NBA Draft Recap+Trades And Firings

The offseason is here!  This column has been in the works for over a week; it’s a big one!  A lot has happened since the draft, so we’re gonna recap it all.  First, I’ll give my thoughts on almost every pick of the first round and the notable picks of the 2nd round.  Then, I’ll talk about the GM firings in Cleveland and New York, Paul George, and the trades during and after the draft.  Here we go!

No.1, Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington

No.2, Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

(Scroll to No.2)

No.3, Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, Duke

I had the Celtics taking Josh Jackson due to his upside on both ends, but Boston finds Tatum as the better fit.  Tatum fills the shot-making hole and can be a consistent contributor for them.  I worry about his defense and whether he can get better instead of remaining at a Harrison Barnes/Danny Green-like level.

No.4, Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, Kansas

I could not be more excited about this pick.  Jackson gives us exactly what we need: A 3-and-D guy who can be effective immediately.  As good as TJ Warren is, his destiny might be an off-the-bench, instant offense guy.  Jackson makes us longer, more athletic and scarier than before.

No.5, Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky 

The Kings needed a franchise point guard, and actually took the right guy!  Fox is incredibly gifted with athleticm and defensive ability.  The jumpshot needs obvious work, but with the suddenly frisky and young team around him, it’s not necessary right away.  Overall, the Kings’ draft was one of the best in the league last week.

No.6, Orlando Magic: Jonathan Issac, Florida State 

This was a very Magic-like pick, but I’m not gonna knock them for it since they’re under new management.  GM John Hammond built a great team in Milwaukee strictly based off of length and athleticism.  Issac possess those two things, but at this stage nothing else.  The ceiling is high; maybe Hammond and that coaching staff can reach it with Issac.

No.7, Chicago Bulls (More on this trade later): Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

I guess the one positive coming out of this Bulls’ draft was that Gar Forman and John Paxson drafted someone who has a jumpshot, something completely lacking from their roster right now???

No.8, New York Knicks: Frank Nitilikina, France

I understand New York needs a point guard, but passing on Malik Monk here was stunning to me.  Nitilikina projects as a distributor-like point guard with a low ceiling.  Monk was the 2nd best player in the draft, perhaps the most exciting player in the draft, and is capable of having an offense run through him, AND could have been the most exciting player to came MSG home since… Jeremy Lin??  Oh, and Nitilikina was drafted solely to help run the triangle, which is now defunct with Phil Jackson gone (more on that later).

No.9, Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith, North Carolina State

Smith was a really tough projection.  There’s a chance his athletiscm makes him completely unstoppable at the NBA-level, but there’s also a chance he’s a turnover machine and will be towered over.  He’ll make Dallas more dynamic; something desperately needed on this very average team.  I trust Rick Carlisle & Co. to make this pick turn out.

No.10, Portland Trail Blazers (Traded up; gave Sacramento No.15 & No.20): Zach Collins, Gonzaga 

This trade was so bad on all ends and none of it has to do with Zach Collins the player.

First of all, there was absolutely no reason for Portland to trade up.  I had Collins taken by Portland at No.15 in my mock draft, and even though my mock was much different than the actual draft, the cards probably would have fallen the same way (Who’s taking Collins, a low ceiling stretch 4, before 15?  Charlotte maybe?  Did they really need anymore big, tall white guys?).

Giving up two picks to move up five spots to get a guy you could have gotten without making the move is Portland’s front office in a nutshell these past two years.

From the Kings’ perspective, moving down was a little idiotic too.  By the 15th and 20th pick, your odds of landing one of the “guys” in this draft are limited, and even though I liked their picks at those spots, it’s always better to take the best player available (In this case, Fox’s former teammate Monk).  Even though I thought Monk and Fox hurt each other’s game at Kentucky, Dave Joreger, a very underrated coach in the league, would have figured out a better way to use the two effectively than John Calipari did this past season (Honestly, I could have probably figured out a better way.).

Anyways, Collins makes a lot of sense for Portland.  They desperately need a spacer next to Jursuf Nurkic, and Collins’ range fits that bill.  I just didn’t like it at No.10 overall.

No.11, Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk, Kentucky

I was absolutely stunned at how far Monk fell, but it wasn’t cause of Monk as a player, it was cause of idiotic front office’s like Sacramento’s, Portland’s, the Knicks’ and Chicago’s that passed on him.  Monk will make them pay.

My only concern about the Monk pick for the Hornets is how his minutes will affect the team as a whole.  Not that he will make them worse; his offensive numbers will be ridiculous while his defensive stats will be slightly above average, but Monk has to start for this team, and that would force Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to play small-ball 4.  Though a good defender, I might trust Marvin Williams more on the offensive end, and with Dwightbola spreading through the locker room now, Monk’s addition may not make the Hornets any better.

No.12, Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard, Duke

I said before the draft that I thought Luke Kennard was a safe pick, but that didn’t mean he had to go before Donavan Mitchell and that didn’t mean Detroit had to take him at No.12.

Reggie Jackson is like the 17th best point guard in the league, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a free agent.  While Kennard is “combo-guard”, Mitchell has the better chance of succeeding at both positions, and could be an extremely good point guard down the road.

Detroit is stuck in the middle right now, and Kennard really doesn’t move the needle.

No.13, Utah Jazz (Pick was traded by Denver): Donavan Mitchell, Louisville

Had Mitchell been taken by Detroit, I can guarantee you Utah doesn’t trade up here.  With George Hill a free agent and Dante Exum nothing but a backup, Utah needed a foundational point guard.  Ricky Rubio is now that guy, but Mitchell can become what we once thought Exum would be.

No.14, Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky

This one was… interesting.  I can’t tell if this is a Pat Riley-type pick or not.

Bam has the potential to be a really nice, mobile center who can block shots and protect the rim.  The problem is that the Heat already have that in Hassan Whiteside.  Sure, Adebayo’s a little more athletic, but you can’t play him and Whiteside together.  With guys like Justin Patton and TJ Leaf still available, this felt like a reach.

No.15, Sacramento Kings (Pick was traded by Portland): Justin Jackson, North Carolina

I really, really like what the Kings did this year.  Yeah, they took a lot of very well known college guys who may not have super high ceilings.  But it at least shows that they’re thinking differently, a progression thats been desperately needed for awhile now.

No matter how you feel about Jackson, he’s probably replacing Rudy Gay on the wing, and thats an upgrade in any way.  He’s also gonna give the Kings more length defensively; him and Fox will cause problems.

No.16, Minnesota Timberwolves (Pick was traded by Chicago): Justin Patton, Creighton

Minnesota just completely rocked the Chicago trade on draft night.  Between stealing Jimmy Butler and this pick, the Timberwolves might finally be ready.

In Patton, the Wolves are getting more depth under the basket while possibly developing a poor man’s Karl-Anthony Towns.  Patton has a lot of the same skills: Rim protection, rebounding, high pick-and-roll usage, spacing.  He’s still working on his three point shot, but his athleticism should help him fit in just fine.

No.17, Milwaukee Bucks: DJ Wilson, Michigan

Uh, what?  Who?  Wilson’s name was not on my radar for the first round.  My friends who I was watching the draft with, who follow college basketball much closer than I do, were dismayed by the Bucks’ pick.

No.18, Indiana Pacers: TJ Leaf, UCLA

I really liked this pick for Indiana.  It was right in range and shows their committal to getting younger and more modern.  Leaf’s a great shooter who’s more efficient than Thaddeus Young and can play better next to Myles Turner.  Now, the Pacers just have to turn Paul George into something…  Anything really at this rate.

No.19, Atlanta Hawks: John Collins, Wake Forest

Collins is a project, but if he turns out, then the Hawks will have something really special on their hands.  Collins has the skills, but needs to put the effort in and gain some experience if he wants to be successful at this level.

