For LeBron, It’s Still About Rings

When LeBron went to Miami in 2010, it was about rings.  

When LeBron came back to Cleveland in 2014, it was about getting a ring for The Land.  Still, it was about rings.

And even though this LeBron decision encompasses other factors, possibly ones that weigh heavier than rings, those rings still matter.

They matter because they are the only thing holding LeBron James back from being the greatest basketball player ever.  

When we talk “greatest,” we mean everything.  Talent, career, persona.  Everything.  

It’s hard for anyone to admit that Michael Jordan was better at basketball than LeBron.  LeBron’s better than MJ in almost every facet on a basketball court; scoring ability is probably about equal.  MJ wasn’t the passer and play-maker LeBron is.  MJ wasn’t putting up 50 point triple doubles in the playoffs; he was scoring 60 instead.  You can knock either of those guys for those type of performances, but they were great in their own ways.  That’s why it is so hard to compare.

But LeBron hasn’t had a better career than Jordan yet.  The Finals record sticks out like a sore thumb even though LeBron’s been to more.  I think LeBron’s 15 years of dominance is equally as ridiculous as MJ winning three rings, retiring for two years, then coming back and winning three more.  

To say LeBron’s had a better career means that’d we have to say “Well, he was up against one of the greatest teams of all-time in the Finals for four years!”

I don’t want to make excuses for the best player of all-time.  We don’t for MJ.

The LeBron GOAT crowd acts as if LeBron is already retired and that he has nothing left to prove.  I’m certainly open to moving LeBron to No.1 all-time.  I mean, he’s moved up four spots since I launched this site, and he’s unquestionably the 2nd or 3rd best player ever right now.  But he needs just a little more on that resume.  

LeBron announced yesterday WHILE I WAS IN THE AIR ON A SIX HOUR FLIGHT that he is joining the Los Angeles Lakers, following in the footsteps of five of the 11 greatest players of all-time to put on that uniform.  All five of those have won rings with the team.  It’s now LeBron’s turn.  It’s his turn to be the face of the Lakers, and it’s his turn to be named the best ever.

LeBron going the Lakers has some pros and cons.  We’re gonna through them quickly, as what’s below is a draft I wrote on the plane yesterday exploring all of LeBron’s options (Not just LA).  Scenarios that are irrelevant have been deleted.

Pros: It’s the Lakers and LA, where LeBron can bounce between his two Brentwood mansions and start his entertainment company, put his son in one of the country’s best basketball high schools (Sierra Canyon), and play with Lonzo Ball and be coached by his Dad!  Yeah!

From a basketball perspective, this Lakers roster is in better shape than people are giving it credit for.  I had high doubts he’d sign there without one of Kawhi or DeMarcus Cousins coming with him.  That’s looking unlikelier by the minute, as the Spurs are refusing to deal Kawhi to the Western Conference and Boogie’s contract demands may exceed what LA is willing to spend.  The Lakers are pretty fun still without a 2nd superstar.  Trotting out Ball-Brandon Ingram-Kyle Kuzma-Lebron-JaVale McGee works in today’s league.  You have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope off the bench as a scorer, and Lance Stephenson grinding on defense and trying too hard on offense.  They have some holes to fill, but it’s not bad on paper.    The core of the team is LeBron and a bunch of kids he’d have to babysit, but at least they’re more talented than J.R. Smith and Jordan Clarkson.  

This is Los Angeles and the Lakers, who now have LeBron James to recruit.  Even if the Lakers strike out on Kawhi and Boogie this Summer, they can go at next year’s stacked free agent class.  As I said above, it’s not like next year’s team is a disaster either.  Ingram could take a step forward, and though I wasn’t high on Ball before the 2017 Draft, I expect him to be better than he was last season.  I think Kyle Kuzma isn’t much worse than Jayson Tatum; he’s a No.1 option on a good team some day.  Even without any additional star power, the Lakers are a top five team in the ridiculous West.

Cons: This team isn’t enough against the Warriors next season.  Oh, and even if they do miraculously beat the Warriors, you still have to beat the Celtics or 76ers in the Finals.  The Warriors are the tougher task, but what if Kawhi gets traded to Philly instead?  What if Philly is running out Ben Simmons-Kawhi-JJ Redick-Dario Saric-Joel Embiid?  That’s quite a team.

The Lakers striking out on stars is becoming a hilarious trend.  Paul George was as close as a guarantee is to go there.  I went back and found that the last Lakers marquee free agent signing was Shaq in 2001.  It’s been 17 years!

I’m not sure Boogie added to this team is enough.  Ingram is just a theoretical piece; he’s got potential but isn’t exceptionally good at anything yet.  Ball may never figure out his shot and doesn’t play defense.  Boogie’s a reluctant rim protector.  LeBron has shown no interest on defense lately.  That team is not shutting down Golden State.  They’d have to outscore them.

And what happens when LaVar Ball says something about LeBron that isn’t taken very kindly?  Is Lonzo Ball automatically out?  Does Luke Walton have a job in two years?  What if somehow LeBron’s body starts to breakdown?

These are all very, very hypothetical scenarios.  But in Lakerland, as we’ve seen the past eight years, anything is possible.  LeBron’s smart; he knows what he’s getting himself into.  If everything goes his way, then there will be no more debates.

2018 NBA Mock Draft

This draft has a big target on its back.  Following up the amazing class of 2017 is not gonna be easy.

This year, there’s two guys in the top tier, 6-8 guys in the 2nd, and then a major fall off.  This draft is loaded with bigs at the top and plenty of versatile wings later.

As always, my mock drafts are 50% what I think will happen and 50% what I think should happen.  It’s also important to note that I do not watch nearly as much college basketball as I do NBA, and usually that consists of only the top prospects.  Scouting is the only reason I watch the college game.

Anyways, here’s my 2018 Mock Draft.  There are definitely going to be some surprises.

No.1, Phoenix Suns: DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

DeAndre Ayton might as well be sculpted by Michelangelo.  He has a rectangle of a torso, with back muscles popping out from his jersey and a thin, sleek upper body.  Ayton looks like he was chiseled out of stone.

Luka Doncic is the No.1 player on my board in this draft, but the Suns need for a rim protector and possession of Devin Booker makes Ayton the better fit.

Ayton’s old school post game would scare off efficiency/small-ball geeks like me, but this is different.  Offensively Ayton is a juggernaut.  If given a mis-match, he has 90s-like post moves to put on a defender.  When guarded by someone his size, Ayton’s massive 8’11 reach towers over most centers in the league.  He can catch lobs and get easy buckets down low.

Small-ball doesn’t have to kill big men offensively.  The days of feeding centers are over (Get over it, Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside).  Few teams realize the advantages that small-ball give big men like Ayton.  Easy post entry passes are being given to you when PJ Tucker is playing the five.  It doesn’t take a 5-8 second post-up to put the ball in the basket anymore.  It’s inefficient for one, taking time off of future possible possessions.  But most importantly it’s just not necessary.  You really think a 6’8 guy is stopping Ayton in the post?  With that standing reach, Ayton literally puts the ball in the basket.  He just picks it up and puts it in.  It’s like playing pickup on a seven foot hoop.

The Suns want to go modern; it seems like Devin Booker will playing a lot of point guard next year, and Phoenix has made a heavy investment in athleticism and versatility (Though guys like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss haven’t worked out.  At least they’re trying!).  Ayton’s offensive package fits today’s NBA.  He doesn’t need to be fed, but can get easy buckets quickly.  He also has the ability to space the floor, though he’s probably not putting the ball on the deck and attacking the rim.  The three point shot was at 34% at U of A last season.  That’s a good start.

That’s just half of what Ayton brings to the table.  The true value of big men in today’s NBA is on the defensive side.  If you’re playing a big guy, he has to be able to do two of the three:  Protect the rim, shoot, or get easy buckets down low.  If your big man can’t do that, then you’re better off playing another wing.

