, I will be focusing on Michigan PG Trey Burke.

Strengths

- A point guard that can score, as opposed to a scoring point guard. I think of Chris Paul/Steve Nash as point guards that can score and Russell Westbrook/Derrick Rose as a scoring point guards. Burke is just as comfortable making the pass (11th in the nation in assists per game, and sported the highest AST/TO ratio in the nation) as he is taking the shot (50% on 2P, 38% on 3P, 80% at the FT line).

-Can score in a variety of ways. Off the pick and roll, off the dribble, off the catch, in the paint. Not just a set shooter.

-Has legit NBA range. Word to every three pointer he hit during the NCAA tournament. As Steph Curry proved in the playoffs, there is tremendous value to a guy that you have to account for as soon as he crosses the half court line.

-Improved on every part of his game from his freshman to sophomore campaign. More points, FG%, 3P%, FT%, assists, blocks, steals and less turnovers. He did rebound the ball slightly less. So there's that.

-Lead the team in steals, second on the team in blocks at 6'1. I think his 6'5 wingspan, quick hands and heady play give him solid defensive potential at the next level.

Weaknesses

-Will have some trouble adjusting to NBA length and finishing in the paint. Burke did a great job absorbing contact around the rim in college. However, the NBA is a different animal. While he didn't miss a game at Michigan, he hit the ground an awful lot. He will have to adjust that part of his game to consistently make it through 82 game seasons.

-Lacks the upside of other elite PGs, due to athletic limitations. He's a good athlete, but he didn't receive the genetic hand that Westbrook, Rose and John Wall got. To his credit, Paul, Tony Parker and Mike Conley are all having fine careers despite not being athletic freaks.

-Lacks the bulk to fight through picks, and from some of what I've seen, he rarely even tries. As soon as he sees the pick coming, he takes himself out of the play by gingerly maneuvering around picks. By the time he is around it, his man is usually in the lane with a favorable match up. This is something he has to work on.

-As heroic as a lot of those 25 foot shots were in the Tournament, many of them came with plenty of time left on the clock. He can get that shot at any time that he likes. There is no need to put them up with 20+ seconds left on the shot clock.

Ceiling/Floor

Check the numbers of these sweet shooting undersized PGs that jumped to the NBA after their sophomore season. All three are lottery picks.







Pretty similar, right? The first row shows Trey Burke. The second row? Chris Paul.. The third row? DJ Augustin. Yikes.

Best case scenario- Chris Paul. EXTREMELY lofty comparison, but the similarities coming out of college are there. Undersized PG, good but not great athlete that makes his hay by being a tough competitor and a good on court leader. Paul was a better shooter and defender, but Burke has the better AST/TO ratio is a little bigger.


Worst case scenario- DJ Augustin. Yikes. Again. Augustin went from top 10 pick to struggling in backup minutes for the Pacers. I think the chances of Burke becoming Augustin are just as unlikely as him becoming Paul, but the possibility is there.

Best lottery fit

Orlando- He could get immediate minutes as Jameer Nelson's backup and see how the undersized Nelson carved out a decent NBA career for himself. He'd also get to start during the 10-15 games that Nelson misses per season. He'd have veterans like Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis to learn from and youngsters like Nik Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless to grow with, along with a head coach in Jacques Vaughn that had a 12 year NBA career at point guard.

Worst lottery fit

Sacramento- What a mess of a situation for a young player at any position. Tyreke Evans had a rookie year for the ages and now may not be brought back as a restricted FA. Isiah Thomas was a nice find in the second round, but he's probably better suited coming off of the bench. The team just gave away last year's top 5 pick Thomas Robinson, and Demarcus Cousins' mood swings could make a young point guards life miserable.

Conclusion

With the talent today at point guard, it's hard for me to confidently say that Burke will make multiple appearances at the All Star game. Or any appearances at the All Star game. That doesn't mean he can't be a very good player. Word to Steph Curry, Mike Conley and Ty Lawson, who all have as many All Star appearances as I do. Hell, Mo Williams has an All Star appearance to his name, so that's far from being the ultimate measurement of a good PG. I think Burke's good decision making, save a few jumpers too early in the shot clock, will help counter his lack of athleticism and make him a solid player on both ends of the court for many seasons.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

NBA Draft Chronicles Part One: Nerlens Noel

The NBA Draft Lottery was last week and my Orlando Magic ended up with the #2 pick, despite having the worst record in the league. No gripes here. There isn't a slam dunk #1 pick, so being #2 here slightly alleviates some of the pressure from us. There are four prospects that I wouldn't mind seeing in Orlando next season, and a couple more that I could talk myself into by the start of the season. I will be focusing on each of these four prospects in an attempt to determine who I would like to see Orlando draft. The first prospect will be Kentucky center, Nerlens Noel.

