Posts Tagged ‘NBA’

Deconstructing Shaq

Posted: June 17, 2013 in NBA, opinion
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I’ve always had mixed feelings about Shaquille O’Neal. He was undoubtedly dominant, a true force of nature, but ultimately his legacy comes up lacking in my view. That’s a pretty hard thing to say about a guy who has four rings and took three different teams to the NBA Finals, but there it is. He was great but should have been so much more. With all the talk lately about whether Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan is that generation’s best player, the sad part to me is there shouldn’t even be a debate. Shaq could have locked this up and walked off into the sunset with a legit case for not just the best player of this era but possibly the best center to ever set foot on an NBA floor.

But Shaq ate and joked and coasted his way to becoming out of shape, injury prone and right out of a should-have-been top five all-time player spot. Nobody that I see is out there arguing for Shaq’s name next to Wilt, Kareem and Russell, let alone in front of them. There are many, myself included, who think Olajuwon and Moses Malone both rest higher on the center pantheon than Shaq, and you could probably make a case for a few others.

Shaq is clearly the best center since Olajuwon, who in my mind was the class of his era over guys like Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. But I have my doubts about where he would rank all time if he had played a decade earlier. I took a look at the All-NBA centers to get an idea of Shaq’s relative competition.

First off, from 1954-55 to 1991-92, exactly one guy made any All-NBA team as a center who wasn’t a Hall of Famer. That was Brad Daugherty who was third team in ’91-92. Every All-NBA center for 38 years was a Hall of Famer until the year before Shaq entered the league. Coincidence or fortuitous break for Shaq’s legacy?

His first seven years in the league, Shaq made one first team, two second teams and three third teams. The other guys who made All-NBA center during those years were named Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson, Mourning and Mutombo. Shaq was in the conversation but not clearly dominant.

The next seven years, Shaq’s peak career, saw him take first team all seven seasons. The other guys during those years: Ben Wallace, a rundown Robinson, Yao Ming and his gimpy legs, Mourning for a year then kidney issues derailed him, a mummified Mutombo, Chris Webber (!), Amare Stoudemire and Jermaine O’Neal. Not exactly murderer’s row. Shaq was clearly dominant during these years but the level of competition at center was a pale shadow of what it had been.

In the seven years since Shaq’s prime, things have only gotten worse. Shaq himself somehow managed to eek out a third team nod in Phoenix in 08-09 despite being well past his prime. Dwight Howard has benefitted in a similar fashion, collecting seven All-NBA nods. The others, besides Shaq: Stoudemire, Yao, Tim Duncan (twice and he’s not even a center), Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum, Al Horford, Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol.

There are very few even credible centers roaming the paint these days, although you could make a case that there’s more right now than during Shaq’s prime. That certainly isn’t his fault, you can only play against who they run out there, after all. But I can’t help but think that given a different set of competition, Shaq is more Ewing than Olajuwon. Just look at the world-beater performance Indiana’s Roy Hibbert booked against Miami’s small ball unit this year. Nobody’s confusing him with Bill Russell anytime soon yet he looked the part of a dominant force virtually all series. Shaq had that advantage for nearly every game of the prime of his career. Was he really all that or did the level of competition make him look better than he actually was? I vote for the latter.

Shaq was a legit center who’s prime coincided with a league moving away from such things. Whether it stays that way for long remains to be seen, but it’s hard to argue that he faced an historically weak crop of centers during his best seasons. He had all the talent to be the best to lace them up but never really had to work for it, never had an equally talented rival pushing him. Shaq could and did get away with coasting for large portions of most seasons. His legacy should be much stronger than it is.

Which brings me back to my original point. If the Spurs manage to finish off Miami and the conversation turns to Duncan vs Kobe as their era’s greatest, they both should send a thank you card to Shaq. Without him settling for being the best of a so-so center crop instead of going for the best ever, he abdicated his rightful place in that argument.

As a final thought, after much deliberation, I think Shaq is the 7th best center ever. The top six in no particular order: Kareem, Russell, Wilt, Olajuwon, Moses and Bill Walton. You could convince me he belongs in front of Walton, but only because of injuries. The late ’70s Portland Walton was a much more well rounded player and more dominant overall force than Shaq ever turned out to be. It’s one of the great tragedies of the NBA that it only lasted for such a short time.

