Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

Last week, I gave a quick rundown of the teams I believed came out as losers from the NBA draft.  Apparently, judging by some of the comments I received, calling Bismack Biyombo a massive bust waiting to happen and criticizing the Celtics for not keeping Marshon Brooks weren’t particularly popular points of view.  And there are people out there who actually like what the Sacramento Kings are cooking up these days.  Who knew?

Anyway, to balance the scales, here’s a list, in reverse order, of who I believe were the top five winners from the 2011 NBA draft.

5.  Los Angeles Lakers

How does a team who didn’t even have a pick in the first two-thirds of the draft end up as winners?  Well, you make exceptional use of mid-second rounders, that’s how.

The Lakers nabbed Michigan point guard Darius Morris at number 41, a pick that I believe will be looked back on as an absolute steal.  Morris is big, long, quick and has the best court vision and passing ability in the entire draft.  Of course, he also can’t shoot a lick.  Playing for the Lakers, however, that’s not too much of a problem.  After all, there’s this guy in Boston named Rondo who can’t shoot either, and he seems to be doing all right for himself.

Then,  with the 46th pick, L.A. snatched up Andrew Goudelock from the College of Charleston.  More of a scorer than a facilitator, Goudelock can fill it up on the offensive end and is clearly one of the best pure shooters in the draft with unlimited range.  Not bad for the bottom quarter of the draft.

The Lakers had two glaring needs coming into the draft, the re-emergence of the squeezably soft Pau Gasol notwithstanding, point guard and scoring/shooting off the bench.  Managing to address both those late in the draft is a big win.

4. Washington Wizards

The Wizards came out of this draft as possibly one of the most exciting teams in the league.  Getting 6’11” athletic freak Jan Vesely in the lottery alone could have landed Washington on this list.  But they also got long, athletic defensive wiz Chris Singleton at 18 and Butler’s dynamo point guard Shelvin Mack early in the second round.  That’s the kind of well-rounded haul that can turn a team from pretender to contender.

Vesely has superstar written all over him.  Initially, I thought Singleton had a chance to be a bust as he was being discussed in the 10-12 range.  Sliding to 18 and landing in an almost perfect situation where his defense can make a difference and he can make full use of his athleticism has changed my mind.  Washington could well be the most exciting, unstoppable force in the league on the break sooner than later.

Getting Mack was another smooth pickup.  He’s small and stocky, but he’s a supreme competitor, being the primary reason why the little Butler Bulldogs played in an unbelievable two straight NCAA championship games.  I can see him as a Jameer Nelson type, a little shooting, a little passing, a steady hand as John Wall’s backup at the point. 

Washington, who was such a mess two years ago, has done a fantastic job rebuilding and will be coming to a playoff series near you very soon.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

Let me say this right up front, I absolutely love the pickup of Stephen Jackson by Milwaukee.  Even with the mouthing off about a contract extension before he’s even played a game there, Captain Jack is going to pay big dividends for the Bucks. 

Milwaukee clearly got the best end of the three team predraft trade with Charlotte and Sacramento.  They not only added Jackson, they got a solid backup for Brandon Jennings in Beno Udrih and somehow, some way managed to offload two bad contracts in John Salmons and Corey Maggette.  Absolutely masterful work.

They also traded down from 10 to 19, where they landed Tobias Harris from Tennessee, who has all the look and skills of a Tayshaun Prince.  The Bucks, who were a massive disappointment last season to many, myself included, have rearranged themselves back into the playoff picture in the East. 

Jackson brings offense, defense, clutch play and veteran leadership–on the court, anyway, not so much off it.  With a lightning quick, high scoring point guard, an actual skilled offensive and defensive center in Andrew Bogut, and Captain Jack’s all around play, the Bucks are going to be a team no one wants to play when the playoffs roll around next year.

2. New Jersey Nets

In my draft losers list, I ripped Boston for trading away Marshon Brooks.  Well, the Nets were the team on the receiving end of that deal, and will they ever benefit from that!  I love Brooks as a player.  I think he’s got as good a shot as anyone not named Kanter to be a star at this level.  With New Jersey, soon to be Brooklyn, and playing in the backcourt with Deron Williams, Brooks is in an ideal position to make that happen.

