From the Booth

NETS POST GAME
Mike Fratello and Ryan Ruocco give their rapid reaction to the Nets’ 105-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Ersan Ilyasova

Ersan Ilyasova crashed the boards and made big shots for the Bucks on Sunday. The 6-10, fourth-year forward from Turkey had career highs of 29 points and 25 rebounds in Milwaukee’s 92-85 win over the Nets.

Now in his second stint with Milwaukee, Ilasova is one of five international players on their roster, which also includes Beno Udrih from Slovenia, Luc Mbah a Moute from Cameroon, Carlos Delfino from Argentina and Andrew Bogut from Australia. Selected by the Bucks in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, Ilasova spent his first season with their affiliated D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers, and made his NBA debut on November 1, 2006. After playing with Liga ACB club FC Barcelona the subsequent two seasons, Ilasova resigned with the Bucks in 2009.

Last year it looked like llasova was on the verge of breaking through and raising his game to the next level. However, he didn’t bust out of the gates this season the way some people expected, perhaps because of the lockout-induced late start to the season and abbreviated training camp.

Ilyasova is able to play at both the 3 and 4 positions. He can run the floor. He’s a good shooter who is capable of stringing 3-point shots together. And he is a tenacious offensive rebounder, giving fantasy owners double-double potential. Ilyasova has averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds in his last 10 contests.

Ersan Ilyasova will continue to log significant minutes in the absence of center Andrew Bogut, who is expected to be out with a fractured left ankle until at least early April. We’ll have to see if Ilyasova can maintain his momentum beyond the All-Star break. Before hosting this weekend’s festivities, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic will pay a visit to Brew City on George Washington’s birthday to play the Bucks in the first of two games scheduled for Milwaukee before the mid-season recess.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Drew Gooden

Copyright Notice-Copyright 2012 NBAE-Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images10th–year, 6-10, 250-pound power forward Drew Gooden has stepped up with two strong 23-point performances while filling in for Milwaukee’s starting center Andrew Bogut. The 260-pound, 7-footer from Australia fractured his ankle in last week’s win over the Houston Rockets. Bogut’s injury could cost him the remainder of the season, and it could cost his teammates the postseason.

Bogut was third in scoring with 11.3 ppg, and the Bucks will sorely miss the 2010-11 block leader at the defensive end of the court as he led them in rebounding with 8.3 boards per game. This early season setback is a big blow to the Bucks, who conceded the eighth seed to the Pacers in last year’s Eastern Conference playoff race. Coach Scott Skiles has charged veteran reserve Drew Gooden with the task of filling Bogut’s shoes, and so far “The Truth” has delivered.

Former Kansas Jayhawk Andrew Melvin “Drew” Gooden (who joined fellow freshmen Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich for the 1999–2000 season) was named NABC Player of the Year for 2002. He began his NBA career in Memphis in the small forward role, but it soon became apparent that he was better suited for the power forward position. Gooden has worn as many jerseys as years he’s competed in the league. But his red, white and green shirt just might stick. The Bucks signed the big man to a five-year contract prior to the start of the 2010 season, adding much-needed depth to their frontcourt.

Gooden put up 23 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and dished 6 dimes in 36 minutes during Friday’s 107-100 loss to the Chicago Bulls. And he helped his shorthanded squad deliver the fourth straight road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers with 23 points and 8 rebounds in Saturday’s 100-89 upset.

The Bucks will be looking for consistency in Gooden’s game. If he continues to produce, Gooden will get the majority of Bogut’s minutes, though 6-10, 4th-year forward Ersan Ilyasova from Turkey will chip in as well. This week Gooden will have four opportunities to prove his worth on the frontline and boost his value to fantasy owners. The Milwaukee Bucks begin a stretch of three road games with a match against their Central Division rivals the Detroit Pistons tonight at 8:00 PM EST.

Around the League

NBA 2011-2012 Eastern Conference Season Preview

Pro basketball diehards should be sated come the 25th. The lockout-shrunk 66-game NBA regular season kicks off on Christmas Day with five intriguing matchups. It’s been a long, long time since Dirk and Dallas bested Miami’s Big Three 4-2 in the 2011 NBA Finals. A lot has happened in this extended offseason to re-calibrate the pecking order of ‘power teams,’ and undoubtedly a lot more changes will occur in the near future as teams look to solidify their rosters in hopes of making the postseason for a shot at the 2012 NBA Title. Here’s a look at the East and some of the challenges each franchise faces in the upcoming season.

