Monthly Archives: September 2014

NBA Preview: Detroit Pistons

Last Year: 29-53 for 4th place in the division; Leading scorer– Josh Smith (16.4); leading rebounds– Andre Drummond (13.2); leading assists– Brandon Jennings (7.6)

Changes: Added– Aaron Gray (signed), Caron Butler (signed), Cartier Martin (signed), D.J. Augustin (signed), Jodie Meeks (signed), Spencer Dinwiddle (draft); resigned– Greg Monroe (qualifying offer); lost– Chauncey Billups (declined team option), Charlie Villanueva (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Will Bynum, Spencer Dinwiddle

Brandon Jennings is a plus caliber player– he’s a good starter. He is valuable for his scoring, and for his overall play.  He is not, however, one of the better point guards in the league.  This position is simply too stacked league wide for that to be the case.  Which means that Jennings is stuck defending better players more often than not and being defended by better defenders than he is an offensive player more often than not.  That’s not a bad place to be, its just the main reason that this far into his career Jennings has never been a break out star– there is simply too much competition at his position.

D.J. showed he can really play as a quality backup last year for the Bulls. If he were the starter he would be in the same situation as Jennings, however playing against backups he will do well and overall Jennings + Augustin will be a net plus at this position.  There is a chance of a drop off once the Chicago defense frame and the system that is so very friendly to point guards the last few years.  Regardless, he won’t be asked to do much and the Pistons don’t expect to win a championship or probably even contend for the playoffs in the first year of new coach Scott Van Gundy’s tenure– and D.J. is enough like some of the Jameer Nelson/ Rafer Alston types that SVG had success with in Orlando previously.

Bynum has experience and a higher than average PER for a bench guy which is exactly what you would look for in a third point guard.  There just don’t project to be many minutes unless they Pistons shift Jennings up in some formations and play with two point guards on the floor– which they may have to do considering a lack of depth at shooting guard.

I don’t expect many minutes at all for Dinwiddle barring injuries (as usual for second round picks behind established starters and backups.)

Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Meeks brings above 40% three point shooting and fifteen points a game which should fit in nicely, and possibly offer the chance for Jennings to increase his assists numbers on the drive and kicks which SVG’s system will most likely use.  Caldwell-Pope is a definite downgrade, though with only one year in his shooting percentage could improve– 31% from 3 isn’t quite where the ideal for his spot would be, but he should get plenty of chances as there is no one else to back Meeks up at this position.  Since SVG’s Magic teams shot more threes at the time than any other team up till that point, its fair to expect a similar bevy of corner threes in Detroit and Caldwell-Pope will either do adjust and improve close to the 35-40% range or fall slowly out of rotation– there’s just not enough else for him to do with all the big bodies clogging the paint and all the driving point guards looking for targets to kick to.

Small Forward: Josh Smith, Kyle Singler, Luigi Datome

Josh Smith is in a very similar position to Brandon Jennings– he’s a very good player, but comparatively he is just not up there with the elite small forwards in this game.  Listing the starting 3’s for teams this year top to bottom he is going to come out somewhere in the 15 range– depending how you rank unknowns like Jabari Parker and over the hill has beens like Paul Pierce.  That’s the range you are looking at for Smith– better than your Mike Dunleavy’s and Jeff Greens, and Solomon Hills, but nowhere close to your Kawhi Leonard’s, never mind your KD and Lebrons.  This is a great place to have someone who is projected to be your third option be.  This is not a good spot to be in with the guy who is the best player on your team.

What’s worse for the Pistons, is that Josh Smith is the exact kind of high volume, low efficiency, low shooting percentage, even lower three point shooting percentage player that is the absolute worst possible fit in SVG’s 3 centered offense.  What Josh Smith does simply isn’t that highly valued in the past for Van Gundy.

Kyle Singler is a fraction of the player that Smith is, yet his shooting percentage– specifically 38% from 3 point land, ironically make him a better fit for what Van Gundy is known to do.  Don’t be surprised if Smith’s minutes slowly taper off throughout the season.  I’m pretty sure Van Gundy would trade Smith if he could, but with his monstrous contract I don’t see it being likely to have a trade partner.

Luigi Datome has worse shooting numbers than Smith.  I don’t expect him in games, except when the Pistons start putting players on the injury report for hang nails and trying to improve their draft chances with lots of losses.

