The Suns And Bucks Are All In

The Suns biggest need this offseason was impact.

It didn’t matter where it came from.  All that was known was that it’d be hard to find. 

This draft doesn’t offer much, especially at the No. 10 overall pick.  The Suns spending big in free agency seemed unlikely considering they recently sold their G-League team, and had brought in Ricky Rubio the offseason before.  Despite the 8-0 run in the Bubble, the team felt kind of stuck as just a competitive group that likely wasn’t going to crack real success, and had to rely on their best player just to hit that low mark.

That changed in a hurry Monday morning.

The Chris Paul trade was a deal that felt like it could have gone bad.  When th news broke, breathing stopped while waiting for the package going back to the Thunder.  It seemed like it would take a lot.

But it really didn’t.  The Suns swapped point guards (Rubio for Paul), traded an inefficient sixth man in Kelly Oubre, gave up two younger guards with some upside (Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque) and moved off a first round pick that is probably the best asset in the deal all in return for one of the 40 best players of all-time and a top 10-15 player in the league.  Not bad.

The Oubre label might seem harsh, but with the emergence of the Mikal Bridges-Cam Johnson at the 3-4 lineup in the bubble, a starting role was not going to exist for Oubre, even with the energy and scoring he brings.  Additionally, Oubre’s contract has been a hot topic since last offseason, and the flamboyant wing was likely going to want more security as he’s scheduled to hit the market again next summer.  

Oubre would have been a nice pop off the bench in a sixth man role, but he’s not exactly the ball-handler you want in that spot.  Plus, his poor outside shooting can lead to some inefficient and poor shot selection at times, making him an occasional tough fit.  Plus, it’s not wild to wonder whether Oubre would have been happy not starting – a suspicion says that’d be a tough sell for him.

Lecque was a project, and didn’t have a home thanks to the sale of the Northern Arizona Suns.  Jerome had a tough rookie season thanks to a lack of playing time and injuries – his impact at backup point guard was also not enough, leading to the signing of Cam Payne pre-bubble.  

It’s legitimately possible the 2022 first round pick the Suns gave up in the deal is the No. 1 asset in it, and that’s even after reports trickled out Monday morning that the infamous “double draft” – the year where high schoolers will be able to enter the league after graduation on top of the college freshmen class – might come in 2023 instead of the year before.  That would make 2022 picks way less valuable than previously thought, and make the price on 2023 selections sky-rocket.  The Suns seemed to do a nice job holding firm on ’22, as 2021 figures to be a loaded draft class as well.

Phoenix was able to flip that package into an All-NBA player last season in Paul. Paul’s the exact type of help Booker and Co. needed.  Rubio provided it, sure, but lacked the secondary scoring punch and offensive impact that Paul now brings.

CP3’s age and contract is subject to some critics, and in a way rightfully so.  But Paul is coming off a second-team All-NBA season (He was third-team on this ballot), led the league’s best clutch offense and surprised everyone by dragging OKC to a fifth seed in the playoffs and taking Houston to seven games in the first round.  He’s also the Point God, too.

Paul’s contract doesn’t matter because he’s likely never going to play down to the level we expected him to on it.  Sure, a second-team All-NBA appearance may not be very likely again, but playing at a slightly worse level or even a whole step lower  than that doesn’t make the contract a waste.  

Why?  First, this is Phoenix’s big move.  There’s nothing coming that is bigger than this.  This is the team they’re moving forward with.  Paul’s contract isn’t blocking anyone else.  Second, the Suns didn’t give up anything significant, so it’s not like they gave up truly meaningful assets for someone on a brutal contract.  Paul’s shown so far that he’s likely to outplay the negative value of his deal.  

It feels like there had to be better deals for Oklahoma City, unless teams were still deathly scared of trading for Paul’s contract.  Perhaps these could be teams trying to maintain cap flexibility, and didn’t want the large salary figure Paul brings on their salary sheet.  But after seeing what the Bucks gave up for Jrue Holiday Monday night, it seems hard to believe Paul could be had for so much less.  Where was Milwaukee on Paul if they were willing to give up what they did for Holiday?  What about Philadelphia?  The Mavericks?  Denver?  Bueller?

This trade feels like selling low for the Thunder.  It’s possible they didn’t have a choice, but why not hold firm for one of Johnson or Bridges?  Or potentially a straight up deal for DeAndre Ayton?  Oubre is a sneaky young piece (still 24 years old – will be 25 by the season’s tip) for them, but his deficiencies were noted above.  His defense will be a nice addition to a Thunder team that could use it, though.

Rubio makes zero sense for OKC’s timeline, and point guards are found more commonly than any other position through the league, which limits his potential flip value in February.  Plus – who’s taking on that deal for a non-needle mover?  Rubio was in the deal to make the money work, but why didn’t the Thunder demand more draft compensation from Phoenix to make up for the taking on of Rubio’s deal?  Lecque and Jerome are fine flyers – with Lecque being the ultimate project and fitting what OKC is doing well.  And then there’s the first round pick, which the Thunder should have bargained to be a 2021 or 2023 pick instead of 2022.

The Thunder have more moves to make, and perhaps they will be a bit better than this one.  But Paul was supposed to be the asset anchor of the Thunder’s rebuild, and this deal didn’t get it done.

On the Jrue Holiday trade to Milwaukee…

If Giannis Antetokounmpo is Shaq – well, Jrue Holiday isn’t exactly Kobe.

But he fits the mold, and clearly, that’s all that matters to Milwaukee.

Holiday’s shipment to the Bucks was stunning because of what the deal consisted of.  The Bucks were able to swap Eric Bledsoe and his contract for the Pelicans star point guard, but had to give up potentially five first round picks (Three first rounders and two first round pick swaps) to do it in addition to a reliable role player in George Hill.

Holiday is perfect for Milwaukee.  The Bucks upgrade at point guard, as Bledsoe’s a good defender but doesn’t quite hit Holiday’s level due to poor shooting, high usage and lesser passing ability.  Holiday’s the guy they need if Antetokounmpo is going to turn the corner in the playoffs, and play as more of a true big rather than a driving guard.  Additionally, Holiday brings better shooting and more efficiency to the Bucks offense, while making their defense somehow even better than it was prior.

It cost them a lot though, and perhaps too much.  Bledsoe’s a wash, but Hill was one of the league’s best shooters in 2019-20 and was able to double as a three-point threat off-the-ball and a nice backup point guard.  The amount of picks is asinine, especially considering who they’re going to (New Orleans – who owns the Lakers future thanks to the Anthony Davis trade).  It’s the type of deal you practically guarantee a title with, though the Clippers have yet to do that and Golden State and Brooklyn are rising as legitimate contenders.  The picks are likely to be late in the first round, but what happens if an injury occurs, or if the team is flipped on its head in the summer of 2021?  Then what?

You would hope Milwaukee made this deal not to convince Antetokounmpo to stay but as a gift for him committing to stay.  It’s an unprecedented, dangerous deal to make without knowing whether you’re losing the back-to-back MVP in a year or not.  A future without Antetokounmpo is a bleak one.  One without him and your draft picks is devastating.

The deal for New Orleans is more than they likely could have asked for.  The sheer volume of picks just adds to their war-chest, and there was likely no higher bidder – topping that offer means another star would have to be involved.  The Pelicans got the Bucks to seriously overpay, and for that they have to take on Bledsoe.  But they get Hill, who can be a competent role player in multiple facets and mentor whoever they need him to.  

On Bogdan Bogdanovic’s sign and trade to Milwaukee…

It’s possible to look at the Holiday trade as a combination of it and Milwaukee’s next deal, which featured the Bucks sending Donte DiVencenzo, DJ Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova to the Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic in what will be a sign-and-trade deal on Sunday morning.

Let’s evaluate it that way instead: The Bucks traded Bledsoe, Hill, Donte DiVencenzo, DJ Wilson, Ersan Ilyasova, three first round picks and two first round picks swaps for Holiday and Bogdanovic – who they will be paying a large contract to.

On the aggregate, it’s not as bad.  But moving five first round picks on top of your only two young assets for a non-guaranteed championship is still a risky deal.  Stars who will deliver a ring earn that type of package, not necessarily two really good players.

If the Bucks overpaid for Holiday, then they certainly underpaid for Bogdanovic.  DiVencenzo is the star of the deal for the Kings, but aside from that Sacramento is looking at a defense-only wing in Wilson and a veteran big who doesn’t fit their timeline (Ilyasova has flip potential, though).  Sure, Milwaukee has to pay Bogdanovic, but the sneakily-veteran Serbian combo-forward brings a lot of what Malcolm Brogdon did to the table for Milwaukee, and that’s in addition to a real point guard in Holiday.

At the end of the day,  Milwaukee can still be called a loser in these deals because of Brogdon.  They refused to pay him, and instead they’re making panicky, win-now deals to make up for it.  Paying him would have alleviated the need for all of this.

But, Holiday-Bogdanovic-Middleton-Antetokounmpo-Brook Lopez is a ridiculous team, full of defense and ball-handling that can help support Antetokounmpo in the playoffs.  Here’s to hoping they get more than one run at it.