Strengths

-Hustle. Noel's hustle alone will keep him on a NBA roster for 10 years.

-Athleticism. Last year's #1 pick Anthony Davis was a smoother athlete, no doubt from his years playing guard, but Noel is more explosive. His ability to go from 0 to 40 (inches in the air) made him a better on ball shot blocker than Davis, in my opinion. His agility gives him great potential as a pick and roll defender in the NBA, as well as the option to spend some time defending PFs.

-Can legitimately impact games without scoring much. In games where Noel failed to reach his average of 10.5 PPG, his rebounding, steals and blocks all improved. He lead the team in rebounds, steals, blocks and FG percentage.

-A surprisingly good passer. Assist numbers are always unkind to big man, because a great pass out of a double team isn't necessarily quantified with an assist. Still, Noel had a number of 4/5/6 assist games this season. Very promising for someone his age.

-Very aggressive in attacking in the basket. More so than legit post moves in a young post player, I like to see whether they will look to score in favorable situations. The moves themselves can be improved upon, but if he is passing out of good looks early then defenses will learn to pay less attention to him. When Noel got the ball in iso situations, he looked to score. With mixed results.

Weaknesses

Hands/Touch-  Great hands seem to be something that you are born with or not. Demarcus Cousins had great hands his first day at Kentucky. He'll have great hands when he's 80. Same with Anthony Davis. With great hands usually comes great touch. An ability to lay the ball from nearly any angle, and convert more "and 1" plays than you probably should have. Noel does not have great hands by any means.

Weight- Another big issue. Noel came to UK at 216 pounds. He left UK at 228 pounds. He now weighs 206 pounds. He'll never be a mountain of a man, but he's going to have to at least be in the 235 range to avoid being dunked through the hoop. To his credit, Chandler, Joakim Noah and Larry Sanders all had nice seasons at center and none of the three is listed at over 240 pounds. The question is can he stay at 235-240 pounds throughout the grind of a NBA season?

No shooting touch- He didn't take many, if any jumpers at UK, but he shot 53% from the line at UK and honestly, that was a little higher than I remembered it. While shooting is said to be one of the easiest things to improve in a player, a team is pretty much starting with a blank slate with Noel.

Durability- While ACL injuries aren't as serious as they once were, it's still something to keep an eye on. He broke a bone in his left knee during high school and some are saying his rush back to the court contributed to his ACL tear. I'm not sure I buy it, as that ACL tear (also on his left knee) seemed to be a freak play but it is worth mentioning.

Ceiling/Floor

Best case scenario- Tyson Chandler. A slightly built center with little to no offensive game, earning his points on put backs and finishing alley oops, but making his hay on the defensive end. I have to believe that a year at Kentucky was better for a 18 year old Noel, than conceding shots to Jalen Rose, Ron Mercer and Ron Artest on a 21 win Tim Floyd coached Bulls team was for an 18 year old Chandler. It took years for Chandler to find his niche, but he's found it now and is mastering it. However, a big reason Chandler works on offense is because of his ability to hit free throws. When he rolls hard to the basket, teams can't foul him at will as he has worked himself into a 70% FT shooter.

Worst case scenario- Birdman Birdman Andersen. Not someone you'd want with the top pick, but you could do a lot worse at center (Perkins, Kendrick). Of course, LeBron/Wade/Bosh being LeBron/Wade/Bosh allows Birdman to be Birdman. As a top pick in the draft, Noel won't be afforded that luxury. Still, there are always NBA minutes for a big man willing to set picks, crash the boards and dive for loose balls.

Best fit

Washington. Learning some offensive chops from Nene and defensive chops from Emeka Okafor. Not being forced into immediate action, but being spoon fed minutes until he is ready. Bradley Beal would help keep the floor spread for him and running with John Wall would get him a million alley oops.

