Is It Possible For The Lakers To Build Out A Championship Roster?

The Lakers enter free agency as the ultimate “build it up from the ground” team.

Although the hardest part, landing the star(s), is done.

Now they have to go out and find the right guys to put around those stars.

No supporting cast around a star has been more prominent and had higher stakes than the ones around LeBron James.  If you fail to put the right one in place, he’s going to leave, and leave you in shambles.

The Lakers have a fall-back plan in Anthony Davis.  But their true window is the next three years; the three years in which LeBron has a contract with them.

They have the ability this summer to capitalize on that window.  It may be tougher than we think, even with AD and perhaps even a third star in place.

I have tried to put together the best Lakers roster based on fit, value, money and need.  I’m trying to be as realistic as possible.  This should be a wake-up call.

Before we look at complete rosters, here is the list of role guys I believe the Lakers should target and why, based on the criteria above.

(Money totals are how much I would pay THIS SEASON for the player)

Talen Horton-Tucker (~$1.5 million)

Obviously Horton-Tucker is not a free agent as, the Lakers don’t have to go out and sign him.  I want to address him though because I didn’t get to write a draft recap.  I loved Horton-Tucker and had him 17th on my board; he went 46th overall.  On a LeBron-centered team, you need to be able to defend and shoot.  Despite being SIX MONTHS younger than me (And I’m young for my age), I believe he can do that right away for the Lakers, and maybe even ball-handle a bit.  Don’t forget about him.  Also, the contract is an estimate of what his rookie deal will pay him.

Patrick Beverley ($13 million)

As you will see below, this is dependent on some non-role guys the Lakers might be able to land.  There is no basketball problem with Beverley; he’s a good shooter, he’s a maniac defender and a really good point guard.  LeBron teams, despite running through LeBron, need secondary ball-handlers who can play at their peak like primary ones.  Beverley is that.  The problem is that he’s going to demand too much money.  In certain roster molds, he’ll work.  In others, he’s either too expensive or not needed.

Rajon Rondo ($6.5 million)

Essentially a backup no matter what mold you look at.  Rondo was not terrible last season!  He found a three-point shot, and can still be a good, pesky defender when he tries.  I think he’s fine in backup role with lower minutes. Rondo got $9 million last season.  Maybe throw two years on his next deal and he’ll take a bit of a pay cut.

Rodney McGruder ($5 million)

This is a tricky spot for the Lakers because McGruder is a restricted free agent, and the Clippers date to renounce his rights or not is Saturday.  If he’s unrestricted, the Lakers should go and make an offer immediately.  McGruder was flat-out waived by the Heat before the playoffs, but he’s a gritty, long defender and can shoot it well.  Five million is probably an overpay.

Reggie Bullock ($6 million)

The Lakers have Bullock’s bird rights, so they can afford to pay a bit more for him.  I liked the trade for Bullock that they made in February.  Like ALL THESE GUYS, he can switch defensively and shoot threes.  Bullock’s sneakily one of the best shooters in the league though; he provides legitimate firepower.

Wayne Ellington ($4 million)

Remember when the Pistons finessed the system and traded Bullock, got some assets for him and then signed essentially the same player in Wayne Ellington, who was also bought-out by the Heat?  Well, the Lakers can afford both of those guys.  Ellington probably comes cheaper than Bullock due to age.

Trevor Ariza ($6 million)

Ariza mailed it in last season after cashing-in with the Suns, only to end up playing for what he thought was a playoff team in the Wizards.  The one year, $15 million contract was a heist, so Ariza could certainly take a pay-cut, especially to go play with LeBron and actually compete.

Wilson Chandler ($8 million)

Are the Lakers willing to overpay for Chandler?  He fell apart in the playoffs after being traded to the Clippers, but Chandler was legitimately Philly’s fifth starter before the Tobias Harris trade, and he did really well!  He was plopped in the corner and hit threes.  We’ll see if that run inflates his value a bit.

CJ Miles ($3 million)

The Lakers should be able to get Miles for really cheap.  A reminder: In Toronto, CJ Miles was Danny Green before Danny Green got traded there.  They literally played the same role.  Once Green came in, Miles never recovered.

Maxi Kleber ($7 million)

Now for bigs.  Almost all of these guys are probably going to cost more, due to the league realizing “Oh, these are quality players!” and dumb teams offering too much money due to so-called “star-power” (Man I was really mean to Boogie there).  Anyways, Kleber might be on the less-expensive end.  He’s not as fluid defensively; he’s a big dude with ungraceful legs.  But that size does allow him to play small-ball five in certain lineups.  Offensively, the dude launches from three, and I love it.

DeMarcus Cousins ($8 million)

Is this too much?  Way too much?  Too little?  I have no idea how to interpret Boogie’s value this summer.  This Knicks seem keen on getting him at whatever price it takes (It shouldn’t be a high one).  What if they come in with some crazy offer that trumps $8 million a year?  I thought if anyone over the years was going to overpay Boogie, it’d be the Lakers.  I thought they could take that risk.  That’s not so much the case anymore.

Boogie would solely be a backup big for the Lakers.  I worry about him playing with Davis for offensive and defensive issues.  This would essentially be another Warriors-like, one year stint to try and get a ring.  But again, Cousins might have immense interest from others in the league.

Khem Birch($5 million)/Dwayne Dedmon($8 million???)

This spot is up in the air.

I have really liked Khem Birch for this spot.  He’s not a three-point shooter, but is at least an athletic center who can run.  He’s also going to make substantially less than Dedmon, who, as Zach Lowe has pointed out on his podcast, might be in for a shocking pay-day.

Dedmon is awesome, and deserves it, but it’s going to be a contract that NBA Twitter loses their minds at originally.

The Lakers can’t afford much more at this point.  In the exercise we just completed, and in the rotation we’re about to go through below, we have spent anywhere between approximately $137.5 million and $140.5 million.

The cap is projected to be around $109 million.  They’re also well over the luxury tax.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kyle Kuzma-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Trevor Ariza-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

Here’s the players I just picked in a rotation.  A lot of switchy wings who can shoot.  Bigs who can protect the rim and play athletically.  All running through LeBron, and helped out with the play-making of Beverley and Rondo.

But how good is this roster?  The West is wide open; the Warriors won’t be the same.  Is this the best team in the West?

It feels hard to say that.  We don’t know all the other moves that could be coming to teams in the conference.  The Rockets could get a lot better.  Denver has a lot of pieces coming into the picture.  The Jazz are loading up.

This lineup lacks impact guys.  It’s hard to rely on LeBron like his teams have the past couple years anymore.  Last year, even without the injury, felt like a transitional one to a different era of his career.

Maybe the anti-Lakers bias is in full-fledged mode right now.  But this lineup feels a bit far from a guaranteed Finals contender, and that’s not a good sign considering where their cap hold would be at with it.

OR, another mold might work.

The Lakers cleared max room.  I’ve spent a lot more than that above, and that’s without adding a max player.  That’s also by putting together a roster that isn’t guaranteed to be the best.

Yikes.

So the Lakers have to go make a bigger splash.

  1. Kemba Walker/D’Angelo Russell/Kyrie Irving-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kyle Kuzma-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Trevor Ariza-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

But with this lineup, you’re spending even MORE money by adding a max player then having to fill out the rest of the roster.  It might be worth it.  As I said above, the first roster didn’t not provide enough impact.  You’re asking a lot from to-be 35-year-old LeBron with that squad.  Another star would help alleviate the load greatly.

If the Lakers do want a third star, they should go after a point guard with it. Obviously, as I’ll get to below, if you can get Kawhi Leonard you do it.  But anyone else you may have to think harder about.

If the Lakers sign Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris or another second-to-third tier free agent that doesn’t play point guard, you’re handing out $15 million-plus to that guy.  And then you have to hand out $10-15 million to a good point guard, because we know you can’t run with a bad point guard on a LeBron team.  You have to go out and spend the money on Beverley.

So why not just take care of both of those issues at the same time, and sign a max-level player who plays point guard?

It’s going to cost a lot more, and I mean A LOT.  But man… Kyrie/Kemba/D’Angelo-LeBron-AD?  That’s the best team in the West almost immediately.

How realistic are any of these guys?  Kyrie seems locked into Brooklyn, while Kemba seems locked into the Celtics.  If Kyrie is a Net, that leaves Russell with a lot of suitors, and the Lakers seem to top that list.