The deal for the Kings is a bit underwhelming, but Sacramento was likely operating with low leverage as the necessity for a sign-and-trade manifested after they learned what offers Bogdanovic would get on the open market.  Sacramento smartly salvaged what they could, and it landed them a young wing moving forward in DiVencenzo.

This move would presumably clear the way for Buddy Hield to remain a King – Hield on his contract is a better than deal than Bogdanovic on his.  Sacramento now needs to get back to their speedy ways, and turn the fun core they once had loose again.

On Dennis Schroder’s trade to the Lakers…

It seems as though the LeBron James at point guard experiment is over after one season, and it’s not because it failed.

There’s just no need to make James work that hard anymore, even if he did finish third in the assists per game leaderboard last season.  With Rajon Rondo likely moving on, finding someone who qualifies as even more of a flier than Rondo was last offseason is a tough bet – and getting Rondo’s production we saw in the bubble from someone other than him is even more unlikely.  So, to counter the loss, the Lakers went after once of the best point guards available on the trade or free agent market, and it cost them hardly anything.

The inclusion of Danny Green along with the No. 28 pick for Schroder was a bit surprising, just because even after a tough playoffs, Green represented basic competency on the Lakers roster (Making the money match was likely why Green was shipped).  But perhaps LAL will find another wing to take over his role, and are okay with getting lesser production there with what Schroder brings to the table.

Schroder likely becomes the Lakers starter alongside James and Anthony Davis, with the rest to be determined.  Regardless, Schroder is the best point guard on the Lakers roster now that James is seemingly moved out of the position.  His scoring acumen will be received well by the Lakers, who could use a consistent punch next to their superstar duo.

This trade should have been a precursor to our disappointment in Oklahoma City.  Schroder and Paul should have netted real value, and both came up a tad short.  The No. 28 pick is a rough one in this draft, depending on how the board falls.  The positive is that Green is likely someone who can be flipped, unlike Rubio.  Green could easily net the Thunder a first round pick before the trade deadline – as Green’s sound defense and (occasionally) competent shooting is a massive plus to a potential contender.

Like the Paul trade, the Thunder should have likely gotten more, and the Lakers, for once, didn’t overpay and made a savvy move.

On Robert Covington’s trade to Portland…

This deal was similar to the Holiday move by Milwaukee in that Portland gave up a lot for someone who is 1) really good and 2) fills a major need and will make an immediate impact because of it.

The Trail Blazers had to pay up, sending two first round picks (including their No. 16 overall selection Wednesday night) and Trevor Ariza (back!) to Houston in exchange for Covington, who next to Gary Trent Jr. gives Portland the length they need to make up for their defensively-limited backcourt.

Covington improves Portland dramatically on both ends.  After the years of Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless on the wings, the Trail Blazers finally have a powerful two-way duo in Gary Trent Jr. and Covington.  

There’s likely a ceiling on what Portland can be defensively thanks to their two guards, but Covington was an important glue guy during his short time in Houston, and can do a little bit of everything on the defensive end.  There might be some rim protection skills hidden in his game.  

The price was not cheap, but reports indicated that Portland was not in love with anyone at No. 16 overall Wednesday night (The Athletic’s John Hollinger reported that Jay Scrubb was a target for the Blazers with the pick – a player who will not be ranked on the big board released Wednesday).  The extra first may be overkill, but Covington is an upgrade over Ariza, who pre-pandemic played well for Portland but is 35 years old and had shown serious decline the past two years.  

This has the potential to be a needle-mover deal for Portland, though they’re probably still on the outside of the West’s upper echelon.

One would think Houston was not too keen on making this deal initially.  Even with James Harden and Russell Westbrook wanting out, the Rockets seem firm on trying to compete in 2020-21, and keeping Covington would have certainly helped them do that.

It’s likely that the offer was just too good to pass up on.  Houston needs all the picks it can get, and they’re getting a decent replacement in Ariza (who’s never been the same since leaving Houston to sign with Phoenix in 2018).  Covington was a critical part of Houston’s small-ball philosophy, but with former GM Daryl Morey now in Philadelphia, the Rockets could be shifting away from such insistence on that style of play, making Covington expendable at the right price.

Perhaps Houston is still wanting to play that way and sees Ariza as a similar fit, with the picks making up for the loss in talent.  Regardless, it was an interesting deal for the Rockets, and is likely a precursor to something bigger, whenever that may come.

On the Bruce Brown trade to the Nets…

The first deal after the trade moratorium opened was perhaps the strangest one made.  The Pistons moved one of their few young assets to a contender for a lesser young(er) asset in Dzanan Musa and a second round pick.

Brown had been a pleasant surprise last year, really emerging as a ball-handler and defender on a bleak Pistons roster.  He, Sekou Doumbouya and Luke Kennard were really all Detroit had to look forward too.

Now the Pistons get Musa, who’s a young, deadly shooter but has spent most of his time in the G-League.  Musa and Deividas Sirvydis – Detroit’s second round pick in 2019 who’s still overseas – gives the Pistons some serious shooting depth for the long term, but ball handling and defense comes at a premium in this league, and Brown did both quite well.  A second round pick in return was not enough.

The Nets didn’t really need Musa either, nor did they need the pick.  The same could be said about Brown for them, but why would Detroit sell so low on someone who gave them solid, unexpected contributions?

What a weird deal.

The Warriors Might Be Forced To Reach In The 2020 NBA Draft

The Golden State Warriors are tasked with the ultimate restoration process during this blitz of a NBA offseason.  The league’s latest dynasty is coming off a season full of injuries and young, inexperienced players running the show.  But they enter the delayed 2020-21 season with a secret genius-like presence.  The Warriors are there, but nobody really knows what they’re up to or what to expect from them, and because of that, they quietly fade away until they re-emerge.

If the Warriors are to manifest with their past force, moves must be made over the next week.  Their struggles last season resulted in the No. 2 overall pick – a blessing in any draft but this one – and an extra 2021 first rounder from Minnesota due to the D’Angelo Russell trade.  They still have most of their cornerstones from the past five years in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, all of whom should be healthy and ready to go for December’s tip-off, but the fringes are rough.  Andrew Wiggins still doesn’t feel like a quality player nor a tradeable asset, and the only other mildly intriguing pieces are Kevon Looney and Eric Paschall, who was massively underrated in the 2019 Draft, had a great rookie and has some Green-like elements to him.

It’s tough for Golden State to bank on having 2014-2016-like success this season.  While that team lacked Kevin Durant next to its three stars, they had quality veterans around Curry, Thompson and Green and took the league by storm.  No one was qualified to defend or catch up with them yet.  Green was a much more potent offensive player.  Everyone was younger and just entering their primes.

Now, Thompson hasn’t played basketball in a year and a half, Curry is coming off an injury-ravaged year and Green has regressed on at least one end of the court.  The Warriors are still scary, but they may not pack the same punch that they used to.

The No. 2 overall pick doesn’t do a great job of improving the Warriors roster this year.  It’s no secret or surprise that Golden State has been linked to trade downs or outs.  To get someone who can really help, they’ll likely have to reach or make a monumental move.

Options for the latter exist.  LaMelo Ball – if Minnesota is smart – should be here for other teams Wednesday night.  The Hornets could move up a spot and guarantee themselves Ball, even though they have two other point guards on the roster (Neither really have the ceiling of Ball, though).  The Knicks or Pistons could as well, as those are two teams who should be coveting the brother of Lonzo.  But just like they did with Minnesota, neither team really offers Golden State players that make up for the lost value of dropping from the No. 2 pick.  The Pistons would need to convince Golden State that Blake Griffin (and his contract, and his medical history, and his poor defense) is worth it for them.  Detroit has zero other veteran assets on their team worth the pick swap.  The Knicks truly have nothing that should intrigue Golden State in a trade down.  Charlotte’s options are limited too, and it wouldn’t make much sense for the Warriors to move down just a single spot.  

Moving farther down the lottery and draft, New Orleans has Jrue Holiday – who’s been reported to be a trade candidate this offseason.  Golden State has been linked to him, though the fit between him and Curry seems a little awkward in the backcourt.  Holiday’s a good defender and good shooter, but it leaves the Warriors a bit stubby defensively, and Curry off-the-ball could limit his impact.  Golden State has to consider whether the redundancy in a Curry-Holiday backcourt is more valuable than whoever they take at No. 2 overall.  Holiday would add guaranteed competency, unlike a draft pick, but the fit feels a bit too wonky.  Additionally, this would mean the Pelicans have their eyes on someone high in the draft.  It could be Ball, as they could use a true point guard of the future (Lonzo is likely not it).  The players New Orleans could use are similar to Golden State (wings, minus point guard), making this type of deal tough to sell to the Pelicans.  What wing would be reasonable to take at No. 2 overall?

The Magic represent some intriguing possibilities.  Markelle Fultz has come along nicely after flaming out in Philadelphia, but he’ll never be the best player in his 2017 draft class as expected and shouldn’t be counted on as Orlando’s franchise player.  Ball could be a target of their’s.  Aaron Gordon would be beautiful to watch on Golden State while switching everything and knocking down three-pointers.  There might be some overlap with him and Green, though the two can protect the rim by committee.  Orlando giving up just Gordon and their own pick (No. 15) for No. 2 overall might be pretty enticing.  Golden State could still add an extra wing at No. 15 too.