Power Forward: Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Cartier Martin, Tony Mitchell

There’s a reason Monroe is back on only a qualifying offer– there are a lot of questions about fit with him and Andre Drummond.  Ideally, SVG would like a stretch four here– there’s a reason he started Rashard Lewis all those years and its not because of that sick goatee he rocked.  In a lot of ways, the Pistons would probably prefer to upshift Josh Smith to here and run Singler’s high percentage shot at the three in place of Monroe’s complete lack of the same.  I’d say I expect a trade coming, but I just don’t know if there will be that much of a market for him– after all, no one made a run at Monroe in restricted free agency this year.

Janas Jerebko is a less athletic, lower ceiling option, but his 41% 3 point shooting makes him a natural fit for Van Gundy.  Again, don’t be surprised to see the less skilled, better fitting player get a minutes increase across the course of the season.  Cartier Martin also seems to have a three point shot, but there won’t be many minutes left for him and Tony Mitchell so they will need to show a lot in limited looks to earn time going forward.

Center: Andre Drummond, Aaron Gray

Drummond is the only player on this squad with as PER over 20.  At 13 points/13 rebounds he is a beast on the glass and in the post, with athleticism that rates off the charts.  Clearly he is the future of this team.

If you compare Drummond stats last year (13/13) to Dwight Howard’s rookie season (7 rebounds/12 points) it compares favorably.  Dwight went on to climb through 12 boards/15 points for two years to a peak of 15 boards 20 points for two years in Orlando before being derailed by back troubles, free agency glitter, and the LA Lakers.  All while playing as the center piece of the system that Drummond is going to get his first crack at this year.

Do not be surprised if Andre Drummond is an All Star leading an otherwise bad squad by the mid-way point in points, rebounds, and all around hope.

Aaron Gray is a stiff, which is about what you can expect in a backup center on most teams.  Expect him to soak up 5-10 minutes and 1-2 shots attempts per night.  Also, don’t be surprised if Monroe ends up playing most of his minutes as the backup center, freeing the power forward minutes for the 3 point shooting Jerebko and Martin– after all, SVG didn’t shy away from keeping Marcin Gortat on the bench behind Howard and he was an all around better player than Monroe at the time

Outlook: The Pistons are most likely a few trades and 1 good draft pick away from being the team that they want to be.  Josh Smith is going to be moved out sooner or later, and while Brandon Jennings very well could be the answer, there needs to be some definite sorting out of which players do and don’t work in SVG’s three centered system.  Drummond has the chance to grow into a more athletic, better scoring version of Howard, so I fully expect this team to get to the playoffs– in a few years.  This year, they will be hovering in the mid=lottery until they make up their mind and start sitting players for allegedly bogus reasons and making trades to get worse– SVG will get this rebuild done, but it will take more than one off season to do it.

Mother and Daughter in the Sill

Annika slowed now, finally, with the distance between her daughter and herself and the hyenas grown, their path leading them out of the Sill, away from the Five Tribes Desert, and with the distance between herself and the pack of jackals that lay near their path closed now to almost nothing.

She placed her daughter down gingerly, silently placing a finger to the yearling’s lips, drawing out a thin dagger from her belt, hidden away many years, but still sharp as the last time she had drawn it. She crept along the wall of the ruined building peeking out into the square.

The sight of the Ghul did not surprise Annika, save perhaps that it was only a single Ghul, separated, its pack of jackals not yet present, and that it was one so young looking, so thin and starved. She suspected it had not eaten for some time, which made sense in these fringes, for Ghuls could only consume the flesh of sentient creatures.

The sight of her fellow Parua, however, did surprise her—what was one of her brethren doing here?  He had a cut on his cheek, red blood streaking in the tan fur of his face as he slowly circled the Ghul, scimitar held out to guard against the creature’s next attack.

Annika waited till the Ghul’s back was turned to her, its attention focused on the young Parua male before it, bearing down, snarling, and waiting perhaps to allow its pack to reach the ruins.  She crept forward, silent as a mouse, her bare paws padding through the sand with care, shrunk as low as she could leaning forward till her clawed hands nearly scrapped the sand.