Would Russell really want to go back after they shipped him out of there for nothing, black-balled his name and told him he was immature when he could easily go play with Devin Booker and DeAndr… wait, I know this isn’t happening so why am I getting myself excited?  Anyways, a return to the Lakers can’t be ruled out for Russell.  Basketball-wise, it’s great for both sides involved.  I just don’t know why he’d do that for them, when Phoenix (Ah God here we go again), Minnesota and Indiana both allow him to complete a dynamic duo and allow him to not have to play off someone (like LeBron, that’s kind of a big deal fit wise) as much.

If the Lakers do go out and get a max point guard, the numbers will be astronomical.  If they sign Russell, we’re looking at approximately $153.8 million to $156.8 million depending on whether they chose Birch or Dedmon (It’s a three million dollar difference).  If they sign Kyrie, we’re looking at approximately $154.6 million to $157.6 million depending on the Birch/Dedmon decision. And if they sign Walker, we’re looking at approximately $161.5 million to $164.5 million depending on the Birch/Dedmon decision.  Keep in mind these calculations subtract Beverley’s projected $13 million hit.  But also keep in mind this is simply pay roll.  The Lakers would be over the luxury tax threshold with all of these potential signings.  That would not be a small bill.

OR, the Lakers somehow land Kawhi Leonard, putting together easily the best team in the league (Three of the top six guys) and possibly the best collection of talent ever.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. LeBron James-Rodney McGruder
  3. Kawhi Leonard-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Kyle Kuzma-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

But my God would it be expensive.  Here we’re looking at $172.5 million to $175.5 million depending on Birch or Dedmon.  If the Lakers go here, it’s almost assured they’d sign Birch to alleviate costs.

This is a perfect example of why signing a max-level point guard instead of a max-level player makes more sense.  You kill two birds with one stone in signing Kyrie, Kemba or Russell.  Here, you still have to get someone like Beverley and pay that guy a lot.

At the same time, this is one case where it’d absolutely be worth it.  Kawhi and LeBron was a duo that was floated last summer; the Lakers were really interested in trading for him from San Antonio.  Kawhi and LeBron would have been insane.  Now throw AD in?  How do you stop that?

I think it’s unlikely Kawhi ends up with the Lakers, but is he going to meet with them next week.  Would there be a better basketball situation f0r him?  Probably not.

OR, the Lakers could panic.

  1. Patrick Beverley-Rajon Rondo
  2. Jimmy Butler-Rodney McGruder
  3. LeBron James-Reggie Bullock-Wayne Ellington-Talen Horton-Tucker
  4. Kyle Kuzma-Wilson Chandler-CJ Miles-Maxi Kleber
  5. Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins-Khem Birch/Dwayne Dedmon

This involves the funny scenario which we thought had the highest odds of happening: the Lakers striking out and having to settle on someone a tad underwhelming.

Obviously getting AD makes the summer not as disappointing.  But adding Butler as the third star makes the least sense and feels like a classic reach/overpay.

I think Butler is a disaster paired with LeBron.  While he would bring defense to a team that needs it desperately, Butler is someone who needs the ball in his hands a lot, and isn’t happy not being the focal point.  Butler is not someone who’s going to play-off anyone, even if that is LeBron.  He’s not a fantastic catch-and-shoot guy, and isn’t necessarily lights out from three either.  He would bring some extra play-making, but I think his personality and playing style isn’t a good fit.

If the Lakers do reach for Butler here and give him the max, we’re looking at the same exact range as we are with Kawhi: $172.5 million to $175.5 million depending on Birch/Dedmon.  Would you really give Butler the max instead of Kawhi?  Do you want Butler at any price more than $22 million or so a year?  The Lakers aren’t going to be the only team asking themselves that starting Sunday.

2019 NBA Mock Draft

I went all-in this year.

As I’ve referred to in my three features on some of my favorite and most interesting prospects in this draft class, I created a 15 page scouting document full of notes on 45 players or so in this year’s class.

Forty-five isn’t a lot compared to what teams or people like Mike Schmitz do, but those 45 I did watch I watched hours of.  Other guys I watched not nearly as much.  You’ll be able to tell which ones, as I believe I’m pretty open about it.

No.1, New Orleans Pelicans- Zion Williamson, Duke

No.2, Memphis Grizzlies- Ja Morant, Murray State

Morant’s rise from literally a zero-star recruit to the No.2 pick in the NBA Draft has been absolutely incredible.  I barely knew who he was before this college basketball season.

Morant’s drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook, which isn’t exactly a good thing.  However, Morant’s a bit of a different case.  His similarities to Westbrook are in the qualities that we like about Westbrook.  Extreme athleticism, a quick first step in getting to the rim, a tenacious player on both ends, makes excellent passes (Though in Westbrook’s case, that’s a matter of when he passes).

Despite his jump-shot not being great (I think his percentages are better than the reality), Morant is like a lower-usage, more efficient Westbrook.  Though everything ran through him at Murray State, he’s not a ball-hog and doesn’t play selfishly like Westbrook.  He’s more than happy to make the right pass to another player for a good shot.  He has command of the offense and is a team player.  His athleticism makes him a good off-the-ball player despite the lack of shooting.

Memphis made it clear yesterday that Morant was their guy by trading Mike Conley (More on that later).  He may not be offensive option 1A for the Grizzlies, but he’s absolutely a franchise point guard, whose passing and court-vision make him fit to coordinate an offense from day one.

No.3, New York Knicks- RJ Barrett, Duke

The common consensus is that the top tier of this draft is Zion-Morant-RJ Barrett, and then the rest, but I believe there’s that Barrett’s in his own tier, and it’s a tad lower than most have him.

I’m not not a fan of Barrett, I just have less confidence in him reaching the same ceiling as Morant, Zion or Darius Garland (More on him later).  There were though, so many times at Duke this season where I found myself saying “Don’t forget about RJ!”  But with the presence of Zion, there were times we forgot about him entirely.  He’s not a great off-the-ball player due to his poor shooting and pure lack of effort offensively.

RJ projects as a bit of a tweener in my mind.  He has a wing’s body but has many guard-like skills, specifically his ability to get to the rim.  The dude was unstoppable driving to the lane this past season, and used that ability to takeover late in many Duke games.  He’s also a good passer, a trait he showcased well in the NCAA Tournament.  A projection of him as a point guard or a lead facilitator is wild to me, but he absolutely has secondary stuff.

Barrett doesn’t have great wing skills.  He doesn’t move off the ball, and had his shooting fall off drastically over the course of the season (despite his developing a quicker shooting release and having good mechanics in the first place).  He’s not a great defender but a purely good one, but like offensively can get caught standing around.

The reason Barrett is in his own tier is because if he’s a No.2 facilitator with no jump-shot or off-the-ball capabilities who can only get to the rim, then what is his true role?  That’s not the description of a 1A offensive option, that sounds more like a 1B offensive option.

If the Knicks get KD this summer and they all the sudden run KD-Kevin Knox-Barrett-Robinson out, then Barrett will be fine.  A point guard is needed, but it may not matter.  If the Knicks totally strikeout this summer and come into next season with another young team and Barrett at the center of it, then that could mean rough times ahead.  Barrett is good, but I’m not sure he’s the bonafide star some project him to be.

No.4, New Orleans Pelicans- DeAndre Hunter, Virginia

As I wrote about Monday, the Pelicans need to put win-now guys around Zion Williamson as soon as they can.  This is not a situation where you wait and build.

That could mean trading this pick, and if the right guy is available, then that’s probably the best option on the table.

But if the Pelicans do decide to keep it and make a selection, DeAndre Hunter, though still a rookie like Zion, is the most win-now, ready player on the board.

I had Hunter going No.4 even when the Lakers had this pick for the same reason.  LeBron wasn’t going to want to play with young, developing players.

DeAndre Hunter is not that.  Like Mikal Bridges last season, he’s the type of guy who can step into any situation and make an impact.  Hunter, with his shot-making ability, ridiculous defense and big game experience could have played in the Finals last week.  He’s that ready.

He’s likely never going to be a star; his ceiling isn’t very high but that’s because his floor already is.  There is little development needed.  We could see Hunter work on his driving game, which was on display at Virginia throughout the season and had serious potential.  He’s got some crunch-time scoring potential as well, as all the big games he played in showed us that he has a little bit of a “Get me the ball” attitude when the game is close, late and slowing down.