Aside from that, the Warriors outlook for a trade down is bleak.  Milwaukee could use a point guard, though they’re still trying to compete with Giannis Antentokounmpo, so moving critical pieces of their title pursuit in 2020-21 (like Khris Middleton or Brook Lopez) wouldn’t be an option.  Donte DiVencenzo is the Bucks only moveable asset that would work for Golden State (Eric Bledsoe is a stay-away) – a deal with him and Ersan Ilyasova (who feels like the perfect Warrior) would give Golden State two quality players but still feel underwhelming.

Golden State could pivot away from trade downs and look to move out of their pick all together.  The stars who remain available on the trade market include just Holiday and Bradley Beal, though Beal doesn’t seem likely to go anywhere unless the offer for the Wizards is ridiculous.  Russell Westbrook and James Harden are wanting out of Houston, but Westbrook is the hardest no ever for the Dubs and a Harden deal seems counter-intuitive.  For kicks though: The Warriors could send Green, No. 2 overall and the 2021 Minnesota first rounder as the base of what would be a ridiculous array of picks on top of likely Eric Paschall and Kevon Looney in exchange for Harden.  It seems crazy that Golden State would move one of Thompson, Curry or Green, but the first two aren’t going anywhere regardless of what the fit is.  

That simply isn’t happening, but it likely needed to be addressed given Harden’s apparent availability.  Beal would be intriguing, though the Warriors would need to pay up in addition to No. 2 overall and the future Minnesota pick – would Washington do those two assets on top of Paschall and Looney?

The problem is that Washington has no reason to rebuild with John Wall’s contract purely unmovable, hence their insistency on keeping Beal.  Golden State would have to really sweeten a deal, which could be worth it considering their slot in this draft.

Boston has been rumored to be wanting to move up higher into the lottery.  It’s unclear who their target is, or if he would make sense at No. 2 overall.  Golden State could take back Gordon Hayward and an assortment of Boston’s three first rounders, which they’re looking to move due to a roster crunch.  That would be a king’s ransom for Golden State, as they’d get a solid veteran in Hayward in addition to other picks to help fill out the roster.  This isn’t a great draft, but the players most likely not to bust lie in the exact spots where Boston is picking, giving the Warriors a good prospectus in this potential yet unlikely move.

It’s likely none of these deals come to fruition though.  A team wanting to trade down means another has to come up, and in this draft, that’s risky given the lack of sure-fire bets and potential stars at the top.  The Warriors are going to be force to settle here, but their decision may be a bit tougher than reaching for whoever they think might be the best available.

No. 2, Golden State Warriors: Deni Avdija, Israel

USC’s Onyeka Okongwu has a good case for being the pick here.  Even with the Warriors depth of Kevon Looney and Eric Paschall at center, Okongwu would bring a nifty new style of basketball to the Warriors.

Golden State’s signing of DeMarcus Cousins in the summer of 2018 let it be known that they coveted a true big man.  It was the final iteration of their ridiculous offense. 

Okongwu wouldn’t necessarily be like Boogie, though.  He’d be a switchy, rim protecting big who has a soft touch, would be a deadly lob threat and offer sets Golden State never dreamed possible thanks to his intuitive passing.  

But drafting Okongwu would limit minutes for Looney, who showed he’s able to play big playoff minutes in 2019.  It would also hinder Paschall’s development and reduce potential crunch-time play for him.

At the end of the day, the Warriors can afford to whiff on this pick.  They’re going to be fine with the talent they currently have, and are going to be spending in free agency to fill out the rest of the roster regardless.  This pick is a luxury, and Golden State should take a swing.

That swing is Deni Avdija, who brings an interesting array of skills to the table.  He’s somewhere along the lines of Nicholas Batum, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanović.  Not to make solely international comparison, but he’s got a little sprinkle of each in his game, and a couple of concerning issues.

First, the good.  Avdija is a dynamic player offensively.  He’s able to ball-handle and pass, which allows him to get to the rim with a variety of spins and moves.  He’s not fast, but moves fluidly enough to get by defenders driving.  His passing is where the comparisons to Batum and Bogdanovic come in, as both players suffice as secondary play-makers in the NBA today.  

Avdija could do a lot for Golden State in terms of diversifying their offense.  As a secondary play-maker, Avdija could turn Curry and Thompson into lethal off-the-ball, catch-and-shoot weapons.  Golden State would also have someone they could plant at the elbow and run the offense through, similar to how Denver does with Nikola Jokic.  Avdija’s ability to move offensively makes him a weapon as a cutter, and his finishing is excellent.  

The bad, unfortunately, makes him a questionable fit in the league today.  The bounciness offensively doesn’t translate defensively – Avdija’s feet are slow, making him a tough switch onto anyone but bigger fours.  It’s a shame considering his weight and wingspan would allow him to really be a two-way force, but foot speed is not something that’s generally worked on and improved.  Avdija’s shooting is extremely questionable, as he’s used to having the ball in his hands and not shooting jumpers.  His free throw percentages are also horrible, ridding of any hope that a jump-shot could be developed down the line.  

The combination of bad, non-switchable defense and poor shooting does not seem like a mix of skills Golden State would want on their roster, considering they were the group that made them a mainstay in the league.  Golden State did just trade for Andrew Wiggins though, and he does neither of those things particularly well.  Additionally, if any team is going to figure out how a player can overcome those issues and still be productive, it would be the Warriors.  

Exploring Minnesota’s Options At The Top Of The 2020 NBA Draft

With the 2020 NBA Draft just nine days away and a wealth of uncertainty regarding  its overall talent, top prospects and the teams making the first two picks, it’s time to start diving in.

This draft has had the reputation of being a bad one, and it’s partially true.  There are no sure-fire stars in this draft.  There’s a wealth of players who could become reliable role-players but no one wants to take them high over a player who out of nowhere becomes a star.  None of the consensus top prospects can actually shoot.  It has the bad label for a reason.

Picking high is not where teams want to be.  As it would be for most teams toward the top of this draft, trading down or out is likely Minnesota’s best option at No. 1 overall.  But trading down means someone else has to trade up, and if picking high isn’t a hot commodity, than trading up to do so is even worse.

There could be some candidates, though.  This mock, which will be revealed in parts leading up to Nov. 18,  has Charlotte getting him anyways (Hint hint), but if the Hornets wanted to secure themselves LaMelo Ball, moving up to No. 1 would ensure them of that.  What would a deal look like though?  Minnesota probably isn’t looking for future picks with D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns on the roster – they should be a playoff team next year.  That means win-now pieces would be the asking price in return for Minnesota.  Charlotte doesn’t exactly possess that, with Nicholas Batum being the closest thing they have; his contract is an abomination and doesn’t really provide fair return though.  The Knicks and Pistons could also be interested in moving up.  Veteran help is a little easier to find in these spots, but Blake Griffin and Towns are problematic defensively, never mind Griffin’s own troublesome contract, injury history and the overall the lack of value for Minnesota in the deal.  New York would have to stack a couple players for it to be worth it for Minnesota, and even then a deal is underwhelming.

Moving way down the draft, Phoenix at No. 10 overall could want Ball to pair with Devin Booker in the backcourt, but veterans logical for Minnesota don’t totally exist on the Suns’ roster.  Orlando is another team that could present options at No. 15 overall – Aaron Gordon has been a long rumored trade candidate and would give the Wolves a nice defensive-minded player who can play next to Towns on the other end.  Is he worth the No. 1 overall pick in this draft?  Possibly.  Markelle Fultz had a nice year, but any hope for him to be their point guard of the future still seems slim. Picking Ball and pairing him with Nikola Vucevic’s passing would be impossible to guard, and Ball would give the Magic legitimate talent on the perimeter.  Gordon getting moved reduces the big man logjam in Orlando’s front-court, and gives Minnesota legitimate shooting and defense.

The value is the biggest question with the deal.  This draft isn’t great, which makes a player on Gordon’s level expendable for the first pick.  The Wolves need contribution right away – any rookie in any draft class is a question mark when it comes to that.  With Gordon, you know what you’re getting, you’re plugging a hole and increasing the talent on your team significantly.

Gordon opens up the discussion of Minnesota using the pick in exchange a star rather than a simple trade-down.  Stars that seem to be available this offseason could include Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday and Victor Oladipo.  Beal is the best fit and the best player of the three, but Washington seems keen on keeping him and John Wall together for one last go-around since Wall’s contract prevents the Wizards from fully rebuilding.  What can Minnesota send that wouldn’t trigger a true teardown?  No. 1 overall and Jarrett Culver doesn’t do much.  If Washington is trying to compete as best it can, they aren’t going to want future picks loaded into a Beal deal.

Jrue Holiday could fit well in Minnesota and takeover as more true of a true point guard, moving Russell to the 2-spot where he can score. Holiday provides  good defense to a team that needs it, and him for No.1 overall straight up has momentum for being fair, depending on how New Orleans views this draft.  Both Ball brothers on the same team might be a scenario the Pelicans wish to avoid for publicity reasons, but replacing Holiday with the younger Ball brother isn’t a bad succession plan.