Ayton’s defense at Arizona was much better than people give him credit for.  He was a shot blocking monster who didn’t let anyone get to the rim on him.  It’s the awareness that needs work.  He struggles on helps and looks lost occasionally.  I think he’s a little raw.

Ayton has too much talent to fail defensively.  His frame is undeniable, and he’s an incredible athlete for his size.  In a switch heavy league, you have to have lateral quickness.  Ayton does, allowing for those switches onto wings and guards to work.  NFL front offices wish they had linebackers who are as much of an athletic freak as Ayton.

As a Suns fan, passing on Luka Doncic hurts.  His talents are the most valuable in the league right now.  But we already have that, and it’s now about getting Booker help. That means tightening up defensively and adding another offensive option.  Ayton provides both of those while projecting as a top 15 player in the league someday.

At the same time, the Suns did hire Doncic’s national team coach.  It feels like more of a coincidence than anything.  Doncic and Booker together would be fascinating, but as we’ve realize over the years, situations might be the most important factor in determining whether a rookie is successful.  Both Doncic and Booker need the ball in their hands; they’re both amazing play-makers and can score the ball.  If the Suns and Igor Kokoškov can figure out how to make those two co-exists, then we’re looking at a potentially devastating offensive team with two dynamic play-makers.  I’m all game if it’s possible, but I’m just not smart enough to figure it out.

No.2, Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic, Slovenia

I guess you can forget all I said about situation and two creators co-exsisting with one another above.  The Kings are in a similar dilemma as Phoenix.  They already have their guy to hand the car keys to in De’Aaron Fox.  Worse, Fox has a horrific three pointer, making him essentially nonexistent off the ball.  You’re playing 4-on-5 when he doesn’t have it in his hands.  Devin Booker is a fantastic shooter, so in the case where him and Doncic are on the floor together, your offense isn’t as limited.

But this is the Kings.  If anyone is more desperate or has a worse owner than Phoenix, it’s them.  They’re more starved for talent than Phoenix, and only have one guy you can have any sort of confidence in for the future (Fox).  The Suns aren’t good and have sucked for years.  But at least they have a plan and a path.  The Kings are still looking for more talent.  The Suns are developing their’s  There’s a difference.

If you’re going off of that, the Kings should take Doncic and figure out the rest later.  He’s not only the best player available but the best player in the draft, simply because his talents are more coveted right now than Ayton’s.

Doncic is a prodigy.  He was the best player in the 2nd best basketball league in the world this past season, and he’s 19.  He’s 2-6 months older than most of my friends (I’m extremely young for a high school graduate).  That’s insane for me to think about.

I’d give him the car keys to my offense right now.  I would have done it two years ago as well.  He’s an amazing passer and has already mastered the pick and roll.  He can shake and bake any defender and get by anyone.  He’s a go-to scorer who can handle the ball and run the offense.  Sounds like James Harden, right?

That’s probably the best comparison.  He’s essentially Harden with a better passing game.  That’s… scary.

Doncic is big and thick, and doesn’t have a ton of athleticism.  Defense is going to be an issue, but there’s plenty of teams getting away with poor defense by their No.1 offensive option.  The nice way to put Doncic’s defense is that it’s lacking.

The only reason the Kings shouldn’t take Doncic is if they don’t trust themselves to figure out to make him and Fox work together.  The Kings probably aren’t actually smart enough to do that, but it’s a whole other issue if they don’t even trust themselves to. That would be the least surprising thing ever, by the way.

The Kings only draft need is talent.  Doncic has the most of it.

No.3 overall, Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Bagley Jr, Duke

Bagley is not your traditional center.  He’s really not your traditional anything.

Bagley is 6’11, played power forward in college and looks like a wing.  He has a center’s skills but can’t play defense.  He can’t shoot but has an incredible one-on-one game offensively, and can get to the rim like a guard.

Bagley is either a lot of different things or nothing really at all.

Offensively, I see a lot of Anthony Davis in Bagley.  Sure they have different bodies, but the ability to get easy buckets, put the ball on the deck and get to the rim looking like that is beyond impressive.  Bagley’s jump shot isn’t great, but with work it could come along.

Defense is a problem.  In Duke’s 2-3 zone defense, they had to use Bagley on the wings and Wendell Carter Jr. (More on him later) under the rim to make up for Bagley’s liabilities.  He is never going to be rim protector.  The instincts and body frame make him not suitable for that type of role.

On the Hawks, that’s okay.  John Collins is gonna be really good at the stretch five position, so Atlanta can use Bagley’s lateral quickness and athleticism defensively on the perimeter instead.

The trick will be making sure the two bigs can coexists offensively.  Collins was a decent shooter in his rookie season, so spacing him out to the perimeter and letting Bagley play the five offensively should work.  It’s more likely, considering Bagley’s skills, that they just play five out since Bagley doesn’t have a lot of post moves, and comes off isolations and pick and roll dives instead.

There are serious questions about Bagley.  If he puts everything together, he’s going to be unstoppable.  But there’s a question in every area of his game.

No.4, Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter Jr, Missouri

If I had to give a plus, minus or neutral grade on my feelings about every prospect in this draft, Michael Porter Jr. would be the first negative of this mock.

I’m just not a huge fan.  The lack of college games/minutes, the constant injury buzz and even though his high school mixtapes were sick, that won’t be his game in pros just doesn’t ride with me.

Porter is going to be the type of player who isn’t good enough to be the No.1 option on a team but needs the ball all the time to be effective.  He’s an inefficient scorer and doesn’t like defense, which is disappointing considering his frame and athleticism.  If he puts the work in, he could be above average on that end.

But the offensive game just doesn’t work unless he’s getting drafted by Houston.  He’s a heavy isolation player who takes bad shots and dribbles for five seconds more than he should.

So why is he going No.4 overall?

Remember the rule with all of my mock drafts:  It’s 50% what I think will happen, and 50% what I think should happen.

If I’m Memphis, I am not taking Porter here.  But if he’s available, which for some odd reason is looking less likely, the Grizzlies will take him.  If they do, they can run out Mike Conley, MPJ, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green and Marc Gasol.  Memphis wants to try and make the playoffs next year.  That team might be closer than we think.

If they decide to blow up (Probably the right call!), then Porter is a future building block along side Dillion Brooks and Ivan Rabb.  That’s not a bad start either!

No.5, Dallas Mavericks: Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State 

This has been a popular landing spot for Mo Bamba, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is much, much higher on my board.  I’ll explain later.

Jackson projects as beautiful stretch five who can protect the rim, shoot threes and switch onto guards and wings on the perimeter.  He doesn’t demand the ball on offense and stays focused.  He’s perfect.

He falls to five because that’s his ceiling.  He’s never going to be the monster Ayton is; he’s not aggressive on the offensive end and has troubling finishing on dump-ins.  Plus, he’s a little too aggressive on the defense end and can get into foul trouble fast.  Still, his defense will be his strength.

It’s a great pick for Dallas, who can replace Nerlens Noel and have Jackson as a future Dirk replacement, allowing them to play five out instead of two big men occasionally cramming the paint.  A floor spacer like Jackson is especially necessarily with Dennis Smith Jr. barreling toward the rim.

No.6, Orlando Magic: Trae Young, Oklahoma 

Remember when college basketball revolved around Trae Young?  That feels like forever ago.

We’ve learned our lesson from the draft enough.  Never trust the guy who gets too much attention, hits crazy shots and lights the world on fire, leading to a massive bandwagon following.  These are the Johnny Manziels, Jimmer Fredettes, Lonzo Balls, and Buddy Hields of the world.  It’s also the Stephen Currys, Kyrie Irvings, and Kemba Walkers of the world.

These type of guys are either superstars or complete busts, and there is NO in between.  Sometimes they’re obvious and sometimes they’re agonizing.

This one is agonizing.