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You want a good picture of why the NBA may well be on the cusp of losing an entire season?  Are you still harboring thoughts that supposedly greedy players are at fault?  Read this piece by Adam Wojnarowski.  Got it now?  The owners aren’t negotiating at all.  In fact, the clear implication is that a group of hardliners are more than willing to lose the season and gut the league’s economic structure in order to expedite a higher sale price for their franchises.  That is frankly pathetic.

I’ve been very critical of David Stern over the years, justifiably I think, but even I’m not willing to believe he would approve of threatening the league’s future viability to provide a quick profit for a handful of owners who are planning to flee the league.  I don’t believe for an instant that he had the flu on Thursday when he failed to show up for the most important negotiation ever.  Given the way it turned out, I find myself actually being on Stern’s side, for once.  I want to believe that his absence was a tacit disapproval for the direction things were going on the owners’ side.  Wishful thinking?  Maybe, but Stern now has a chance to redeem himself in my eyes, and many others, by fighting these forces allied to damage the league for personal gain.

The reality is that it only takes 16 of the league’s 30 owners to ratify a new CBA.  How big is that group of hardliners exactly, and how many of them are willing to toss an entire season so Paul Allen and his pals can make a slightly bigger buck when they sell their teams as soon as the lockout is over?  If Stern can get 16 guys together and cut a deal with the players they all can support, this lockout could end soon and to hell with the hardliners and their demands.  You want out?  There’s the door.  We’re just not going to allow you to steal the fine china, silverware and anything else not nailed down as it hits you in the ass on your way out.

This latest twist is a microcosm of what’s wrong with our entire economy right now.  Business leaders actively cutting costs to the bone, past the point where it could actually be beneficial, for no other purpose than to increase the value of their own personal holdings.  They don’t give a damn for the people who work for them, or for the long-term fortunes of the company, so long as they can cash out high.  It’s somebody else’s problem to clean up the wreckage left behind.

It’s these kinds of people that have thrown off the entire delicate balance of our economy, and possibly, our society as a whole.  Profit today as high as possible no matter the costs to anyone else.  It’s become standard operating procedure in far too many industries.  That mindset has taken over the financial sector and even the government to a degree, so it’s not surprising that it would rear its ugly, destructive, self serving head in the high dollar professional sports realm.  It also makes it even more impressive that the NFL avoided having its labor negotiations hijacked in a similar fashion given how wide-spread this kind of activity is these days.

I can’t say the players are totally without fault here.  That Kevin Garnett-Dwayne Wade act of a couple of weeks ago may well be the most assaninely counter-productive thing I’ve ever seen.  Well, before the owners crap on Thursday, anyway.  But I do get the impression the players genuinely want to negotiate and reach a deal.  The owners don’t. 

When Allen stands up and says that he thinks the owners have made too many concessions already, remember this: their side hasn’t made any concessions at all.  Not one.  This isn’t about a fair and equitable deal where both sides gain something.  This is a debate on exactly how much the players will walk away from.  Everything decided in this negotiation will be a concession the players make from the previous deal.  Every single thing.  However this turns out, the owners will not make any concessions in any way during this process.  It’s entirely a matter of how much they stand to gain.

And still, the players have already offered giving back between $2-$3 billion over 10 years and that number is so distasteful to the owners that they walked away from the table rather than discuss it further.  The owners–the hardline bunch anyway–aren’t interested in an equitable deal, or competitive balance or any kind of partnership with the players.  They want to do nothing but cut costs as low as possible.  The short term value of their franchises put above the product, the league and everyone employeed directly and peripherally by or because of the NBA.

I hope Stern did what I suspect and called in sick out of protest.  I hope he still has the gumption to fight this kind of insidious rot growing out of control inside the league he’s spent so long nurturing into a $4 billion a year enterprise.  I hope he fights the good fight for the future of the league as a whole and not just the immediate profit of filthy-rich parasites like Allen.

I really do.

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

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece explaining why I believed the NBA owners had the better position in the then-upcoming labor battle.  Well, after some detailed reading in the matter, I have totally switched sides.  Don’t get me wrong, the owners have some valid points.  Many teams are losing money, and some changes in the league’s player salary structure do need to happen.  But the owners aren’t going for reasonable changes, they’re out and out trying to gut the players and wipe out any illusions that the NBA is a partnership of any sort.

First off, there is a major dispute about what the actual financial health of the league truly is.  The NBA is saying they lost $340 million this part season.  Many people who spend a lot more time than me pouring over obscure financial statements are seriously disputing that.  Forbes Magazine even suggests that the league as a whole actually turned a profit approaching $200 million in ’09-10.  That’s a far cry from $300 mil in the red.  So who’s to be believed here?