There’s nothing concise about Oladipo’s availability on the market.  He’s also the worst fit of the three next to Russell.  Neither are super high percentage shooters and both are most effective with the ball.  Plus, trading No. 1 overall for someone with Oladipo’s health record is risky.  An acquisition of the first pick for Indiana also doesn’t jive with the age and trajectory of their roster, which is one that just added Malcolm Brogdon last summer and isn’t too far away from being a contender.

Those are the most obvious moves for Minnesota that require trading out or down.  Stunners can happen (AKA, Oklahoma City), and the Timberwolves could gladly take an extra pick to makeup for the one they shipped out for Russell in February.  But the Wolves window is now, and if Holiday and Gordon are both off the table, Minnesota’s going to have to play the cards they’ve been dealt.

No.1, Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards, Georgia

The first pick of the 2020 NBA Mock Draft is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. Ranked second on the big board (The second edition is coming soon, click here for the first), Edwards was the pole-sitter for most of the college basketball season until time allowed for a review of Ball.  Edwards is dynamic on both ends.  He just needs to put a lot of things together.

Edwards’ best skill right now is getting to the rim.  He’s a long 6’5 and possess hyper-athleticism, which can get the best of him at times but results in unstoppable drives to the hoop.  He’s not a player teams are going to be able to just throw a wing at and call it a day.  Defenders need quick foot speed, immense size and even some rim protection ability to stop him.

Edwards’ efficiency isn’t quite there yet.  He had too large of workload assigned to him at Georgia, thanks to poor point guard play.  Head coach Tom Crean tended to overcast him at times due to the unreliable backcourt.  That burden has created worries about his shot creation and shooting ability – which are both valid.  The jumpers needs to fall at the next level, and the concerning part is that his shot form isn’t exactly a mess.  

Still, 77.2 percent from the free throw line is an encouraging sign, and perhaps playing off someone like Russell won’t tire him out as much, leading to more jump-shots actually falling.

The fit between him and Russell might seem suspect, but Edwards is a good player off the ball thanks to his athleticism and knack for finding holes in a defense.  He can cut, catch, take a quick dribble and lay it right in.  He’s a menace in transition.

The Wolves desperately need a defensive presence.  Edwards has serious potential on that end thanks to his size and ability to move fluidly and quickly, but the results have been sub-par given expectations.  A lot of it could be chalked up as a simple lack of effort, with defense taking a backseat to his offensive load in college, but there does seem to be some awareness issues when not locked onto an opponent. 

Fine tuning is needed.  Edwards has every tool necessary to be a high-end defender in the NBA.  The Wolves should be able to get him there, especially since they’re going to need everything they can get on the defensive end of the court.

Edwards may not be the best player in this draft, but that doesn’t totally matter because this draft is anyone’s guess.  Minnesota is in the worst possible spot here.  Trading down or out would be a saving grace.

A Power Ranking Of NFL Contenders

The NFL season is approaching its halfway point, and the sample size we need to truly evaluate teams is large enough to where we can draw early conclusions about who is real and who is not.

This year, the league is not wide-open.  Instead, a bunch of good teams crowd the top.  Legitimate cases can be made for seven teams to win the Super Bowl.  Below is the argument for each.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are mostly here out of respect.  It would be cute and perhaps professional to give this spot to Seattle – whom the narrative has followed all year thanks to Russell Wilson’s undisputed MVP candidacy.  But it would also be unwise to not give Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City their due.  Mahomes is the most talented quarterback this game has seen, and the Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champions.  They’re still ranked first in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, despite seeming not nearly as dominant this season.  They’re taking care of bad teams and winning against good ones.  Their defense is still costing them at times, as evident in their 40-32 loss against the Raiders in Week 5.  The Chiefs may not feel like they deserve to be here, but they do.  Plus, Le’Veon Bell is still coming, which could make the best offense in football even better.  Seattle’s reinvention is scary, but their defensive issues could plague them.  Kansas City’s aren’t much better, but we’ve at least seen them be overcome in the past.

             2. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle might be the easiest Super Bowl shoe-in out of any team on this list right now because of the odd Kansas City resistance.  They’re most of the NFL media’s darling thanks to Wilson’s MVP-caliber season and the emergence of wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.  Defense be damned, Seattle is dotting up secondaries by actually treating Wilson like the quarterback he is.  Their lack of aggression over the years was justifiable until the arrival and ascension of Metcalf, who finally gave Wilson someone else to throw to aside from Tyler Lockett.  The duo has made Wilson an unstoppable force, as the Seahawks have shied away from their run-heavy tendencies to completely unlock their quarterback and offense.

Their defense is concerning though.  The newly-acquired Carlos Dunlap will look to help the Seahawks fill the void at pass-rusher, though one non-superstar’s impact could be limited.  Their ranking of 28th in defensive DVOA is the reason they fall behind Kansas City in this power poll – the closest team on the DVOA list that is as good as the Seahawks are is the Packers, who rank 22nd.  The teams that fall in between: Carolina, Cleveland, New England, Cincinnati and Atlanta – none of whom can seriously be called contenders right now.  Seattle is getting by, but it’s reasonable to wonder how sustainable that is, whether the offense keeps up its torment or not.

            3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Giving Tom Brady the best defense in the league by DVOA standards was a great idea for the Buccaneers and a bad idea for everyone else.

The reason Tampa Bay finds itself third behind Seattle and Kansas City lies in their sudden stutters in offensive production.  A good New Orleans defense shut them down in Week 1, and the Bears rejuvenated group did so in Week 5.  Those are both top 10 groups, but for an offense that probably should be the best in football given its overall talent, those games are a little concerning.  Seattle and Kansas City haven’t had teams shut them truly down yet through Week 7.

Still, the Bucs have to be taken seriously.  It’s extremely hard to bet against Brady for any reason, let alone when his roster (and most importantly, his weapons) are loaded.  Antonio Brown should only add to it, unless he doesn’t for non-football reasons.  Doubting Brady last year was reasonable – his ability to overcome a bad situation dissipated.  But Tampa Bay has put him in the best possible situation in 2020, and it could wind up with Brady playing for an unprecedented seventh ring.

            4. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers and Brady were similar last season.  People claimed they were washed or weren’t as good as previously thought.  Neither had a good supporting cast of receivers.  Even though record indicated otherwise, they and their team’s performance was underwhelming.

Both have overcome it.  For different reasons, Rodgers and Brady have put last season’s narrative to bed, and while Brady’s bunch is ranked ahead of Rodgers’, the Packers quarterback’s season might be more impressive.

That’s because there’s no real reason for Rodgers’ supposed improvement this year. It’s practically the same Green Bay team aside from it being Matt LeFluer and his offense’s second year, which allows everyone to be more comfortable in it.  Aside from that, the Packers are running out the same weapons we complained about last year.  Green Bay’s rookies in the backfield haven’t been game-changers.  The defense still isn’t great, ranking 22nd in defensive DVOA thus far after finishing 15th last season.  

There’s only two real answers: Rodgers and the rest of the receiving core becoming more comfortable in LeFluer’s system (Most notably Robert Tonyan, who’s becoming the latest Green Bay tight end to be a favorite target of Rodgers) or the drafting of Jordan Love lighting a fire under Rodgers’ rear.  Both explanations are quite cliche and boring, but the shift of Rodgers looking washed to becoming a MVP candidate again lies in within one of them.

            5. Baltimore Ravens

Is Baltimore being treated on this list how Kansas City is amongst most?  Possibly. The Ravens, like the Chiefs, aren’t much different this year compared to last.  It’s just because their newness and shock value has wore off.  We know what to expect with Baltimore now.

And yet, we’re still sometimes let down.

The big game lack of success is real with the Ravens.  It starts with Jackson’s rookie season and the playoff game against the Chargers – where Baltimore managed just seven points and couldn’t top San Diego’s 10.  Jackson was reduced to a shell of himself and wasn’t able to affect the game in ways he typically does.  The same issue occurred in last year’s playoffs against Tennessee, where the offense failed to kick into gear despite torching teams all season. And just this year, Kansas City asserted their dominance in Week 3 on Monday Night Football in a game where Jackson didn’t stand a chance matching the Chiefs’ offensive firepower.

Sunday stands as a big test for the Ravens.  They face the 6-0 Steelers, who are forthcoming on this list.  It’s almost a make or break game for the purposes of this list for each team.  If Baltimore falls to the two toughest opponents on their schedule (KC and Pittsburgh), how can we take them seriously as contenders?  

             6. Tennessee Titans 

Arguably the most unexpected team on this list, the Titans recently had a two-game stretch where they looked like serious Super Bowl contenders.  They obliterated the Bills on that weird Tuesday night game in Week 5 and won in OT against the Texans – who had their best performance of the year – in back-to-back weeks before Pittsburgh’s defense shut them down in Week 7.  

It’s possible we’re overrating Tennessee due to the shock value they’ve provided us since Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback.  Never before has Tannehill played as well as he has since being traded to the Titans, and the former Dolphins QB being anything better than average still feels a little off.  There’s a case it shouldn’t be – the Titans have given Tannehill better weapons (and better coaching, too) than he ever had in Miami.  Maybe this is just what QBs of Tannehill’s caliber need to succeed.  An awesome running back (Derrick Henry) and at least two awesome pass-catchers (AJ Brown and Jonnu Smith) certainly helps.