The Pelicans, no matter what roster they have going into next season, need shooting and defense from the wing.  Hunter provides that and can do it at a big-time level immediately.

No.5, Cleveland Cavaliers- Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

In some ways, Jarrett Culver is a troubling prospect just like RJ Barrett is.  The two are quite similar.  They’re both tweeners in long, athletic bodies who struggle with their jump-shot, possess some facilitating abilities and aren’t guaranteed to be No.1 offensive options despite projections.

But Culver’s a bit more efficient than Barrett; he’s a much better defender and plays a smoother game moves without the ball.  With the athleticism and effort, Culver can be effective without dribbling.

The problem is that Culver’s shots were terrible ones.  The guy has practically no sense of shot-selection at all.  At least with Barrett, he’s scoring at a higher volume and has a sense of takeover in his blood.  Barrett doesn’t settle as much.  With Culver, it feels like you can crunch him late in games.  Despite some of the passing we’ve seen, he’s not a good ball-handler when creating his own shot, and again, it’s not like the shots are good ones anyways.

Culver is a safer pick than Barrett because at worst, he’s a great defensive wing who can come in and not have as prominent of an offensive role.  Culver’s potential is a dyamnic two-way guy who can takeover when needed.  But a lot, the jump-shot, the shot selection, and the shot-creation, needs to be fixed.

Cleveland is a good fit not only because of roster but because of draft position.  They don’t need Darius Garland with Collin Sexton, and Cam Reddish and anyone below him is a reach here.  The Cavs have Sexton at guard and Ante Zizic down low.  Culver is the perfect wing project who could develop into a lot more.  The Cavaliers have time.  That’s what you’re going to need with Culver.

No.6, Phoenix Suns- Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

I did not have confidence in this being possible until the Anthony Davis trade Saturday night.

A lot of mocks and reports had the Lakers taking Darius Garland at No.4 until Saturday.  I had the Lakers taking Hunter because of the fit, readiness and a slight bit of bias.

The Suns desperately need someone who can make an impact.  A serious one.  They also desperately need a point guard.

Devin Booker is likely no more than a second ball-handler; Point Booker may be possible, but it doesn’t necessarily make the team good, or a whole better than when he’s not running the show.

Zion would have made an impact; to hell with point guard if the Suns landed No.1.  Garland supplies both.

A Kyrie-clone in on-and-off the court sense (Due to his very short college career), Garland is a dynamic scorer who is well-established in the pick and roll and won’t have to develop into a No.1 ball-handler because he already is.  He can create his own shot and shots for others.  With the shooting, he can be effective off-the-ball and play alongside Booker just fine.  The two should be interchangeable from an offensive perspective.

They’re going to get destroyed defensively.  While Booker doesn’t pay a lot of attention and doesn’t dedicate work to that side of the court, he’s also just not very good even with effort at its highest.  Garland is the same case, and even has more of one due to his frailness.  At only 6’2 and 175 pounds, Garland will get bodied and cooked at the same time.  Like Kyrie and James Harden, it’s not the athleticism that impresses you on offense, it’s the moves.  Garland is similar; he’s not a great athlete,  but that only rears its head on the defensive side of the ball.

If the Knicks know they’re not getting Kyrie or Kemba Walker, Garland might be worth a look.  A trade down is probably the best option, as Garland at No.3 is a bit of a reach based on how other teams view this draft.

No.7, Chicago Bulls- Cam Reddish, Duke

No.8, Atlanta Hawks- Sekou Doumbouya, France

With Trae Young at point guard and John Collins at center, the Hawks need wings to help fill out the rest of their roster.

Sekou Doumbouya, and later PJ Washington, help do that.

Doumbouya is lengthy and silky dude.  He moves really, really well for someone who is 6’9 and 230 pounds.  He’s shown the ability to get to the rim from the perimeter, and be someone who can get quick, easy buckets down low.  His jump-shot and shot selection has come into question, but spacing with Collins shouldn’t be an issue as he’s comfortable playing on the perimeter.  Having him cut in for a pass from Young with Kevin Huerter in the corner is a deadly offensive set.

Defensively Doumbouya is a work in progress; it seems as if he’s still learning that end of the court.  But he has the skills with the athleticism and length to be impactful on that end.

The Raptors just proved that bigger guys can survive on the court when playing an efficient, fast pace of basketball.  Doumbouya fits the part of that type of player.

No.9, Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimera, Gonzaga

No.10, Atlanta Hawks- PJ Washington, Kentucky

I have the Hawks going with length and athleticism on the wing again.

PJ Washington is a MAN.  That was my first note in my scouting book about him.  The guy is a hard-nosed defender, drives hard to the rim, and can shoot threes.  That’s the biggest difference between Washington and their other pick Doumbouya.  Washington is a solidified three point shooter, which probably makes him an automatic starter alongside Young, Huerter and Collins.

Washington is fantastic and efficient under the rim as well.  I think he could play small-ball five in lineups without Collins on the floor; his length and driftiness has him all over the court, and he picks spots well around the rim.

The Hawks may not keep all of their three picks.  If they do package some of them together, a player like RJ Barrett or Jarrett Culver would fit well.  Them going with Hachimera at No.8 is a move I’d love them to make, but he’s not exactly their type of player.

No.11, Minnesota Timberwolves- Coby White, North Carolina

This is quite a fall for White, who probably won’t get past Chicago at No.8 overall.  I just have the Bulls going for a higher ceiling player.

That’s the book on White.  He has a very high floor, but I’m not sure how much better he will get.  That’s why the Suns enamor with him at No.6 overall confuses me; Garland’s potential is just so much more.

That isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of White.  He’s a really good, modern player.  He’s a tad toned-down De’Aaron Fox with a three pointer out of college.  White’s a dog defensively who never quits battling; his legs, like they do on offense, never stop moving.  The athleticism translates to both sides of the ball. He uses his speed to charge to the rim and blow by everyone.  That first step is gorgeous.  He can also use it to step-back off the dribble against defenders as well, a trait that we never expected him to have coming into the season, when White didn’t have a jumper, ah-la the Fox comparison.  But White kept shooting throughout the season, and it started going in.  A lot.  And in big moments as well.  White was hitting clutch threes in big games this past season.  He developed a three pointer as the season went on.  That’s improvement, effort and drive you love to see.

But is White an impact guy?  It’s the reason I have the Suns passing on him at No.6, and the Bulls passing on him at No.7 overall.  The potential, and immediate impact, that Garland and Reddish could bring immediately to their teams is just larger than that of White’s.  Garland is an impact guy.  Reddish obviously could or couldn’t be.  White just won’t get a whole lot better than what he is.

And for Minnesota, that’s fine.  They desperately need to add efficiency and defense to a roster that’s full of wasted talent right now.  Jeff Teague will be around next season after of-course opting into one of the secretly-worst contracts in the league, but he’s turned into a ball-hog the past two years.  Derrick Rose may be back, but if White is around it’s probably best to let him go.

White can run the ship immediately, and get Karl Anthony-Towns the ball.  That could be a special two-man game.  Him, combined with the defense that Josh Okogie brings and hopefully some improved defense from KAT could turn Minnesota into a better defensive team next season.  This is starting to look like the young, fun Wolves team we thought we had four years ago.

No.12, Charlotte Hornets- Jaxson Hayes, Texas

The Hornets have a log-jam at the two big man spots, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one to have.

Willy Hernangomez is probably my favorite Hornets big guy, and he’s no more than a backup.  Neither Frank Kaminsky or Cody Zeller have the style fit of the modern NBA; their lack of athleticism and spacing offensively makes them practically unplayable.

Jaxson Hayes is the perfect fit for today’s league.  He’s long, athletic, and can likely switch 3-5.  He’s got impressive foot-speed and lateral quickness for an almost seven-footer.  He’s not a shooter, and offensively is just a lob guy, but the defense he brings is undeniable.

No.13, Miami Heat- Kevin Porter Jr., USC

The biggest thing the Miami Heat have lacked since LeBron James left is a dominant offensive player.

Yes, those are some big shoes to fill.  But their trial of Dion Waiters to washed-up Dywane Wade has failed badly.  D-Wade was legitimately their crunch-time guy last year!