No.20, Sacramento Kings (Pick was traded by Portland): Harry Giles, Duke

As concerned as I am about this pick and Giles, I think it might be worth the risk.  The Kings had a great draft, and if Giles can regain his confidence on the court and stay healthy, he has the potential to be one of the defensive centers in the league.  He’s like a mobile, skinny DeAndre Jordan.  But those knees have been through a lot in 19 years, and that’s very, very concerning.

No.21, Oklahoma City Thunder: Terrance Ferguson, Australia 

Ferguson fills a need for the Thunder with Andre Roberson (hopefully) departing (Would you really want to pay him $15 million a year??).  Ferguson is essentially Roberson with a jumpshot: A 3-and-D guy with both components.  Ferguson was the 3rd best shooter in the draft.  That should translate well with great impact on Oklahoma City.

No.22, Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Allen, Texas A&M

With Timofey Mozgov just kinda there under the rim and not really part of any future plans, the Nets needed a future anchor down low.  Allen is exactly that.  He’s an absolutely massive human being at 6’10 with a 7’5 wingspan.  The Nets are adding a piece at a time, and for now, thats okay.

No.23, Toronto Raptors: OG Anunoby, Indiana

Concern over his Achilles and the time he will miss this upcoming season is the only reason OG Anunoby fell this far, and Toronto should be estatic.  A terrible defensive team that was exposed in the playoffs should improve greatly with the addition of Anunoby, who was this draft’s Jaylen Brown.  Toronto still has a lot to figure out with their core, but Anunoby is one step toward the future.

No.24, Denver Nuggets (Pick was traded by Utah): Tyler Lydon, Syracuse

I wasn’t super educated on Lydon pre-draft, but he’s a great scorer, and the one thing holding Denver back is their lack of a No.1 option on the offensive end.  I’m not sure how dominant of a force he can be, but Lydon projects a nice and efficient player to boost their scoring capabilities.

No.25, Philadelphia 76ers (Pick was traded by Orlando): Anzejs Pasecniks, Spain

No.26, Portland Trail Blazers: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

I understand that Portland needed to build their front-court, but I’m not sure Swanigan is a great fit for today’s NBA.  He’s big, short and can’t protect the rim.  I don’t trust the jumper for a guy with his build.  I saw him as a 2nd round pick; this was a reach.

No.27, Los Angeles Lakers (Pick was traded by Brooklyn in the D’Angelo Russell trade): Kyle Kuzma, Utah

Kuzma has a great jumpshot and is capable of playing the small-ball 4, fitting perfectly in today’s NBA.  With Brandon Ingram still very raw and Luol Deng on a travesty of a contract, Kuzma gives the Lakers good value and another asset.

No.28, Utah Jazz (Pick was traded by the Lakers): Tony Bradley, North Carolina

The Jazz just continue to take good players in the frontcourt.  Bradley is an excellent rebounder and projects as some type of cross between Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert.  I’m not sure he’s a good option has a rim protector, but could be used as the 5 in small lineups due to his athleticism and build.

No.29, San Antonio Spurs: Derrick White, Colorado

White fell quite a ways, and many see him as a sleeper pick at this spot.  Whatta you know, another pick everyone loves by the Spurs.  Him and Dejounte Murray are gonna be a dynamic duo next season.

No.30, Los Angeles Lakers (Pick was traded by the Jazz): Josh Hart, Villanova

Probably about where he should have gone.  There was some early 20s buzz a few weeks before the draft.  Hart’s a great passer for his position, and can get almost any shot he wants.  He’s a faster, more efficient Jordan Clarkson.  This pick was made based off the possibility of Clarkson being traded and the theory of best player available.

Only doing notable 2nd round picks…

No.31, New Orleans Pelicans (Pick was traded by Charlotte): Frank Jackson, Duke

I couldn’t believe Jackson went ahead of Frank Mason.  I just didn’t see anything super special with Jackson this past season.  He’s fine, but he projects to be an average facilitator who’s athleticism causes him to try and do too much.  However, his passing ability will become be very handy with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

No.34, Sacramento Kings: Frank Mason, Kansas

I just loved what the Kings did.  Yeah, it’s college-star heavy.  But all the guys they took have the potential to all be impactful in the NBA.  Mason projects as an excellent point guard who makes others better coupled with great scoring ability.  His age made him fall, thats it.

No.35, Memphis Grizzlies (Pick was traded by Orlando): Ivan Rabb, California

Finally!  I still can’t believe he didn’t come out in 2016.  Here’s what you get for waiting.

Anyways, I loved this pick by Memphis.  It’s great value, and Rabb is essentially Zach Randolph’s replacement assuming JaMychal Green bolts in free agency.  Rabb’s big and physical, which Memphis likes, but also has range and can use his athleticism guard multiple positions.

No.38, Golden State Warriors (Pick was (idiotically) traded by Chicago): Jordan Bell, Oregon

Never count out the Bulls to do something stupid…

First of all, why is anyone helping Golden State in the first place?  They didn’t have  a pick this draft; why accept anything to get them in it, one of the best drafts in the past 2o years?

Secondly, why not make them cough up some future assets?  The Warriors paid $3.5 million for this draft pick.  This isn’t baseball.  That money can’t be used to improve the roster.  Every team is given the same amount of money to spend on their team (Ever heard of the salary cap, Bulls?  Who are you?  Vlade Divac?) .  Cash is a useless object in the NBA.

Thirdly, why pass on Jordan Bell?  There’s a chance he’s Draymond Green minus the offense.  He’d be the most athletic/modern player on the Bulls roster.  I swear, it’s like they’re trying to go backwards.

Bell’s going to be unfair in Golden State.  He’ll be a monster in their defensive scheme; blocking shots, switching, etc.  It will look masterful.

No.39, Philadelphia 76ers: Juwan Evans, Oklahoma State

Philly needed point guard depth, and Evans projects as a great backup point guard with excellent passing and playmaking ability.

No.40, Charlotte Hornets (Pick was traded by New Orleans): Dwayne Bacon, Florida State

Bacon’s extremely athletic but is raw in just about every area.  He’s a project but will make Charlotte more dynamic, something they desperately needed.

No.41, Atlanta Hawks: Tyler Dorsey, Oregon

The Hawks love shooting guards who can ball out (Thabo, Bazemore, Hardaway).  I like Dorsey the most out of their current options.  He had an awesome tournament, came up in the clutch and showcased his scoring ability.

No.42, Los Angeles Lakers (Pick was traded by Utah): Thomas Bryant, Indiana

The Lakers are building a really dynamic, athletic team for the future, and this pick of Thomas Bryant reinforces that.  Bryant’s extremely athletic for his size, can protect the rim and defend pick and rolls.  He’s probably not a starter, but if Julius Randle ends up somewhere else he could see a lot of playing time.

No.45, Memphis Grizzlies (Pick was traded by Houston): Dillion Brooks, Oregon

Disclaimer: I tweeted the night of the draft about how awesome Dillion Brooks would be on Houston without realizing he was traded to Memphis.

Anyways, Brooks would have hit 100 3s on the Rockets, but for Memphis he can turn into a premier scorer with his creativeness.  Effective on or off the ball, this was great value at No.45.

No.47, Indiana Pacers: Ike Anigbogu, UCLA

The Pacers seem to be trying to become a more modern team, and drafting Anigbogu, a lengthy center who can protect furthers that case.  With Myles Turner in place, he won’t be a starter, but him and former teammate TJ Leaf will make a nice duo off the bench.

No.48, Los Angeles Clippers (Pick was traded by Milwaukee): Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

Another sleeper pick late.  Thornwell balled out in the tournament and projects as a more efficient Jamal Crawford for LA.  He’s gonna need the ball in his hands, but with the status of the Clippers’ bench, that’s probably a good thing.

No.51, Denver Nuggets: Monte Morris, Iowa State

Like him as a future backup point guard.  Was really fun to watch in college.

No.55, Utah Jazz: Nigel William Goss, Gonzaga

I really liked Utah’s draft too.  Goss was awesome in college and gives Utah even more point guard depth.  He’s also sneakily crafty with the ball.