Even after last week’s contest, Tennessee gets the nod over Pittsburgh because of a slightly harder schedule (in terms of opponents and because of COVID-19’s effect) and a more dynamic offense.  The Steelers defense is the second-best in football per DVOA and that’s no statistical fluke.  But Tennessee subsequently ranks third in offensive DVOA, and riding with an offense that is getting above-average QB play rather than just average is a bet worth making – even if it is Tannehill at the helm.

             7. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh’s deficiencies were covered above, but they absolutely need to be included in the short list of contenders thanks to a ferocious defense that was consistently let down by the other side of the ball last year.  

Now, that’s not the case anymore, even though the Steelers rank 17th in offensive DVOA.  But for Pittsburgh’s chances overall, the offense still remains a viable question mark.

Despite the emergence of rookie Chase Claypool as the latest dominant Steeler wide-out, Ben Roethlisberger is averaging just 6.8 yards per pass attempt this year, ranking 26th out of 32 eligible quarterbacks per  That’s not exactly ideal, considering that Claypool is just one of three legitimate receivers Roethlisberger has to throw to, with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington also on the roster.  He’s got everything he needs to make up for any age regression, and it still doesn’t seem to be enough.

That said, the Steelers are 6-0 and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  The defense has proved it’s good enough to not just get the team to the average mark but well past it.  Defenses like that don’t come around often, and that exact formula has worked many times before.

The Unfortunate Realities of Dak Prescott’s Injury

The comments from Alex Smith say a lot about the injury Dak Prescott suffered Sunday.  Smith hadn’t established contact because he didn’t want to freak Prescott out.  He didn’t want him to think that he was heading down Smith’s terrifying and simultaneously unforgettable road.

Prescott isn’t in Smith’s situations – according to articles that have featured real doctors as sources – but he’s not exactly in a great one either.  This is not a hamstring, core muscle, collarbone or even an ACL – which is an injury that used to be a death sentence and thanks to technology has turned into just a one year deal.  Prescott’s ankle was turned the wrong way – his sock saving his and our eyes from his bone protruding from his leg.  This might be something Prescott can move on and recover from, but he’ll move on before teams – Dallas or not – do.

This unequivocally sucks for Prescott, but it does for the Cowboys too, no matter how you feel about their handling of Prescott’s contract.  Sure, this could be chalked up as karma to Jerry Jones and the rest of the Cowboys “front office.”  But Prescott’s injury robs them of the chance to truly and finally evaluate whether Prescott is their guy or not.  Some of their balking the past couple offseasons has been justified.  Even pre-injury, $40 million per year for Prescott seemed a little steep.  Jones is a businessman, and he’s looking at Prescott’s ask to be second-highest paid QB in football as preposterous when the player probably slides in somewhere between eighth and thirteenth-best in the league, depending on how you factor in rookies.

Yet, Prescott isn’t average.  He may not be an elite quarterback, but he’s above-average, and ridiculous pay-days are the going rate for guys that rank in that tier.  Dallas could be paying Kirk Cousins that money instead.

The Cowboys are about to find out what paying for average looks and feels like.  While Andy Dalton is only making $8 million this season, even the talented offense around him – and the good group on defense when healthy – isn’t enough to prop him up to a level where he can lead Dallas to their initial expectations for this season.  Dalton, especially in front of a Cowboys offensive line that has been a shell of itself, is what a potential and likely Prescott replacement looks like.  That should make the Joneses woozy.

The resistance the Cowboys likely had to paying Prescott was that they possibly wouldn’t get over the hump with him under center and with talent around him on both sides.  Now, Dallas doesn’t have that proof (or lack thereof it) heading into negotiations with Prescott after this season.  If Prescott and the Cowboys performed up to expectations this season, the franchise wouldn’t have a choice.  They’d have to pay up. If they fell short, perhaps it would have been smart for Dallas to part ways.  Now, the two are in a no-mans land neither saw coming.

Dallas certainly has more leverage now, as awful as that is to write.  Frankly, so does every other team in the league.  Prescott’s done for the season and won’t play again.  How good does a team feel handing over a massive, $100 million-plus contract to someone who – the last time he was in pads – had his ankle turned the wrong way with a bone piercing his skin?

That’s where this hits hard for Prescott – that’s what those tears represented Sunday as he was getting carted off.  Not only was it the burden of his brother’s suicide and the mental struggles he had after the tragedy.  Not only was it the grief he took for being vulnerable about it.  Not only was it that the relationship between him and the Cowboys seemed to be getting ugly.  It was that instead of one team feeling a certain way about him, 29 more had now likely joined.

Perhaps the offers will be there come spring.  It seems unlikely that teams will be ready to hand Prescott a multi-year, lucrative contract despite past performance, though.  It’s an injury that could make him never the same guy again.  Gordon Hayward has yet to return to his normal self after his devastating dislocated ankle and broken leg in 2017.  Though Prescott and Hayward have different injuries and play different sports, the trauma from it has seemed to be Hayward’s barrier since his return, along with other unlucky breaks.

There seems to be less situations like Hayward’s and more that trend toward positive outcomes, though.  Though they also play different sports, Jursurf Nurkic and Caris LeVert both had horrifying leg injuries and returned back to their peak, albeit one much faster than the other.  Then Cowboys receiver Allen Hurns had a similar injury in 2019 and returned to his peak the season after.  And then there’s obviously Smith, who had a different injury, different complications and ultimately a different situation completely than the others but rallied.

Still, signing someone after an injury similar to Hayward’s and Prescott’s is a risk.  In the Celtics case with Hayward, they signed him and then the injury occurred.  They were tied to his rehab and ultimately his lack of return to form.  With Prescott, teams can choose not to bind themselves to that.

That could put him in a situation similar to the one Cam Newton was in this offseason.  Teams won’t bite big until they see it – until they confirm injuries haven’t derailed the players career to the point where its irreversible.  A one year deal for Prescott – no matter who it’s from – is low risk for teams no matter what the cost is.  No one gets locked in at big money.  If a team signs Prescott, it probably won’t be to bench him.  That way, they money doesn’t go to waste whether it produces results or not.

Prescott’s injury unfortunately brings his future contract down to the Cowboys level, and potentially well below it.  In the worst way possible, this broke right for Dallas.  They wanted Prescott at a much lower price, and they’re probably going to get it.  The question is whether teams around the league challenge them on it.  The reality is that every team – Dallas or not – is taking a leap of faith in doing so.

How The Lakers Won The 2020 NBA Finals

For all the excuses being made about the Los Angeles Lakers run to the 2020 NBA title, the event itself is still quite stunning.  Sure, the Lakers missed out on playing the crosstown Clippers, who were widely seen as the title favorites entering the year and held that distinction throughout.  Sure, they didn’t have to face Giannis Antentokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who would have presented serious problems for LeBron James’ team and arguably would have matched up better with LA than Miami did, even though the Bucks fell to the Heat in the second round.  Sure, James and the Lakers got practically a whole offseason’s worth of time off before beginning the playoffs and winning the title.  And sure, the Heat had one member of their crunch-time five practically miss the entire NBA Finals and another miss two games of it.

But the Lakers also had these things going against them: Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee playing legitimately big minutes en route to the title.  The bubble’s eventually toxic atmosphere and the mental toll it exhibited on those left in it for the season’s final days.  The loss of the franchise’s icon of Kobe Bryant back in January, and the weight that fell on everyone in the organization.  

This title counts – unequivocally.  Below are the reasons the Lakers won these Finals.  They also help explain why the 2020 championship matters.

Anthony Davis took matters into his own hands

One of the biggest keys for the Lakers and Davis in this series was to put Bam Adebayo in situations on the court he wasn’t comfortable in.  Adebayo’s height disadvantage against Davis was paramount.  Davis made sure he towered over the Heat’s young, bouncy center in any way possible throughout the series.  Davis could pull-ups and jump-shots from practically anywhere on the court against Miami and Adebayo.  No one could contest it.

Davis also used his size to get the rim, a part of his game that’s unprecedented among almost anyone in league history.  What seven-foot center is doing stuff like this?

Even though Davis didn’t have Miami’s best option on him above, would things really have been different with Adebayo on him?  Sure, Adebayo’s switching is the best part of his game, but once again, the size advantage Davis has likely would have mattered more.

Davis had a serious case for Finals MVP.  There was no wrong answer – though the unanimous ballot in favor of James was surprising.  Not only was Davis a monster on offense, but his presence defensively halted Miami’s offense in the close-out Game 6 Sunday night.  Throwing Davis right in the middle forced Miami’s drive and kick to rely solely on threes, which resulted in Goran Dragic going 0-4 and Jae Crowder going 1-5 from beyond the arc.

Given that there was little room between Davis and James, the real MVP of the Finals might have been Lakers head coach Frank Vogel instead.

The Lakers got hot shooting the ball, and every night, a third-best player emerged

No matter what the circumstances were, it’s quite incredible the Lakers third option throughout these Finals was never Danny Green.  That’s was exactly what Los Angeles paid him to do last summer, and he ended up turning in a six game average of 28.9 percent from three.  The Lakers still won.