Pat Riley has tried to attract and trade for stars since the Big Three era, but nothing has turned up.  Jimmy Butler will certainly be on their radar this summer as he has for years now, but him ending back up in Philadelphia or with a LA team is starting to seem more likely.  Instead of taking a risk and over-paying someone, adding to what is already a tight cap for the Heat (where they’ve decided to put their money has been BRUTAL), Kevin Porter Jr. could represent that type of big-fish the Heat want so bad.

This might be high for KPJ.  He’s got some serious issues.  He only played in 21 games this past season and started just four of them at USC due to a suspension for an undisclosed reason.  He takes a ton of mid-rangers, which isn’t too concerning given the role the Heat will need him to play (crunch-time scorer) and his good three-point percentage (41.2%).  But a lot of those mid-rangers are circus shots; he’s a bit of a ball-hog and hoists whenever he feels like it.

But he’s got the ball-handling to go with it, making KPJ a potentially dangerous, isolation scorer someday.  His moves are sick; he can shake and bake and cross over dudes like it’s nothing.  He’s also lightning quick; a dangerous combination with his isolation scoring; KPJ can blow by guys and get to the rim and keep up defensively using his speed.

Defensively there are some effort issues.  He’s long and quick, but a bit scrawny, and is more of an offense-focused player rather than a defensively-focused one.  The speed and agility should make him a pest on that end, but like in other areas, even on the offensive end, the effort just isn’t there.  KPJ is a bit too me-focused.

Maybe Pat Riley will change that.

No.14, Boston Celtics- Nickiel Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

With Kyrie Irving likely going to Brooklyn, the Celtics need a point guard.

Nickiel Alexander-Walker isn’t exactly that, but he’s close.

Alexander-Walker is if Bradley Beal could pass really well.  Or if Shai Gilgeous Alexander was a better isolation scorer.

Walker is everything we want Kevin Porter Jr. to be.

He’s a silky combo guard who shoots well, can have an offense run through him, can get to the rim and possibly be a No.1 ball-handler and No.1 offensive option.  He needs to work on isolating for three pointers, but the Virginia Tech guard is already able to score when the game slows down in crunch-time.

He’s also a really good defensive player, using his length to swallow small guards and his height to be able to hang with some forwards.  He’s thin, so switching onto bigger forwards and centers doesn’t make him an all-around 1-5 defender, but his drive makes him more than competitive on that side of the court.

For Boston, the loss of Kyrie leaves them without a lead ball-handler (There’s no way they’re going to pay Terry Rozier what he’s going to demand, right?) and possibly without a dominant scorer.  It’s possible Irving’s absence turns Jayson Tatum into the guy we’ve wanted to see, but the timidness is a little hard to get over.  Alexander-Walker can take over some of those responsibilities.

No.15, Detroit Pistons- Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

The best pure shooter in the draft, Keldon Johnson is the type of player who is perfect for today’s league.  He knows every spot on the court, and is always open.  His ability to relocate off the ball and get himself good shots without needing the ball in his hands reminds me of Klay Thompson.  He can get just as hot as Klay too.

Johnson’s got some crunch-time scoring potential in him.  He’s not a great shot creator off the dribble, but like DeAndre Hunter, he hit big shots in big games.  When he’s hot, you don’t give anyone else the ball.

The Pistons desperately need shooting even after getting Tony Snell last night, especially so if they’re going to continue to put guys around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.  Griffin has improved his three pointer greatly, but Drummond is a non-threat with his lumbering around, and Reggie Jackson can’t hit threes either.  When Jackson is hurt (An inevitability), the Pistons move the ball quite well.  Johnson could flourish in that situation.

No.16, Orlando Magic- Cameron Johnson, North Carolina

Literally the only thing that makes Keldon Johnson better than Cameron Johnson is the age difference.

Keldon will be 20 in November, where as Cameron played five years of college basketball at Pittsburgh and North Carolina.  He’s already 23.

Johnson’s lights out, and the biggest reason why is his quick release.  The ball jumps out of his hands, and it allows him to be a threat in transition as well.

Johnson isn’t crazy athletic; he’s a bit stiff moving around, which hurts his defensive ability, especially when it comes to on-ball defense.

With a heavy load of big guys on their roster, the Magic lack shooting.  Whether it’s Aaron Gordon paired with Nikola Vucevic or Mo Bamba, that front-court isn’t exactly a modern one.  I’m skeptical of Jonathan Issac’s ability to be a shooter, and Evan Fournier and whoever is at point guard (Unless Markelle Fultz is TOTALLY rejuvenated) don’t provide enough firepower.  Johnson does.

No.17, Atlanta Hawks- Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Brandon Clarke is still a wing, but is a bit different than the other wings I have Atlanta selecting at the top of the first round.

Clarke is a bit of a puzzle when it comes to his fit in the NBA.  He’s big and athletic and plays very good defense, but can’t protect the rim.  For someone who is 6’8, that’s usually okay.  He can switch onto practically anyone else.  His legs are huge, and they move well.

But Clarke’s problem is that he’s not a shooter.  He plays like a traditional power forward on offense.  He posts-up, takes bad mid-rangers, and plays a very old-man-like game.  He’s essentially LaMarcus Aldridge on the offensive end.

That’s why I have Clarke falling.  He’s incredibly efficient on the defensive end and is the complete opposite on the offensive end.  If he’s not a rim protector, and can’t shoot, then what is he on the court?

The Hawks can take this risk.  They need defense desperately (This draft will help on that end), and Clarke’s switchability among four positions is undeniable.  A team that can take a risk should take him.  The Hawks have three picks and are in position to do that.

No.18, Indiana Pacers- Carsen Edwards, Purdue

The Pacers need a point guard that can play off of Victor Oladipo and make an impact while doing it.

This is a little high for Carsen Edwards, but the Purdue guard put up massive production this season.  For a guy his size, Edwards was a wrecking ball.  He went flying into the lane using his shiftiness and using his size to sneak around defenders.  He’s got a good three point shot, which allows him to play off Oladipo and be effective.

There are concerns, which makes this a bit of a reach.  Edwards’ size leaves him exposed defensively; he’s short and doesn’t have long arms to make up for it.  He’ll get destroyed in screens and against physical guards who like to play like him.

He also had some bad games in addition to the good games; games where he’d legitimately shoot 3-21 or something horrendous.  That happened multiple times.  Perhaps in a lesser usage role, those performances can be eliminated.

The Pacers could look to go after someone in free agency instead, like a D’Angelo Russell, which would certainly give them a bigger impact (Please God don’t let it be Ricky Rubio).  If the Pacers want to play it safe and add some firepower, then Edwards is a fine choice.

No.19, San Antonio Spurs- Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State

We are starting to get into the reach zone.  As I’ve said above, the draft plummets after the first three guys or so.  Everyone else can go within a very wide range.

Talen Horton-Tucker is made for the NBA.  He’s also perfectly made for the Spurs.

He’s a hard-nosed, stockily built defender who can shoot and get to the rim.  He’s not a very quick player when he drives, as he uses his body to bully his way into the paint.  He’s a hustle player who you can find in the right spots on both ends.

Horton-Tucker’s ball-handling, shown off when he goes to the rim, may be the key to some untapped potential in him.  A good shooter when catching and releasing and coming off screens, there could be some shot-creation in him with some development.

Horton-Tucker is going to be a solid player.  His ceiling is quite debatable, which is why he falls in the 13-30 range (Remember how I talked about the ranges expanding in bad drafts?).  But his floor is quite high.

For the Spurs, those are their type of guys.  Horton-Tucker rounds out a possible future lineup of Dejounte Murray-Derrick White-Lonnie Walker Jr.-Horton-Tucker-Jakob Poeltl for the Spurs (More on that center spot later).  That’s really fun, and a ridiculous defense team.  For once, the Spurs have a modern flair to their roster despite Horton-Tucker’s old-school, grinding game.

No.20, Boston Celtics- Dylan Windler, Belmont

Another reach.  In my opinion, Windler is the best shooter left in the draft at this point.  With key contributor Marcus Morris likely hitting the road along with Al Horford and Kyrie Irving in free agency, the Celtics could replace him with a more well-rounded, lower-usage player in Dylan Windler.

He’s old, unlike Tyler Herro or Louis King, but Herro is a not someone I’m excited about at the NBA level and Windler provides a bit more firepower than someone like King.

Windler’s also a pretty good defender, though a slight lack of athleticism might hurt him.

Boston could easily take Nic Claxton here instead, but then you risk the Thunder taking Windler at No.21.  Boston could take Ty Jerome with their pick at 22, but Windler projects as a bit more lights out of a shooter.