Worst fit

Charlotte. The list of people that started at center/power forward for Charlotte this past season: Bismack Biyombo, BJ Mullens, Josh McRoberts, Brendan Haywood, Jeff Adrien, Tyrus Thomas and DeSagana Diop. Eek. He may start there immediately and that's probably not best for his long term development.

Conclusion

Taking off my UK homer glasses, there are legit concerns with Noel being a #1 pick in the draft. But I think the way the NBA is moving favors Noel. The back to the basket big man is becoming extinct in the NBA. The rule changes have made perimeter players that can get to the basket incredibly valuable. It's why there are probably 15 all star caliber point guards in the league right now, and that doesn't include the number of guys listed at SG/SF that can do the same. Positions are just about meaningless now if you have guys that can get to the basket on offense and protect the basket on defense. Noel is the latter. Surround him with a couple guys that can get to the basket like Wall in Washington or Irving/Waiters in Cleveland, and let him do what he does best. Protect the rim, rebound the ball, roll hard to the basket and finish above the rim. I think Noel is going to have a fine NBA career.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How the Spurs can become Champions

You know, I had my heart set on a Grizzlies-Heat finals, but that looks very unlikely with the way the first two games of the series went. I know better than to count the Grizzlies out though. They took a beating in Game 1 against the Clippers and lost a close Game 2, both on the road. Sound familiar? The Clippers are a poorly constructed basketball team, though. The Spurs are not. I know these same Spurs won the first two against OKC in last years Western Conference Finals and then lost the next four. That won't happen to them against the Grizzlies. After losing the first two to the Spurs last year, OKC reeled off four straight games of scoring at least 100 points. Memphis has hit the century mark four times total in 13 playoff games this year. I look for Memphis to make this a series, but I can't see them beating the Spurs four times in the next five games. Even if the Grizzlies do come back, I can't see them beating Miami because I don't think they'll score enough points to do. Ideally, the Grizzlies would just punish the Heat inside with a steady diet of Gasol/Randolph. But what happens when a couple of LeBron drives get Gasol in early foul trouble? I also don't like Tayshaun Prince guarding LeBron James one bit. Know who was guarding LeBron during a good bit of his 48 point game against Detroit in 2007? Tayshaun Prince. This was when he was 27 years old and a perennial member of the all NBA defensive team. He is neither of those things anymore. It would not end well.

That leaves the Spurs. How can they beat the Heat, you ask? Here's how.

1. Limit turnovers.

The Heat thrive in transition. The Spurs were in the middle of the pack (17th in the league) as far as turning the ball over in the regular season, but are now sitting at #2 in postseason play. The Spurs are extra careful with the ball and have a team full of great passers that will help limit sloppy passes that lead to easy transition buckets for Miami. This is feasible.

2. Dominate at the positions you hold advantages at.

It's pretty much accepted that when going against the Heat, you are not going to have the advantage at the 2, 3 or 4. That's fine, because the Spurs best players occupy the 1 and 5. The Spurs need Duncan and Parker to absolutely dominate their counterparts. This is also feasible.

3. Make LeBron work on both ends

Miami is going to do it's best to minimize LeBron's defensive effort to keep him fresh for offense. That's where the Spurs have to make him work both ends of the court. Whether it be Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner or Kawhi Leonard that LeBron ends up guarding, they have to keep him honest. Splitter will have to use his height advantage to make LeBron work in the post and keep him off the glass. Bonner/Leonard will have to make threes at a respectable clip so LeBron will have to stick to them. So far, they've been excellent at doing just that, and each are hitting threes at what is a probably an unsustainable rate (54% for Bonner, 42% for Leonard) When LeBron is able to roam defensively, he is destructive. He's smart enough to know exactly when to leave his defender for a double team, and athletic enough to get back to his own guy so he doesn't give up a wide open three. If you can stick Leonard/Bonner in a corner and make LeBron stay honest to them, or run some cuts to get LeBron away from the ball, you can limit his defensive impact.

4. Attack Dwyane Wade

Do whatever you can to get Dwyane Wade in isolation situations and attack him. He looked much better in Game 5 of the Bulls series, but that knee is far from healthy so the Spurs have to see how healthy it is. Manu Ginobili and Danny Green are critical here. Green is having a nice postseason, but Ginobili is really struggling shooting the ball. They will have to at least make Wade move his feet on defense and hope that his knee limits his effectiveness.