But if you’re Orlando, you have to do it no matter what.  Based on their draft last year, it seems as if they’re all in home run picks.  At the same time, Young doesn’t fit the John Hammond proto-type of lengthy, athletic guys who can be interchangeable at all five positions.

Still.  Shelvin Mack is currently your point guard.  You’ve sucked since you traded away Dwight Howard.  Just give the fans something, even though it may not work out.  You have a point guard to put guys around now.

Theoretically, Young is a transcendent offensive player capable of hitting any shot.  He’s a good passer, but they aren’t as magical as Lonzo Ball’s last year.  He’s not very athletic, standing only 6’1, but if the shots go in off the dribble anyways, then it doesn’t matter.

He’s gonna get cooked on the defensive end.  The talent on that side is just not there.  This is where Young’s lack of athleticism hurts.  At 6’1, he can’t guard wings, and with no speed or lateral quickness, opponents are gonna blow right by him.  There was a major lack of care of the defensive side at Oklahoma by Young, receding all hope of him possibly turning into a scrappy little guy.

Young is a huge risk, and No.6 is really, really high.  But Orlando needs something to build around.  With Young, you have your point guard and your rim protector of the future (Jonathan Issac).

No.7, Chicago Bulls: Mikal Bridges, Villanova 

Mikal Bridges is the “Don’t overthink it” player of this draft.  At Villanova, Bridges was the best player on the best team in the country.  He won two titles and has plenty of experience in big games.  He made huge shots in those big games, and showed a little bit of crunch-time ego (Get me the ball!), which was a new addition to his game.

The Cavaliers and 76ers are devastated by this pick.  It makes one or both of them have to trade for a 3-and-D wing.  Bridges is exactly that; a lockdown perimeter defender with a sweet stroke.  With his age and experience, he could help a team win right now.  For Philly, he could be the final piece.  For the Cavs, he would have greatly improved their defense.

The Bulls take him because they need a star.  They need someone on the wing who can score consistently and efficiently.  Taking Bridges probably means letting Zach Lavine go, which is the right move in multiple facets.  Bridges gives Kris Dunn someone to kick out to,  which will result in not having Lauri Markkanen’s usage rates balloon.

No.8, Cleveland Cavaliers: Wendell Carter Jr, Duke

Wendell Carter Jr. was the No.2 big on my board behind Ayton, with Jackson 3rd and Bagley 4th. He falls to No.8 simply because he is being undervalued, and there is no way he goes in the top five.

The key to this Cavaliers pick is whether the organization has a feel for what LeBron James is going to do.  I believe taking Carter here is a solid choice either way; he is a dominant rim protector, something the Cavaliers don’t have (Tristan Thompson deciding to take every other game off is just not gonna fly).  Taking care of that doesn’t solve all the defensive issues, but it at least helps.  Secondly, Carter is a menace of the offensive end.  He’s a fantastic passer for his size, can score easy buckets with his massive 9’1 standing reach, and can space the floor when needed.  He’s nothing like the Cavaliers have had during LeBron’s tenure.  It would make them more dynamic offensively and give them at least one defensive presence (Carter’s impact might count for two).

But is the next Al Horford enough to convince LeBron to stay?  There’s still 4/5 guys not trying defensively, and who knows how any rookie is going to preform once they actually get to the NBA, let alone the Finals next June, assuming Cleveland even makes it (It’s going to be much tougher next year).  No offense to Carter, because he’s gonna be really good, but he’s probably not enough of a splash to convince LeBron to stay.

It feels like the only way this pick will help the chances of LeBron staying is if it is traded or if they land Trae Young.  I don’t know if this plus Kevin Love is enough for Kawhi Leonard, and the chances Young is here are slim.

Cleveland isn’t much better either way.  Once again, I’m taking Carter no matter what.

No.9, New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, Kentucky

Kevin Knox was a guy I was really high on before the college basketball season.  But then he got to Kentucky and it turned out he couldn’t shoot.

But if you’re the Knicks, you have your crafty point guard and your star down low in Kristaps Porzingis.  You’re paying Tim Hardaway Jr. an ungodly amount of money and don’t have any real 3-and-D guys who fit the current style of play in the league.

Knox does.  He’s tall and strong and has that length teams want on the wing.  The problem is that it’s not all there together.  His jumper is crisp even though the threes don’t go down.

He’s a bucket-getter.  He’s good off screens and good in motion.  You can run plays for him.  He has good pick and roll skills.

I don’t know if I see the star factor in him though.  He’s climbed lately mostly due to the souring on Michael Porter Jr, not due to some skill that’s underrated.

The other problem with Knox is that defense is an issue.  Given his size, he could be a really valuable defender, but there’s a major lack of effort on that side right now.

I prefer Knox to Miles Bridges because of the potential, but it’s easy to question whether that potential will blossom.

No.10, Philadelphia 76ers: Miles Bridges, Michigan State

A high floor low ceiling player, Bridges, like Mikal, is another guy who can come in right now and help a team.  He’s an excellent defender who’s offensive game needs work.  We’ve read this book a million times when it comes to the draft.  Based on the past, it seems like there’s a 50% success rate of these defensive wings who develop an offensive game.

Bridges has a knack for attacking the rim from the perimeter.  The skills that make him a excellent, tough defender come in handy on layups.

He isn’t an amazing shooter though, making him a tough fit on modern NBA offenses.  He’s not someone you’re going to run the offense through due to poor ball-handling skills.

The offense needs work.  But the skills he has an attacker fits with what the Sixers need.

In the playoffs, the only crunch-time plays the Sixers had was JJ Redick and Marco Bellinelli running off screens.  With Ben Simmons a little timid, him going to the rim was out of the question.  The Sixers were too predictable, and didn’t have anyone who could just get buckets.

Bridges’ ability to get to the rim could be the answer.  I’d prefer them to get Mikal, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or even LeBron James, but that requires giving up significant assets and/or a lot of luck.  Those options would give Philly a much more consistent option who they could have confidence in.  Bridges is a little risky, but at No.10 he’s the best option available.

No.11, Charlotte Hornets: Robert Williams, Texas A&M

I had this mock draft done before the Dwight Howard trade.  This pick now makes a lot more sense.

Williams projects as the perfect modern center.  He can protect the rim and switch onto wings and guards.  He score easy buckets without taking time to post-up.  He’s not a three point shooter, but his athleticism and passing skills allow him stretch out to the perimeter if necessary.

Getting Dwight out of town was step one.  You’re just not able to play him anymore and have a shot at winning.  It’s harsh but true.

Frank Kaminsky isn’t looking the future five for the Hornets.  Taking Williams gives them a rim protector to pair with Malik Monk down the road.

No.12, Los Angeles Clippers: Lonnie Walker Jr, Miami

No.13, Los Angeles Clippers: Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech

The Clippers could package these picks to move up or in a Kawhi Leonard deal (I don’t think they have the assets to pull that off, though).

The Clippers have a ton of guards and no wings.  They address that here with Lonnie Walker Jr, who’s a long shooting guard who can defend at least two positions and make shots, and Zhaire Smith, a lockdown defensive wing who can be a glue guy offensively.

I don’t think either of these guys are going to be superstars, but they’re the perfect players to put around one.  They don’t need the ball, can defend and hit shots.  Walker has some sneaky offensive skills; he has the pieces of creating his own shot and taking over games.  But his shooting isn’t supreme, leading some of those shots to be horrible ones.

No.14, Denver Nuggets: Mo Bamba, Texas

A massive fall for Mo Bamba, who could go anywhere from No.4 to No.9 in the draft.

I want to make it clear:  He will not fall this far.  This is one of those picks that is 100% what should happen, not what will.

I’m not a huge fan of Bamba.  Anyone over seven feet tall draws eyes simply because of the fact that they’re over seven feet.  Teams get too starstruck with height and wingspan.

Bamba is kind of a stick.  He isn’t very strong, limiting his offensive potential and his defensive presence.

It’s important to note that with Bamba, it’s simply the 7’10 wingspan and 9’7 standing reach that point to him being a good defender.  Being a good defender is not just blocking shots anymore.