Well, I believe its somewhere in the middle.  I suspect that the overall league most likely is profitable.  I also believe that a majority of teams could be losing money, although not likely at the clip the league’s stating.  In case you haven’t been paying attention to the world in the past few years, accounting practices, particularly among large corporations and the financial sector, have become a little like alchemy.  But instead of turning lead into gold, they’re making gold look like lead on paper while still actually raking in the gold.

Either way, the league needs some changes, and it seems to me the player’s agree with that and have made offers to that effect.  However, what the NBA wants isn’t simply salary reductions, it’s salary Armageddon.  The NBA wants something close to $900 million per year chopped off player salaries, and a 10-year contract to boot.  In a stunningly arrogant position, David Stern rather smugly suggested they would guarantee the players $2 billion a year in salaries.  But that’s a hard ceiling.  If revenue continues to grow at the rate it has, by the end of a decade, the player’s share of revenue would fall from the current 57% all the way into the mid 30’s, if not more.  That’s not a legitimate plan, that’s flat out theft.

The player’s have rather correctly, argued that many of the losses that teams have incurred can be fixed with better revenue sharing models, but the NBA won’t even discuss such a thing in collective bargaining.  They insist, instead, that a CBA needs to be done first, then we’ll talk revenue sharing internally.  Uh-huh, and I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you can buy on the cheap.  The owners want everything to fix all of their problems coming out of the player’s pockets, and if they get it, what do you believe the chances are for any kind of substantive revenue sharing?  If you said zero, you get a prize.

The owners are behaving much like Congressional Republicans on this issue.  We want to solve our budget problems by cutting spending on you guys, while any suggestion of the top of the top earners giving back anything is off the table.  The example of the the Kings and Lakers makes the case eloquently.

Sacramento nets about $11 million per year in its local television contract.  The Lakers, on the other hand, just signed a new TV deal that will pay them in excess of about $150 million per year.  That revenue is not shared, so the teams keep every dime of that.  The Lakers had the highest payroll in the NBA last season, after the Luxury Tax, at about $110 million.  Their TV contract alone will pay their entire team salary and still have $40 million left over.  The Kings TV contract wouldn’t even cover the full salary of one All-NBA level player.  I don’t care how much you cut salaries, allowing that kind of disparity in revenue will never, ever make for a league where small markets can compete.

At first, I thought the players a little arrogant for stating that they didn’t believe they should be responsible for poor management decisions, but I’ve rethought that a bit, as well.  Let’s look at the Hornets, for instance. Stern and his cronies allowed a garbage owner like George Shinn to run the Charlotte market into the ground, then inexplicably let him haul the team off to an even less financially viable market in New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets played in Oklahoma City for a while, to packed houses.  Reason should have argued that the Hornets should have just moved there.  But no, they went back to the financial black hole in New Orleans, while Stern was busy allowing his carpet bagger buddy Clay Bennett to buy the Seattle Supersonics, poison what is a great basketball market, and then haul them to OKC.  To make matters worse, its been reveled that the Hornets franchise actually loaned their owner Shinn $35 million at well-below market interest rates at the same time they were borrowing nearly $100 million at much higher rates. How in the name of all things good and holy did the league allow that bit of borderline embezzlement to happen?

So, no, I’m not so much on the owner’s side anymore.  And don’t give me the line about Eddy Curry or Gilbert Arenas contracts.  Nobody other than Isiah Thomas thought it was a good idea to give Curry that kind of money.  Nobody outside of Washington thought it was good idea to give Arenas that contract, especially coming off a year where he barely played due to injury.  These guys bid against themselves.  You can’t even blame the system for that.

But, oh well, the NBA is still planning on breaking the players with the lockout.  The only difference is that I no longer have any sympathy for them when they suck the whole league down the drain in the effort.

All NBA fans everywhere are staring down the barrel of a self-destructive lockout these days.  Earlier, I wrote about why I think the NBA’s labor situation is much different from the NFL.  While it appears, at least somewhat, that their football bretheren have finally gotten their collective acts together, it took months of contentious negotiations and court preceedings to get here. 

Hopefully, the NBA won’t follow suit, but with the owners taking a severe hard line tack to this point, I’m pretty certain they’ll soon be playing in a coutroom near you.  Make no mistake, as much criticism as the NFL players took for turning litigious, that effort is precisely why the owners have found the will to compromise, and don’t think the NBA players aren’t paying attention.