No.59, San Antonio Spurs: Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

I can’t believe Blossomgame wasn’t drafted higher.  He was a joy in college and the Spurs will turn him into something because, well, they’re the Spurs.

How did these guys not get drafted??

  • Isaish Briscoe
  • Chris Boucher
  • PJ Dozier
  • Isaiah Hicks
  • Kris Jenkins
  • Kennedy Meeks
  • Melo Trimble
  • Bronson Koenig

Best drafts:

  • Kings
  • Lakers
  • Jazz
  • Hawks
  • Hornets
  • Clippers
  • Lakers
  • Grizzlies
  • Spurs

Worst drafts: 

  • Bulls
  • Pistons

On the Jimmy Butler trade…

It seemed as if we had been talking about it for two years, and on draft night, it finally happened.  The Timberwolves fleeced the Bulls by trading for Jimmy Butler, only coughing up Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine and No.7 overall for one of the best two-way players in the league.

This trade provided the Bulls a chance to kick off a rebuild with a nice package of assets, and instead they got some potato chips.  Sure, Lavine and Dunn are good players.  But Lavine is someone who plays no defense and has to have the ball in his hands to be effective (When he does, he’s good though).  Dunn had a terrible rookie year and figures to only be a good defender and passer.  The No.7 pick could have been used on Malik Monk, but the Bulls instead took Lauri Markkanen, a one-dimensional, power forward who’s the best or 2nd best shooter on the team.

There’s pros to the package, but it just wasn’t enough.  Jimmy Butler is one of the 15 best players in the league.  That should demand a nice haul.  The Bulls got no sure things in return.

For Minnesota, this couldn’t have worked out better.  They got a guy they’ve coveted  for years for cheap, who just so happens to be one of the best 15 players in the league, and who’s playing for a coach he loves.

There will be some adjustments.  Butler needs the ball in his hands, but him having it is much better than having Andrew Wiggins possess it.  This trade affects Wiggins the most.  He’s not a spot-up shooter, but also isn’t the type of player who’s gonna deliver every time either.  There’s a chance he becomes hidden on that side of the floor and strictly becomes a defensive specialist.

Butler, Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is a menace defensively.  Thibs will work magic on that end.  The chemistry on offense will come, but Minnesota finally looks ready to make the leap.

On the Trey Lyles trade…

I like Trey Lyles, but the Jazz had to give him up to get Donavan Mitchell, a guy I really, really like and will have more of an impact on any given game.  Plus, the Jazz have options at power forward.  With the position almost eradicated, Utah has enough athletic, versatile guys to take the spot.  Plus, I’m not sure I trust Lyles’ jumper.  It’s a good risk for Denver, but Utah isn’t losing a lot.

On the David Griffin firing…

Based on everything I’ve gathered and read, it seems as if the decision to let David Griffin walk as GM of the Cavaliers came down to his reluctancy to break up this core of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Essentially, Griffin saw the light.  He knew there’s a chance LeBron bolts for LA next Summer, and wanted to keep at least Kyrie to help build for the future.  Some of the trade rumors out there during draft week were insane, with Cleveland looking at major pieces like Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.  There could have been even bigger deals in play.  It’s hard to have those conversations without Kyrie Irving’s name come up.

On the other end, Dan Gilbert is delusional, and probably doesn’t think LeBron would dare leave again.  It seems as if Gilbert wanted to blow it up and swap out this core for a new one to help LeBron win again.  Say a core of LeBron, Melo, Paul George and CP3…  Getting those guys requires trading Love and Kyrie, something it seems Griffin was against (At least, against trading Kyrie).

At the same time though, it was Griffin (and LeBron) who built this roster in a way so that they’d be locked in with a core.  Clearly, that core is flawed, and a simpler reason for Griffin’s departure.

On the Phil Jackson firing…

I think people are overrating what this move means.  Phil Jackson didn’t ruin the Knicks.  The Knicks have been ruined ever since James Dolan bought the team.  Their bright spots are Jeremy Lin, the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis (which was almost obliterated last week), and probably this move right here.  Jackson might be gone, but the Knicks still possess one of the highest concentrations of incompetentness in the league thanks to their owner.

Jackson’s firing essentially guarantees that Porzingis won’t be traded, that’s it.  I mean, there’s chance Dolan’s gonna hire Isiah Thomas back.  I could be running the Knicks soon.  Who really knows…

The Knicks are still the Knicks and are still ran by Dolan.  Besides Porzingis being traded, anything is possible.

Jackson’s tenure was abominable, but I’m not sure it hurts his legacy in the long run.  Jackson was an amazing coach in his time.  But eras change and you have to adjust.  Jackson didn’t.  He’s old.  Old people don’t like to change the way they’ve done things their whole life.  Pair that with fading logic and rising age (It’s just the way it is!  People get dumber as they get older!), it was never a smart idea to hire Jackson or for him to take the job.  But hey, keep getting dem’ checks Phil!

On the Paul George rumors…

At this point, Indiana is gonna have to take what they can get.  His value is only going down further the longer they wait.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  Keeping George at the deadline remains a massive mistake.  It allowed time for the PG to the Lakers buzz to explode, the Celtics to have a better shot at Gordon Hayward, and for the league to realize that George, as good as he is, isn’t more than the 2nd best player on a championship team.

Take all that into consideration, and you’re not getting a package good enough to kickoff a rebuild.  That’s worst case scenario for any team, and it’s where Indiana is right now.  The Pacers need to make this move as soon as possible to salvage any value thats left.

On the Chris Paul trade…

Besides the finances, it made no sense for Chris Paul to remain with the Clippers.  Their current group of players, year after year, had failed to get it done.  The team never really seemed to like each other.

We knew big changes were coming this Summer, and the first domino fell Wednesday.  After telling Los Angeles he would leave for the Rockets, Paul opted in to his contract (PS:  Props to Chris for A) Opting in and alerting the Clippers of his departure so they weren’t screwed and B) Opting in so that Houston was on the books for a little less money this upcoming season), allowing the Clippers to trade him for anything they could squeeze out of Houston.  The deal worked out pretty nicely.  LA landed Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and a 2018 protected first round pick from the Rockets, in addition to DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer and Darrun Hilliard.  Expect Hilliard and Liggins to be waived; they were only included so that the salaries matched.

It’s not exactly a package that can kickoff a rebuild, but it’s a nice bounty of assets that can form a decently-competent team next year.  Patrick Beverly will run point, Lou Williams can come off the bench and score (Even with JJ Redick probably gone, I would start Austin Rivers).  Sam Dekker’s probably the best shooter on the team right now.  Montrezl Harrell played really well last season, and gives the Clips a versatile big man, something they lack right now.  We’ll see where the pick lands, but given the fact that the Clips don’t have many in the next few years, it’ll be valuable.  Oh, and Kyle Wiltjer should be kept on the roster.  He’s a good shooter like Dekker too.

The ramifications for the Clippers signals the end of this big three era.  Though he can make more money, it’s hard to see Blake Griffin staying.  This team, with or without him, is staring right into 35-40 wins next season.  Better situations are aplenty: Boston, Miami, OKC (Are we sure though?), Phoenix (I actually don’t want him).

That leaves DeAndre Jordan, who should feel pretty screwed over after being convinced to stay with the Clippers by CP3 and Blake just two years ago.  It’s really him and a bunch of combo guards.  LA could be starting Beverley-Rivers-Dekker-Brandon Bass-Jordan next year.  They have Bev, Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Lou Williams all in the same backcourt!  It’s the perfect combination of production and terrible efficiency, with a trace of good defense in Rivers and Bev.  Bottom line: It’s extremely mediocre.

As for Houston, this trade is somewhat of a risk.  They gave up a lot, especially considering that they could have gotten CP3 for free.  Williams was great off the bench.  Beverley fit in well next to Harden.  Harrell was awesome off the bench; there was no difference between him and Capela (Honestly, Harrell’s defense was much better.  They were more exciting with him out there).  Dekker’s a flyer for the Clippers; he didn’t receive much playing time for Houston.