That’s because playoff Rondo emerged.  That’s because Caldwell-Pope turned into the guy we always hoped he’d be in Detroit.  That’s because Frank Vogel got those two to buy-in, and play for the team and not themselves.

Rondo’s three-point shooting was the biggest x-factor.  While it was still a mere 33.3 percent, that’s competent instead of below-average or detrimental.  This allowed Rondo to be effective without the ball in his hands – a revolutionary change from the regular season.

Rondo owning the ball wasn’t a bad thing, either, representing another change from the regular season.  He put up 5.5 assists per game as the secondary playmaker to James.  He got the ball to those who needed it.  He was, in essence, a perfect backup point guard.

If one was going to pick the Heat in this series, they’d point to LA’s reliance on guys like Rondo or Caldwell-Pope – both of whom would likely be the seventh or eighth-best player on Miami’s roster.  

Caldwell-Pope instead turned into a three-and-D monster.  Well over half of his shots were threes in the Finals (63.3 percent), and he turned in three 15+ point outings in six games, all while keeping his usage percentage at an impressively low 18.3 percent.

None of these performances were the reason the Lakers won.  But it certainly gave James and Davis some breathing room.

The super-stardom of the Davis and James duo overpowered 

Davis possibly deserving the Finals MVP shouldn’t discredit James’ performance.  Game 5’s war with Jimmy Butler was one of the best games he’s ever had in the playoffs.  His threes in the third quarter kept the Lakers in it, and Butler just won the battle.

After being passive late in Game 3, James adjusted and dominated.  His constant drives to the rim in Game 6 were unstoppable.  Game 1 had more to do with Miami’s injuries, but James at times made it seem like the Heat didn’t have a chance regardless. 

Davis was a two way menace in the series.  His Game 2 made the series feel like it was over, given Miami’s injuries and overall lack of answers.  With Adebayo out, Davis used his athleticism to hang around the rim more – an area where Adebayo would’ve stood more of a chance.  The former Hornet/Pelican missed five shots, and tipped in every ball that fell off the rim.  It was a completely dominant performance – one that you’d wish to see from somebody like Joel Embiid more.

The no-show in Miami’s Game 3 win likely hurt his Finals MVP case.  After Game 2, the performance could be understandable, but James never took a game off against the Heat.  Davis did, and it likely cost him a single vote.  

Game 6 won’t make any headlines, considering that the Lakers won the title by blowing Miami out, but Davis neutralized the Dragic-Adebayo pick-and-roll that initially hurt the Lakers early in Game 1 by hunkering down just below the free throw line and denying any lanes with his long arms.  Miami ran the set once Sunday night and it failed .  That was the end of the Heat’s use of it.

These Finals proved – as they usually do – that stars matter.  Davis and James proved that if you have them two, nothing else you have matters.  They’re good enough to make up for whatever else the roster has.  Could it have been easier?  Sure.  That might be something the Lakers address this offseason after swinging big and missing on Kawhi Leonard last summer.  But James and Davis proved this year that they don’t need it.  They’re that good.


Like last season, injuries had an unfortunate and profound effect on the Finals.  The losses Miami suffered in Game 1 gave the series a bit of an inevitability.  Reports that trickled out during the game indicated Dragic was likely not returning (making his Game 6 appearance a miracle).  Adebayo was guaranteed to miss at least Game 2.  After the drubbing early in the series, it felt like Miami really had no chance, making Butler’s Game 5 performance that more special.

Essentially, it’s hard to say that the injuries might have mattered.  After watching the destruction that Davis and James reeked, it really seemed like Miami wouldn’t have had a chance regardless.  It’s possible they could have forced a Game 7, in which anything could happen, but that’s hard to imagine after the no show from them in Game 6.

To those that will look for ways to discredit this title for James, you can’t bring up the injuries or the “easy” path the Lakers had.  Butler legitimately out-dueled James in Game 5.  Miami beat Milwaukee not totally out of luck but out of work and effort on the defensive end.  The Clippers – sure, the Lakers might have gotten lucky there.  But with the way Paul George was playing, and the lack of answers Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac had for Nikola Jokic, would that series really have been won by the Clippers?  It’s fair to say Adebayo did a good job against Davis in the Finals compared to what the Clippers bigs would have looked like.

The case to dismiss James’ fourth ring needs to have these arguments propping it up: 1) James had five months between the regular season and playoffs – the length of a normal offseason.  2) Anthony Davis was a top-three MVP candidate and arguably outplayed him in the Finals.

You can’t use injuries.  Recent Finals that have been heavily affected by injuries don’t have the same reputation.  We don’t undervalue Golden State’s first title in 2015 because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love got hurt.  We consistently talked about Kawhi Leonard’s quest to be one of the few players ever to be the best player on three different title teams this season, which means counting his 2019 Finals win and performance last year against a banged up Warriors group.  Nobody batted an eye at that.

Even the five-month layoff case has its flaws.  We don’t hold James’ first Miami title in a state of flux because the season was only 66 games instead of 82.  Nobody says that Tim Duncan has only four rings instead of five because of the 50-game 1998-99 season.

It’s hard to say whether 16 games less or 32 games less (in the case of 98-99) equals five months of rest.  There’s no science to drill that down.  Plus, everything else going on throughout the 2020 season and its playoffs could make the mental task of this title more grueling, completely negating the positive effect of the five month layoff.

In the end, we should evaluate the injury what-if from Miami’s point of view, not the Lakers.  We – and Heat fans – will always fall back on “If they were healthy in the 2020 Finals”, which is in the same regard that Cavaliers fans hold 2015 in and Warriors fans hold 2019.  Instead of saying that the Lakers got lucky, say the Heat got unlucky.  No matter what, arguing about it doesn’t matter.  James still isn’t the GOAT quite yet.  But he’s much closer than anyone on the Michael Jordan bandwagon would ever hope he’d be, and soon, it’s going to become undeniable. 

It Could Be A Whole New NBA Finals Now

The Lakers could not afford Game 3’s loss to Miami Sunday night.  Rumors swirled about Bam Adebayo’s availability prior to tip-off after the neck injury he sustained in Game 1.  Even without Adebayo and Goran Dragic, who’s return at any point in the series seems unlikely, the Heat have ways to win.  Jimmy Butler made that quite clear.

The Heat’s 115-104 win makes the return of Adebayo much more viable – giving them a massive weapon to truly unveil at some point in these NBA Finals, even if it be in a Game 5 down 3-1 in the series.  A re-arrival from the bouncy center in Game 4 should put the Lakers on edge.  Not only does Adebayo pack another punch offensively for the Heat (he would have been a major asset in Game 2 offensively, where Miami didn’t have enough to counter onslaughts from Anthony Davis and LeBron James) – he offers the best defense Miami has against Davis.

That isn’t saying too much though.  Davis was still a problem in Game 1 when matched up with Adebayo.  He couldn’t replicate the incredible stronghold he put on Giannis Antentokounmpo in the second round.  Davis pulled up for jump-shots instead and drained them.  The wingspan advantage of five inches made up well.

Almost subconsciously, the absence of Adebayo was there in Game 2.  Davis missed five shots, putting up 32 points and 14 boards.  It felt like 50 points and 20 rebounds instead.  The Lakers maintained a double digit lead while Butler willed himself to 25 points, eight rebounds and 13 assists.

Davis cost himself and his team in Game 3.  The Heat really did nothing different from a defensive standpoint with Adebayo out.  In fact, they got lucky Davis didn’t have another Game 2 performance.  Two early fouls saw his minutes decreased.  He had four by the halfway mark of the third quarter.  The Lakers shifted their offense away from him late, likely scared of having him foul out after going on a run and leaving the offense in shambles.  James was good again, but there was a strange passiveness from him on both ends of the court late in the game.  While Markieff Morris and Kyle Kuzma chipped in off the bench, James can’t be feeding those guys when down just a few possessions late, even if they’re cooking.  Miami’s had just as little of an answer for James as they have Davis this series.  He should have taken advantage.

Now, the Lakers go into Game 4 holding just a one game advantage in the series with Adebayo possibly back in the mix.  Every game Adebayo didn’t play had to be a win for the Lakers.  The matchup advantage was too good for Davis, and Sunday night he squandered it.  Game 1 proved that Adebayo might not be as impactful on Davis as we thought coming into the series, but he likely won’t be allowing a Game 2 type performance.  That’s all the Heat need.

Adebayo’s biggest impact in a potential return is on the offensive side of the ball.  Game 2 was a poor man’s Game 3 from Butler.  He just wasn’t special enough, and didn’t get any sliver of help.  Adebayo can be a major contributor there.

There seems to be pessimism about Dragic’s potential return in this series.  He and Adebayo’s pick-and-roll destroyed the Lakers before their injuries occurred in Game 1.  Dragic was unstoppable getting to the basket, and Adebayo’s athleticism on lobs resulted in tip-in and after tip-in.

If Adebayo is back in Game 4, a good way to get Butler some help would be to swap Butler in for Dragic in the PNR.  Los Angeles will have nightmares about the mid-rangers Butler consistently sank on them in Game 3, and Adebayo will get one of LA’s bigs moving their feet rolling.  That play will force help from Lakers defenders inside, and Adebayo’s a savvy enough passer to make kick-outs to Jae Crowder and Tyler Herro, among others.

