Posts Tagged ‘Milwaukee Bucks’

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

See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

Before the preseason, I ran down how I thought the season was going to go team by team.  I’m going to do the same every two weeks as the season goes along.  Here are my thoughts on what has happened so far, in reverse order of records.

15.  Charlotte Bobcats-  They are bad.  But at least they’re competitive.  Their only win was a two point squeaker over New Jersey, but other than opening night against Dallas, they haven’t been blown out.  New point guard D.J. Augustin is shooting a putrid 38% from the floor, but at least his assist to turnover ratio is in the top 5 in the league.  They still can’t score, they’re dead last in the league and the only team under 90 ppg.  Larry Brown is so gone. (more…)

So after free agency and more than a few trades, the NBA landscape has been reshaped dramatically.  Today, I’ll run down how the new-look Eastern Conference will play out, and tomorrow, it’s a look at the West.  There’s been much talk about the “improved” and “deeper” Eastern Conference since all of the transactions began.  Really?  Where, exactly, do you see that much improvement?  Sure Miami and Chicago will be better and Milwaukee might be better, but Orlando, Boston and Atlanta will stay about the same (or regress), with Cleveland totally falling apart and Charlotte likely following.  None of the non-playoff teams from last year improved significantly, either, with the possible exception of Indiana and maybe New York.  There are possibly 12 or 13 teams in the West who could be legitimate playoff-caliber clubs.  The East has 6, maybe 7.  That’s some improvement, all right.

15.  Toronto Raptors-  Worst team in the league.  They have absolutely nothing.  Not even worth talking about.  When Leandro Barbosa is your best player, get ready to start counting ping pong balls for the 2011 Harrison Barnes sweepstakes.  Twenty wins would be an accomplishment.

14.  Cleveland Cavaliers-  A lot of people are being very generous with their assessments of the Cavs post-Lebron, some even going so far as to suggest possible playoff basketball.  Sure, I feel for them, too, but let’s be real here.  Without James, this team flat sucks.  By the end of the season, they will have moved every tradeable piece on the roster (except J.J. Hickson) and will be praying for a dynamic high lottery pick.  If they reach half of their win total from last season, Byron Scott should be Coach of the Year.

13.  Charlotte Bobcats-  Hope you enjoyed the playoffs, guys, ’cause it’s back to the lottery.  Larry Brown will be out of town before mid-season, if not sooner.  The team, meanwhile, has no scorers (other than Stephen Jackson), limited depth, no point guard and, basically, no chance.

12.  Washington Wizards-  John Wall looks to be really good and all, but one player, unless his name is Jordan, can’t turn this train-wreck of a roster around.  Wait a minute, even Jordan couldn’t make the Wizards a winner.  Maybe Yi Jianlian, Al Thornton and Andray Blatche all reach their potential in unison, Wall runs away with rookie of the year, Arenas comes back as a superstar and Washington finds the playoffs.  Then again, maybe not.

11.  Philadelphia 76ers-  This is a mis-matched hodge-podge of a roster with borderline useless and virtually untradeble parts like Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand.  And in case no one noticed, Mr. Can’t Miss rookie Evan Turner stunk it up in the summer league.  I’d put the over-under at 30 wins.

10.  New Jersey Nets-  I actually considered making the Nets a playoff team, even though the 12-win franchise added little of consequence but a project power-forward in Derrick Favors and some actual good teams’ bench rejects like Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw.  That is how bad the bottom 2/3 of the East is these days, this kind of off-season passes for positive progress.  Still, they could win 15-20 more games than last season if for no other reason than a big chunk of the conference fell back to their sorry level.

9.  Detroit Pistons-  Fairly soon, Rip Hamilton and Tayshawn Prince will be goners, leaving Detroit bereft of anyone who even remotely knows about winning basketball games.  Even so, they’re better than most of the trash making up the bulk of the East.  35 wins would be a great season.  And it could net a playoff spot.  That’s pretty sad.

8.  New York Knicks-  So the Knicks executed their plan after all, and it may well get them back into playoff basketball.  With Amare Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph and Raymond Felton added to coach Mike D’antoni’s system, they will be exciting and score some points.  The added benefit of all three of those guys no longer having to worry about defense helps, too.  That, and the fact that not one of the teams below them look capable of even reaching 35 wins makes a playoff appearance not only possible, but even likely.  Maybe we should just give the top team in the East a bye this season.