Plus, there’s the unknown answer to how James Harden and CP3 will mesh on the court together.  The two clearly believe they can make it work.  Reports had them “determined” to play with each other.  But are we sure?  These are two of the most tempered guys in the league.  CP3 is a pain-in-the-you-know-what to play with.  They both love to have the ball in their hands and create plays for themselves and others.  The chemistry will be tricky.  Mike D’Antoni is an offensive mastermind; I’m sure he’s craving to get his hands on this new team.  He should figure it out, but no one can predict the mental state of both players.

Essentially, Houston will have to revamp their offense, which seems odd since their attack last year was one of the best ever, and is the type of style you must play to beat the Warriors.  Harden will move back to shooting guard, as CP3 is the much better ball-handler.  Pablo Torre of ESPN reported that Harden wants to participate in a more slash-and-kick-like offense, where Harden moves off-the-ball more and dives towards the rim.  It’s gonna change things, and I have doubts about whether this moves them closer to Golden State.

On the Ricky Rubio trade…

I was just about to publish this column when the Rubio news broke.  This really pissed me off because this column has been in the works for over a week, and was supposed to go up Wednesday before the CP3 occurred.

Anyways, the Rubio rumors had been in the air forever; even longer than the Wolves-Butler rumors.  Considering this, the Wolves got pretty good value.  Usually when a player is floated for awhile, his value plummets (Like, as we discussed above, Paul George).  Rubio’s continued to play well, and even got a lot better at the end of this past season.  That said, a top-14 protected pick is all I would have given up, and giving that the Wolves almost dealt Rubio straight up for Derrick Rose in February, I’d be happy with the return if I’m a Wolves fan.

Minnesota clearly has a big signing coming.  Tyus Jones isn’t ready to start, and he’s their only point guard on the roster.  Kyle Lowry is the star that pops into mind, but getting anyone to come to Minnesota is tough, even with Jimmy Butler on the recruiting trail.  Jeff Teague or George Hill is more likely, but if Minnesota is bringing on one of those guys, why trade Rubio?  Neither Teague or Hill see the court the way Rubio does, and both are terrible defenders while Rubio is excellent on that end of the floor.  Sure, they’re better scorers, but Rubio’s offensive role would have been limited anyways with Butler added.

The only way I approve of this trade for Minnesota is if they land Lowry, because in Hill or Teague, you’re not upgrading whatsoever.

As for Utah, this is an awesome get.  Swapping Hill for Rubio is a sweeping victory, and I loved Utah’s draft, so the pick next year isn’t too valuable.  Maybe a better point guard convinces Gordon Hayward to stay!

2017 NBA Mock Draft

This year’s NBA Draft has the chance to be special, with 12-15 guys I see making an impact in the NBA someday.

As always, the disclaimers are 1) I’m not a huge college basketball fan.  I only watch it for the Draft and know most of the top guys.  Not everyone in my mock I am super familiar with.  I write on the guys I know.  2) The mock is mix of what I think will happen and what I think should happen.

No.1, Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington

No.2, Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

I’m not as big of a Lonzo Ball fan as others.  On my private big board, he’s the 4th best player in this draft.  I see and understand the case for him, but also believe there’s some weaknesses that are being shadowed.

One of Lonzo’s biggest attributes is his shooting ability.  He shot 55% from the field and 41.2% from three at UCLA this past season, but it’s more about his mechanics that concerns me.  The release point of his shot is to the left of his head, not above the head or at the eyebrows.  This makes Ball’s shot much easier to guard, and in today’s NBA, where 7-foot wingspans are extremely common, Ball might have a tough time gaining his stroke with hands near his hold and eyes consistently.

Secondly, Ball is a terrible defender.  It’s probably more about effort than lack of skill, but at 6’6 with a seven foot wingspan, Ball is wasting his potential by not trying on that end.  There’s a chance he could be a real two-way force.  For now, his defense should be held against him.

My last concern with Ball doesn’t actually have to do with Lonzo himself.  I’ve been waiting to touch on this subject for this column, and hopefully this column only.

I’m a big karma guy, and LaVar Ball is creating a lot of bad karma for his son.  Nothing he has said can possibly generate anything positive.

Also, and this is more of a pre-draft thing, when we weren’t totally sure what team he’d end up on, but NBA teams, or the Lakers in particular, are not gonna want to put up with annoying parents like that.

The Lakers are ready for Lonzo.  They traded D’Angelo Russell to clear up any chemistry issues and LaVar has said that Lonzo will play for the Lakers, so that’s that.  Despite my concerns, Lonzo’s worse case as a player is a long, athletic guy who can make any pass and be an awesome distributor.  Best case is hard to say.  If Lonzo puts it all together, it’s extremely likely he’s the best player in the draft.  Nobody has that shooting and passing ability like he does.

No.3, Boston Celtics: Josh Jackson, Kansas

The Celtics, as usual, could go a couple ways here.  Jayson Tatum is certainly in play.  Trading this pick in a package for a star is definitely in play.  However, I have the Celtics taking Jackson because I find the Kansas star to be the 3rd best player in the draft.

Jackson’s scouting report is a long, athletic wing who’s a great defender with a raw offensive game.  It matches a lot of guys in this draft, and also matches Jaylen Brown, who the Celtics took No.3 overall last year.

However, I’m a bigger believer in Jackson than that.  I thought his progress on offense improved greatly over the course of the year at Kansas, and even got to a point where, if I was an opposing defender, wouldn’t want to guard him.  Jackson ended up shooting 37.8% on threes with the Jayhawks, much better than his doubters suggest.

Though he’s comparable to Brown, I believe he’s the right pick.  An inch taller and more polished offensively, Jackson can be the consistent wing scorer Boston desperately needs.  He’s a very Aingey pick, as Jayson Tatum, though a better scorer (more on him later), isn’t the best defender.  Sure, the Celtics can sign Gordon Hayward, but Hayward doesn’t offer the youth and defense Jackson does.  I’m not against making both moves…. if Jackson struggles Hayward is there.  But Jackson’s offensive game is more versatile and explosive, making him the better fit.

No.4, Phoenix Suns: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

I battled on this pick and ended up taking the best player available.  The Suns could go A LOT of directions here, and with the Kristaps Porzingis rumors floating around I’m becoming very inclined toward moving this pick.

If we keep it though, I’d hope we take Fox.  Jayson Tatum is a better fit, but I’m not high on him and Fox is the better overall prospect.

In Fox, the Suns are getting an athletic freak who can eventually takeover for Eric Bledsoe.  Fox is a lightning bolt, and is faster than any NBA player I’ve seen (He’s faster than John Wall and it’s not even close).  This allows him to get anywhere he wants on the court.

Fox’s long arms and speed allow him to catch up to speed and guard many positions .  He embarrassed Lonzo Ball in the NCAA Tournament on both ends, a game which raised his stock highly.

Fox’s main concern is his lack of a jumpshot.  It might develop (If it does, he’s gonna be the best player in this draft).  On the Suns though, it wouldn’t be too much of a concern.  We have plenty of dudes who can hit threes.

Some might find the balance between him and Devin Booker awkward.  There would be some chemistry to work out, but Booker’s the type of player who can be effective on and off ball, while Fox needs the ball in his hands to be effective.  Using Booker off the ball when Fox is on the court creates even more of a problem for opposing defenses with Booker’s shooting and Fox’s athleticism.  This would also allow Phoenix to become even more dynamic offensively.

I’m intrigued by Fox, but if this pick can help us land a Porzingis or Jimmy Butler, I’d be happy to flip it.

No.5, Sacramento Kings: Dennis Smith, N.C. State

I don’t know a lot about Smith, but his flashiness and potential makes him a very Kingsy-pick.  I could see him and Jayson Tatum going in some order at No.5 and No.6.