In the second round, the Nets picked up big man Jordan Williams from Maryland.  Williams is a rebounding machine, and he actually has the makings of a polished post game, as well.  With Kris Humphries a restricted free agent coming off of a surprising career year, Williams gives New Jersey the ability to not overpay to keep him.  People made such a big deal about Kenneth Faried’s rebounding prowess, and rightly so, with 14 boards a game for tiny Morehead State.  Well, Williams is bigger and he nabbed 12 boards a game in the ACC, just slightly better competition, I think.

With this draft, the impending move to Brooklyn, and a big trade chip in Brook Lopez, the Nets are in an excellent position to not only hang on to Deron Williams, but to attract and add another prime time player and become the real superteam in New York.

1. Utah Jazz

As rebuilding franchises go, its hard to peg a team that has done a better job more quickly than the Utah Jazz.  Earlier this year, after Jerry Sloan’s sudden retirement followed soon thereafter by the Deron Williams trade, it looked for all the world like the Jazz were a team in chaos.  Take a look at them now.

Utah made the most of its two lottery picks this year, getting the guy I believe will turn out to be the best player in the draft in Enes Kanter at 3 and an excellent two guard in Colorado’s Alec Burks at 12.  Kanter has a full range of offensive and defensive skills at the center position, and the drive to use them.  People talk about guys like Biyombo and Kawhi Leonard having high motors, well Kanter does as well, only he actually has a fine game to go along with it.  Barring the rumored knee issues becoming a reality, this guy is a multiple time All Star waiting to happen.

The best thing that could have happened to Utah was for Jimmer Fredette to be off the board when they picked at 12.  The pressure to take the BYU alum would have been enormous, and with that not an option, they were free to select Burks, a guy I believe has a bigger upside than Jimmer and is a much better fit.

Utah isn’t done, either.  They potentially have two more lottery picks next year, their own if they miss the playoffs, and Golden State’s if it’s outside the top 7.  And they have a glut of tradeable assets, particularly in the frontcourt.  Along with Kanter, they have Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsapp and Mehmet Okur.  Add Devin Harris  and those possible draft picks, and Utah could be a trade recipient for virtually any player in the league.

They still have some work to do to fully flesh out their team, but there are very few franchises around with the potential upside the Jazz now possess.

Best Players

Prior to the draft, I pegged 15 guys who I really liked.  That’s not to say that they will all be superstar Hall of Famers, just that I believe that any team landing one of these guys will be getting a pretty good player.

Two teams ended up with two players from this list; the Utah Jazz and the New Jersey Nets, and not coincidentally, they ended up 1-2 on my draft winners list.  There were also two teams that got one of these guys that finished on my draft losers list, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Boston Celtics.  That’s not to say that I’ve changed my mind about the players they selected, just that I don’t like the fit with that particular team, or, as with the case of Boston, I believed they could have done better.

I’m listing these 15 guys in the order they were drafted.  Now it’s up to the NBA and the players to get their collective heads out of their rear ends and get back on the court.  I’m anxious to see how this next season plays out, and hopefully not in a court room or negotiating table.

Kyrie Irving, #1, Cleveland Cavaliers
Enes Kanter, #3, Utah Jazz
Jan Vesely, #6, Washington Wizards
Brandon Knight, #8, Detroit Pistons
Kemba Walker, #9, Charlotte Bobcats
Klay Thompson, #11, Golden State Warriors
Alec Burks, #12, Utah Jazz
Nikola Vucevic, #16, Philadelphia 76ers
Kenneth Faried, #22, Denver Nuggets
Marshon Brooks, #25, New Jersey Nets
JaJuan Johnson, #27, Boston Celtics
Norris Cole, #28, Miami Heat
Jordan Williams, #36, New Jersey Nets
Darius Morris, #41, Los Angeles Lakers
Josh Selby, #49, Memphis Grizzlies

The other day, I looked at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and it’s relative lack of depth.  Today, it’s the West and it’s over-abundance of good teams.  In fact, there is only one team out of 15 that I couldn’t conceive of any possible chance at making a playoff run.  Every other team has either the pieces in place or the potential to get it done.  Not that they all will, and there are a couple dominoes left to fall in terms of possible big-names on the trade market, but here is an early look at how I see the West shaping up.