When you’re that tall and long, there’s limits to your athleticism.  Bamba fits the lanky rather than long description.  There could be trouble when NBA teams stretch him out to the perimeter.

There’s also trouble with rebounding and and one-on-one defense.  Even with that 9’7 presence, he could get out-muscled and scored on.

Offensively, he can be a guy who can catch lobs and get easy buckets.  But he doesn’t have the shooting ability yet, and it may never come.

So why does Denver take him when they already have Nikola Jokic?

The Nuggets are staring at Jokic’s free agency next Summer, and it’s going to be a tough decision.  As good as Jokic is, he’s not going to be the best player on a championship team, and there’s not a lot of evidence that running your offense through a big like Jokic works.  Denver’s failed to put a good enough team around him to even test it.  The problem they face?  Paying Jokic max dollars to find the right players, put them around him, and see if it works.  Are you sure you want to spend five years on that when there’s a good chance it doesn’t work?

If you take Bamba and use him to replace Jokic next Summer, you’re upgrading defensively and giving the keys to Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.  If those guys can’t get it done, then you’re looking at a blowup.  But if they do succeed, then you’re not far away.

Essentially, if you let Jokic leave next Summer and replace him with Bamba, you’re closer to knowing your direction for the next five years.

This is where the draft starts to fall off.

No.15, Washington Wizards: Dzanan Musa, Croatia 

I don’t know a lot about Musa, but he projects as a good bench scorer, something the Wizards have lacked for years, leading to an overpay at every trade deadline.

The Wizards will not be getting over the hump by drafting though.  Unless someone takes a massive fall, no one in this draft makes them significantly better.  There are much bigger moves that need to happen in D.C.

No.16, Phoenix Suns: Troy Brown Jr, Oregon 

Loaded with youth and with roles pretty much solidified, the Suns can now look to upgrade their bench, or have a replacement for Dragan Bender.  Brown fits both of those.

Brown’s an excellent defensive player who play anywhere from positions 2-4.  His offense is half there; he has good vision passing-wise for a wing, and could actually take over some ball-handling responsibilities if asked.  His jumper needs work though, as his percentages aren’t great.

No.17, Milwaukee Bucks: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

First of all, how has Collin Sexton not been drafted yet?

A couple reasons:  One, I prefer SGA over him.  Two, the Sexton mold is being ran out of the league.  Ball-dominant point guards who are undisciplined and take bad shots just aren’t able to be successful anymore.  And three, there’s a massive point guard glut.  Everyone has one already!

I fell in love with SGA this season.  He’s electric with the ball in his hands but knows when to get rid of it; that sometimes works against him however, as he is a little careless when making passes.

He’s also a long, scrappy defender who can guard at least three positions.  This is how he fits in with the Bucks.

Milwaukee went all-in on length the past three years and have no defense to show for it.  Part of it is poor skills by those lengthy guys, part of it is effort, and part of it was system.

SGA has none of those concerns.  He’s going to play his butt off on the defensive end and make an impact.  The Bucks desperately need that impact defender.

His offensive role is a little cluttered on the Bucks with his lack of a jumper and Giannis dominating the ball, but if he’s contributing on the other end, the Bucks can deal with it later.

No.18, San Antonio Spurs: Elie Okobo, France

The Spurs biggest need, with or without Kawhi Leonard, is more offensive firepower.  They were torched by the Warriors in the playoffs as they just couldn’t keep up.

If Kawhi is dealt, which seems likely, the Spurs are tasked with finding their next superstar to build around.  It’s unlikely that guy is here at No.18.

But Elie Okobo helps the Spurs get more offense whether Kawhi is around or not.  Okobo’s offensive game is pure.  He can shoot effectively in any situation; off-screens, off the dribble, catch and shoot.  His one-on-one game is improving, and he could be a crunch-time guy down the stretch for the Spurs.

The other pluses to Okobo?  He’s French and is an improving defender.  Those are things the Spurs love!

No.19, Atlanta Hawks: Aaron Holiday, UCLA

This is high, and for him to go above Sexton is insane, but I just like the fit better.  If the Hawks take Sexton, they’re basically taking Dennis Schroder 2.0.

Holiday projects as the perfect point guard who can distribute the ball and shoot.  He’ll excel if shooters are put around him, and the Hawks are working on gathering wings and shooters to fit today’s league.  It’s questionable that he can be a long-term starter rather than a backup, as his ceiling isn’t much higher than his ball distribution and shooting ability.  His lack of athleticism makes his pick and rolls skills limited, and his 6’0 foot frame makes switching difficult defensively.

Holiday is a better fit than Schroder right now.  In five years will he be the Hawks point guard of the future though?  Probably not.

No.20, Minnesota Timberwolves: Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

Minnesota is yet another team stuck in the middle due to a roster that’s not fit today’s league.  They’re poor defensively and settle for too many bad shots.

Here we kick off a slew of wings being taken off the board.  The best available is Keita Bates-Diop, who can guard 3-4 positions and play off-the-ball as a wing, making threes when he needs to.  He’s a good cutter too, so if the Wolves decided to stop isolating every possession, he can be used in plays that get the ball moved around.

No.21, Utah Jazz: Kevin Huerter, Maryland 

Like San Antonio, the Jazz lack offensive firepower around their star.  Some scouts see Huerter as the next Klay Thompson; a sharp-shooter who doesn’t need the ball but can get hot and takeover at any moment.  Unlike Thompson though, Huerter isn’t a very good defender.  That’s probably okay on Utah, who was a top three defensive team in the league last year.

No.22, Chicago Bulls: Chandler Hutchinson, Boise State

With Mikal Bridges already in hand, the Bulls continue to load up on wings to put around Kris Dunn and a future big man.  Chandler Hutchinson is a fantastic shooter who can defend effectively on-and-off the ball.  Like Bridges, he has a little bit of a one-on-one game that could lead to some crunch-time scoring, but it’s not nearly as developed as Bridges’.

N0.23, Indiana Pacers: Jerome Robinson, Boston College

Indiana has their superstar and their rim-protector.  Assuming they don’t make a play for Kawhi Leonard, they are now tasked with surrounding Victor Olidipo with shooters and defenders.  Jerome Robinson is the best wing left.  He’s extremely athletic, allowing him to guard multiple positions, and can shoot the three.  You’re probably not running plays for him as he’s much better catching and shooting the ball rather than off of screens and in PNRs, but that doesn’t limit his effectiveness too much.

No.24, Portland Trail Blazers: Khyri Thomas, Creighton

Portland isn’t going to have whoever they take here make a reasonable impact on their team until they make some major roster moves, but for now they need more defense and a 3rd option offensively.  Khyri Thomas is one of the best defensive players in this draft, and can shoot the lights out.  There’s a chance he turns into create-his-own-shot guy who doesn’t need the ball all the time, which is exactly the type of player Portland needs.  Him plus whoever they get for one of their starting guards would make the Blazers very, very interesting next season.

No.25, Los Angeles Lakers: Jacob Evans, Cincinnati

Another wing off the board.  The Lakers need to upgrade the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Julius Randle spots, and Evans can do that with his defense and shooting.  He may be a little limited switching though, as he’s not the best athlete.

No.26, Philadelphia 76ers: Collin Sexton, Alabama

Like Mo Bamba, Collin Sexton will not fall this far.  In every mock, and every actually draft, there’s a certain set of events that lead to one massive fall.  Bamba and Sexton are the two that fall in my mock.

I hinted at it above, but Sexton isn’t high on my board.  He’s a supreme athlete who can scrap on defense due to his wingspan and insane athleticism, but I worry about his ability to lead an offense, as he loves the ball a little too much and can try to do too much.  There’s too much Russell Westbrook in him.

The difference is that Sexton doesn’t have a jumpshot, and he knows it.  He won’t be forcing bad jumpers, but could be taking contested layups at the rim.