Atlantic Division

Photo by Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Boston Celtics, with their solid if aging core of four returning All-Stars Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, will make one last run to the Finals to try and win a second ring for this Hall-of-Fame trio and now veteran PG Rondo. Coach Doc Rivers signed a new five-year deal with the team last spring after rumors of his probable departure. The Green traded one LSU power forward for another, getting 6’8” Brandon Bass for 6’8” Glen Davis. The downsized C’s will miss TNT’s newest addition Shaquille O’Neal, who hung up his size 23’s after a stellar 19-year career, and 6’9” 5th-year Hoya Jeff Green, who was recently diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm that will sideline him for the entire season.

The New York Knicks, with the acquisition of newly-signed center Tyson Chandler, have what many hoops-heads think is the best starting frontcourt in the entire league. Forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony give the MSG-guys tons of inside-outside scoring. The Knicks waived starting PG Chauncey Billups (now a Clipper) utilizing the new amnesty clause to make room for Chandler’s salary, so they might be a little thin in the backcourt. However, the last time there was a shortened season in 1999 the Knicks made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

The Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 41-41 and lost to the Heat in the first round of the playoffs last Spring, have 8th-year, do-everything Andre Iguodala and 13th-year big Elton Brand returning along with Coach Doug Collins, who in his first year on the City-of-Brotherly-Love bench had the team peaking going into the postseason. The Sixers went 28-18 over their last 44 contests before getting out-talented by the South Beach Sizzles. Having overachieved last season, they face the difficult challenge of having to play at a very high level throughout the shortened season to replicate their 2011 results.

The New Jersey Nets, who will move to Brooklyn next year, are gearing up for their last season in the Garden State. Coach Avery Johnson’s guys were 24-58 last year. But in the second half of the schedule they traded for sixth-year All-Star PG Deron Williams. Williams is one of the truly elite lead guards in the game today and makes the Nets an enticing destination for another All-Star like Dwight Howard. Fourth-year 7-footer Brook Lopez can at times be a force around the rim. He averaged 20.4 ppg last year, starting all 82, but only grabbed six rpg. Unfortunately the Nets will be without their leading scorer for 6-8 weeks due to a stress fracture Brook suffered in a preseason game against the Knicks, which will impact both the Nets’ early season play and the prospect of a trade with Orlando.

The Toronto Raptors, who finished 22-60 in 2011, will attempt to reinvent themselves under first-year head coach Dwane Casey. 2006 first overall pick 7’0” Andrea Bargnani from Rome Italy and 6’10” newly bulked-up Tarheel Ed Davis, now in is sophomore season, lead Toronto. This roster will probably change a few times during the upcoming months as Canada’s NBA reps try to tinker and tailor with on-court combinations to keep pace with their Atlantic Division brethren.

Southeast Division

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Miami Heat took more ‘heat’, warranted and unwarranted, from the basketball universe and beyond than any other team in the league. In 2012 they will be looking to not only make the Finals again, but to come out victorious and silence the critics and haters. The Heatles lost PG Mike Bibby, but gained ‘Mr. Glue’ 11th-year defensive savant Shane Battier. With their Big 3 of LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh having withstood a season in the trenches, both physically and mentally, expect the more experienced Heat to come out on fire with an in-sync attack.

The Orlando Magic face one of the most daunting tasks in the league – trying to win a division title with the Megatron Miami Heat sitting right above them. There is a lot of uncertainty here. Orlando, who finished 52-30 in 2011 and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, will continue to have several suitors for First Team All-NBA center Dwight Howard until his future is firmly decided. The Magic do have vets Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson on the wings along with newly acquired forward Glen Davis, so this squad could stay as is if Howard chooses to sign an extension.