But that isn’t the point of this piece.  Having had almost two weeks to digest all the goings on at the draft, I’m going to detail who I believe were the biggest winners and losers from draft night 2011.  This article is for the losers. 

For the sake of optimism and the purposes of this piece, I’m going to assume, rather naively,  that there will be a full season this year.  I’ll do this in reverse order of what I believe are the five biggest losers.

5. Boston Celtics

I like JaJuan Johnson, I really do.  Before the draft I had him pegged as a guy who is going to be a much better player than many anticipate.  It’s just that I liked Marshon Brooks a whole lot more.

When Boston selected Brooks, I immediately thought that was the best pick of the draft.  I had images of a slashing, high scoring guard who would start to transition Boston into a new era.  I was imagining Brooks, a guy who pulled down more than 7 boards a game as a guard in the Big East in the same backcourt with arguably the best rebounding guard in the NBA in Rajon Rondo.  Then they traded him.

Johnson is a nice player, but he’s not going to be a game-changer like I believe Brooks will be.  This move is obviously an effort to make one more run with the same old parts in Boston.  The Celtics faded hard last season, and its difficult for me to imagine them getting through another grueling season with these guys all healthy enough to make a legit run.  Of course, a shortened season may change that, but I doubt it.

With youthful teams like Miami and Chicago in the East, I really feel like Boston needed to start a transition.  Brooks at the two, move Ray Allen for some inside muscle and that would be a good start.  Johnson taking Glen Davis spot and little else, not so much.

4. San Antonio Spurs

Before the draft, I had Kawhi Leonard listed as one of the top possibilities to be an NBA wash out.  When the Spurs traded George Hill to move up and get him, I questioned myself.  The Spurs have a good reputation for being talent judges.  But then again, they did inexplicably give Richard Jefferson a nice contract last offseason coming off a miserable failure the year before.  So I went back to my original belief, Leonard will flop at this level, and not in the useful Ginobili way.

Then, they proceeded to reach for Texas point guard Corey Joseph at the end of the first round, ostensibly to take Hill’s, and possibly Tony Parker’s place. Don’t be surprised if neither of these guys are in the league very long after their rookie contracts are up.

The Spurs, like the Celtics, need to rebuild.  Tim Duncan’s closer to retirement than he is to being an All Star, Ginobili simply can’t stay healthy for a full season and through the playoffs and it kills them every year. Tony Parker took a lot of heat for saying the Spurs days of serious contention are over, but he’s absolutely right.  This draft did nothing but expedite that.

3. Charlotte Bobcats

Will someone please put Michael Jordan out of his misery?  As great a player as MJ was, he’s building an equally bad resume as an executive.  Bismack Biyombo, or as I like to call him, Haseem Thabeet 2.0, is destined for a future on all time NBA draft bust lists.  To make matters worse, they swapped the only useful player on their roster in Stephen Jackson to actually trade up to get him. Not that it really matters much, but he’s also got a contract issue with his current team that will likely keep him out of the league next year.

Of course, they also picked up Corey Maggette in the trade, so that’ll make it all work out, right?  Just look at the kind of difference maker he was for the Clippers, the Warriors and the Bucks.  Maggette hasn’t been a useful player since he suited up for Duke.

Charlotte then nabbed Kemba Walker at the number 9 slot.  I think Walker could be pretty good, but in the Chicago-era Ben Gordon, or Dallas-era Jason Terry mold.  The problem is that you actually need a team for that kind of guy to be useful.  Look how invisible Gordon has been in Detroit the past couple seasons.  Walker’s a future NBA sixth man award winner…for the team that trades for him in a few years.

Charlotte is my odds-on favorite to be the worst team in the league this season.  Of course, that will give them a chance to add to their roster of classic draft busts next year.

2. New York Knicks

We can count on several things every summer; hot weather, high gas prices and the Knicks over reaching on a first round pick.  Taking Iman Shumpert at 17 is probably the worst pick in the draft. Someone was going to pick Biyombo in the top 10 if Charlotte hadn’t, nobody was picking Shumpert anywhere near that point.

Of course, New York then proceeded to buy Kentucky center Josh Harrelson from New Orleans in the second round.  Failing that move by the Knicks, he might not have been drafted at all. 

Before anyone gets carried away about a New York superteam to rival Miami, maybe the Knicks need to learn what the draft is all about.