It’s also tough for him to get out of those situations.  For a point guard, he’s not a good passer.

The Westbrook parallels are just too scary.

So why would Philly take him here when they already have Ben Simmons?

When Simmons comes off the court, the Sixers were forced to slow it down.  It killed them against Boston in the playoffs.  If Sexton runs the offense when Simmons is resting, Philly isn’t forced to slow their offense down and fall behind.  Sexton isn’t the passer Simmons is, but the athleticism and fast pace may make up for it.

No.27, Boston Celtics: Mitchell Robinson, Chalmette High School, Louisiana 

Robinson had a complicated and essentially non-extisient college career, which poses off-the-court risks to start when it comes to effort and love of the game.  But Robinson projects as a mobile center who can run the floor and protect the rim.  He’s a fantastic shot blocker as well.

With Robinson, you’re looking at a Clint Capela type who’s a little more athletic.  Capela’s very athletic for his size, but is torched when he’s switched onto guards.  Robinson has the ability to do that.

For Boston, their front-court is aging a little bit.  Robinson would be a great backup for Al Horford, who has a contract extension looming a lot sooner than we think.

No.28, Golden State Warriors: Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova 

This is the most Golden State pick ever.  The Warriors don’t really need anything, so they’re in best player available mode, and that’s Donte DiVincenzo.

He’s a lights out shooter who can defend on and off the ball.  Sounds like Klay Thompson, right?

He’s essentially the backup to Andre Igodoula on this team.  Can you imagine DiVincenzo getting Iggy’s missed minutes in the playoffs?  That’d be fun.

No.29, Brooklyn Nets: Melvin Frazier Jr, Tulane 

We’ve severely overrated the Nets roster the past two years.  With every move they’ve made, our reaction has been “What a move by Brooklyn to screw over another team!” or “Ooooh I sneakily like Player X,” when in reality they 1) Don’t have any future stars (I’m close to out on D’Angelo Russell) and 2) Have a whole roster of role players.  That’s really all they have.  A bunch of role guys who are all good in their own respects but will never come together as a successful team.

The Nets are smart and probably know this, and without their pick this year or in year’s pasts, we’re probably looking at another 4-5 years just for them to clear what they currently have and start over.

Frazier is the first piece to those next 4-5 years.  He’s another 3-and-D guy who can shoot well and defend.  He could be a crunch-time guy down the road, but needs to improve his ball-handling.

No.30, Atlanta Hawks: Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech 

At the end of this draft, Atlanta could have a lineup of Schroder/Holiday-Taureen Prince-Okogie-Bagley-Collins.

It’s gonna require some development, but at its peak, that’s pretty good.

Okogie is yet another 3-and-D guy who rounds out Atlanta’s future lineup.  He’s also a good rebounder, which would give the Hawks a massive advantage on the boards with Bagley down there as well.

NBA Finals Recap

The only way to describe the 2018 NBA Finals is by saying that it wasn’t even close. Any other description or analysis of the series is just someone trying to sound smarter than they actually are.

There really wasn’t a lot to these Finals, and we knew it coming in.  As soon as the Rockets started bricking threes in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, we knew we were headed for a dud of a Finals.  The Cavaliers would have no shot against Golden State.  Houston winning would have made things very interesting, however.  And Boston, well, Boston would have been fun either way.  Who knows what that team could have done to either Western Conference team!  The Celtics could have switched everything against the Warriors with their length, and defended one-on-one quite easily against Houston.  Matching offensive output might have been an issue, but it would have at least been a compelling series.

Just because the Finals sucked though doesn’t mean we have to blowup the playoff format, have the league regulate how many good players each team gets, or go to a hard cap.  When Warriors owner Joe Lacob said the team was “light years ahead,” it caused some steam to rise.  People didn’t like it.  And yeah, it was a little cringeworthy.  But the reason people cringed and seethed at it was because he was 100% right.  Nobody, not even LeBron James, who just had possibly the best year of his career, can catch up to it.  Not one other team in the league has an answer yet and it’s been four years.   That’s not the league’s or the Warriors’ fault.  Sorry for smart people making smart decisions, I guess.  And sorry that there’s 10+ atrocious GMs in the league right now as well.  I didn’t know taking advantage of those things was considered unfair.

The Warriors demolished Cleveland.  And the saddest part was that they didn’t really have to try.  Game 1 was right there for the Cavaliers until JR Smith decided to make what might go down as one of the greatest gaffes in NBA history.  And the craziest part was that Cleveland played a typical Cleveland game with poor defense and no one besides LeBron hitting shots which led to LeBron having to do everything.  Per my preview, that was not the formula for Cleveland to even stay in a game, let alone win.

The formula did prove correct though, thanks to JR and thanks to a mysterious overturned charge call on Kevin Durant, which should have absolutely stayed as called originally.  I understand that LeBron was standing at a weird angle when his feet were set, but they were set square, and he took the brunt of the contact.  Aren’t these the things that replay is supposed to show us?

I understand that call will drive Cavs fans crazy considering the way the game ended, but it’s not like it didn’t give them a chance to win.

It’s been said enough, but Game 1 was really the only chance Cleveland had to win a game this series.  They got a ridiculous LeBron performance and another guy to show up (Kevin Love, who was 9-20 with 21 points), and caught Golden State only shooting 36.1% from three.  But poor defense and the rest of the team shooing only 34% from the field sunk them; you just can’t afford either one of those against Golden State.  Add in the JR gaffe, and you’re toast.  The Cavs knew they couldn’t win in overtime, and it showed.

Game 2 didn’t get any better for Cleveland.  You could tell LeBron was gassed after Game 1, and wanted to get his teammates going.  Good thing they showed up.

Cleveland shot only 33.3% on threes and could not give a crap defensively.  They never switched on pick and rolls, leaving two guys guarding the ball-handler and the roller wide open for a layup at the rim.  They didn’t closeout.  Game 1 was still fresh in their minds.  They knew they couldn’t win, and they didn’t want to try.

LeBron had help, actually more than he did in Game 1.  But the Warriors came out much more prepared than I expected.  Their effort fluctuation has been so great this season that it can span weeks to minutes within a quarter.  This time, it turned around within a couple days.  They were all-out firing:  Hit every soul-crushing shot, tried on the defensive end (Which, against some of these Cavs, is like locking down), and flat-out obliterated Cleveland.  Good offensive showings form George Hill and Kevin Love didn’t matter when Golden State was shooting 57.3% from the field.  Stephen Curry hitting nine threes was a nice boost as well (It’s kinda insane he didn’t win Finals MVP, by the way).  Games 2 and 4 from him were a treat.  He had at least three “He did not just hit that” shots in those two games.

If the Warriors were gonna let one go, Game 3 would have been it.  Their effort should have been poor based on the trends we observed all season.  “Eh, we’re up 2-0!” should have been the attitude.

That wasn’t exactly the case.  The effort was poor, but it wasn’t as dramatically poor as we might have expected.  Kevin Durant certainly put some effort it, single-handily winning Golden State Game 3 thanks to his 43 points, 13 rebounds and six threes.

KD was the only Warrior who gave a crap in Game 3.  Poor shooting performances from Curry and Klay Thompson were probably just cold shooting nights rather than being rooted in poor effort, but both of those sources still lead to the same outcome.  Defensively, the Warriors were checked out.  This allowed the Cavaliers to get some of their role guys going.  Love had 20 points and 13 rebounds.  JR Smith was terrible but still had 13 (When you’re talking about this Cavaliers team, 13 points from someone who’s not LeBron or Love is incredibly valuable), and Rodney Hood showed up after not playing all series and poured in 15 off the bench. Seriously, he was cooking.  A bunch of people used this as an excuse to hit on Tyronn Lue for not playing him earlier.  I’m sorry, but when was Rodney Hood every reliable in any game ever?  Let alone the Finals?  Oh yeah, and what did he shoot in Game 4?  4-14?  Yeah, sounds about right.  Lue’s not great, but lets not harp on him for not playing Rodney Hood in a freaking NBA Finals game.