Then, when the moment was right she moved quick as lightning, a single great leap forward and the knife in her hand stabbed up, penetrating the back of the Ghul, digging deep and opening its foul heart.  The creature howled in pain, fighting to maintain its form, fighting to stay alive, awake.

Its jackals echoed its howls off in the desert, crying out as their connection to the Jinn shriveled till it had been severed completely, then scattering off in separate directions—no longer a pack at all, just a dozen jackals in the same area.

Finally, the cry died on the Ghul’s lips, for while Ghuls can live through much, can reform their bodies from next to nothing, and can die a dozen or more deaths before their final one, there is nothing they can do when their true heart has been pierced by silvered steel, the one surest way to send its soul onto whatever hell Ghuls went to in the end.

Mitzia watched in wonder as her mother tossed the shriveled husk away, digging the bloodied dagger into the sand to clean the filthy black slime that oozed from the dead Ghul’s heart.  What had overcome her mother, a simple merchant that she knew how to kill that monster?

Annika looked Maba in the eyes, locking her own pink eyes on his, “Peace of Padaga be with you, brother.  What brings you into the Sill this night?” Maba swallowed, his heart still beating from his close encounter, trying to find the will to speak.

image by Michael Jaecks

New Archetype: Standard Bearer

This week, I have been inking a lot about guidons and colors.  This came up while I was at the Battalion change of command ceremony Saturday.

In US Military history, the colors are a powerful symbol of the unit. But in the world of Pathfinder, that symbol can convert to so much more– the colors can serve not just as a symbol of the unit’s prowess, but as an actual enhancement to it.

This led me to consider the kind of Soldier who would bear the colors in battle– a loyal companion and servant to the commander of his unit.  This lead me further down the rabbit hole to considering how to put this into game terms.  What I’ve settled on is an Archetype, one designed not for players characters, but for cohorts or followers– an archetype that bases its abilities on the standard, on the commander’s charisma as much as the standard bearer’s own attributes.

Standard Bearer (Fighter Archetype)

Some fighters were born to lead, while others serve their causes better as followers. Some of those exceptionally gifted at following and serving display talents that the more adventurous fighters might find inexplicable.  For some, the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the unit and the will of the commander they serve matters as much as their own skill in battle.  For these, the honor of bearing their Lord’s banner in combat is both a means and an end unto itself.

Call to Bravery (Ex): Beginning at 2nd level, as long as the Standard Bearer is holding the colors, guidon, or standard representing a military leader of at least 7th level they and all allies capable of seeing the standard gain a bonus to Will Saves versus fear equal to 1+the leader’s Charisma modifier.  This ability increases by +1 for every four levels beyond second.  This ability replaces (supersedes) bravery.

Standard (Su): Starting at 3rd level, the Standard bearer can meditate on the meaning of the standard for 10 minutes, imparting the standard itself with magic and guiding its strikes. The weapon the standard is attached to (usually a spear) becomes a +1 weapon for 24 hours.  This bonus increases by +1 at every four levels thereafter (at 7th, 11th, and 15th).  After the first +1, the Standard bearer may choose to give a special ability in place of any amount of this bonus.  They may change how the bonus and special abilities are allocated each day when meditating on the meaning of the colors.  This ability replaces Armor Training.

Fight with the Flag (Ex): At 5th level the standard bearer must choose the spears weapons group.  This ability modifies Weapon Training.

“This post consists of Pathfinder Compatible material”

NaNaWriMo Pitch: The Third Fleet

So, National November Novel Writing Month is coming fast upon us!  For my Saturday writing pieces, I plan to do “pitches” for my possible selections and let whatever feedback I get play a part in deciding which I try to write to get my first NaNaWriMo win this year– first up: The Third Fleet.

The Third Fleet

In the early days of Solar System colonization, as humanity was just beginning to expand into the stars an alien fleet of refuges known as the Remnant entered the system seeking a new place to make their home, leading to a blood and brutal war between the two species.  After 8 years of fighting, the two fleets finally made peace on Armistace Day, the 11th of November 2418.

Now, 20 years from the First Fleet meeting the Second, there has been peace for 12 years.  The Remnant and Earth have a unity system wide government, and with the First Fleet (the Remant’s) and the Second Fleet (Humanity’s) they have built and launched a new fleet, the Third Fleet.