5. Hit the glass. Hard.

Miami has only lost one game this postseason (Game 1 vs. Chicago). The Bulls had more turnovers, less steals, less blocks and just as many assists as Miami. So how did they steal a victory on the road? They out-rebounded them by 14. The Heat are too good to giveaway easy buckets to, whether it be in transition or through extra possessions. If you can dominate the glass, you can nearly limit Birdman Birdman Anderson's impact on the game. San Antonio has a negative rebound differential this far in the playoffs, but opponents have been unable to capitalize. This is where Tiago Splitter comes into play. He's averaging less rebounds this postseason than Danny Green and Tony Parker. If he can step up to help keep Bosh/Birdman off of the boards, and get San Antonio a couple of easy buckets/extra possessions, the Spurs will be able to control the clock to their liking.

I wrote those (clearly oversimplified) steps with the Spurs in mind, but they would apply to the Grizzlies just as well. If they follow those steps, count on Duncan to be Duncan, know that Popovich won't kill them with any coaching errors and pray LeBron James falls victim to malaria, I don't see why the Spurs couldn't win the NBA title this season.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Verlander

Verlander's meltdown against the Rangers was pretty widely reported.  That's no surprise.  He's one of the best pitchers in the game, yet he got shelled for 8 runs without getting out of the third inning.  That's a bad start.  (To be fair, it wasn't just Verlander.  Sanchez and Fister also got plastered by the Rangers.  In fact, the only Tigers pitcher to make it out with a win was Porcello.  Let that sink in for a second.)

But, even before that, I was wondering about him this year.  I've read a handful of articles about his velocity decreasing.  I'm slightly concerned with that, but not overly so.  He's 30.  Of course his velocity is going to decline a little.  Also, over the years, he's gone from a guy who would consistently throw his fastballs in the mid-to-high 90s (I've seen him get as high as 102) to a guy who usually starts games a little lower than that (low-to-mid 90s), and relies more on his terrific secondary pitches.  His strikeout pitch used to be a high-90s fastball, but it's now his excellent slider, or a nasty curve that just drops into the strikezone at the last minute. He has evolved from a thrower to a pitcher.  (Also, he hit 100 on the gun in his last start, so it's not like his velocity has abandoned him.)

And yet, I still felt like something was off this year.  He's still good, but I didn't see him going nearly as deep into games as he has been the past few years.  Where you used to be able to count on Verlander giving you 7 innings every night, his pitch counts have been getting so high so early that we really haven't seen that Verlander show up yet.  
I realized that perhaps my expectations were just too high, so I looked at some numbers going back to 2010.  This is what the average Verlander start has looked like over that time frame.

2010
Innings pitched:  6.75
Pitches:              113.48
Hits:                   5.76
BB:                    2.15
Earned Runs:      2.55
Batters Faced:    28.03
Strikeouts:          6.64

2011 (his MVP year)
Innings pitched:  7.32
Pitches:              115.91
Hits:                   5.12
BB:                    1.68
Earned Runs:      1.97
Batters Faced:    28.5
Strikeouts:          7.35

2012
Innings pitched:  7.19
Pitches:              114.18
Hits:                   5.82
BB:                    1.82
Earned Runs:      2.12
Batters Faced:    28.97
Strikeouts:          7.24

2013 
Innings pitched:  6.39
Pitches:              109.38
Hits:                   5.5
BB:                    2.25
Earned Runs:      1.38
Batters Faced:    26.28
Strikeouts:          6.67

I excluded his last start from the 2013 stats, as that one terrible start skewed the rest of the results.  If it becomes a pattern, I'll put it back in.  But, since that should be his worst start of the season (by a wide margin, hopefully), I decided to leave it out.

I realize this isn't the cleanest way to show these numbers, but I was too lazy to put a graph together.  Maybe I'll do that after his next start.

In looking over those numbers, these things jump out:
1. In case it wasn't readily apparent before, 2011 and 2012 were terrific years for him.  It's not really a shock, but still.  Holy crap.  Those numbers, man.
2. My feeling was correct.  He is not going as deep into games as he has the past few years.  On average, he's throwing 5-6 fewer pitches per game, but only facing 2 less batters and pitching around .8 inning fewer per outing.
3. Even seeing that, it's hard to complain too much.  When your ace is throwing around 6.2 innings per game and giving up 1.38 runs per game, that's pretty incredible.