No.21, Oklahoma City Thunder- Ty Jerome, Virginia

The Thunder kick off a string of teams that need shooting.  Get ready for the rest of the top snipers in this class to go off the board.

Ty Jerome is a nice player who could possibly be a combo guard at the NBA level.  He’s got good size and a strong body.  The shooting is obviously his best trait, but he has some ball-handling skills that could make him a N0.2 facilitator.

He’s an okay defender, but the Thunder are taken care of on that side of the court.  Even if Jerome under preforms on that end, his shooting will make up for it.

No.22, Boston Celtics- Nic Claxton, Georgia

With the sudden news that Al Horford is leaving along with Kyrie Irving in free agency, this pick makes even more sense.

My comparison for Nic Claxton was Al Horford well before the news Tuesday.  Claxton is a long, athletic center whose rim protection skills are excellent.  He can switch positions 3-5, and that’s probably underrating him.  He’s an excellent passer, and had a lot of Georgia’s offense run through him thanks to the facilitating skills.

He doesn’t have a three point shot yet, but his ability to move practically anywhere on the court makes up for that.  Claxton could easily be used as a deadly cutter and slasher in a Celtics offense that should feature plenty of ball movement.  Imagine someone of Claxton’s size running Brad Stevens cuts.

There are some concerns about the size.  Despite being an excellent rim protector in college, Claxton only weighs 217 pounds and has a thin frame.  He could get bodied down low against bigger guys.  Still, the athleticism should keep him in it against the Pascal Siakam-types, which are likely the players Claxton will face if out there in crunch-time.

No.23, Memphis Grizzlies- Tyler Herro, Kentucky

Even with Utah trading this pick to Memphis in the Mike Conley trade, I still have Tyler Herro going at the No.23 overall spot.

This is a fall for Herro; he will almost certainly go much higher than this.  I’m really just not a fan.  Herro was a hoister at Kentucky, and though he’s been praised for his ability to come in and hit shots for a team, I don’t think he’s the most efficient, selfless player despite the shot-making ability.

Kentucky loved to put the ball in his hands this past season, and used him as a primary ball-handler quite a bit.  This led to a lot of bad shots and chuck-ups from Herro.  One of my notes in my scouting document was that he played all “Herro ball.”

The Grizzlies got back a lot of shooting after trading Conley.  With Herro being added to the bevy of wings coming, Memphis has depth at a needy position.  Herro could also help out Morant when it comes to passing duties; he’s got the ability to be a No.2 facilitator at some point.  But the Grizzlies will have to keep him in check and make sure he doesn’t hijack the ship.

No.24, Philadelphia 76ers- Louis King, Oregon

More shooters go off the board and we aren’t even close to done yet.

The 76ers have a lot of possible roster turnover coming this summer, and should probably take a hard look at who deserves to be back (That goes for everyone but Joel Embiid, by the way).  No matter who comes back or leaves, the Sixers need one thing: Shooting.

King is the best guy left at that.  This may be a bit of a stretch (Which may or may not be because he literally torched ASU in a game in Tempe this past season), but King offers a long body who is a sweet shooter and uses the length to be really versatile defensively.

No.25, Portland Trail Blazers- Chuma Okeke, Auburn

Chuma Okeke’s devastating knee injury late in the NCAA Tournament will probably cause him to slide, so once again this is a bit of a reach.

But Portland just saw themselves get decimated by Golden State without Kevin Durant playing, and a big part of that problem was due to the lack of scoring they possessed on the wings.

When healthy, and Okeke should be by next year’s playoffs, Okeke is a great shooter  who knows how to play off the ball.  He’s got a good knack for getting to the rim as well; using the athleticism that makes him an insane defender.

Okeke is a physical yet switchable defender.  He’s meaty and throws his body into dudes while also recovering really well.

No.26, Cleveland Cavaliers -Kz Okpala, Stanford

I don’t really know what Kz Okpala does well on the basketball court.  He’s a long, athletic kid who can cut and slash offensively because of his athleticism.  He’s a good defender but can be a tad immature on that end (He gambles and is also very skinny).

The Cavaliers need wings, and I have them solving that issue in this draft.  They’re banking on a lot of upside in Culver.  In Okpala, they do that again.  He has to become a bit more involved offensively, but it sounds as if there’s some optimism that he can turn into a No.2 ball-handler and a good shooter if he works on it.

He’s likely to go high, so that’s why he goes in my first round.

No.27, Brooklyn Nets- Nassir Little, North Carolina

We’re getting to the point where there’s a lot of guys going in my mock draft who will be long gone by this time.

That’s because I’m trying to make a point.

After coming in with a ton of hype, Nassir Little completely disappointed at North Carolina this year.

Little looked as if he had no idea how to play basketball when he was on the court.  He’d stand around and show little effort on both ends.  He’d force it when he finally got the ball.  The whole experience was depressing.

He did show some promise.  When he did shoot, the ball jumped out his hands quickly.  He’s got some good but raw isolation moves.  He’s an insane athlete when he tries, which helps immensely when he’s driving to the rim.

Little reminds me a bit of Miles Bridges from last year’s draft combined with some PJ Tucker.  It’s the length and explosiveness combined with the defensive prospectus that arrives me that.  Offensively, I’m not sure how much to expect from him.

The Nets are loaded with talent whether Kyrie Irving comes or not.  They can take a risk in Little and believe in the upside.

No.28, Golden State Warriors- Mfiondu Kabevgele, Florida State

I heavily considered going with Deividas Sirvydis here, a lights-out lefty sniper from Lithuania, but with a ravaged roster heading into next year, the Warriors need bodies that can help now.

Kevon Looney is likely to get a contract that Golden State won’t pay him, so Mifiondu Kabevgele’s rim protection, switchability and three point shooting would make an excellent replacement.  He’s probably not as mobile as Looney is, but can at least drop well in pick and roll coverages and not get played off the court at the center position.

No.29, San Antonio Spurs- Bol Bol, Oregon

The next guy is the much more Spurs-y pick, but there’s no way Bol Bol falls this far, so it’s about time he comes off my board.

I completely understand the potential in Bol.  Am I willing to risk it?  Not until now.  There’s quality wings and more guaranteed production available until this point.

Bol’s complicated.  He could be able to do everything on the court.  He may not be able to do any of it.

We do this all the time; fall in love with a prospect who’s probably too tall and lanky to stay healthy who can supposedly “do everything” on the court.  Who can shoot, dribble, protect the rim, be a good defender, etc.

There is a guy who can do that in this draft.  His name is Zion Williamson.  That dream of our’s finally came true.  Someone actually did all of those things.

There’s a good chance Bol won’t.  He’s extremely skinny and doesn’t have the type of frame you want in a rim-protecting center.  He missed most of Oregon’s season thanks to a broken foot, which always works out lovely in big men, especially in those who we already have simple durability questions about in the first place.  Bol also tends to try to do too much when he has the ball in his hands.

The hope is that Bol can be a dominant shot-blocker who can get away with being the rim protector, and that his underrated three point shot translateS to the NBA with ease.

The Spurs have Jakob Poeltl, but I worry about his ability to play late in games.  If Bol’s modern flair holds true in the NBA, he can be the big guy of the future for them.

(Deividas Sirvydis would also make a lot of sense here given the Spurs’ knack for foreign guys and their need for shooting)

No.30, Detroit Pistons- Terence Davis, Ole Miss

I had Goga Bitadze going here until Milwaukee traded out of this pick for cap space last night.  The last thing the Pistons need is big guys, so I’m giving them a 3-and-D wing instead.

Davis’ shot is improving (He posted his best percentages of his college career this past season) and he can defend at a high level.  With Tony Snell now in the rotation among Davis, Johnson and Bruce Brown, the Pistons are slowly getting better at the wing.


How did these guys not go in the first round of the mock?

Below is a list of prominent names or favorites of mine that I couldn’t squeeze into the first round based on opinion and unlikeliness of their selection in the top 30.