No.6, Orlando Magic: Jayson Tatum, Duke

I’m not a huge fan of Tatum.  I don’t know how high his ceiling is… He could be Harrison Barnes or a more athletic, slimmer Melo.  However, the Magic need perimeter scoring, and Tatum figures to be someone who can just get buckets.  If the Celtics trade down again, Tatum figures to be a target.

No.7, Minnesota Timberwolves: Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

Rumblings around the league suggest that Minnesota could move this pick as they’re not really in love with anyone.  If they keep it though, Markkanen makes the most sense.  Though he doesn’t have the highest ceiling, Markkanen would be a big upgrade over Gorgui Dieng as a stretch 4.

Markkanen isn’t super talented though.  He shoots it clean and spaces the floor; that’s about it.  He’s lanky defensively, and is raw with putting the ball on the deck and posting up.  Jonathan Issac could also make some sense here at No.7.

No.8, New York Knicks: Malik Monk, Kentucky

I absolutely love Monk.  He’s electric, a great shooter and is almost as athletic as his former teammate De’Aaron Fox.  I think he’s the 2nd best player in this draft.  Why is he falling to No.8?

It’s two things: Teams don’t need him and teams are underrating him.  I watched a ton of Kentucky this year to get familiar with Fox and Monk.  Though not a point guard, Monk is just as capable of having an offense ran through him.  His athetisicm and shot-making allow him to do whatever he wants on the court.  He’s a  such a unique player that I don’t have a comparison for him, which is a rarity and a good sign.

Monk would light up MSG.  With Melo likely gone and Porzingis hopefully (Hopefully because Knicks fans don’t deserve this) staying (Though, at this point, that might be unlikely), the Knicks would have something promising for once.

No.9, Dallas Mavericks: Jonathan Issac, Florida State

The lowest I’ve seen Issac go is in my own draft.  He’s probably destined for the 5-8 range, but some think the Celtics could reach for him at No.3.

Issac has an incredible body and is gifted with quite the dose of athletism, but besides that I struggle to see what he’ll become.  Is he a rim protecter who can shoot?  Can he create his own shot?  There’s a lot of questions.  He’s too lanky to be a perimeter defender, which is why I see his defensive ceiling being under the rim.  Issac’s raw in every area on offense.  For Dallas, he’s worth the risk, but this project could be an A or a F.

No.10, Sacramento Kings: OG Anuboby, Indiana

Essentially this year’s Jaylen Brown, OG is a great defender with an even rawer offensive game.  I fell in love with him while watching the Hoosiers.  Something about the way he runs makes me think he’s gonna be really good.  The Kings make picks that are the opposite of smart, so I’d be surprised if Anuboby ended up here, but given their current situation defensively, this would be a wise pick.

No.11, Charlotte Hornets: John Collins, Wake Forest

No.12, Detroit Pistons: Frank Ntilikina, France

No.13, Denver Nuggets: Justin Jackson, North Carolina

I know, this feels really, really high.  I like Justin Jackson a lot.  His versatility and athletism combined with his scoring makes him really interesting.  He’s got long arms, making him a good defender too.  I feel like he’s been really underrated, and deserves to end up in the 12-17 range.  As for fit, Denver needs someone who can get buckets.  Jackson projects to be a cross between Otto Porter and Paul George in some way.  That’s a talent the Nuggets should covet.

No.14, Miami Heat: Harry Giles, Duke

This is definitely one of those “It shouldn’t but will happen” picks.  I thought Giles should have stayed another year at Duke.  He barely played and had a limited impact on the Blue Devils this year.  He looked pretty incompetent out there.  Teams should probably be looking more at his high school tape, because nothing stands out from this past season.

However, Giles, if he stays healthy, could be a really nice big man down the road, and kinda reminds me of Chris Bosh without the shooting.  This would be a classic Heat pick.

No.15, Portland Trail Blazers: Zach Collins, Gonzaga

Collins was a really fun college player, and projects to be a nice floor spacer who can shoot in the NBA.  Portland desperately needs that right now to put along side Jursuf Nurkic.  However, I’d warn teams from drafting these type of guys too early.  Frank Kaminsky hasn’t worked so well…  Neither did Adam Morrison.

No.16, Chicago Bulls: Donavan Mitchell, Louisville

No.17, Milwaukee Bucks: Terrance Ferguson, Australia 

No.18, Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard, Duke

Kennard’s stock has risen greatly over the past few weeks, but this draft has too much potential at the top for Kennard to go in the top ten.  That said, Kennard is a pretty safe pick.  A combo guard, he has the potential to evolve into a nice backup point guard if he works on his handle.  If the vision and ball-handling doesn’t come, Kennard turns into a Kyle Korver-like player, because man, he can stroke it.  The Pacers need to redo their backcourt, and no matter what Kennard turns out to be, he’d be an upgrade over what they have now.

No.19, Atlanta Hawks: TJ Leaf, UCLA

With Dwight Howard gone and Paul Millsap possibly leaving in free agency, the Hawks are about to begin a massive overhaul in their frontcourt.  TJ Leaf is a great stretch 4 who can shoot and provides spacing.  If the Hawks bring back Millsap, Leaf would fit in perfectly.  If Millsap leaves, Leaf becomes a nice piece to build around.

No.20, Portland Trail Blazers: Jonah Bolden, Australia

No.21, Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarrett Allen, Texas A&M

No.22, Brooklyn Nets: Ike Anigbogu, UCLA

No.23, Toronto Raptors: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky

I really think this is a good fit.  The Raptors need more athletic big men, and Adebayo should translate very nicely into the modern NBA with his versatility and rim protection.

No.24, Utah Jazz: Semi Ojeleye, SMU

No.25, Orlando Magic: Derrick White, Colorado

No.26, Portland Trail Blazers: Ivan Rabb, California

Rabb made a big mistake staying an extra year at Berkeley, but ending up in Portland should work out well.  As part of their front court rebuild, the Blazers need someone who can do the dirty work off the bench.  Rabb projects as a small-ball center, giving the Blazers much versatility with him and Zach Collins.

No.27, Los Angeles Lakers: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse

No.28, Los Angeles Lakers: Tony Bradley, North Carolina

Bradley reminds me of a more-athletic Julius Randle and should fit in nicely wherever he ends up.

No.29, San Antonio Spurs: Anzejs Pasecniks, Latvia

No.30, Utah Jazz: Frank Jackson, Duke

With George Hill a free agent and Dante Exum still overcoming his youth and rawness, Jackson makes a lot of sense as a bridge point guard who can run things and distribute the ball.

Boston Is Insane To Trade No.1

At 6’4, equipped with an amazing vision, long arms, a sweet stroke and incredible playmaking, Markelle Fultz is the total-package NBA prospect.  Him and Ben Simmons, last year’s No.1 overall pick, are the two best prospects to enter the league since Kevin Durant.  Now, they’ll be on the same team.

As always, college basketball is a sketchy sport for me.  I watch it strictly for the prospects, not for simple enjoyment.  This year’s NBA Draft is loaded.  It’s much better than 2014, probably better than 2003 and could even be better than 1992 in terms of ceiling.  Obviously, 1992 had its busts, and never turned out to be that great.  But prospect-wise, 1992 and 2017 have serious similarities.

I’ll have a mock draft later this week.  I always identify players who I believe will have an impact in NBA.  Based off that, I give the select draft a label, saying that it’s a “seven-player draft” or “three-player draft”.  This year, those two numbers can be added together and still won’t equal the amount of impact guys.  2017 is a 13-15 player draft.  It’s completely ridiculous.

The most coveted player’s future team has been altered though.  The Celtics and Sixers agreed to a deal for No.1 overall, where No.1 and No.3 would be swapped and Philadelphia will send two first round picks to Boston, one is the 2018 Lakers’ pick, and one is the 2019 Kings’ pick.  However, Boston will only convey one of these picks.

This makes this trade for Boston less enticing than it already is.