1. Sacramento Kings

The biggest loser of all on draft night was none other than Sacramento.  Not only did they trade their only point guard, Beno Udrih, in exchange for John Salmons and the right to drop down from 7 to 10, they drafted a player who’s a chucker that will have to play out of position on a team full of chuckers. 

The Kings have a roster that includes faux-point guard Jimmer Fredette, and consciousless shooters Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and now Salmons.  I’d put the over-under on their team shooting percentage at about 38%.  Has an NBA team ever ended a season with more turnovers than assists?  The Kings might become trend setters in that regard. 

The pre-lockout fleecing of Cleveland for J.J. Hickson mitigates this a bit, but only if they are bad enough long enough for that protected first round pick to turn into a second rounder.  That’s what passes for optimism in Sacramento these days.  By the end of this season, the city might just be begging the Kings to move to Anaheim.

NBA Draft Primer

Posted: June 21, 2011 in NBA
Tags: ,

With the threat of the impending doom of a work stoppage, the NBA Draft may be the last chance to talk a little pure basketball for a while.  The conversation will surely shift to revenue percentages, guaranteed contracts, and hard salary caps shortly thereafter, but on Thursday night, it’s all about skills, strategy, measurements and stats, as it should be.

By this point, I’ve read my fair share of mock drafts, player profiles and all manner of trade rumor and innuendo.  So, here, just a few days before Cleveland officially goes on the clock, are some thoughts about the upcoming draft.

Teams to Watch

Cleveland Cavaliers

You can’t start the draft without addressing the Cavs.  Having the 1st and 4th picks, Cleveland really controls the top portion of this draft.  It seems pretty evident that Duke point guard Kyrie Irving will be the top pick, but what happens then?  Do they try to trade up for Minnesota’s pick at 2?  Do they hold out and hope the guy they want at 4 is still around?  Do they trade out of the pick, getting either more picks or more estblished talent or possibly both? 

The Cavs need everything, so what they do here can set the tone for the future of this franchise.  Realistically, J.J. Hickson is the only current keeper on the roster.  I think they draft both pics, but I’d be a little concerned about the drop off after pick number 3.  I believe the Cavs are hoping Turkish center Enes Kanter is still available at 4, to pair him with Irving.  Otherwise, it’s guys like Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, or a handful of tall, thin euros. 

It comes down to how good they think Irving is.  The draft has a number of point guard prospects that could even reach to Cleveland’s pick at 32.  If they think Irving is a legit Chris Paul type, its a no-brainer.  If not, then they might make a move.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves have the second pick and speculation immediately jumped on them trading out of this slot.  They have no need for Arizona forward Derrick Williams, the consensus number two pick, and don’t appear to have much love for him, either. 

I think it’s a smokescreen to a point.  I believe Minnesota is trying to gauge what someone might be willing to give up for the pick, and failing an overwhelming offer, they can and will draft Kanter, not Williams.  With Ricky Rubio finally coming on board, the biggest obvious hole on the team is at the center position.  This pick is so obvious that I’m surprised that I haven’t yet seen it on one single mock draft.  Is Williams really that much of a can’t miss prospect?  Is he even better than what they already have?

The Wolves, barring a trade, also have the 20th pick.  There very likely won’t be many useful centers at that spot, but you can pick your choice of rotation players at forward or guard.  The draft may not be deep in superstar talent, but there are an array of players stetching into the second round who can be very effective NBA players in the correct circumstance.

You just don’t pass up a quality skilled big man for a player like Williams, in my mind.  Especially when you have a dire need for the one and already have the other.

Utah Jazz

Utah is in an interesting position.  They have two guys from last year’s lottery on their team in Gordon Heyward and Derrick Favors.  They have the 3rd and 12th picks in the lottery this week, and they stand an excellent chance of having two more lottery picks next season, their own and Golden State’s as long as its outside of the top 7 picks.

That’s 6 possible lottery picks added to their roster in three seasons.  Make the right choices, and rebuilding the Jazz could get a whole lot quicker.

The popular assumption seems to be that the Jazz will take Knight at number 3.  I think that’s a reach.  They have the same problem as Minnesota regarding Williams, too.  They have Heyward, Favors, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in the frontcourt already.  None of those guys are really centers.  Again, Kanter, if available should be the pick.  If not, then it’ll be Knight or a trade.

Picking at 12, Utah can still nab a point there, or skip the position until next year and draft for other needs, like a two guard.  They do have Devin Harris, still.  And next year’s draft is reported to be much deeper.