  • Goga Bitadze: He’s probably not even going to get into the 20s.  But with the guys I value in this draft, and my evaluation of him, I’m not sure I get what teams see in him.  He’s an explosive big man, but he can’t shoot threes and doesn’t have great agility as a defender, whether that’s in rim protection or on the perimeter.
  • Eric Paschall: I’ve been a fan for awhile now.  He reminds me of Draymond Green on the defensive end; I think he’s a small-ball five.  But can the floor spacing complete that projection?
  • Matisse Thybulle: Lockdown defender but has practically zero use offensively.  Andre Roberson 2.0.
  • Grant Williams: Athletic but has too much old-school power forward in him, and is less switchable than Brandon Clarke.
  • Lugentz Dort: I go to Arizona State and I legitimately think he’s terrible and don’t get practically any of the cases for him.  He’s a good on-ball defender but has proved too selfish offensively.  He doesn’t have a jump-shot to balance that out, either.
  • Admiral Schofield: Despite the athleticism and spacing he has shown to provide, he might be not efficient enough offensively.  A tough, gritty player though.
  • Deividas Sirvydis: A top 25 pick if he was coming to the league this upcoming season.  Dude doesn’t miss.  Lefty!
  • Bruno Fernando: A switchy, athletic center who has to built out his offensive game.  Could be nice small-ball five.
  • Naz Reid: Big dude who gets boards, protects the rim and moves well for his size.  But likely won’t ever shoot threes at the NBA level.  Energy big potential.
  • Zach Norvell Jr.: Good shooter but older age for his class holds him back
  • Zylan Cheatham: Here’s where the ASU bias comes in.  HE MIGHT BE THE MOST SWITCHABLE GUY IN THE DRAFT.
  • Tremont Waters: Undersized point guard who gets buckets.  Has serious sixth-man potential.  Either a backup point guard who facilities and shoots well or you have to turn everything over to him.  Not nearly good enough to be a 1A offensive option.

On the Mike Conley trade…

Jazz get: Mike Conley

Grizzlies get: Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, No.23 overall, 2020 protected first round pick

As much as I wanted this trade to happen, I certainly wasn’t very impressed with it once it occurred.

Utah should have gotten Mike Conley at the trade deadline.  He would have provided them with more firepower and would have taken the load off of Donavan Mitchell against Houston, providing them a bit more of a chance.

He probably would have been cheaper then.  And Utah could have shipped out other players who were played off the floor in the series against Houston.

When the Jazz were snooping around Conley, we got excited about the possibility of a Conley-Mitchell-Korver-Joe Ingles-Rudy Gobert lineup.  It was actually a modern lineup finally being ran by Utah!

They had the opportunity to have this lineup next season, but reports claim that Utah didn’t want to didn’t want to move Derrick Favors, a non-shooting power forward who they typically play with Gobert.

The heart of Utah’s issues has been not enough shooting and not enough firepower. Playing Favors and Gobert together doesn’t fix that.

Utah should have sent Favors’ contract along with Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen in the deal.  There, you’re shedding a lineup clog and a non-shooter while still only surrendering one asset that’s currently on the roster.

On top of this, the Jazz gave up TWO first round picks in the deal, including No.23 overall, a pick that I figured they’d use to draft a shooter, especially so since they traded two (or theoretically three if you count Crowder).  Now, that pick, and another one whose protections in 2020 are still undisclosed, are gone, in addition to Korver who rounded out what was a very solid crunch-time unit heading into next season with Conley at the helm.

Despite my issues with the price, Conley is exactly what the Jazz needed.  He’s more efficient than Ricky Rubio and doesn’t take offensive possessions off.  He’s a fantastic passer and can be used off Mitchell.  He fits the Jazz’s persona of defense-first, creating an even better unit on that end than before.

Memphis got a haul back, including some sneaky-good shooting to put around Morant.  Korver and Allen bring the fire-power while Crowder fits the now-lost Grit n’ Grind formula.

The Jazz are going for it in the wide-open West.  That usually comes with a price.  They certainly paid it.

Rui Hachimera Might Be This Draft’s Most Underrated Player

The last installment of the “I have too much to say about this guy” series ends with Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimera.  My full mock draft will go up tomorrow morning.

No.9, Washington Wizards- Rui Hachimera, Gonzaga

The drafts that are considered the less talented ones are dangerous.  Since there is usually only one or two “guys”, it causes all the other “guys” to be shuffled around in a ton of different ways.  Big boards in less talented drafts are much more variable.

Cam Reddish and Rui Hachimera are perfect examples of that on my board.  Those are two guys who are widely considered to be consensus passes with high high picks.  They’re both in the top ten of my mock draft, and are within the top eight of my big board.

The reason I fell in love with Hachimera was the scoring ability.  Your team is nothing and is going nowhere without a No.1 scoring option who can get you buckets in big games.  Multiple rosters in the league lack that; that type of player is the one piece holding them back.  That was Toronto before this season.  Look at what they did.

Hachimera can get buckets.  He’s got a variety of moves in order to get them.  The jump-stop was one he used and dominated defenders with.  He can drive to the rim using his graceful athleticism.  He reminds me a bit of Carmelo Anthony offensively, although he’s a lot more efficient about his game than Melo ever was.  He’s also way more athletic.

Hachimera’s got the three point shot in his arsenal too, and can use his massive frame to be a tough cover for anyone chasing him around off the ball.

Defensively Hachimera is there too.  The athleticism really shows on that end.  He’s a pest on the ball, and flies around blocking shots, getting steals and jumping screens off the ball.  He might even have a little bit of rim protection in him.

The Wizards are in a tough spot.  With the brutal John Wall contract hanging its ugly head over the future, and Bradley Beal an underrated superstar in his prime, Washington probably has no other choice but to try and compete.  There’s no sense in trying to rebuild with an overpaid, overzealous Wall on the roster for years to come.

Hachimera is the type of guy who could make an impact now for a team that needs a wing scorer after trading away Otto Porter Jr.  Him and Beal, assuming Beal is on the roster, could be a deadly scoring duo next season.  Adding Wall clutters things, but that’s not for a couple years now.

Some worry about Hachimera’s rawness and ability to play at a NBA tempo, but the smoothness to his game should translate to better efficiency soon.

I think Hachimera is someone the Wizards can get value out of next season, the seasons with Wall back and the seasons after the Wall contract.  He’s the perfect long, athletic scorer and defender that the league covets so highly these days.

The Chicago Bulls’ New Point Guard Is… Cam Reddish?

Similar to what happened with Zion Williamson, I had too much to say about Duke’s Cam Reddish, who may or may not have been my favorite and No.1 prospect coming into this college basketball season.  Expect one more separate column before Thursday’s full mock draft goes up.

No.9, Chicago Bulls: Cam Reddish, Duke

No matter how you view Cam Reddish, he’s a fit for the Bulls at No.9 overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Reddish was my favorite player in this class going into the college basketball season.  The guy was 6’8, shot the ball incredibly well and played point guard in high school.  What was there not to like?

Despite a weird, confusing and at times bad season at Duke, there still may not be much to not like.

Reddish wasn’t phased out of the system at Duke because he was a bad player.  It’s because Zion was a generational talent and because Barrett couldn’t make an impact without being phased in.

Reddish got the short end of the stick.

But at times, Reddish showed his potential.  He hit deep threes and showed off an almost flawless shooting stroke.  He got to the rim with tantalizing moves and handles; showing off some of that point guard/ball-handling skill.  He played his role on both ends of the court and didn’t complain.

It was certainly an adjustment for Reddish, and it hurt him most of the time.  It took him forever to get going in games; he’d be inactive for whole halves at a time, acting as a complete non-factor offensively.  He’d struggle to get in a rhythm with hitting shots, hence his low field goal and three point percentages.  That’d then translate to the defensive side of the ball, where laziness would set in.

Duke had to force the ball into Reddish’s hands.  It was an “Okay, your turn!” game with Reddish on the court.  That’s how good Zion was.

Reddish didn’t display the selfishness like teammate Tre Jones did (Jones’ takeovers were not effective though).  Reddish hardly tried to do things himself and get himself some possessions.  He didn’t try to get involved.

Reddish was like the outsider in your group of friends who could secretly be a genius.

That might be a little bit too high of praise for Reddish.  The timidness reminds me of Jayson Tatum this past season; Tatum’s someone who we had (and still have) high expectations for, but has yet to hit them due to situation and drive issues.