First, lets evaluate how Fultz would have fit with Boston. He would have delivered an incredible talent to a team that’s 2nd best in its conference, creating a good balance of winning now and building for the future.  With Isaiah Thomas a year away from entering free agency as a 29 year old, 5’7 1/2 point guard with contract demands reaching $40 million a year, having Fultz to pass the throne to didn’t sound like a bad idea.  Fultz is an immediate impact guy…  you can hand the car keys to him right away.  If all that was the case, trading Thomas before next February didn’t sound all that crazy.

Fultz in a Sixers uniform though makes Philly the best League Pass team in the NBA, instantly elevates them to 35 wins, and starts the “In how many years will this team win a title?” conversation.  There will be some chemistry to work out between him and Simmons; both are point guards who are great at creating shots for others and themselves.  Simmons missing his rookie year though actually helps Fultz adapt.  Had Simmons played in 2016-2017, he’d be accustom to having the ball in his hands most of the time.  Fultz and him starting their careers at the same time only accelerates the learning curve for both.  Pairing those two with a healthy Joel Embiid creates a menace to defend, as all three can score in so many ways.

Trading No.1 should have required Boston to gain a massive package from the Sixers.  Remember, Markelle Fultz is the best prospect since Kevin Durant.  When’s a guy like him gonna come around again?

Also, the Lakers should be much better next season.  That pick is extremely compacted.  Los Angeles has to essentially be the worst team in the league or improve substantially.  30 wins seems feasible, but anywhere between 21 and 27 wins puts for the Lakers puts Boston in dangerous territory. Does that pick, in a weaker draft (2018), and Josh Jackson (Who I like but has concerns) really equal Fultz, who’s a guaranteed superstar?

Boston could have strengthened their return by asking for the Lakers’ pick and the Kings’ 2019 unprotected first rounder, which in the current terms they only receive if the Lakers’ selection doesn’t convey.  If I’m Boston, I’m rooting for that Kings pick in 2019.  Assuming the Kings aren’t sold by then, the Kings are practically guaranteed to still be terrible, even with the two first rounders they have Thursday night.

I just didn’t think Boston got good value on No.1.  If I was Danny Ainge, I would have asked for No.3 overall, the Lakers’ 2018 pick unprotected, the Kings 2019 pick unprotected, and maybe a future first (2022??) from Philly with protections.  There’s a real chance passing up on Fultz will haunt Boston, even if they end up with good players with those future picks.

However, multiple people around the league believe that Boston has another move coming, and that judging this trade based on the picks they receive back is worthless since they’re gonna flip them.  That would certainly make it more appeasing to me.  That Lakers pick is pretty good if you’re trading for someone like Paul George (PS: I am not giving up much for him); it’s the No.1 asset in a PG-13 trade.  The Kings pick is a dicey one… I’m not sure I’d move it for PG straight up, but I’m also not sure it’s the No.1 asset in a Jimmy Butler trade either.

Boston’s gonna be in talks with teams who possess superstars.  They feel they need one… another one.  However, the guy Boston is missing is a shot maker; a first or second option that can get buckets, be consistent and take some pressure off of Isiah Thomas.  That guy is probably Josh Jackson at No.3.  I respect the trade down.  Boston can still get a guy they like and need and collect assets in the process.  But using those assets in a trade for a superstar doesn’t make sense if you’re drafting one at No.3 in Jackson.  Nor do those assets bring full value to what you could be missing out on in Fultz.

The only way I see this working out for Boston is if the Lakers stun everyone and take Jackson at No.2.  I’m not huge on Lonzo Ball; I have more concerns than the average fan (More on that later this week).  Jackson going No.2 would put Boston in a pickle.  Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Issac and De’Aaron Fox are reaches or bad fits at No.3.  This could force Boston to make a Jimmy Butler-type trade, bringing in a superstar while not doubling down on the same type of player with No.3 overall.

I loved this trade for Philadelphia.  While Fultz will have to develop chemistry with Simmons, it’s the first smart move the Colangelos have made since taking over the Sixers from Sam Hinkie, AKA Jesus The Savior.  …Trust the process forever…  The Sixers have a higher ceiling than anyone in the league right now.  Fultz, Simmons and Embiid will give defenses nightmares, and whether they win 60 games next year or 30, they will captivate us all.

NBA Finals Roundup

Eleven months ago, Kevin Durant changed the NBA landscape by leaving the Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors and form the best team ever on paper.

Eleven months later, he changed it again… Winning the 2017 Finals and claiming the MVP trophy of the series by going head to head with one of the league’s four best players ever and coming out on top.

The 2nd sentence erodes all criticism Durant received 11 months ago.  Yeah, Durant had to join a 73 win team to get his ring.  But Golden State couldn’t have done it with out him, and with the way Durant played in this series, there’s a chance he could have done it by himself… that is, beat the Cavaliers and LeBron James.

In my NBA Finals preview, I concluded that if Golden State won this series, it would strictly be due to a phenomenal defensive performance by Durant.  He would be tasked with shutting down LeBron, allowing Golden State to switch on and off of Kyrie Irving and discombobulating Cleveland’s offense.  It was the key to the series.

I had my doubts.  There was a time when I thought about picking Cleveland.  Durant is a great defender, but did I really think he could shut down LeBron four times?

Durant didn’t really “shut down” LeBron though.  James became the first player ever to average a triple double in the Finals.  But the stats are misleading.  What makes LeBron LeBron is the ability to takeover the game, the ability to affect the game invisibly, the ability to make an impact on things that we can’t see.  At this point, it’s a spiritual thing with him.

That spiritual presence wasn’t there this series, and thats the tiny difference, thanks to Durant’s defense, that won the Warriors the Finals.

In Games 1+2, Golden State was playing at 110% on all ends.  LeBron’s numbers were still insane: 28 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 1 and 29-11-14 in Game 2.  But, matched against Golden State’s offensive attack (Which Cleveland never ever had a chance at stopping), it was too much and put the Cavs in a 2-0 hole.

Game 3 was a different story.  It wasn’t Golden State’s best game, but it also wasn’t as “poorly” played as Game 4 was  (For lack of a better word, Golden State never played poorly in this series.).  For the Cavs though, that was their moment.  Game 3 belonged to Cleveland; I thought it was their best game of the series.  LeBron and Kyrie were amazing; LeBron looked better than KD for the first time.  Cleveland also adjusted on offense, using Stephen Curry as much as possible in the pick-and-roll to force mismatches and get easy baskets.  Yet Golden State was relentless, hitting threes like it was nothing and soon enough took the lead back.

The narrative out of Game 3 was that Cleveland blew it.  But, the Cavs’ largest lead was only seven points.  Newsflash: Thats not really a lead against the Warriors.  They can hit two threes on back-to-back possessions and it’s a close game again.  They are never out of any game and Game 3 was another example of that.

In Game 4, Cleveland finally got a break.  LeBron and Kyrie were amazing again, but as the series had previously suggested, the Cavs needed more.  Game 4 was the JR Smith game, an event that was completely forgotten about as a possible scenario  in this series but also totally inevitable at some point.  That role player performance was one that was desperately needed by Cleveland.  Unfortunately for the Cavs though, it never came again.  JR Smith’s Game 4 was a one-timer, a common trait of Cleveland’s role players this whole postseason.

The Cavs win in Game 4 wasn’t totally guaranteed even with JR’s explosion.  Golden State only shot 28% from three that night.  That stat right there is all you need to know as to why Cleveland won, but it also works both fronts.  Cleveland got pretty lucky that Golden State was off shooting-wise.  We could be looking at a sweep if the Warriors weren’t a sloppy mess.

Game 5 felt a lot like Game 3, a close-knit game until Golden State went on one of those runs and never gave the lead back up.  What kept it interesting was Cleveland’s never ending yet still lackluster resilience.  It wasn’t until the three minute mark of the 4th quarter that I felt confident in Golden State winning, as I thought LeBron would pull something together and make the series interesting.