Houston Rockets

Houston has a new coach and a new approach.  Having just missed out on the playoffs, the Rockets are closer than most lottery teams to getting into the post season party.  They also have the benefit of two first round picks, numbers 14 and 23, as well as number 38 in the second round.  They could well add three quality players with those picks, or package some or all of them to move up or acquire some much needed talent.

The most glaring hole, like Minnesota, is at the center position.  With all their assets, Houston could conceivably move up enough to land Kanter, but I think that’s unlikely.  Point guard is another spot that is a glaring problem, and one Houston may be far more likely to trade up in an attempt to fill.  The question is, who do they like enough to trade up for?

Don’t be surprised if Houston is one of the most active teams on draft night, and look for them to land a point man for the future and shore up the front court.

Washington Wizards

Last years lottery winners have two picks this year, numbers 6 and 18, to add pieces around John Wall.  They also have the 34th pick high in the second round.

What kind of players will the Wizards go with?  Their first pick will almost certainly be a forward, but which one?  Do they go with an undersized hustle guy like San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard?  Do they go with raw youth and defensive energy of someone like Bismack Biyombo of the Congo?  Or how about the 6’11” dynamo from the Czech Republic Jan Vesely?  The answer to that question could determine whether or not we see Washington back here again next year.

The later pick could provide some intriguing possibilities.  Namely Marshon Brooks from Providence.  Brooks seems to be climbing draft boards closer and closer to the lottery, and well he should, but it’s entirely possible he’s still on the board at 18.  After all, less than two months ago, he was widely pegged as a second round pick.

If the Wizards somehow manage to come out of this draft will a duo of Vesely and Brooks, watch out!  Washington won’t be door mats for much longer.

High Picks Who Will Produce

Kenneth Fareid, Morehead State

I love hustle guys who do the dirty work and Faried is just that. His offensive game is pretty non-existent, but he’s got the capacity to be a rebounding machine, play excellent defense and be a glue guy for a contending team.  He’ll never be flashy or be an all-NBA guy, but he will be one of those players you simply can’t win without.

Alec Burks, Colorado

Burks has the potential to be one of the top shooting guards in this class.  He’s got all the skills to be a first rate scorer, and has the athleticism and quickness to be at least a useful defender.  But, as the point guard craze has taken hold, I’ve seen suggestions of teams drafting him to move him to the point. 

Burks is not a point guard, and any attempt to make him one will stifle his development.  Provided he lands with a team with a need at the two, Burks will more than capably fill that role.  Try to squeeze his round two-guard skills into the square point guard hole, then it’s an entirely different story.  Burks will be a player in this league, it just remains to be seen if it’ll be with the team that drafts him.

Kemba Walker, Connecticut

Do I think Kemba Walker should be in the discussion with Irving and Knight as the best point guards in this draft?  No.  Do I think he can be a very good NBA player? Absolutely. 

Walker’s not a prototypical point guard, but he’s too small to be a two.  In the right situation, I can see walker as a Jameer Nelson type, only a more explosive scorer.  At best, a Gilbert Arenas pre injury and insanity.  Walker’s got the drive and the confidence to succeed.  He’s just not what I would call a point guard in the traditional sense.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky

Knight is what I would call a point guard in the traditional sense.  The NBA is a league made for quick point guards.  It’s no accident that guys like that are putting up big numbers all over the league.  Rules changes have made these guys into a monster.  Knight will be no exception, as he becomes the fourth Calipari point in a row to make a name for himself in the league.

I wasn’t totally sold on Knight until the tournament when he showed the capacity to run a team, and the judgement of when to pass and when to score that you look for in a lead guard.  He’s got the skills.  Given a fair opportunity, he’ll be a fixture for a long time.

Kyrie Irving, Duke

See Brandon Knight above.  Same song, different verse.  Small quick point guard, league’s a playground for these guys, he’ll be pretty good.

That said, I almost left Irving off this list.  I have my doubts, and I am definitely not about to spout Chris Paul comparisons.  I simply haven’t seen enough of Irving to be sure.  I saw potential, flashes of brilliance, but not the total package on the floor at once.  Is he capable of it?  Possibly. 

He’s got talent and potential enough that it’s hard to argue with him as the top pick, its just that there’s more of a dark unknown about him than any other player being talked about this high in the draft. Still, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t spend the next 10 or 12 years starting for somebody.