The Atlanta Hawks, who finished 44-38 and then lost to the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the playoffs last spring, have a strong, athletic, talented trio in 11th-year G Joe Johnson, 8th-year F Josh Smith and 5th-year F/C Al Horford. Super sixth man Jamal Crawford left for Portland, but the Hawks signed former 2x All-NBA First Teamer Tracy McGrady for the veteran minimum. With 14 seasons under his belt at only 32-years of age, maybe T-Mac will have a last gasp of greatness to help push this squad deeper into the postseason.

The Washington Wizards, with sophomore point guard John Wall, who finished second to Blake Griffin in the 2011 ROY voting, and rookie 6’11” combo-forward Jan Vesely, look to be on the upswing after a difficult 23-59 2011 season. It will take some time for the Wiz to put together a solid core through the draft and free agency, but with former #1 overall pick Wall steering the DC Ship and some healthy cap space for next summer, the Wiz should slowly be heading north in the standings.

The Charlotte Bobcats, who finished 34-48 last tilt, have exciting rookies in 7th overall pick Congolese PF 6’9” Bismack Biyombo and 9th overall pick UConn National Champ PG Kemba Walker. The Queen City ‘Cats will have trouble finding wins in the very competitive Southeast division. Charlotte is in the classic and often frustrating ‘rebuilding mode’ and can’t do a whole lot until next year when a lot of their current, underachieving contracts are off the books.

Central Division

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Chicago Bulls, who owned the NBA’s best regular season record in 2011 at 62-20, are the top team by a large measure in the Central Division. The Bulls have locked up reigning MVP Derrick Rose by signing him to a five-year contract extension. Now in only his fourth pro season, Rose is sure to be great again and to continue widening his lightning-quick offensive repertoire. Surrounding the 23-year-old Rose is 10th-year PF Carlos Boozer, 8th-year SF Luol Deng, 5th-year, 6’11”double-double rubberband-man Joakim Noah, perimeter marksmen Kyle Korver and newly signed 3X NBA All-Star G Richard Hamilton. The Bulls, who lost to Miami in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, have depth galore. The question is do they have a consistent and solid 2nd and 3rd man to help Rose when top-tier teams key on him?

The Indiana Pacers qualified for the 2011 post-season with a 37-45 regular season record. They lost to top seed Chicago in the first round after putting a scare into the Bulls. Coach Frank Vogel’s roster has talent: 7th -year, 2-spot/3-spot Danny Granger, 3rd-year point guard Darren Collison, 7’2” center Roy Hibbert, forward Tyler ‘The Motor’ Hansbrough and 2nd-year guard Paul George. Indy acquired David West from the Hornets to help out on offense. This is a squad with decent, but not top-notch talent. So the challenge will be to make the sum greater than the parts with core chemistry and focused roles.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the 2011 season with a 35-47 record, know where they must improve: offense. The Bucks averaged a league-worst 91.9 ppg and also had the lowest shooting percentage from the field. Coach Scott Skiles has former #1 overall pick 7’ center Andrew Bogut and 3rd-year point guard Brandon Jennings along with newly acquired vets Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy to share the load. This team has weapons, but they are often undermined by the huge holes on offense that put pressure on Milwaukee’s defensive game and make it that much harder to rack up W’s.

The Detroit Pistons, with new head coach Lawrence Frank and the 8th pick in the 2011 NBA draft PG Brandon Knight, hope to improve on a tumultuous and strife-filled 30-52 season. Richard Hamilton is gone leaving Ben Gordon, 10th-year forward Tayshaun Prince, leading rebounder Greg Monroe at center, leading scorer/combo guard Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum. The Motown Men have talent, but again, not playoff-caliber talent. So the Pistons will probably be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished a disappointing, post-LeBron 19-63 in 2011, landed the first and fourth picks in the 2011 Draft. With #1 they chose Duke Freshman PG Kyrie Irving, and they took U. of Texas Freshman PF/SF Tristan Thompson with #4. The Cavs released veteran PG Baron Davis through the new amnesty clause and will be looking to deal salary away for future draft picks. Coach Byron Scott and the Cavs organization have a lot of work to do through the drafting and development of young players before they’ll be back in the top 8 of the East.

From the Booth

THE BOOTH ON 110-95 LOSS TO BUCKS
Mike Fratello and Ryan Ruocco break down the Nets’ 110-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on the road Friday night.