Crewed by a joint crew of Remnant and Human officers, the Third Fleet begins expanding beyond the colonies for the first time since the start of the war. Very quickly, however, they encounter a new threat– hostile aliens on a mission of extermination, the very rae which had pushed the Remnant from their original home system centuries in the past.

Now, Admiral Avery Ayers must lead the young, untested crews of the Third Fleet into the very heart of a new war– one for the survival of both species.

The Ships of the Third Fleet

Battle Cruisers:

Eagle’s Talon (flagship)

Blade’s Grasp

Hawkblade

Kittyhawk

Carriers:

No Surrender

No Defeat

Dreadnoughts:

11th of November

Armistice

Day After

Denouement

Forever

Remember

Frigates:

Fires

Ice

Lightning

Thunder

Void

Cruisers:

Bladecharge

Eagle Eye

Hawkeye

Kestrel

Kitten

Lightgrasp

Talon’s Tip

Well, there’s the pitch! I’d love to hear any thought you have about it, and any suggestions, comments, and votes to whether I should go forward with this one come November are appreciated!

NBA Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

Last Year: 33-49 for third in Division; Leading scorer— Kyrie Irving (20.8), Leading rebounds—Anderson Varejao (9.7), Leading assists— Irving (6.1)

Changes: Added—James Jones (signed), Joe Harris (draft),  Keith Bogans (3 way trade with Sacremento and Boston), Kevin Love (traded #1 pick Andrew Wiggans for), Lebron James (signed), Mike Miller (signed), Shawn Marion (signed), Tyler Zeller (3 way trade with Boston and Brooklyn), Extended—Kyrie Irving, Lost— Anthony Bennett (Kevin Love trade), C.J. Miles (free agent), Erik Murphy (3 way trade), Jarrett Jack (trade), John Lucas III (3 way trade), Luol Deng (free agent), Malcolm Thomas (3 way trade), Sergei Karasev (trade), Spencer Hawes (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, John Lucas III

Irving is one of the better point guards in the league—an All Star, 20 ppg scorer, MVP of the All Star Game and the World Cup, and still just 22.  He is young, but rounding into form and will play alongside the best player he (or most players) has (have) to date in Lebron.  Additionally there is upside in him not having to be the under pressure all in star here anymore.

His backup situation is not looking nearly as well. Dellavedova did next to nothing in 17 minutes last year, and they shipped Jarrett Jack off for cap space.  John Lucas III is woefully undersized, but he has experience and in 11/12 he average 7.5 for Chicago.  Either Lucas III will need to find his peak form, or Dellavedova will have to develop very quickly for there to be any upside in the minutes Irving isn’t playing—and if Irving plays 38+a night with his injury history I do not project good things for the Cavs.

Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Joe Harris

This will be the year where Dion Waiters is either a permanent bust, or shows that he has what it takes to play in this load. 16 points is competent and Waiters has a decent PER, but there were definite questions about his fit alongside Kyrie last year.  However, going from being the 2nd option to the 4th should allow his production to tail off while still being successful in the team setting.

Mike Miller looked rejuvenated in Memphis last year, scoring more and actually playing more minutes than he did in Miami with his highest 3 point % since his 09/10 .480 and ridiculous .500 02/03 highs at .459%.  He should backup Waiters well, and might work into a starting role depending on what happens with Waiters. If there is one thing Miller knows how to do is to its catch a pass from Lebron and sink the three, so expect a lot of that this year.

Don’t expect any minutes from second round rookie Joe Harris—the Cavs want to win now, so unless he blows the world up in very limited looks I doubt he will get any run.

Small Forward: Lebron James, Shawn Marion, James Jones, Malcom Thomas

Do I need to mention that Lebron is the best player on the planet right now?  Ok, good.  Let’s talk about his backups.

Marion is old.  He won’t be able to defend the way he did when he was younger, His shooting percentages and points average have been up and down the last few years, but 10 points in 30 minutes does not project well for a role where he is much more likely to play 14-17 minutes per, and there is a huge risk of his shooting percentages falling off a cliff.  I know that the Cavs are expecting him to play the Shane Battier role here, but Battier was a better defender, and three years younger at the start of Miami’s run—and barely holding on last year (at 35).  Maybe I’m wrong and all those years in Phoenix will allow the Matrix to defy father time, but I’m guessing he’s going to be averaging 4 points a game and providing not much of anything.