Game 3 came down to the wire.  The Cavaliers missed some shots down the stretch, and Durant made them pay with that 33 foot dagger from beyond the arc.  I mean, that shot was completely ridiculous.

I thought losing Game 3 was almost equally as bad as losing Game 1 for Cleveland.  Golden State shot 3/17 from three if you remove Durant’s attempts.  Curry and Thompson were horrific.  LeBron had 33 with another triple double, and Cleveland got two role players to show up.  And still lost.

Sometimes against the Warriors, there’s just nothing you can do.

Game 4 was the Steph Curry show.  The Cavs weren’t stopping that whether it was in Game 1 or Game 7, let alone down 3-0 in Game 4.  Once he got hot, it was over.  The Cavs knew it and weren’t gonna do anything about it.

Cleveland lost to Golden State not only because the mismatch was so great, but because they didn’t try to do anything reduce its impact.  LeBron’s performances were ridiculous, but he needed to have more on the table, and it was a little surprising that he didn’t.  Somehow, it felt like LeBron had more in the tank this series.  The constant differing to teammates, lack of aggression going to the rim, and what almost felt like nerves when Cleveland needed him to takeover, in 3rd quarters or at the end of games, cost the Cavs two games this series.  Whether it was whatever hand injury was self-inflicted after Game 1, a belief that he knew this team couldn’t beat the Warriors and didn’t want to embarrass himself trying, a simple lack of care considering he could be on a new team in a couple weeks, or simply the grind of the season and the workload catching up to him, LeBron’s passiveness hurt the Cavs.  I don’t know how many times this series I went “Why are you kicking out?” while watching Cleveland’s offensive possessions.  He knew those shots were not going in.

Even if LeBron did complete the superhuman task I described above, it probably wouldn’t have been enough.  LeBron’s best is still no match for Golden State.  LeBron’s best individual performance might have come with this Cleveland team, but his greatest career achievements, and what will push him over Michael Jordan, just won’t.  They didn’t come this year, and won’t next as well.

2018 NBA Finals Preview

The Warriors are probably going to win these NBA Finals.  Yup, I just led off the column with my pick.  The Warriors are so good that they didn’t even have to try against Houston until the 3rd quarter of Games 6 and 7, where offensive explosions from two of the 30 greatest players ever sunk one of the best offenses of all-time.  That’s what they did to Houston, the No.1 seed in the Western Conference and a team that some thought could beat this very Golden State team.

So thoughts of what this Golden State team is about to do to the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t pretty ones.  This could be a brutally boring series.  There’s no doubt a Houston win in Game 6 or 7 would have made the Finals more interesting (I am of a small crowd that thinks Cleveland could beat Houston).

But we can’t let what’s about to transpire distract us from what we just watched.  LeBron James’ 2018 postseason run goes down in the record books as one of the most fascinating and successful (Cough, Russell Westbrook) runs ever.  This is what putting a team on your back looks like.  A handful of guys have done it before (Dirk Nowitzki in 2011, LeBron again in 2007).  But at age 33?  In his 15th season?  With Jordan Clarkson dribbling and shooting twice as much as he should?  JR Smith barely being alive?  Kevin Love concussed?  Larry Nance Jr. protecting the rim?  Good God!  How did this team make the Finals?

We said it all year:  The East was a crapfest.  Whoever came out of it was getting waxed.  No team we felt great about.

Just like the Eastern Conference Finals:  Through it all, we still got here.  We got a crappy Eastern Conference team about to be blown to bits by the West.  And somehow, it’s the same two teams for the 4th year in a row.  Through it all, we are still here.

NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors

So do the Cavaliers have any chance against Golden State?  Not really.  The case for the Cavaliers to win the Finals starts with LeBron having such a good series that we leave it saying “Without a doubt, he’s the best player of all-time.”  Seriously, what kind of numbers would LeBron have to finish with in these Finals for the Cavs to win?  A 52-17-14 average?  He’d have to destroy Kevin Durant on the defensive end, which is unlikely since KD is a career 1-1 against him, the win coming in last year’s Finals where Durant put a clinic on LeBron and at the center position.  Then, at the same time, he’d have to lock down KD on the other end, which also seems unlikely since no one has stopped KD this postseason besides KD himself, and since LeBron has clearly demonstrated a strong effort playing defense this season.

Asking LeBron to take on that workload is just not reasonable or sustainable.  I was gonna say that you can’t ask a human to do that, but then I forgot that LeBron actually isn’t human and that, if anyone could do it, it’d be him.  Still, it’s completely unreasonable.

Just to match Golden State would require that sort of output from LeBron.  To beat them, the Cavs would need good showings from one of JR Smith, George Hill, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver or Jeff Green in every game.  Good luck.  Man, it’s just too bad Cleveland doesn’t have a consistent, experienced offensive player beside LeBron.

I don’t think this is a sweep.  The Warriors effort fluctuates dramatically; it can shift in a quarter, as we found out against Houston.  LeBron, unlike Houston, knows how to show up and probably won’t blow the chances he has to keep up with the Warriors.  Minus the odd Game 5 performance against Boston, LeBron has kept going all postseason without slowing down.  As I’ve said before, no one can stop LeBron.  Throwing dudes at him just doesn’t work.  Even though KD is one of two guys in the league who have demonstrated the ability to make LeBron somewhat work, it’s hard to believe that he’ll be able to slow this version of him down every night.  The Warriors collective lack of effort comes from everyone at some point, and KD’s first half performance in Game 7 against Houston was indicative of that.  Durant will turn it on when he needs to, but don’t think LeBron won’t take advantage when the opportunity is there.

That’s how Cleveland gets a game.  They could get two if the Warriors’ effort really sinks, but I find that unlikely since they’re so close to getting where they’ve wanted to be all year long.

When watching these games, it may seem like Cleveland wants it more throughout the whole series.  But the matchup problem is so great that is just won’t matter.

Prediction: Warriors in 5 

Warriors-Rockets Preview

If you asked the question, how efficient can efficiency get?  Then this series would be your answer.

Has there ever been a series like this?  All the threes, all the weird, crazy offensive strategies these teams employ?  All the points?

The answer is no.  We’ve never seen two offensive giants like this collide before.  We’re looking at three top 35 players of all-time in this series and the 11th best offense ever (The Rockets, per Offensive Rating).

So what’s gonna give?  Will the Warriors lukewarm effort give Houston an edge?  Can we trust the Rockets defensively?  What about James Harden and Chris Paul being really good at melting down in the playoffs?

What certainly won’t give: Points.

Western Conference Final: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

This series could be as simple as who goes cold when the other team shoots well.  The Warriors and Rockets have both had their poor shooting nights this postseason, with Golden State actually having more bad than good nights from beyond the arc.  In nights that are considered bad (In my opinion, 35% from three or less), the Warriors have managed to go 5-2.  Out of the 10 games the Warriors have played in this postseason, they’ve shot well in only three of them.  They’re still 8-2 in the postseason despite that.  That’s pretty dang good.

Houston has shot well in 50% of their games this postseason, and went 4-1 in games where they didn’t shoot well from behind the three point line.  That’s also pretty encouraging.

But it’s not all about threes for the Warriors.  Sure, injuries and effort probably contributed to it, but Golden State only took the 6th most threes in the league this year.  The Rockets took around 10 more a game than Golden State did.

That’s because Golden State is capable of playing multiple styles.  Their ridiculous versatility, athleticism and speed allow them to run cuts, move the ball and slow it down if need be.  Golden State blowing out New Orleans and San Antonio by locking down defensively and letting Kevin Durant takeover was only one dimension of this team.  They’ve held onto dimensions all season, and have probably hid some.

The Rockets have only a couple ways of playing.  Heavy isolation by whomever and swinging it around the arc to the next guy if the other can’t shake-and-bake his defender, or the classic James Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll.  Those are essentially the offensive sets the Rockets have.