Sunday night’s loss was a scary one for the Lakers.  It shouldn’t be surprising if Miami can tie it in Game 4.  They’ve got confidence now, no matter who is on the court for them.  Butler’s on a roll, and he’s too competitive to die out fast.  Those parameters are present whether Adebayo is in the lineup or not.  If he’s playing, a 2-2 series tie almost feels inevitable.  That provides even more time for a potential Dragic return.  If Butler’s play sticks through all of that, Miami quickly evolves into a team that now just needs two wins, not four, and suddenly, them raising the trophy feels a lot more feasible.

2020 NBA Finals Preview

The Miami Heat are doing exactly what the past five NBA Champions have done.  We just haven’t realized it till now, after they’ve pulled upset after upset in the 2020 playoffs and are just four wins away from pulling off another en route to a NBA title.

Their formula throughout these playoffs has changed over and over.  That was the key that drove the Raptors to their Finals win last year and Golden State to all of theirs in years prior.

Miami’s firepower simply overwhelmed Indiana in the first round.  Then, a ridiculous defensive effort uprooted the league’s best regular season team in the conference semi-finals.  Boston followed, and subsequently squandered thanks to a different Heat menace taking over almost every night.

Miami has answers to almost every question brought to them.  What happens when the threes aren’t going in?  Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and even spurts of Bam Adebayo can go get their own shot.  What about a bad night from Butler?  Remove him from the list above and there are your counters.  The opponent wants to stop interior shot creation?  Good luck helping off Duncan Robinson, Herro, a once steaming hot Jae Crowder and Miami’s other group of wings from beyond the arc.

Aside from injuries, the biggest reason why Toronto beat Golden State last year was their ability to have multiple creators on the floor at once.  Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet were crafty guards.  Kawhi Leonard was Kawhi Leonard.  Pascal Siakam was an athletic marvel who was hard to stop.  Danny Green was lights out.  Their big men were switchable enough that they weren’t played off the floor.

Miami is a sibling of that Toronto team, and it’s why they’re in the Finals.  It really shouldn’t be shocking, despite the fact that they’ve been picked against routinely.  It makes sense that Miami is here.  This is no walk in the park for the Lakers.

Los Angeles has the two best players in this series and that’s about it.  It’s – obviously and unsurprisingly – been enough throughout the entire regular season and playoffs.  LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been purely unstoppable against Portland, Houston and Denver in all three rounds.  The biggest reason the Lakers have continued to win is because those teams had no counterpunch strong enough to overcome LA’s star duo.

Miami probably doesn’t either, but they have the best personnel out of any of the Lakers’ previous opponents to limit the punch Davis and James can bring.  Lowering the strike reduces the counter.  

The Heat are capable of doing that.  They made a trade before the deadline in February to address this very issue.  Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala are the exact type of guys you throw at James – not to stop him but to at least make him work harder and differ more.  Butler also exists as an option, as does Derrick Jones Jr., whose minutes should increase in this series for the exact task of guarding James.  That’s four bodies the Heat can rotate in and out, and it gives them the ability to switch everything possession-by-possession if they so choose.

The Heat need to go down swinging with a switch-everything, wing-heavy scheme against James.  Their zone defense has been impressive and pesky throughout the playoffs, stalling Boston on multiple occasions throughout the Eastern Conference Finals.  But Boston only had one zone-breaker in Gordon Hayward, whose injuries limited his real impact.  There was too little aggression from the Celtics, and it cost them the series.

James has been a force throughout the bubble, getting to the rim like it’s no one’s business.  His performance to close out the Western Conference Finals in Game 5 illuminated that.  Denver had no answer.

The best way to beat a zone is to be aggressive.  As Brad Stevens told his players against Miami, you have to “step in.”  James isn’t going to have trouble doing that.

More concerning for the Heat’s zone is what it gives up down low.  The three point line and baseline tends to be wide open when the scheme is deployed.  With a single big on the floor, Los Angeles can put Davis, JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard on the floor in the dunker spot and get lobs.  With two bigs, Davis could be stretched out to the perimeter, and Howard or McGee can occupy the spot, leaving Miami vulnerable and forcing them to play Meyers Leonard for the first time in these playoffs.

The Lakers big lineup, which worked well against Denver thanks to Howard’s stunning lockdown of Nikola Jokic, is only viable against a zone for the Heat though.  If they go to it against any other scheme, they have the size advantage, but not the math advantage.  The extra big the Lakers play is overmatched by a Miami shooter, who’s going to be able to knockdown threes.  Los Angeles could score every time down low and still be outscored with the way Miami has shot the ball throughout the playoffs.

The Heat give themselves a chance to win by avoiding the zone.  If they deploy it,  Frank Vogel should immediately go big.  Erik Spolestra is too smart to let it hurt the Heat, so he’ll likely adjust right after, forcing both sides back to square one: man-to-man defense and switching.

Miami’s personnel against Davis is intriguing but also troubling.  Adebayo was a brick wall against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round, which was seemingly impossible given the Greek Freak’s seven foot frame against Adebayo’s undersized 6’9 (Which, as written here, probably says more about Antetokounmpo’s still-lingering issues) stature.  But Adebayo stood taller, and sured up any remaining doubts about his defensive ability.

Davis is a bit of a different cat.  Adebayo’s a better switcher than he is a rim protector, even with the second round performance, meaning he can contain Davis when he’s away from the rim.  But he’s the shot creator and jump-shooter Antentokounmpo isn’t.  With the back-to-back MVP, there was never a reason to worry about tight close-outs or contesting a jump-shot.  That aspect of Davis’ game is what makes calling him a big man tough.  He’s really a wing who feeds in the post.

Then you still have to worry about Davis’ post-up game.  Doubting Adebayo at this point seems silly, but so does doing the same for Davis.  Miami doesn’t really have a bigger option that’d be more effective, so they’re just going to have to strap in and ride with Adebayo.

Miami’s second-biggest advantage in the series is that while James and Davis are clearly the top two players in the series, there’s a decent case that the Heat have the next seven or so.  Butler, Herro, Robinson, Crowder, Dragic, Adebayo, Iguodala and even Kendrick Nunn or Derrick Jones Jr. are all probably the third best player on the Lakers right now.  The Heat’s depth is still outstanding.  The Lakers instead have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

If there’s a case for Miami to go zone, it’s that giving up the three point line doesn’t matter that much against the Lakers.  Danny Green is having a tough postseason shooting, which is unfortunate given the expectations the Lakers had for him.  At the same time, Green tends to be good every other postseason, and after last year, this was coming.  The rest of their shooters are average – Miami is going to be willing to let Markieff Morris and KCP shoot.  The Rajon Rondo shooting streak has to die at some point as well.

In terms of overall talent, Miami probably has more.  But the playoffs are about stars – the Lakers are living proof of that.  While the Heat are capable of limiting the damage Los Angeles inflicts, Crowder’s long been overrated as a LeBron-stopper, Iguodala is old and Butler has to save himself for offense.   Adebayo would be an interesting guard on James, but then who’s on Davis?

It takes a special group to bet against James.  The Warriors were that.  That’s why they were picked every year from 2015-2018 against his teams, and that’s why they won three times out of those four.  

Miami doesn’t quite breach those waters yet.  With a series win, they will.  With a strong fight, they still could.  At this point, it’d be stunning if they didn’t put up a true fight.

Prediction: Lakers in 7

A Dumb MLB Season Is About To Get Dumber

Consider everything abnormal, truly insane or simply stupid about the 60 game MLB season.  Two teams that had close to or exactly half their rosters sick with COVID-19 at one point had to sit out of the season for two weeks and get healthy.  The San Francisco Giants came within one run and one loss of miraculously making the playoffs.  The league leader in ERA came in at 1.63, with the top five all finishing below 2.10.  Yu Darvish has a legit NL Cy Young case.  Three full-time batters hit over .340.  The Seattle Mariners weren’t horrible.  The Miami Marlins are in the playoffs, and overcame an outbreak of the virus on the way there.  If the regular season was dumb – and it certainly was – then MLB’s playoffs are about to be even dumber.

You can first pinpoint this with the amount of teams in the postseason, and baseball’s plan to narrow those down.  Eights teams in each league will play a three game set against the highest or lowest seed available (No.1 vs. No.8, No.2 vs. No.7, etc).  The variance of sixty games is mightily high.  MLB has decided to carry that on in the utmost way into its postseason.  Whoever wins Game 1 of the Wild Card round just has to win one more time to move on.

That could produce massive upsets, which certainly makes for great TV and entertainment, but doesn’t exactly ensure that the sport’s best teams are playing for the championship.  You could argue that was never MLB’s plan this year – the loss of revenue from playing just 60 games and a lack of fans is obviously massive; driving up TV viewership could have been their only goal.  But what a three game series in the first round of the playoffs does is put teams in a funky spot when it comes to evaluation and planning for years to come.  Shouldn’t MLB be trying to foster real competition between its best teams?  Nothing makes for better TV than a great game between two awesome rosters in the playoffs.  