James Jones basically got brought in due to his relationship with Lebron.  His PER is high, but in 10 minutes he averaged 4 points.  He might earn more minutes over Marion depending how steep the cliff is once Marion’s minutes drop, but I expect him to just see a handful of minutes and to generally not be a high impact player.  Malcom Thomas will see even less play if he remains on the roster.

Power Forward: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Erik Murphy, Dwight Powell

Kevin Love is an All Star, a double-double machine, the best shooting power forward in the league, and for the first time in his career he will be making the playoffs this year.  The knocks against him are his defense, and that he hasn’t made the playoffs yet.  However, his value is unequivocal and now that he won’t be the number one option on a bad team, I fully expect him to be the player we always wanted him to be.  I’ll always ride hard for “My cousin Kevin”(no known relation despite sharing last names).

Thompson brings solid rebounding numbers, and a good shooting percentage.  He should fit in as an alternative to Love’s perimeter oriented offense and stay closer to the basket (his 0-0 for 0.00% 3 point shooting is either perfect or horrible depending how you spin it—but hey, he hasn’t missed any 3 pointers, right?).  The real question will be how Thompson copes with transitioning from an average starter on a bad team to a bench player on a good team.  This transition has destroyed better players than Thompson, and has made players with lower ceilings into very valuable long term players—could go either way and we won’t know until 10-12 games in.

Erik Murphy and Dwight Powell don’t project to play many if any minutes.   Murphy was unable to earn any playing time in Chicago last year, though the Bulls are one of the hardest rotations for rookies to crack.

Center: Anderson Varejao, Brendon Haywood, Alex Kirk

Varejao is very good, high motor, tons of rebounds, good defense, flying around the floor.  But he is also out with injuries part of every season nearly.  Haywood is on the downside of a fairly low impact career, but his number skill remains “being 7 foot tall”.  Kirk, also 7 foot, is an undrafted rookie.  This spells very bad things for the Cavs if and when Varejao goes down.

Most likely that will mean Love starting out of position and Tristan Thompson starting at power forward.  Or Lebron starting at four and either Marion or Mike Miller starting at the three—either way one injury to this Cavs front court sets up a series of bad choices that takes their initial on paper depth and very quickly leaves them with a completely untested rotation, with superstars playing out of position, and role players asked to do far too much—backups like Miller and Marion backing up stars?  Good.  Backups like Miller and Marion starting in position?  Undesirable, but acceptable.  Backups like Miller and Marion starting out of position? Starts to get tragic pretty quickly.

Outlook: All that said, the Cavs have Lebron, a young All Star in Kyrie, a proven big man in Love, and a good collection of role players (assuming they don’t fall off age cliffs).  This team should be a top 3 seed easily.  They might actually be better off letting themselves slip to the 3-4 range and giving up home court advantage and sparing Lebron and some of their other veterans part of the grind of the season with Spurs like minutes and game management.  But it’s impossible to say what rookie coach David Blatt’s strategy and temperament for things like this will be.

Also, we all know that anything less of winning the Finals for this squad is a failure.  Despite all Lebron’s talk about it taking time, and trying very hard to tamp down expectations, for Lebron coming home to be judged a success he needs to net four rings, and at least three of those need to be back to back to back.  Anything else is a failure.  That’s the breaks of being the best basketball player on the planet and being in the same sentences with Michael, Kobe, Magic, and Larry.

NBA Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

Full disclosure– I am a Bulls fan.

Last Season: 48-34 good for 2nd in the Central division and the 4th seed, lost to Washington Round 1 of the playoffs; Leading scorer– Luol Deng (19), Leading rebounds– Joakim Noah (11), Leading assists– Noah (5.4)

Changes: Added– Aaron Brooks (signed), Cameron Bairstow (draft), Doug McDermott (draft trade), E’Tuwan Moore (signed), Nikola Miritic (signed former draft pick), Pau Gasol (free agent), Resigned– Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed, Lost– Carlos Boozer (amnesty), D.J. Augustin (free agent), Greg Smith (traded for draft rights to overseas pick), Jimmer Fredette (free agent), Lou Amundson (waived), Luol Deng (midseason trade), Mike James (waived), Ronnie Brewer (waived)