It didn’t happen, and Golden State won the title for the 2nd time in three years, completing the best three year run ever by number of wins and collection of talent.  It’s been ridiculous, and it’s not ending any time soon.

Kevin Durant leaves this series with three new accomplishments: A ring, a good case for being the best player in the league, and a top 30 ranking all-time.  Don’t tell me you expected that to happen coming into these Finals.

I’m not sure KD is the best player in the league, but the case is pretty good.  I mean, he did just beat the best player in the world on both ends to win a series.  He won Finals MVP while being guarded by LeBron.  He was the sole reason Golden State won the series.

As for all-time, Durant’s one of the best pure scorers this league has ever seen.  In that ranking he’s probably in the top six or seven.

In the GOATS ranking, Durant is making his way up (Yes, it needs some updating.  Thats one of my Summer projects).  Name six forwards you’d rather have all-time than KD.  Bird, LeBron, Duncan, Erving, Baylor??  Thats it for me.  Oh, and Durant’s only 28.  Elgin Baylor and the Doc are gonna be feeling the heat soon.

As for the Cavs and LeBron, big changes could be on the way.  Cleveland has to choose between Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.  The two can play together fine, but Love is not a good defender and has no chance against the athleticism of a team like Golden State.  Flipping one of those guys for a more athletic, defensively-oriented 3-and-D guy is a very real possibility this Summer.  I don’t think Paul George is the answer; he needs shots and is a poor defender.  Melo makes absolutely zero sense.  Would the Cavs do a sign-and-trade for Otto Porter and send Kevin Love to Washington??  Porter would have to take much less money, but trading that to play with LeBron and be title contenders is logical.

Cleveland’s problems are deep.  Even the Porter scenario is unlikely.  Locked into contracts like Iman Shumpert’s and J.R. Smith’s, this Cavs team isn’t set up to acquire a a good player making a decent amount of money.  There’s not a way for them to get any better.

That sets up a dangerous scenario in the Summer of 2018.  LeBron is a free agent, and as we saw via multiple stories that dropped during the Finals, him leaving again is not inconceivable whatsoever.  The Lakers, Clippers, or a Banana Boat hookup somewhere is a very real possibility.

As for LeBron’s legacy, this Finals loss doesn’t hurt him, but it certainly doesn’t help.  I have LeBron ranked 4th all-time.  He’s probably 3rd, as Bill Russell’s runner-up ranking is probably too high (A mistake that will be fixed this Summer).

If LeBron’s the best player of all-time, he’d be 7-1 in the Finals.  Sorry, but thats the criteria.  Five times he’s been beat and hasn’t been good enough.  If you’re the GOAT, then anything is possible.  For LeBron, that hasn’t been the cases.

The counter is that Golden State was too loaded, and that LeBron was tasked with playing against the best team ever.

We make a ton of excuses for LeBron.  It’s true.  For now, I can’t put him above No.3.  I’m holding strong.

These Finals weren’t amazing.  Golden State handled Cleveland pretty easily.  But the impact these Finals will have will loom, whether it’s this Summer, next season, or the 3rd Summer of LeBron in 2018.

It’s Baseball, And It Happens

Starting two months ago, I had been working with my high school’s Varsity Baseball team as a student manager and scout.  The opportunity came about when one of my best friend’s Dad, who happens to be the head coach, asked me to work for him last Summer knowing my love of sports and especially baseball statistics.  Here is the story of our season…

Equipped with an ancient iPad and a Stillwater Ponies baseball hat, I stand with my arms over the fence in our home dugout.  Stillwater, or we, as I will refer to in this column, is tied 2-2 with athletic powerhouse Cretin Durham Hall in the bottom of the 7th inning (Bottom 9th, really.  We play 7.).  It’s an extremely cloudy day, so much so thats it’s more dark out than light.  We have two men on with first baseman Austin Murr at the plate.  It’s Youth Day; the most packed we’ve ever seen our home field.  Kids are running around everywhere; the stands are full.  It makes up for the crappy weather (Which I am 85% sure affected the way certain games turned out for us.  Baseball’s just not the same when it’s cloudy.).  The pitch comes and Murr swings.  The ball is a million feet high and looks like a pop up to right field.  But something carried that ball over the right field and out of the park.  I, in disbelief, scream as everyone comes pouring out of the dugout to surround home plate.  We just beat Cretin on a three run walkoff home run.  Good Lord.  

Coming into this season, I knew we had a good team.  We had a team deserving enough to be ranked in the top ten in State.  We had no weak spots.  We had all the arms you could possibly want.  We had power.  We had on-base guys.  But how good were we really?

By the final three weeks of the season, mnbaseballhub.com, the Star Tribune’s home for prep baseball, had us ranked No.1 in the state.  Thats when I really started to believe.

Murr’s walkoff against Cretin Durham Hall was the first oh-my-God moment of the season.  Though it came more than a week after the walk-off win against Woodbury, a game which I never knew the importance of until later in the year, it was still completely ridiculous.  That ball had no business going over the fence.  What happened?  Baseball.  Baseball happened.

Turns out, sometimes you need a little bit of luck.  You need some flukey stuff to happen.  You need some magic to occur.

Flash forward to June 6th, the day of the Section 4A Championship Game between us and Woodbury, a team who we have history with.  The one we beat on a walkoff in April.  The one that beat us in a game I missed in May.  The one that defeated Stillwater a year ago in the same Section 4A Championship Game on a walkoff.

Sometimes in baseball, stuff happens.  Guys swing at pitches they shouldn’t.  Guys drop balls in the outfield.  Guys miss scoops or make errors.  It’s baseball.

“It’s baseball.” was the message we received from head coach Mike Parker on the bus ride home from CHS Field in downtown St. Paul Tuesday night.  The bus was silent.  Seven senior position players and other subs sat there devastated after Woodbury beat us 4-1 in what was Game 1 of a supposed to be doubleheader.  To go to State, you must win your section.  We were two wins away; Woodbury only one since they beat us by the same score Saturday, clinching an outright berth in the game and remaining undefeated in the section tournament.  We had one loss, which meant we had to go through the last remaining team, ironically Cretin again, before playing Woodbury in the Final.  Simply, we had to win three in a row to go to State.  One against Cretin, two against Woodbury.

I stared blankly as Parker talked, trying to comprehend what happened.  As I listened, I heard my answer.  Baseball happened.

We didn’t do anything wrong against Woodbury on the 6th.  Thomas Bruchu (pronounced Brushy), our senior 3rd baseman who broke his leg in the season opener, started the game and gave us four solid innings.  It was clear in the 4th inning that, as good as he had pitched and played since returning, that he wasn’t ready to go a full game.  We certainly didn’t expect that either from him.  We treated the Section Final games as a Game 7 of the World Series.  We were ready to use anyone we needed out of the bullpen, because had we won both games, the State Tournament wouldn’t have started for a week, and the State’s pitch count/rest rule would have been irrelevant by then. Obviously, we were limited two pitchers: our ineligible guys who had pitched Saturday and Monday.  Bruchu giving us those innings was massive, and him only giving up a single run was even bigger.  There wasn’t too much harm as we already had a 1-0 lead.  Bruchu did exactly as we needed him to.

As the game moved on, things got more tense.  We started working them more… getting guys on base.  And they started to work us more, getting base runners almost every inning.   This was agonizing because you could feel it.  You knew the stakes were high and it was tough to shake.  I can’t imagine how our guys felt.

Came the 5th inning and stuff started happening.  Baseball started happening.  Murr missed a scoop at first and a bloop foul ball; two plays I’m sure he will kill himself for the rest of his life .  The ball was in his glove and then it wasn’t.  Baseball.  It happens.  Woodbury scored three runs in the 5th inning to make the score 4-1.  No one put anything on the board the rest of the game, thanks to what became a pitching duel between Woodbury stud Max Meyer and our own sophomore stud Drew Gilbert.