Reddish’s ceiling might be higher, especially if the Bulls let him takeover a bit.  Chicago’s outlook at point guard is bleak.  Kris Dunn has completely flopped at the position despite being an impactful defender; he’s practically unplayable offensively.  They don’t really have anyone else; Ryan Archidianco is a backup at best.  The Bulls putting Reddish in the spotlight of the offense might unlock him a bit and allow him to showcase everything he has to offer: Passing, scoring, shooting.  His isolating scoring and how well he projects as a dominant scorer is questionable because dribbling proved to be a struggle at Duke, but that could again be tied back to the low usage and minimal attempts he was given to do those things.  If you do something less, the worse you’re going to be at it.  Still, Reddish’s feel and projected efficiency makes him a possible diamond in the rough of this class.

If turning things over to Reddish doesn’t work out, then using him in a role similar to the one he was in at Duke could be another option.  The Bulls need more wings, and Reddish has shown potential to be effective in that role despite the inconsistency.  Despite ball-hog Zach Lavine running the show in Chicago, a system with more ball movement and more touches for everyone involved gets Reddish more involved.  The biggest difference between the NBA and college is, no matter how inefficient the system, is the efficiency.  The most inefficient team in the NBA is more efficient than the most efficient team in college.  That can only help Reddish.

Enter Zion

Like my NFL Mock Draft, I just had too much to say about the No.1 overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft.  Throw in the Anthony Davis trade that occurred Saturday night and we’ve got a separate column.

No.1, New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Duke

When my friends were showing me Twitter and Instagram highlights of Zion Williamson’s dunks in the spring of 2018, I was like “Cool.”

“What does he do on the court?”, I would ask.  “Can I see him do something else rather than dunk?”

Crickets.  No one said anything.  No one talked about anything but the dunks.  I wasn’t going to buy in like everyone else.  Yet.

Well, that check has been cashed.

From the very first Duke game, the answer to my question was clear.  “OH, SO THAT’S WHAT HE DOES ON THE BASKETBALL COURT” was the first note in my 15 page scouting document.

Zion could literally do everything.  He did everything this season.  He could isolate anyone and go to the rim on them.  Pull-up in the mid-range on them.  Occasionally hit a three on them.  He could come off screens and hit shots.  He set vicious screens.  He was prominent in the pick-and-roll, as a ball-handler AND a screener.  He was a lead ball-handler, legitimately playing point guard for long stretches of time.  He tried defensively.  He guarded anyone 1-5 and hardly struggled.  He switched effectively because of the athleticism.  He protected the rim.  Blocked shots.  Ran the offense and conducted the defense.

Zion did everything.  That’s why he is the best player to enter the NBA since LeBron James.  This is the best prospect since the King.  I’m not even sure it’s close.  Some scouts and outlets have Anthony Davis ranked ahead of him; that’s fair but a bit of a reach in my mind.  He’s far and away better than Luka Doncic or Kevin Durant.  He’s the clear No.2 behind LeBron.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some concerns.  None are major, though.

Despite that his first shot ever made at Duke was a three pointer, the three-pointer was not something he excelled at.  It went in 33.8% of the time, an okay clip especially for college.  But that’s borderline effective in the NBA; no one’s treating you real seriously out there at that percentage.  Still, Zion’s three-point percentage felt higher than that 33.8% mark.  Every time he shot one you expected it to go in, and when it did, it literally felt like you were watching one of the greatest players ever.

I believe Zion can fix it and get the percentage up.  Again, 33% is not horrific; it’s actually a pretty good start.  He gets little lift on his jump-shot, and his left elbow sticks out funny in his shooting motion.  With some quirks, Zion can easily manifest into a very good three point shooter, and fast.

Another slight concern is some of his defensive habits.  Though an excellent all-around defender as I mentioned above, Zion showed moments of trying to go for the big play on the defensive end.  He would purposely let guys go by him, and chase them down just to block their shot.  Guys are too athletic in the NBA to get packed like that every time.  With his size, you also wonder about the switchability onto quicker players.  That doesn’t at all negate the fact that someone of Zion’s size is able to stay on the court and guard 3-5 with ease.  It’s insane he’s as switchable as he is given his size.

And then there was the injury against North Carolina, which triggered a bizarre conversation about whether Zion’s size made him too susceptible to injuries when the injury itself was caused by nothing Zion did but what his Nike shoe did.  Most of the injury concern with Zion is I believe due to the fact that we’ve seen no one at this size do the things he does, and that leads people to wonder whether it’s actually possible or sustainable for him to do that at a NBA level.  You can’t project injuries, so let’s just not do it.

As for Zion’s fit, New Orleans just happened to be the team that landed him.  He doesn’t not fit anywhere; every team would love to have Zion and would be able to use him no matter what their roster construction is.

Roster construction is an interesting topic post-AD trade.  The Pelicans landed three solid young players in addition to the bevy of draft picks from the Lakers.  Whether they keep all of those assets remains to be seen.

The situation in New Orleans isn’t as good as I thought it’d be.  The Pelicans got back 110 cents on the dollar like they should have for one of the league’s ten best players and perhaps one of the 50 best players of all-time.  As I wrote in February, you have to overpay for guys like that, and you don’t take a discount if you’re New Orleans.  You play the hardest ball you can.

They did that in terms of value and got it, but I question whether it was the right value.  With Zion, it’s go-time.  There’s no building.  There’s no “We need to develop this young core.”  Zion is ready and developed.  He’s the type of guy where he’ll likely be one of the 30 best players in the league immediately, and could have a team in the playoffs as early as his rookie year.  We’re looking at a LeBron-level impact here, so why did New Orleans trade for other young players?

One, the Lakers didn’t have anything else to offer.  There was no way they were giving up more draft picks than they already did, and LeBron obviously wasn’t going to be shipped straight up for Davis.  Two, and there’s been reports of this, they can easily flip the young guys acquired into something else.  Whether that’d be Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram or the No.4 overall pick (I keep Josh Hart out the three players; he’s at least a solid wing/defender and shooter.  I still don’t know exactly what Ball and Ingram bring), the Pelicans can use those assets to bring in win-now, veterans players to help make this roster a title contender next season.  There’s no sense in having Jrue Holiday play with all of these guys; by the time you’re ready to contend (and IF you’re ever going to with an Ingram/Ball core), he might be past his prime and less effective.

The Pelicans need to treat Zion like a veteran, even though he’s 13 days older than me (Yup, you read that correctly.  I’m a little freaked out too); like someone who can be the best player on a championship team.  Because that’s what he is.  Right now.  Already.  He’s the best player on a championship team.  Despite winning the trade, the Pelicans don’t have that team around him right now.  You have a window with him and you have to let the light in.

For the Lakers, the Davis trade was a dream-come-true even with the price they paid.  In what was starting to become inevitable for weeks, the Lakers got the guy they oh-so-desperatly tried to get in February, and decided to stop being cheap and pay up.  That’s essentially what this came down too.  New management on the Pelicans side of things, less incompetence (That’s not to say Rob Pelinka is competent, but I think I trust just him more than I trust him and Magic together or Magic by himself) and a renounced sense of urgency (Due to some free agent rumors) on the Lakers side of things got this deal done.  The Lakers traded the right players away (Except Hart; would have been nice if they kept him around) but had to pay a massive price to make up for it.  With that, they get LeBron and AD together, with Kyle Kuzma as an underrated scorer from the wing and now have something that can attract free agents.  They need a point guard and some more wings who play well off of LeBron, but the Lakers could manifest into a title contender quite quickly.

The giving up of the picks had to be done.  It will be terrible when the picks start actually getting sent off and used by the Pelicans, but the Lakers are making the bet that those tough years will follow success and glory.  They’re making the bet that it will be worth it.  LeBron and AD with a solid point guard and decent wings is a dang good team.  LeBron, AD and a big free agent signing is probably the best team in the league.  That’s a bet that should pay off.

How Toronto Beat The Warriors To Win The NBA Finals

Game 4 was a reality check.

The Warriors were down 3-1 after that Friday night loss.  It didn’t feel like that was possible.  Sure, once it was announced that Kevin Durant was going to miss Game 4 and not play, the narrative for Toronto was that they couldn’t lose.  We had to prepare ourselves that the Warriors, whether it be in Game 5,6, or 7 were not going to win the series.  There was just no way they could survive four games without Durant.

Eventually, the Warriors lost.  They made it through 4.5 games without Durant, giving it their all in Game 5 after he went down with a devastating achilles injury that turned the series on its head.  And in Game 6, it was another devastating injury that helped Toronto survive, as Klay Thompson sustained a torn ACL after putting up 30 points in almost three quarters.