The Warriors should be able to contain it to an extent.  If it’s a low effort night, or a poor shooting outing, Houston will be able to put points up.  But at their full potential, the Warriors have enough to slow down Houston.  They’re more skilled defensively than any team the Rockets have played.  Klay Thompson isn’t stopping Harden, but he can make him work, and force even more choke-jobs.  The Warriors can hide Stephen Curry on Chris Paul or Eric Gordon.  Paul’s scoring outbursts recently make that a little tedious given that Curry isn’t the most supreme defender, but Houston’s slow pace could actually benefit Curry, who isn’t the greatest athlete on that end of the court.  Plus, Curry has owned CP3 over the years in playoff series.

Durant is a juggernaut defensively in this series.  The Warriors can put him off the ball, taking out someone like Trevor Ariza, assign him to Harden, which could go either way matchup wise, or even play him at some center to help defend Capela on the PNR.

The Rockets don’t have a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard.  They don’t have a go-to wing guy that KD will be tasked with stopping.  That could be a blessing for Golden State.  KD’s learned to make his defensive impact felt anywhere.  This will be the perfect series to showcase that.

Despite Golden State’s defensive excellence, it may not be enough.  The Rockets are the best at making those “I can’t believe he just took and/or made that shot” shots.  Their range and volume of threes has taken the whole league by storm.  It’s essentially the Warriors from 2014-2016 on steroids.

And the problem for the Warriors is that those shots go in 35.3% of the time.  But if anyone knows that they have to defend Houston three feet out from the arc, it’s Golden State.

The way games will be won in this series will be based on who shoots poorly in one game and who shoots well in that same game.  It could really be that simple.

But there are gonna be nights where both shoot well, or both shoot poorly.  Then what happens?

Houston’s whole offense is based off that three point shot.  The other set they have is the Harden-Capela PNR.  With Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green in the rotating cast of guys tasked to defend that, good luck Houston.  The shots better go in.

I’m also dubious of Houston defensively.  They did finish 6th in defensive rating and rank 2nd for the playoffs.  Adding PJ Tucker, Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute did what it was supposed to.

But where is Houston hiding Harden?  What about CP3’s horrible history defending Curry?  Are the wings enough to contain KD, who’s been ridiculous all postseason?

The answer is partially.  Houston has to keep switching on KD.  Trevor Ariza (Who did well on Donavan Mitchell in the 2nd round), Mbah a Moute and Tucker are all pretty viable options.  Switching every possession like Boston did against LeBron in Game 1 yesterday could work to slow Durant down.

That would defer offense to the Splash Brothers, who should be able to feast on CP3 and Harden.  Harden’s defense hasn’t improved despite his team’s improvement.  Donavan Mitchell torched him all of last round.  And the CP3 resume on Curry is problematic.  If KD is limited, those two should be able to run the show.

The Warriors five out system will also limit Clint Capela’s defensive value.  As athletic and smooth as he is, he’s not able to guard the Draymond Green-type, a sneaky quick athletic power forward who can put the ball on the deck.  Capela handled Karl-Anthony Towns in the first round, but him and Draymond are two different players.

The Rockets should switch Capela onto open shooters, that way his long arms can help close-out, rather than have him defend Draymond on the corner or the wing.  Green’s athleticism will get him by Capela, or force a pass to an open shooter as Green draws help.

The Rockets’ 6th ranked defense won’t look like it against this Warriors team.  The ball movement and superior talent of the Warriors will prevail.  On the other end, the Rockets might make a ton of threes.  Harden will more likely than not get by Thompson and go off.  It’s hard to switch against Houston, because they don’t move the ball, and for that split second when the shooter is open, he’ll take it and probably make it.

But when the shots don’t go in for Houston, there will be trouble.  It’s their only source of offense they can rely on.  Houston may play a creative style, but they don’t have creativity within it.  The Warriors are too good defensively to let that beat them.

I’m trusting Golden State to make shots when shots need to be made.  The Harden+Paul combo of playoff meltdowns and the heavy, heavy reliance on isolation and three pointers makes me worried.  Why can’t Houston just go to the rim and force Golden State to make an effort on help side?

The Rockets will have at least two games where they shoot the lights out and nothing else will matter.  But the Warriors ability to be more effective defensively, move the ball offensively and take advantage of Harden, Paul and Capela on the defensive end is the difference.  They just have more talent.  For a series that’s all about numbers, it’s really just as simple as that.

Prediction: Warriors in 6

Cavaliers-Celtics Preview

Remember when the Kyrie Irving trade went down in August?  Our first thought was “Man, the East Finals are really gonna be something.”

Somehow, after Gordon Hayward snapped his ankle five minutes into opening night, after Cleveland blew up their whole team at the trade deadline, which included shipping out the No.2 asset they received from Boston in the Kyrie trade, and after watching that same Kyrie Irving guy who we’ve already mentioned three times go down with a season-ending knee injury, we’re here.  We still got the Cavaliers and Celtics in the East Finals.  Are you sure you want to leave this conference, LeBron?

All that being said, it hasn’t been easy for LeBron James.  The Pacers took Cleveland to seven games in round one, thanks to the Cavs having no one to slow down Victor Olidipo and having no defensive effort whatsoever.  LeBron took on the ultimate workload, putting up 40 point triple doubles like it was nothing.  He hit one of the most cold-blooded game-winners I’ve ever seen against Indiana, and then somehow topped it against Toronto when he decided to take a one legged floater from the left side of the court that didn’t even hit the white square on the backboard.  Seriously, if the basketball doesn’t hit that exact spot on the glass, it tips the front of the rim and doesn’t go in.

The LeBron impact has wrecked two teams this postseason, one of which came oh-s0-close and one of which completed combusted, in the least surprising twist of the playoffs.  So can Brad Stevens and Boston be the first team to overcome it?

Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

Boston’s biggest key coming into these playoffs was to get unexpected, large offensive contributions.  So far, that’s happened.  Terry Rozier has been phenomenal scoring the basketball.  Jayson Tatum hasn’t played like a rookie.  Jaylen Brown has hit his ceiling, and can give the Celtics five threes in a game if they need it.  Against certain matchups, Al Horford can bang down low and get easy buckets.

Nothing is preventing that from happening in this series.  The Cavaliers defense has slightly improved, but it’s still the same group that finished in the bottom five in defensive rating this season, and remains undoubtedly the worst group left in the playoffs.  The sweep of Toronto wasn’t really due to a good defensive performance out of the Cavs.  It was horrible play down the stretch by Toronto and a complete incompetence for doing anything to slow down LeBron.

We may not be able to blame Toronto for that second part though.  LeBron is at least the 3rd greatest player of all-time now.  What are you supposed to do?  Toronto’s best option was a rookie!

The argument for Boston in the series is this:  The Cavs’ defense is bad enough to allow these sporadic, unexpected offensive outputs from guys we just can’t believe are doing this a playoff series while the Celtics have dudes to throw at LeBron and possessed the best defensive rating in the league this season.  Makes sense, right?

But we’re at the point with LeBron where “having dudes to throw at him” just isn’t enough.  Nobody, nobody, is slowing that dude down right now.  The level LeBron is currently playing is 2nd to only that crazy winning streak he had in Miami.  That’s it.  LeBron is 33, in his 15th season, and is having possibly the 2nd best stretch of his career.

Good luck Boston.  Marcus Morris is certainly in for a wake-up call.   Jaylen Brown actually did quite a nice job on LeBron in very few possessions in last year’s East Finals, but LeBron wasn’t playing like this and could defer to Kyrie for offense.  Jayson Tatum has gotten better defensively throughout the year, but isn’t nearly competent enough to take LeBron every possession.

Boston has the option to go big against LeBron.  Guys like Semi Ojeyele and Guerschon Yabusele have insane athleticism for their size.  The Celtics also switched Al Hoford onto Ben Simmons in the Sixers series, which made Simmons hesitant to drive.