Meyer is gonna haunt me, and I’m sure our batters too.  The kid, a Senior who’s got 1-4 games left in his high school career, is committed to the University of Minnesota to play baseball.  He’s got fastball in the range of 89-91 MPH, but thats not his best weapon.  Yeah, now you see why he’s terrifying.

Meyer has a slider thats comparable to Andrew Miller’s.  It’s not a knee-buckler; it’s not one thats gonna end up in the dirt.  It looks like a fastball from the dugout, but from the batter’s perspective, you’ll notice it tail off to the inside or outside as you’re swinging.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, with our leadoff man, Senior 2nd baseman Ben Peterson up, Meyer struck him out with it.  A flabbergasted rather than upset Peterson came into the dugout, telling teammates the pitch was a slider, and not a fastball.  Scoffs were heard.  My thoughts weren’t, because they were too negative to say at the time.  Even with our next batter getting on base, there wasn’t a lot of hope in me.  Meyer was too good, and 120 seconds later he proved as Woodbury ended up in a dog pile in front of the pitcher’s mound as we watched stunned from our dugout.

Baseball’s a flukey game.  Look at the past 10 or so World Series winners.  Most of these teams just got hot.  Think back to the beginning of every October when we make our World Series picks from the playoff pool of teams.  They’re literally never right.  Sometimes, the best team doesn’t win.  It’s baseball.

 

NBA Finals Preview

I have LeBron James ranked the 4th best basketball player of all time on my GOATS page.  Some might say it’s too low, some might say it’s too high.  I think it’s pretty fair.  LeBron has strung together 13 seasons (I’m not counting his rookie year) of averaging at least 25 points a game and having a PER of 25 or higher without sustaining a major injury.  Michael Jordan had six years like this, and they were broken up by a two year stint in baseball.

Granted, the GOAT conversation has been one I have not touched.  At 16 years old, most would expect me to think of LeBron as the best ever.  But I respect the other eras; I’m not recently biased.  Putting LeBron in Jordan’s conversation has previously made me uncomfortable.  But as he rolls into his 7th straight Finals, and 8th in 11 years, the conversation is starting to catch up to me.  Is LeBron really the best ever??

These Finals are massive for that conversation.  Have LeBron win this year, against this Warriors team, and I’ll be ready to have it.  I’ve realized it’s time.  But can LeBron do it?

NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors

You can analyze this matchup in so many ways, but as the past six Finals have taught us, having LeBron James makes the difference.  On the other end, shutting him down can to.

The Spurs in 2007 and 2014 are the outliers in LeBron’s dominant decade.  But those were two different teams.  San Antonio dominated Cleveland in 2007 simply because the 2nd best player on the Cavs was Drew Gooden.  In 2014, Kawhi Leonard happened, and the Spurs forced LeBron to head back to Cleveland.

Kawhi is 1-1 against LeBron in the Finals.  The Heat, as LeBron admitted, had a little bit of luck come their way in the 2013 Finals.  Weight Kawhi’s record to account for luck and he’s more like 1.5-0.5 head to head.

Kevin Durant isn’t Kawhi Leonard defensively.  Kawhi’s the best defensive player ever (Oh yeah, I said it).  But Durant’s defense is criminally underrated.  You can switch him onto practically anyone with those arms.  He was 6th in the league in Defensive Win Shares during the regular season, but DWS is also a stat that ranks Stephen Curry 3rd and doesn’t have Kawhi Leonard in the top five.

If we use a rating system like 2K for this exercise, and Kawhi Leonard is a 100 defensively, then Kevin Durant’s a 93.  Take into account Kawhi’s weighted record against LeBron and compare it to KD’s (0-0.75…  That wasn’t a full loss.  Replay the 2012 Finals now and OKC’s winning.  They were young.) and Durant could end up being a factor on the defensive side.

The counter to all of this is that LeBron is actually an alien from another world, who just tore through the Eastern Conference and will not be stopped.

LeBron’s numbers through these playoffs are ridiculous.  Averaging 32.5 points a game and shooting 56% at age 32 is like nothing we’ve seen before.  However, he didn’t face any team with a threat to stop him.  Paul George is meh defensively; Toronto had DeMarre Carroll (lol).  Boston attempted to see what Jae Crowder could do (Turns out it wasn’t much) and Brad Stevens was too reluncant to play Jaylen Brown (who actually had a couple of really nice possessions on LeBron late in the series).

LeBron hasn’t been tested this postseason, so take the numbers with a grain of salt. I think Durant, combined with the constant switching of the Warriors, and Mike Brown knowing exactly how to slow down a James-led offense can get in LeBron’s head.

The scenario of the Warriors stopping LeBron is much more complex than the scenario of LeBron mauling the Warriors, making the first one harder to believe.  A lot things have to go the Warriors’ way, but they’re talented enough to do it.

If the Warriors contain LeBron, then Kyrie Irving becomes the immediate threat.  He’s been pretty ridiculous this postseason too, averaging 24.5 points a game and having multiple heat-check moments.  Those moments along with the clutch shot at the end of Game 7 last year are finally giving us what we wanted from a playoff Kyrie.  For the Warriors, it’s yet another weapon of Cleveland’s to contain.

Shutting down Kyrie is an even tougher task.  Asking Stephen Curry to defend him would be suicide.  If you assign Klay, that limits your ability to switch consistently, leaving one of the Cavs other shooters open.

The counter is that the Warriors and Cavaliers will balance each other out offensively.  They both have enough firepower.  They’re each just as likely to hit an insane amount of threes no matter how tight the defense is.  And with the way Cleveland plays defense overall, maybe the Warriors are okay with leaving shooters open.  They’ll make up those points eventually.

This column leans Warriors on-paper.  I’ve said I was picking Golden State over Cleveland all throughout the playoffs.  But the complete and utter dominance of LeBron and Kyrie’s ascension has given me second thoughts.

I picked the Warriors in 2015 and 2016.  Going with the same team three years in a row isn’t smart odds wise, but going against my gut for the past three months doesn’t sound great either.

It comes down to the question at the beginning.  Do I dare go against LeBron?… Who’s on a quest to become basketball’s best ever, who’s been on a totally ridiculous run, who would love to have “I beat the team with the most wins ever and the most stacked on-paper team ever in back-to-back years.” on his resume?

If LeBron wins these Finals, it begins a complete overhaul of the GOATS ranking.  I’ll have the Jordan conversation.  The case to name LeBron the 2nd best player ever becomes pretty strong.  If he beats this team, LeBron will have achieved a level of greatness we may have never seen before.

Barring a complete collapse, a loss in this Finals can’t be LeBron’s fault on the basketball court (in the front office, maybe).  The Warriors just might be too good.  It’s gonna take a superhuman effort from LeBron for the Cavaliers to win this series.  He’s capable of it; he’s done it before.  But Durant’s the 2nd best defender LeBron has faced in the Finals.  Kawhi didn’t have Durant’s surrounding cast; thats why it’s been split between the two.  It was a tossup.

This series is where Cleveland’s sub-par defense will catch up to them.  Who’s guarding Klay Thompson?  Draymond Green??  Golden State has too many weapons.  Cleveland’s roster construction was built to outscore this team, not defend them.  In an era where offense seems to matter the most, defense is still equally as important.

Don’t think this series will be over quickly though.  I came extremely close to backing out of my Warriors pick.  Doubting LeBron was not enticing.  He’s not accepting a loss in less than seven games.  His spiritual, alien-like presence will still reign over the series.  I mean, he’s LeBron in 2017…   Do you really think he’s not winning at least three games single-handliy? His case for being the GOAT is getting stronger.  Do you really expect him to let up?

Still, I can’t pick against the Warriors.  If the Warriors win, it’ll be due to Durant’s amazing defense against LeBron and the ability to switch guys on and off of Love and Kyrie.  If Cleveland wins, it solely be on the heels of LeBron, who immediately becomes the 2nd, if not the best, player of all-time.

Pick: Warriors in 7