But injuries weren’t the only thing that won Toronto this series.  As I wrote in my preview, I was high on the Raptors practically all year.  I thought they could present some issues to Golden State.

Toronto went out and made smart trades, got their No. 1 guy and played an efficient, modern brand of basketball with its own tinge of old-school that made Golden State combust.  It worked.  Here’s a breakdown of why.

In a small-ball league, Toronto went and played big, and made it efficient

This would not have been a series for Jonas Valancuinas or Jakob Poeltl.

Despite what the Raptors did with their big men in this series, the two former Raptors would have never survived in this series.  Golden State would have destroyed Valancuinas and Poeltl in the pick-and-roll, or stretched them out to the perimeter defensively and made them unplayable that way.  Plus, neither of them do stuff like this.

Give me ALL of that.

This is where the Raptors got creative.  They had two dudes on the court at all times that Golden State could do nothing with.  Marc Gasol?  Who’s there to defend him posting up, or stopping this?

Notice how these Gasol plays are all quick and efficient.  If you’re going to play big guys, the production they give you has to be of this kind.

What about Pascal Siakam?  The dude had 32 points in Game 1 on 17 shots.  He made 14 of them.  He did it with plays like this.

But he also shot threes, posted up, and hung around the rim for put-backs.  His length and athleticism was too much for a Golden State team that was without KD (a perfect matchup) and had Kevon Looney (Someone who could at least minimize Siakam’s impact) battling through a painful injury.

And then put one of those two with Serge Ibaka, who turned into a shot-blocking machine in Game 5 and destroyed the Warriors on three straight possessions in Game 6 by simply hanging around the rim looking for second chance points and lobs?  Draymond Green couldn’t do it by himself on the defensive end.  The Warriors were just overmatched by the Raptors’ smarts and size.

Fred VanVleet did not miss

Though it felt like he shot 70%, Fred VanVleet shot 37.9% from three against the Warriors, and 44.9% from the field.

The reason it felt like 70% was because the shots mattered.  When Toronto needed a big shot, VanVleet was there.  The options were legitimately Kawhi Leonard and him.  That’s the level VanVleet ascended to this postseason.  It’s one of the most improbable hot streaks I can remember.  It’s a like a pitcher in baseball or a whole team in football.  They heat up and never cool down, and it leads to a championship most of the time.

That wasn’t the only way VanVleet made his impact known though.

Toronto beat up Stephen Curry when it mattered

Curry’s 49 point game in Game 3 was undeniably incredible.  With literally every solid offensive option out but him, and the defensive issues we examined above fully on display, Curry knew he had to take things into his own hands in the grandest way possible and he did.  It just wasn’t enough, and against this Toronto team, that was understandable.

And in other games, Toronto did just enough.  Curry wasn’t enough to make up for the loss for Durant and Thompson.  Despite putting up 30.5 points, six assists, 5.2 rebounds, the Raptors held Curry to 41.4% shooting and 34.3% shooting from three.  They did it by beating him up.  Whether it was VanVleet or Lowry smothering him at the top of the key, or fantastic rim protection, the Raptors kept the Warriors’ engine in check.

If there has been any defense against Curry the past five years, it’s been this kind.  Get physical and break him down.

The workload Curry had, in Game 3 and in Game 6, was just unbearable, and though Curry missed the shot at end of the game Thursday, it was justified.  It was one shot and had a 34.3% chance to go down.

Injuries

Injuries are commonly labeled as excuses for teams winning or losing the title.  But injuries play a key part in every series.  The Warriors know this; Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both out for the 2015 NBA Finals, leaving LeBron James on an island by himself for six (!!!) games.  If Irving and Love play, that series goes at least seven, or the Cavaliers likely end up winning it in a more compact series.  But we don’t count that in the history books, or put an asterisk next to it.  The Warriors won the Finals that year.  That is what happened.  Yes, they had injury luck, but they won the Finals.

The Raptors won the Finals this year, and they got injury luck as well.  Had Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson been healthy, this is a Warriors in five or six series.  Had Durant alone been healthy the whole time, it’s probably the same.  If Durant comes back in Game 5 and doesn’t blow out his achilles, we’re probably playing Game 7 Sunday night.  The same goes for Klay Thompson last night; if his ACL isn’t torn coming down from that layup, and his shot-making continues, then we probably have a Game 7 Sunday night.  The Raptors caught a break in this series.  The Warriors did in 2015 as well.  What happens, happens.

There is a difference though with this loss for Golden State.  It’s not making an excuse, it’s more just a general observation about what these injuries mean.  In 2015, we had a pretty good idea of what the Cavaliers were going to be the next season.  This time around, that’s not the case at all.  It feels like the way this season ended for Golden State is a sign of things to come.  This same team absolutely won’t be back next season no matter who leaves in free agency or not; Klay Thompson won’t be ready till the playoffs, and Kevin Durant not until the 2020-2021 season.  He may be on a different team by then (Though I think the achilles tear makes him more likely to stay).  No matter what, this time around the injuries leave a greater impact than just a Finals loss.  It could be the end of one of the greatest runs in basketball history.  Even if the Warriors do get everyone from the past three years back for the 2020-21 season, it would create this funky, one year gap in the middle.  It’d almost feel like a lockout year or something.  It will be a strange feeling.  Then again, the only team close to putting up a run like this Golden State team has had double the amount of time in between.

How Toronto Wins (A Must Win) Game 3

One of the biggest keys in this series for Toronto was to get lucky.

That’s one the biggest keys for any team that faces Golden State in a series.

Toronto has gotten lucky.  Despite the series being tied 1-1, the Raptors haven’t had to deal with Kevin Durant (And won’t in Game 3), got Kevon Looney hurt enough to keep him out for the series, and banged up Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala.

All of that is the case for Toronto in Game 3.  They can’t lose.

Here’s how they avoid a brutal loss.

Make the Warriors feel the loss of Looney

Here’s a list of healthy, good defensive players the Warriors have tonight:

  • Draymond Green
  • Jordan Bell (?)
  • Andrew Bogut(?)
  • Alfonzo McKinnie

Can Bell play in a big game like this?  Is Bogut playable at all?

That’s a lot of ground to cover for Draymond Green, who, despite turning back into the absolute monster we knew him to be, will be tasked with switching on and off Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam throughout Game 3.

DeMarcus Cousins and Green will have to replicate their defensive performance from the second half of Game 2 to keep the Raptors in check.  Cousins was all over the place at the rim Sunday; a stunning turn from his usual habits on that end of the floor.

The Raptors have to minimize Cousins’ defensive impact, overwhelm Green and make Thompson and Iguodala work.  Playing Gasol and Siakam at the same time could be effective (A two man combo I did not envision in this series); Toronto has had massive success rim-running bigs (Siakam in Game 1 and Ibaka in Game 2).  Plowing Gasol and spacing Siakam out wastes Green and forces Cousins to contest at the rim.  Looney’s switchable at both roles.  Now that presence is gone.

There’s another way the Raptors can exploit Cousins and make the Warriors miss Looeny, and that’s by…

Letting Kawhi cook in the isolation and pick and roll

Leonard had a quiet 34 points in Game 2.  His -14 and Toronto’s loss late told the story.  Leonard was good, but he was never great.  He never went to the level Toronto needed, the level we saw against Philadelphia and Milwaukee.  He never really took over.

And that’s okay.  It happens.  But Leonard is going to have to step up in Game 3.  The Raptors can’t lose this game, and they need their best player to win it for them.

With Igoudala, Thompson and Durant hurt, the Warriors best options for Leonard are out or limited.

This has all the makings of a big Leonard game, or a takeover late.

Toronto can get Thompson or Igoudala switched one-on-one with Leonard, a favorable matchup given Kawhi’s ability to breakdown defenders and athleticism to get by them.  They can also put Cousins in the pick and roll, and throw multiple guys at him to defend on the roll.  A Fred VanVleet-Leonard PNR makes Cousins unplayable, and forces a hard closeout from VanVleet’s defender (A hurt Thompson or a healthy Steph?  Favorable) as the shots have just kept going down for the Wichita State product.  Running Kawhi as the ball-handler and a body like Gasol, Ibaka or Siakam puts another big man in good position toward the rim, and once again exploits Cousins.

Kawhi is Toronto’s best player, and with the state of the Warriors, he’s also their most lethal weapon.  Him getting going and dominating should not be an issue.