Sleepers

Jordan Williams, Maryland

Williams is tough, physical and can add skilled size to any team’s front line.  Do you like what DuJuan Blair does for San Antonio?  Well, Williams can do that, only better.  Oddly, the Spurs might be able to draft Williams at 29.  If they do, they’ll happily send thank you cards to the 28 teams drafting in front of them.

Norris Cole, Cleveland State

He’s a little guy from a little school but he’s got a big time game.  There are several point guards in this draft with a chance to be very good at the next level.  Cole is one of them. 

He’s quick, has the potential to be a solid defender despite his size, has a nice shot and knows how to get to the free throw line. 
He’s gonna slip probably into the second round.  Think Miami wouldn’t like a guy like Cole when they pick at 31?  Have you seen Mike Bobby play?

Darius Morris, Michigan

The Morris twins from Kansas get all the press, but I’m betting in five years, the only Morris anyone knows from this draft is Darius.  Another one of those point guards, like Cole, who have a skill set that fits very nicely in the modern NBA.

He’s big, 6’5″ or so, aggressive and is an excellent passer.  He’s just not a very good shooter, as yet.  Shooting is a skill that can be learned.  His kind of court vision, not so much.

Nikola Vucevic, USC

How is it that a legit seven footer with a polished low post game who can pop out and hit 16-18 foot jumpers all day may slide out to end of the first round and possibly early second?  Well, he’s slower than molasses. 

Put in the right situation where he’s not asked to do too much on defense and Vucevic can be a very effective center.  Like say, Chicago, where he can play beside an active, defensive minded big and become the low post threat Carlos Boozer was supposed to be. 

Josh Selby, Kansas

Selby is an interesting case, had he been able to come out straight from high school, he almost certainly would have been picked at or near the top of the draft.  But after a disastrous year at Kansas, he could still be available midway through the second round.  Whoever takes him will not regret it.

Selby, like Walker, isn’t a point guard.  What he is is a quick, aggressive scorer who has the potential to be great.  There are many concerns about his time at KU, most notably his attitude that needs a bit of adjustment.  But what better reformation than a humbling drop from guaranteed millions to not even sure of a roster spot in the league.

Selby simply wasn’t a good fit at Kansas or with coach Bill Self.  He’s a good example of why I dislike the age limit in the NBA.  He could have been in the NBA last season, could have been chasing his dream and pursuing the course he wanted but he was forced into the NCAA gauntlet, a place he didn’t want to be and had little patience for the hypocrisy and mounds of counter intuitive rules designed to keep high profile athletes like him from actually benefittng from their positions.  I wouldn’t like it either.  Couple that with a coach who, at times, appeared to have little interest in finding a defined role and minutes for Selby on what was one of the deepest teams in the country, and you’ve got the recipe from a big fall from grace.

But Selby’s talent has not changed.  If he gets his head straight, he’s now where he wanted to be all along, and can excel at this level.  The farther he slips, the bigger a steal he’s going to be. 

Busts In Waiting

Jimmer Fredette, BYU

There’s talk that Sacramento is considering Jimmer at number 7.  Sure, if they’re trying to expedite a franchise shift to Anaheim.  There’s also a prevailing opinion that Utah would be crazy to pass up the hometown BYU alum.  Well, to draw a comparison, the Indiana Pacers were under tons of pressure back in the ’80s to select Indiana’s Steve Alford as the home town hero.  The Pacers instead went with a scrawny kid from UCLA who’s sister was more famous as a basketball player, much to local chagrin.  Alford washed out of the NBA, and the guy they took, Reggie Miller, well, that worked out okay, I think.

Jimmer’s a volume scorer with little in the way of game management or defensive skills. To be certain, he’s an exceptional shooter with great range, but then so were guys like J.J. Reddick, and it took him five years to find even limited minutes at all in the league.

If you could take a flyer on Jimmer late in the first round or in the second round, then it’s worth a shot, but picking him in the lottery is like a pull up 30 footer.  Sure, you might make it, but 90% of the time, it’s a bad miss.

Chris Singleton, Florida State

Okay, he has the size and athleticism to be a good to great defender in the league.  What else can he do?  He can’t create his own shot, he’s a bad finisher at the rim relative to his athleticism, his shot is streaky at best, and downright bad if he’s not gifted squared up open looks with time to line it up, and he has no post game, even at 6’9″, and horrible footwork on the offensive end.