15.  Denver Nuggets-  Has anyone noticed how old and mediocre this team really is?  Without George Karl late last season, they went completely belly-up.  If Karl either can’t go or has to step away again this year, these guys are toast.  Melo wants out to join with one of the other high-profile superstars grouping in different places around the league.  Billups is another one who could be traded to a contender.  Everyone else on the roster is either a role-player or a major injury risk.  This team could go south and get that way in a hurry.  I look for a slow start, a firesale and retirement for Coach Karl.

14.  Golden State Warriors-  Even with Don Nelson no longer ruling the roost, these guys are going nowhere fast.  Monta Ellis may soon find himself elsewhere, David Lee’s production is certain to fall off a bit, and the Warriors are pretty clearly going to be the worst team in the Conference’s worst division this year.  Stephen Curry has all the makings of a star, but there’s just not enough material here to compete in the West.

13.  Minnesota Timberwolves-  This is the only team that has absolutely no possibility of seeing playoff basketball under any scenario.  They’ve gone from a team that had little talent to one full of career underachievers, like Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley and Martell Webster.  If guys like Kevin Love and Johnny Flynn continue to grow and one of the before-mentioned threesome decides to actually play up the their potential, and if Ricky Rubio comes to the NBA next year, and if he is some sort of other-worldly immediate superstar, then they might be able to talk about being a .500 team in 2011-12.  But this year, it’s another likely single-digit lottery pick.

12.  New Orleans Hornets-  This is a team that, if they keep Chris Paul and the young guys improve, could sneak into the lower area of the playoffs.  They did a great job playing without Paul last season.  But they have a rookie coach, a rookie GM, and the scuttlebutt is that Paul is fed up and wants out.  The trade of Darren Collison brought in Trevor Ariza, but it also hurt the Hornets depth in case the injury prone Paul has to miss time.  It does seem to have quieted the trade talk around their star point guard, but that will change if they’re not winning. Either traded, injured or disgruntled, without a top-flight Paul on the floor, these guys have no chance at the playoffs.

11.  Memphis Grizzlies-  I’m just not completely sold on Memphis.  Sure, they had a great first half last year and held it together enough to finish at .500, but really, can we expect Zack Randolph to get through another complete season looking and playing like an actual all-star?  Rudy Gay is a solid player who was somewhat overpaid, but that is understandable.  O.J. Mayo is 22 and still figuring it out, although he could be a big star in the next couple years.  And I love Marc Gasol.  An actual physical European center.  They also have a couple pieces that have solid future potential, but lightning doesn’t strike twice that often.  Without another fast start, Memphis regresses a bit from last year.  But just a bit.

10.  Sacramento Kings-  Go big, young man.  If DeMarcus Cousins is for real–and in my eyes, all signs point toward yes, he is–then the Kings have a young inside/outside duo potentially better than anyone else in the league sooner than later.  They drafted size, traded for size and seem to have a plan.  Bang down low, do all of the dirty work and rely on a slashing guard who can do it all.  Sounds good to me.  They won’t get into the playoffs this year, just barely, but next year, watch out!  OKC-Sacramento Western Conference Finals matchups could become a regular occurrence.

9.  Portland Trailblazers-  The last team out of the playoffs.  Realistically, how many years is everyone going to keep saying, “this is the season Portland puts it all together.”  Is Brandon Roy healthy and going to stay that way?  Is Greg Oden a complete bust and will he ever stay on the floor for enough games for anyone to find out?  Will Rudy Fernandez be traded or ever see the floor?  Will Nicolas Batum or Jerryd Bayless step up and fulfill predictions of greatness that guys like Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster before them were unable to?  Why, again, did they sign Andre Miller, a complete mis-match as a point guard for this team?  But the biggest questions of all are, now that GM whiz Kevin Pritchard is gone, who will be the first team to fleece the Blazers on the trade market, and is head coach Nate McMillan next out the door? 

8.  Houston Rockets-  If Yao Ming is back and healthy, the Rockets could climb way up the West standings.  When, exactly, has that ever happened?  Already, we’re told he’s going to limited to 24 minutes a night.  Will that help the Rockets or hinder their game?  They have some nice, versatile pieces in Luis Scola, who could be an all star this year, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Courtney Lee, but without a close to 100% Yao, they are a bottom tier playoff team lacking enough inside punch to be a serious threat in the West.