7.  Indiana Pacers-   Here is a team that has actually improved enough to get to the playoffs and not be an embarrassment.  Indiana has the best player on any of the teams from 7-15 in Danny Granger.  They have a couple serviceable parts around him, and as good a shot as anyone.  Plus they dumped over rated Troy Murphy to land an actual first rate young point guard in Darren Collison.  Combine that with rookie Paul George, and the Pacers could climb higher if one or more of the top six falter.

6.  Boston Celtics-  Sure, they’ll win the Atlantic Division, probably by a wide margin, but this team, over a long season, is another year older and more like the one that played .500 ball for the last 50 games or so last year.  They may be able to upset someone when the playoffs roll around, if they have enough healthy pieces on the floor, but another title run?  I don’t think so.  Remember, they’ll have to play at least the first couple months with Jermaine O’Neal and geriatric Shaq at center instead of Kendrick Perkins.  That’ll work wonders for their toughness and heart that Celtics defense is based on.  Add in Delonte West, and Kevin Garnett will have to worry about his declining skills and what his mom’s doing on Saturday nights.

5.  Milwaukee Bucks-  The sexy pick for an under-the-radar, up and coming team in the East.  Why’s that?  Because they over-paid for journeymen John Salmons and Drew Gooden and traded for Corey Maggette.  Uh-huh.  If Andrew Bogut comes back as the same player as last season and Brandon Jennings continues to progress, the Bucks could get home court in the first round.  Otherwise, it’s likely a one-and-done playoff run.

4.  Chicago Bulls-  The Bulls have added Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer.  And the Jazz, both of their former team, spent about 15 seconds weeping their loss and replacing them.  Joaquim Noah and Derrick Rose are both big stars, and that alone makes Chicago one of the better teams in the East and the likely replacement for Cleveland as Central Division Champion.  Taj Gibson has a nice upside, Luol Deng can score some when he’s actually healthy enough to play.  The Bulls will be much better than last year, but they’re still a second or third tier contender that can’t beat the big boys.  Yet.

3.  Atlanta Hawks-    Atlanta caught hell for massively over-paying for Joe Johnson.  But that kept a team together that won 53 games and a first round series last year.  Another season together could mean a few more wins before a second round stomping again.  This is the very image of a good to great regular season team that doesn’t have what it takes to win when it counts most.

2.  Miami Heat-  After The Decision by Lebron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwayne Wade and a crew of over-rated or has-been veterans on the Heat, many people have been anointing the team as the winner of the next 5 or 6 championships.  Well, the top-heavy talent notwithstanding, not so fast.  First off, this is the season where Chris Bosh gets exposed as a fraud.  He’s going to have to rely on the occasional scraps falling from ball-hogging Wade and James.  When mid-season rolls around and Bosh is averaging about 14 or 15 ppg, let’s see how happy he is to have taken less money to end up in Miami.  Bosh is a guy who has put up monster numbers for years on bad Toronto teams with no other viable scorers.  CB4’s contract will go down as one of the worst of this free-agent season.  Secondly, Mike Miller is nice and all but he really hasn’t been a relevant performer since winning sixth man for Memphis in 2006-07 season.  Udonis Haslem was a great role player when the Heat won the title five years ago.  Everyone else they’ve signed is a washed up vet.  Thirdly, with Lebron and Wade’s propensity to pound the ball looking for their own glory, is there any chance that Miami will be able to run even the slightest semblance of an offense?  They’ll win lots of games in the regular season on sheer talent, but when the playoffs roll around, that kind of basketball doesn’t win very often.  And that doesn’t even touch on the fact that there isn’t a quality big on the roster.  How do they plan to beat the Lakers, Celtics and Magic of the world without any kind of interior presence?  Plus, if they struggle at any point this season, how quickly will the inevitable “fire Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley’s taking over” media circus become deafening?  By the end of this year, Riley could conceivably be saying about the “Miami Thrice” experiment, “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

1.  Orlando Magic-  So does that mean that Orlando will get back to the Finals?  Well, no, not necessarily.  They still have the same problems as last year; Dwight Howard hasn’t matured or grown enough as a player, and they still have notorious shrinking violets Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter as key guys for a title run.  Still, they have continuity on their side, unlike anyone but Atlanta in the East, will probably get near or above 60 wins again and lose somewhere along the way.  Barring a major trade that reshapes these guys a bit, the Magic will disappear in the money season one more time.

So the East is pretty far from the beastly conference we’re being told it is.  Barring Miami really getting things together quickly, and/or Orlando and Chicago adding another genuine prime time player via trade at some point, whoever comes out of the East this year will get soundly whipped by the West champion.  The East is not, in fact, deeper or stronger than last season.  It’s just the opposite; weaker overall and a far more shallow pool of real championship-caliber teams.  Don’t buy into the hype.