Positions

Point Guard: Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks

Derrick Rose is back!  Hopefully for the whole season, and hopefully as at least 85% of what he was in his MVP season.  His time with USA Basketball has been much criticized, but its really hard to judge the stats from that time– he wasn’t handling the ball like he will for the Bulls, wasn’t playing the minutes, was working with 20 point leads most of the times. . . USA Basketball’s leading scorers were most effort guys like Kenneth Faried– who just soak up missed shots for put backs.  I think Rose showed just enough to show that, given a full season, he can be an All Star level point guard again.  Rose was also, incidentally, the best defending guard throughout the tournament for Team USA– something that gets glossed over a lot in the discussion of his poor shooting.

Hinrich is in a steep decline in his career.  If this was Captain Kirk circa 2008, or even 2010 he would be one of the best backup point guards in the league right now.  Sadly, he is just not that player anymore.  He still brings plus level defense, shooting, and all around heart to the table, and the combination of him and Rose are tall enough to play in tandem in some smaller lineups.

If I told you the Bulls had signed a third point guard with high level scoring skills, streaky but solid shooting, and a checkered career that includes being waived by Sacramento and a stint overseas, would you expect it to be a success?

I do.  Look at the history with these guys– Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin, John Lucas III, C.J. Watson. . . the list goes on.  Aaron Brooks will fit this role perfectly, and is a better defender than most of the others on the list.  The third point guard in Thibodeau’s teams will score.  A lot.

Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, E’Twaun Moore

Butler is an All Defense Team level candidate at shooting guard, and I expect with Rose back to free up the shots he is taking he will regain some of what he was perceived as losing from his offensive game last year.  Regardless, this guy can guard the best twos and three in the league.  He will see heavy minutes, will guard Carmelo and Lebron and sometimes Durant when they are in town.  Points are just gravy when looking at Jimmy’ s contributions.

Tony Snell played really well in Summer League this year.  Playing next to McDermott the two young players showed a lot of chemistry, and Snell had a much improved shooting percentage.  If he can carry those improvements forward into the season Snell is going to be a solid backup at this position, and can expect to play when the opposing teams better offensive options are out to give Butler rest.

Moore does not project to play many minutes, though he has decent shooting percentages which the Bulls might need off the bench (42% field goal, 35% 3 point).

Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy, Doug McDermott

For the first time in a long time the Bulls go into a season without Luol Deng projected to start at small forward.   Best case scenario for the Bulls here– McDermott earns the starting job and shoots 40% from 3’s.  Worst case scenario– McDermott gets no playing time and Dunleavy’s percentage from 3 (38% last year) falls down below 33%.  McDermott profiles as being a younger, more athletic, better shooting version of Dunleavy.  The two players will be virtually interchangeable in the role they play on this team– which will mostly be “stand int he corner and hit the three” when Noah/Rose dishes it.  Neither will be asked to defend the better wing player, as Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson will be taking those duties.

This is the thinnest position for the Bulls, which I think is a good thing– it will force Thibs to play McDermott despite his being very slow to give rookies minutes.  Besides the Dunleavy/McDermott 3 point tandem team, expect Jimmy Butler to play here shifted up (alongside either Snell or Hinrich at the 2) or Miritic or Taj to play shifted down (when Pau and Noah are both on the floor).

Power Forward: Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Nikola Miritic

Pau Gasol is a former All Star.  He looked dominant for Spain at the World Cup, and I expect him to be rejuvenated now that he is away from the dysfunction that has been the Lakers last few seasons.  He has a great scoring touch from the outside and solid low post and elbow skills, which will complement the high post positions that Noah is best at.  He’s projected to start alongside Noah in a twin towers formation, but will realistically also back Noah up.  (Rotation will be something like Noah 5, Pau 4; Pau 5, Taj 4; Noah 5, Taj 4).

Taj Gibson is another all defense, all effort, level player.  His post skills took a huge leap last year.  He’s one of the best defenders in the league, and was a candidate for both most improved player, and sixth man of the year last year.  I expect him to play a lot, and play in high pressure situations, and generally be awesome like he has the last few years.

Miritic may not see a lot of minutes as a rookie, but there has been a ton of hype about him from his play overseas.  Long term projections have ranged from “Dirk” to “Darko” so I will be watching his play very closely.  Realistically, as the fourth big man in rotation after Noah, Pau, and Taj I would peg him for 10 or fewer minutes a game, especially early going, but he can score, and the transition should be easier for him with another native Spanish speaker alongside him.