By the end of the year, I'm sure this start against the Rangers will only be a blip on the radar screen.  At some point, I assume he'll get a little more economical with his pitches, and we'll see him going deeper into games.  I think he'll be fine.
Still, when he takes the hill against the Indians on Wednesday, I'll be saying a little prayer that he fixed whatever went wrong against the Rangers.  (Which, for the most part, seemed to be pitch location.  He just wasn't hitting his spots.  Consistently missing his pitches high.  That has to be a little mechanical thing that should be fixed pretty quickly.)

The Sports Blog That Wouldn't Die

So...it's been a while, eh?
At some point, I just assume that we'll both stop posting stuff to this blog, and it'll die silently, only 2 people aware it ever existed in the first place.
But that day is not today.
We're talking basketball.  Football.  Baseball.  I can't promise it'll be coherent, but it'll be something.
(After writing that sentence, I've decided to break this post up into two parts, as one of them concerns Verlander and has a lot of numbers.  I thought that lumping that in with a bunch of random thoughts just felt a bit weird.  So tonight you're getting a double-dose of "The D".  [I immediately regret writing that phrase.])

Being a quasi-vagabond with no cable 70% of the time, I haven't been able to watch much of the NBA playoffs.  I'm usually able to catch whatever games fall on Monday & Tuesday nights, and whatever games are televised on ABC on the weekend.  (As an aside, one of my favorite hobbies has been listening to Simmons talk about some inane point, and just see how Wilbon reacts.  It's wonderful.)
Anyway, from what I've seen, I've been enjoying.  Not so much the Knicks/Pacers series, but the two Golden State series were phenomenal.  The non-blow-out games in the Heat/Bulls series were enjoyable (really looking forward to the Heat/Pacers series).  Watching Memphis bludgeon people has been even started to grow on me a bit.  My only regret so far is that I haven't been able to watch more.
I'm sure you've seen more than I have.  I know that the Heat are the favorite to win it all, and it's no surprise to see why.  But who do you think has the best chance of beating them?  I could see the Pacers series being a grind, but I fully expect the Heat to win in 5.
I could see the Grizzlies taking a shot, if only because I don't know how well the Heat will be able to match up with the Gasol/Randolph pairing.  I could also see the Spurs giving them a run, with a combination of the big guys down low and some smart passing.  Break it down for me.  Who has the best shot of beating the Heat, and how can they do it?

Remember all that stuff I said about not being able to watch the NBA playoffs?  Like, in the last segment?  All of that applies to the NHL playoffs, too.  I've caught a handful of games, but not much.  I was able to catch game 2 of the Wings/Blackhawks series this past weekend, and was glad I did.  Throughout the season, I kept thinking that the Wings had a decent offense (with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen & company, how could they not?), but their defense looked terrible, due in no small part to the loss of Lidstrom.  I kept thinking that the defense would get better as the season progressed.  But, with a lock-out shortened season, there wasn't too much growth to be seen, and they barely squeaked into the playoffs (they ended up winning their last three games and getting in at the 7th seed).
And now, here they are, up 2-1 on the mighty Blackhawks.  From what I've seen, their defense definitely seems improved over where they were in the regular season.  I guess a little time is all they needed, after all.
I'm not saying they've won this series.  Even up 2-1, there's a long way to go, and the Blackhawks are a very good team.  But their defense has been pretty encouraging so far.  I'm hoping I can catch some more games in this series.  I keep thinking that I'll go to Buffalo Wild Wing's or something, but I really don't want to go by myself.  Feels a bit weird.

It may be a bit early to start talking football, but whatever.
Very excited about the Packers draft.  They added a couple terrific running backs in Eddie Lacy & Jonathan Franklin (their full-house offense is going to look amazing this year).  They grabbed Datone Jones, a great DT in the first round.  They grabbed Josh Boyd (DE) in the 5th round.  On top of that, they're getting a healthy Nick Perry back, as well as Jolly's return from a sizzurp suspension.
There are some scary teams going into this year (the 49ers and Seahawks have improved their already good teams), but I think the Packers are right up there with them.

That'll do it for hodge-podge talk.  Coming up next: Verlander.