Baseball rarely produces a championship from the its best team though.  Even in 162 game seasons and a normal playoffs, the variance is too high.  But MLB is truly embracing that now, putting its teams, players and employees at risk.  How are the Blue Jays supposed to feel if they win the World Series?  There’s a worry that their young team comes crashing back down next season, because they can’t get it done for a season that’s 2.7 times longer than the one they just had.  What about the Marlins?  That’s a poor team that could get tricked into believing in themselves with a deep playoff run, then spend a bunch of money over the offseason, stink in 2021 and be out not just lost gate revenue but millions on players they probably shouldn’t have paid for.  The Giants almost made it into October.  Regardless of what their success could have been, they could have easily torn the team down in the offseason as its core is on average 30 years old.  That wouldn’t be a great look for a team that surprised everyone and made the playoffs.

MLB is playing with fire here.  There are excuses – or asterisks – for most of the teams in the playoffs if they happen to win the World Series.  The Dodgers?  No fans to put pressure on their necks.  No real stakes considering the short season.  The Braves?  Their bullpen only had 60 games worth of stress on it, not 162, giving them more strength for the playoffs.  The Cubs?  A 33 year old with 104 ERA+ in the two seasons before 2020 is a Cy Young candidate thanks to 12 starts and a 28 year old career minor leaguer who threw a no-hitter in his 27th MLB game ever saved their pitching staff and season.  The Padres – well – the Padres are just awesome, and no one has seen this as stunning.

Lets switch leagues.  Like San Diego, the Rays were built for this and are likely going to be contenders from now on, so they have a lack of an asterisk aside from the variance 60 games brings.  The short season allowed the Twins still-shaky rotation to not be a major problem and nip their success.  The same can be said about Cleveland’s offense minus Jose Ramirez, or the Yankees’ pitching.  Houston’s in the postseason thanks to MLB’s seeding travesty and their weak division.   Toronto and the White Sox follow similar patterns to San Diego and Tampa Bay: you could see it coming – both teams will be here for awhile and the only question those teams have to answer is whether they can be consistent over a much longer season.

This isn’t advocating for you to not watch the MLB postseason.  It’s just a warning that whatever is about to transpire may not be deemed truly representative of the sport.  Teams will be celebrating as they move on and win, but upstairs, it’ll create headaches for those in charge.  

The 2020 MLB season mimics life quite well.  It seems as if we’re in an alternate universe just waiting to be transported back, but life is still actually going on, and we’re kind of having our time wasted right now. 

The Vikings and Rams Have Traded Places

It should be every single NFL team’s job to make their quarterback’s life easier.  A QB’s life is already hard enough.  To succeed in the NFL, you need to be one of the 15 most important athletes in sports.  Nothing is harder than playing quarterback, let alone being average or better at it.

The list of quarterbacks that are average or better is small, which leaves the majority of the NFL in a precarious spot.  Don’t have a quarterback?  Well, you’re in rough shape.

But there are ways for teams to not put themselves in that pickle and not be dragged down by their quarterback so much.  The Rams and Vikings are two teams that have had to combat this in the past few seasons, and their up-and-down success is proof that it’s no easy task.  The effects of taking on such a project are showing this year – one team for the better, and one the worse.

The loss of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was concerning for Minnesota coming into the 2020-21 season.  Not only was he a home run hire for Cleveland and their needs, but Stefanski had made his living with the Vikings turning Kirk Cousins into a serviceable quarterback – one that could get his team quite deep into the playoffs.  Stefanski did this by heavily utilizing the play-action scheme, which was effective thanks to the emergence of Dalvin Cook as one of the NFL’s best running backs.  Cook baited defenses hard, which opened up the field for Cousins – a passer who’s notoriously not been able to make tight throws downfield.

The key was to not make Cousins have to do too much, and Stefanski didn’t.  Cousins posted a 12.9 percent mark in the NFL’s Next Gen Stats’ aggressiveness rating in 2019-20 – a stat that measures how often a QB throws into tight coverage.  That mark was the sixth-lowest in the NFL last season, though the true rank is even closer to the bottom as players who didn’t have the same sample size (David Blough and Delvin Hodges for example) ranked above Cousins on the chart.

This was a good thing.  Cousins isn’t talented enough to make “aggressive throws.”  Keeping that percentage low was Stefanski’s job, and he did it well.  He’s already doing a similar thing with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland.

The play-action helped reduce Cousins’ aggressive throws dramatically.  In 2019, Cousins and Stefanski passed out of those sets 130 times, tenth most in the NFL.  Cousins averaged 9.5 yards per attempt out of the scheme, a good number overall and given his limitations.  It was quite effective.

But the loss of Stefanski has resulted in the loss of the play-action, and could be the reason for Minnesota’s 0-2 start.  While the defense was somewhat expectedly picked apart by Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, the offensive side of the ball should have been Minnesota’s strength this year.  That has not been the case.  The Vikings are fresh off an 11-point showing against the Colts, and while they did put up 34 against the Packers in the season-opener, Cousins only attempted 25 passes (completing 19 of them, which is quite good).  The completion percentage, and yards-per-attempt (surprisingly) were impressive, but for Cousins to throw that little when Cook only carried the ball 12 times – albeit in a shootout – shows a lack of trust from the coaching staff in his ability.

It’s clear the group isn’t copying Stefanski.  So far this season, Cousins has only thrown out of the play-action ten times in two games, which ranks 26th in the NFL out of 35 players with more than one passing attempt.  That’s turned into just 58 yards, or 5.8 yards per attempt.

Adjust these numbers for a 16 game pace and they aren’t pretty.  If Cousins keeps throwing out of the play-action as little as he has in the first two games, it would amount to just 80 play-action passing attempts over the course of the season, dramatically lower than the 130 mark posted in 2019.

In addition, Cousins’ aggressiveness rate has risen to 21.6 percent so far in 2020, ranking as the sixth-highest in football.  Keeping that number low for Cousins is a key to his success, and the Vikings haven’t done it thus far.

Continuing to win and have success with an average quarterback is hard.  Minnesota is undergoing serious change in a lot of areas within their team, including coaching.  That can make the task of elevating a QB’s play even more challenging than it already is.  That said, another team has figured it out this season after encountering Minnesota’s 2020 struggles last year.

The Rams were one of the most disappointing teams in football in 2019-20.  Their 9-7 record felt much worse, thanks to the fact that the Super Bowl runner-ups missed the playoffs and watched their franchise running back crumble before their eyes.  Jared Goff regressed, and Los Angeles looked like a team whose future was bleak despite holding a team to 13 points in the Super Bowl the year before.

Head coach Sean McVay has been regarded as revolutionary, but his schemes and principles are quite simple.  That could be the product of Goff being his quarterback – things must be simple and easy for him to succeed.

The Rams ascent to being one of the best teams in football during the 2018-19 season was rooted in making things easier for Goff.  Los Angeles had a thumping run game with Todd Gurley and one of the league’s best defenses behind Aaron Donald.  Gurley’s 1,831 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns made defenses key in on him and not Goff, causing play-action to be an extremely effective tool for the Rams.  According to Football Outsiders, Los Angeles possessed the league’s highest play-action percentage in 2018-19, with 36 percent of the team’s plays coming from the scheme.  That resulted in the league’s second-best result via play-action, as the Rams averaged 9.4 yards per play.

Last year saw no change in the usage of play-action from Los Angeles, but a decrease in its effectiveness occurred.  Goff’s yards per attempt out of play-action dropped to 8.06, and the former No. 1 overall pick looked like a shell of his 2018 self, missing passes across the field and sinking the Rams offense to 16th in Offensive DVOA – perfectly average.

Why the decrease in effectiveness?  Gurley’s regression and constant injury nag led to a 1.1 yard drop in his yards per rush attempt, and a one-third reduction in total touchdowns.  A lesser running threat reduces the success of play-action – why should linebackers and the rest of the defense bite on the hand-off when the running back poses no real threat?  The Rams offensive line didn’t help Gurley or Goff out – it was a group that was either inexperienced or washed.  Goff needs a clean pocket to operate in – when things get chaotic or messy, it can lead to bad decisions from him.  A half-percent increase in interception rate articulated those troubling choices well.

To rebuild Goff’s production – and ultimately the offense’s as a whole – the Rams had to get back to basics this season.   The running game ranks third in the NFL thus far, averaging 172 yards a game.  Malcolm Brown has elevated into the lead half-back role, and has carried it quite well.  Back-up Darrell Henderson, in addition to rookie Cam Akers, have complimented the former Texas running back nicely (Henderson led the Rams rushing attack in Week 2).  Los Angeles has continued to stay creative with its speedy receivers, as Robert Woods has gotten four carries on end-around plays – Cooper Kupp also got 15 yards on a sweep motion against Philadelphia Sunday.  

The rush has predictably made things easier for Goff out of play-action.  The Rams have passed 31 times out of play-action this season, the second-highest total in the league.  Goff’s yards per attempt are lower than one would hope for at 8.7, but Los Angeles hasn’t needed anything more from him thanks to a 2-0 start.

Minnesota and LA have the same problem at the helm of their offense, and they’ve both been able to fix it in the past.  A season after one team found the answer and the other struggled, the roles have been reversed.  The answer laid within in the Rams, and now it’s Minnesota’s turn to find it.