Center: Joakim Noah, Nazr Mohammed, Cameron Bairstow

Noah was an MVP candidate, All NBA selection, Most Improved Player candidate, All Defense Team selection and All Star last year.  He brings defense, scoring, and assists that no other player in the league has at that position for a long time.  The only question will be how will the offense that the Bulls found with him work with Rose added back to the mix– I expect “really well” since the main problem Bulls teams had back in 2010-2011 was no viable second option, and D.J. Augustin shot a lot of shots last year (and Rose is a lot better than Augustin– no disrespect, really sad to see D.J. go).

Realistically as I mentioned above Pau Gasol is the backup center on this team.  I do not expect Nazr Mohammed or the rookie second round pick Bairstow to see anything but emergency and garbage time minutes.

Outlook: The Bulls starting lineup consists of a former MVP, an All Defense Second Team player, a 3 point shooter with close to 40% average, a former All Star and two time NBA Champion, and last year’s first team All NBA center.  Add to that one of the best coaches in the league, legitimate backups at every option, and playing in the East and the outlook is inevitably good.  The Bulls have been one of the best defensive teams since Thibodeau’s arrival, and have added scoring to the team with Pau, McDermott, Miritic, and oh yeah, healthy Derrick Rose.  I’m projecting a top 3 playoff seed and showdown with Cleveland in the Eastern Finals.

The Grey Queen Directing Her Forces out of the Sill

In the distance, Papa Sizwe heard the call of a pack of jackals. They sounded behind him, to his mind, not too far and not too near, but moving the opposite direction. He could barely make out their barks over the constant simpering of the two dozen hyenas that travelled around the four of them, “Those more of yours, my Queen?”

The Grey Queen wrinkled her nose, “No. My pack is here. I bring hyenas, not pathetic jackals.”

“Have you not, most glorious and exalted highness, dominion over the lesser Ghuls? Wouldn’t the Jinn whose pack these jackals communes and associates with these inferior canines below unto your own glorious self?” Rippina stroked idly at the fur on her long canine face as she paused for a moment, before shambling forward to avoid losing ground.

The Queen of Night snapped her fingers and the hyena pack fell suddenly silent. She closed her eyes and listened for what should have been a breath for a living creature, then snapped then open, staring into Rippina’s brown eyes with her black unnatural irises, “Githis. A lone Ghul, young in the ways. Not long for this world if he doesn’t learn fast. He may serve me, yet—in this life or his next.”

Aki leaned in and whispered in Papa Sizwe’s ear, “Ghuls are dead already? Can they die again?”

“Not so simple with the Ghuls,” Sizwe shrugged, showing his pearl white teeth in his smile, his deep, ebony skinned cheeks puffing out as he puffed, “Not that I’m an expert, but Ghul Jinn are something different from us altogether. Even the spirits cannot or will not tell the whole of it.”

The Ghul Queen shot the two humans a glance, pausing them in their tracks, “the spirits know better than to worry after the secrets of the dead. They know the proper respect and fear for their betters.”

Aki screwed up his courage for a minute, then stared down the Queen of Night, sweat beading on his olive brow, “Fear and respect for our betters? That sounds like the Sun grovelers speak. I do not bow before that blasted ball of light and I shall not bow before you. What will you do? Kill me? You might, but you called us all here for a reason—you need something I have or you’d have brought someone else instead. But till now, all we have done is walk, and talk, and meet in the blasted Sill. So have out with it then—where are we going, what are you planning, and why do you require us three?”

Akeelaya Gia’Anar Ri smiled, “You speak truth, petty Denier, though you have no clue what forces you will fight for me before we are done. You don’t need to bow, you don’t need to grovel at my feet—I have my Ghuls for that, and my hyenas, and most mortal men when I want—but you came because I can give you something you want in return, when are done.”

They had stopped still now, the edge of the Sill just ahead and the desert scrub from the uncorrupted land in view. “You want to know where we go? Eventually to hell itself. But not yet.”

“And where first?” Aki asked, his lip quivering in relief that his outburst had not ended in the loss of his head.
“First, we steal an emerald.”