7.  Los Angeles Clippers-  That’s right, the Clippers who did nothing in free agency, are going to make the playoffs.  If it hadn’t been for all of the roster upheaval due to free agency and the trade market, L.A.’s other team could well get some of the attention it’s going to deserve for being one of the league’s most improved teams.  Plus, they still have all that cap space, and some interesting trade chips with guys like Paul and Melo going to be available sooner than later.  Eric Gordon is ready to burst on the national scene, Chris Kaman is the best center in the league that nobody ever mentions, and how good is Blake Griffin?  If he comes out as a 20-10 star, these guys will be very good.  Baron Davis has been somewhat on auto-pilot, but with all of the young talent all over the court, he may just wake up.  Or he could find himself in the middle of some kind of multi-team trade that ends up bringing a Chris Paul or a Tony Parker to town.  Whether or not they add a superstar, these guys, much like OKC last year, could get hot and not know any better, riding it into the last playoff position.  How about a Lakers-Clippers 1st round matchup?

6.  Utah Jazz-  The Jazz look to be a mirror image of themselves, replacing Boozer with a version of himself in Al Jefferson, and Kyle Korver with a version of himself in Gordon Hayward.  AK47 and Mehmet Okur are another year older into their career downslopes.  Deron Williams is a bonafide superstar, and he, along with the fact that even a moderately talented Jerry Sloan team will win lots of regular season games on fundamentals alone, should get them into the playoff tournament.  But to me, they look even less suited for post season success than last year. 

5.  San Antonio Spurs-  Much has been written about the demise of the Spurs this season, with many people predicting their eventual fall right out of the playoffs.  Well, hold on just a minute.  They still have Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.  They resigned Richard Jefferson.  They have up-and-coming talent like DuJuan Blair and George Hill playing big, important minutes.  And now, they’ve finally added the elusive 6′ 11″ European star-to-be Tiago Splitter.  This is a bigger, better, deeper, more talented team that the one that knocked off The Mavs last year, and could conceivably be a major roadblock to any team with championship aspirations.  If not for the injury risk to their big three, they’d be even higher.  Plus, if Hill continues on the upswing, free-agent-to-be Parker becomes a great trade chip for filling needs later this season.

4.  Phoenix Suns-  The Suns are another team being written off by just about everyone after the loss of Amare Stoudemire.  Again, not quite so fast.  After adding Hedu Turkoglu and Josh Childress to an already deep roster, this team has the ability to score tons of points and create matchup nightmares against just about anyone.  Add to that the fact that Goran Dragic has grown to the point that team icon Steve Nash won’t need to play 40 minutes a night, and the Suns most definitely haven’t set out West.  By the end of this season, it’s far more likely that Stoudemire will miss Phoenix much more that they will miss him.

3.  Oklahoma City Thunder-  Usually, when a young team comes out of nowhere to suddenly make noise, I’m a little leery of whether they can back it up the next season.  OKC is an exception.  Kevin Durant is a legit MVP-caliber superstar, and this team is loaded with young, improving talent all over the court.  And, unlike most young teams, they play hard defense with high energy.  They are a serious threat to unseating the Lakers.  Maybe they won’t get it done this season, but their day is most definitely coming.

2.  Los Angeles Lakers-  Okay, so I pick them second, that doesn’t mean they won’t come out of the West or win it all when all is said and done.  What it means is that I think they’ll be a little complacent at times during the dog-days of the regular season.  Plus, like it or not, Bryant, Artest, Bynum, Fisher, Gasol et al, aren’t getting any younger and it only makes sense to hold them back some when your real goal is to hoist the trophy at the end.  They’re still the best team in the league.  And the addition of Steve Blake could be the best free agent pickup this season, Lebron included.  The only question is can they stay healthy and motivated enough to get it done? 

1.  Dallas Mavericks-  Dallas had the best record in the league last season after the trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  They’ve added size, strength and athleticism, particularly in the post, and they still have superstar Dirk Nowitzki along with Butler, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, etc, etc.  Now, they can possibly score with the faster teams and match up with the stronger teams.  I can easily see them getting the best record in the regular season.  I can also see them getting beaten in the playoffs.  But unlike the past couple years, whoever does beat them is going to earn it.

So if the playoffs were the top 16 teams in the entire league, it’s possible that the West could feature 10 or 11 of those spots.  As it stands, the West could be  a conference 1-10 separated by less than five games.  And whoever emerges at the end will head into the NBA Finals tested and ready, unlike the winner of the East, who likely will get to coast through a round or two.