James isn’t going to be as reluctant as Simmons though, and can blow by Ojeyele, Yabusele and Horford.  Perhaps the constant switching can throw him off a bit; Boston should switch to get fresh legs on LeBron every possession.  LeBron and the Cavs hasn’t faced this type of depth at the wing position in these playoffs yet.

It’s still not going to matter.  You can’t stop, slow down or even somewhat limit LeBron.  There’s two guys in the league who have shown the capability to do that: Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.  Boston doesn’t have either of them.

If B0ston wins this series, it’s going to be due to an amazing defensive display by the guys I listed above.  Jaylen Brown will have to break out as one of the league’s three best perimeter defenders.  Tatum’s gonna have to stay focused.  Marcus Morris will somehow have his words backed up.

It just feels too unlikely.  Boston will be able to match Cleveland offensively; their lineup creativity can cut, post-up and score one-on-one against the Cavs at any time.  Rozier isn’t Olidipo, but Cleveland proved in the Indiana series they have no one to contain a crafty guard who can get to the rim.

I worry about Boston in close games though; I don’t trust Rozier’s and Marcus Smart’s antics down the stretch.  With LeBron on the other side, he’ll make you pay.  You just can’t have a bad possession late.

This series is not a wash for the Celtics.  They’ll get the Jaylen Brown 25 point game, the You’re Not Stopping Jayson Tatum game, and possibly a We’re Coming Back From Down 20 game.  Their defense will make LeBron do everything, which will probably still be enough for Cleveland in the end.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 7

Sixers-Celtics Preview + West 2nd Round Synopsis (So Far)

The NBA starting the 2nd round series on the weekend wasn’t smart.  People are busy on the weekend!  It’s hard to write previews on the weekend!

So, with those series already started, I decided I’ll do what “What I saw in Game 1” section along with breaking down why I made the pick I did (Trust me, they were official).

Also, here is a preview for Sixers-Celtics, which starts tonight.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics 

Make no mistake about it.  The 76ers are the best team in the Eastern Conference.

That doesn’t mean they’re gonna make the Finals.  All season, we were searching for a team in the East to pull away.  A team to really impress us and make us go “OK, they’re for real.”

For awhile, it was this Celtics team, which found itself in Game 7 against the just miserable Bucks.  Boston is a lot better than Milwaukee, but the fact that they allowed the Bucks to take them to seven is a little concerning.  Especially when they’re now pitted against this Sixers team.

Before the Jaylen Brown injury, this series was a risky one for the Celtics.  Sure, Boston actually has some options to throw at the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid menace, like Brown, Al Horford and Marcus Morris (I guess?).  But the Sixers have shown us this postseason that they’re gonna be able to do whatever they want offensively; Miami was more equipped than Boston to slow them down and failed to do so.

The Sixers’ pace is stunning, and it’s all set up by Simmons.  Him flying down the court and attacking the rim is impossible to stop due to his freakish stature; him and Giannis have two of the most ridiculous bodies in the league.  But add in the court vision and tantalizing passing and you’ve got someone who’s literally unstoppable.  He can make any pass from any position in the air or any place on the court.

Brown was Boston’s best option.  He’s long and could possibly get a little rough with Simmons (It’s the one thing no one has tried!).  But now he’s out for Game 1, and the only thing coming out of Boston’s mouth is that he “could return later in the series.”  That doesn’t sound encouraging.

The surprising yet devastating impact of Brown’s injury comes on the offensive end.    When Brown was drafted, his ceiling was an excellent defensive player who could hopefully be effective as a wing on the offensive end.  We’re there, and the ceiling is only getting higher.

In Game 2, Brown had 30 points.  He hit five threes, but more importantly put the game away.  He was Boston’s closer, a role they desperately miss with Kyrie Irving out.

Boston’s struggles offensively with Kyrie out have been well documented.  With Terry Rozier’s hit-or-miss game, the Celtics have had to rely on rookie Jayson Tatum, Brown, and this out-of-nowhere Marcus Morris isolation game that has came about this season.  When Rozier’s not dribbling too much, Tatum hasn’t hit the wall and Brown is putting up Game 2-like performances, the Celtics are unstoppable due to how they play on the other end.  Unfortunately, the numbers don’t say that happens too often.

Even on Philly’s worst nights, they still have the advantage.  It’s hard for Embiid to have a bad game unless he turns the ball over seven times single-handily.  Horford will make him work, but who’s really shutting him down?  The Sixers medical staff making him wear the facemask?

We also forget that the Sixers are freakishly good defensively as well.  Robert Covington hasn’t been there offensively in the postseason, but should be able to make Tatum hit the wall again.  Embiid has the athletic edge over Horford if Boston decides to do the old-school game and bang down low for easy points.

Turning it over to Rozier isn’t the smartest move, but it might be the Celtics only chance.  Josh Richardson was able to take advantage against the defensively challenged JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli in the Miami-Sixers series.  If Rozier can play a little more efficiently and hit shots, the Celtics could steal a game or two.  But they don’t have as big of a coaching advantage any more, and they’re relying on guys just as young as Philly.  The Celtics just won’t be able to get away with it anymore.

Prediction: Sixers in 4


I wasn’t able to write previews for the Western Conference 2nd round series’ since they had to start on the weekend (Thanks NBA!) and my weekend was jammed packed with homework and high school baseball scouting.  So let’s run through each West series so far so I can explain the pick I made and breakdown what I’ve seen.

Why I picked the Rockets in five…

Proof: 

It was much more to do with the firepower problem.  As good as Donavan Mitchell has been, there’s gonna be a point where him alone is just not enough.  The Jazz got through OKC because the Thunder still couldn’t figure out the crunch-time responsibilities, Ricky Rubio supplied some surprising shot-making, and Mitchell’s excellence.  Now Rubio will miss multiple games and Houston knows what they’re doing.  Once again, it’s just Mitchell out there.

In Game 1, it was proved that he just wasn’t enough.  The Jazz were a top two defense in the league this season and got schooled by Houston.  One of my concerns with the Rockets was their lack of ball movement.  Sure, their offense was historically efficient, but that doesn’t mean that there is no need for ball movement, or that ball movement and fast-paced basketball is inefficient.

Houston didn’t play at any cranked up pace Sunday, but they did get a little creative with their offensive sets instead of isolating and passing around the arc four times.  The Rockets and Chris Paul were swinging it around, getting Utah defenders distracted to Paul and James Harden, which left guys like PJ Tucker wide open in the corner.

Houston also went to the classic Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll, which is a play that Utah should be somewhat equipped to defend with Rudy Gobert at the rim.  That didn’t go Utah’s way either.

If Utah is going to struggle defensively, they’re really screwed.  Offensively, we knew the struggle to keep up was gonna be very real.  Making it easy for Houston offensively gives the Jazz almost no chance.

Why I picked the Warriors in six…

Proof: Uhhhhhhhhh

I may or may not have proof that I made this pick.  But it happened and we’re rolling with it.

Round One and Game 1 alleviated concerns about the Warriors regular season.  There is definitely a switch, and it most definitely works.  Golden State manhandled the Spurs; they had no one to stop Kevin Durant and just couldn’t keep up offensively.

Saturday night looked like a similar problem for the Pelicans.  But it’s much more about the matchup rather than the state of the team.

See, the Warriors’ guards actually care about defense.  They shut down Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo Saturday night.  Plus, ya’ll forgot about Dray (You like that reference??).  Sure, Draymond Green hasn’t been as impactful on defense this season.  But he’s still one of the league’s five best defensive players, and he helped control Anthony Davis.  The Warriors are one of the few teams that have someone who can at least slow him down.  The offensive explosion we witnessed from New Orleans in Round One was part Pelicans, part crappy Blazers defense.

This series could be shorter than six games, but I still expect Davis to carry New Orleans one night in 45 point effort, and Golden State can easily go cold in a game.