To be short, the guys a one trick pony.  To be sure, there’s a place in the league for exceptional defenders with size, but he brings nothing else to the table.  A player destined to be no better than the 8th or 9th guy off the bench at best simply doesn’t rate a lottery pick, or even a slot in the first round, in my opinion.

Bismack Biyombo, Congo

Raw, raw and very raw.  That’s the best description for Biyombo.  Other than hustle and a high motor, he’s got absolutely no NBA quality skills.  That would be okay if he is actually 18, but he could be as old as 23.  His lack of polish looks a whole lot more ominous at 23.

Biyombo is being talked about as another Serge Ibaka, but even Ibaka had a better all around game entering the league.  Biyombo strikes me as another in the long line of foreign flops at the NBA level.  He’s the kind of guy who plays best off of other players, crashing the boards, blocking shots, etc.  If he goes to a bad team, like say Toronto or Detroit, he’ll fade into obscurity rather quickly. 

I could be compelled to change this notion if a playoff caliber team trades up and nabs him.  Someone who can provide him a clearly defined role and work him in slowly as a rotation player without asking him to do too much.  But failing that, it’s bust all the way.

Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State

I’m not certain how Leonard got this high in the draft to begin with.  He certainly shows a lot of energy and he rebounded well in college, but a 6’7″ perimeter player with a flat, streaky jumper, no left hand, questionable defense and poor court vision just doesn’t strike me as a top 5 or 6 pick.

Size is the biggest problem.  He’s got a perimeter game but not the skills or polish to keep up with NBA level perimeter players.  Couple that with the fact that he vanished during big games and you’ve got a guy who’s more hype than legit hope.

Derrick Williams, Arizona

Yes, that’s right, Williams is going to bomb in the NBA.  Well, not exactly bomb, but he’s no superstar in waiting.  For everyone out there won over by Williams this year, I’ve got two words for you:  Joe Smith.

For those too young to remember Smith as anything other than a journeyman forward, when he was at Maryland, Smith showed a game similar to Williams.  Both guys were long and athletic, both guys could pop out and hit jumpers at nice clips, both guys showed aggression around the rim, and both guys looked to be stars at the next level.

While Smith had a couple decent years very early in his career, he eventually settled into a niche as rotation depth.  Williams will go a similar way.  Smith has had a long and respectable career, just not what you expect from a top pick.  Williams is destined to leave whoever takes him at number two similarly wanting.

The Best Players in This draft

Klay Thompson, Washington State

A prototypical two with the sweetest stroke in the draft, sorry Jimmer, Thompson is destined to be a top notch player at the NBA level. 

He can create his own shot, is an exceptional scorer and excels in the half court game.  Thompson, despite flying a bit under the radar, is a scoring star waiting to happen.

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue

The curse of the tweener, Johnson is widely seen as too small for a post player but too slow for a perimeter player.  Nonsense.  Johnson has good footwork, has the ability to defend, possesses an improving jumper out to mid range, and knows how to get to the free throw line, shooting at a near 80% clip there.

Johnson is one of the top, most polished frontcourt players in this draft.  So much hype is given to guys like Leonard, Biyombo and others who don’t possess Johnson’s total game, and he’s expected to likely fall into the second round because of it.  This guy’s a player, and if he ends up with someone like Miami or Chicago, watch out!

Jan Vesely, Czech Republic

A 6’11” guy who plays like a wing?  Vesely can become the matchup nightmare at the small forward position that Dirk has become for power forwards.  Explosive in transition, Vesely would thrive in an uptempo game, and he’s slowly developing a solid jumper with range out to the three point line. 
He’s got the length and lateral quickness to defend well, and unlike some others in this draft, is a high energy hustle guy who has a game beyond that.  He may not play in the NBA right away, but he will soon enough, and he will be a highlight reel star.

Marshon Brooks, Providence

How is this guy not a top 10 pick?  It’s inexplicable to me that he was actually considered a second rounder early on in the draft process.  Making a modest prediction, Brooks will be the first guy in this draft class to play in an NBA all star game. 

He’s equally adept at shooting off the bounce as he is at catch and shoot.  He has the size, length and lateral quickness to eventually be an effective defender.  Plus, he averaged over 7 boards a game at Providence as a 6’5″ shooting guard.

This guy knows how to fill it up, and he will do that quite nicely at the next level.

Enes Kanter, Turkey

Kanter is, in my opinion, simply the best player available in this draft.  He has a smooth, highly skilled offensive game combined with a high motor, desire to rebound and strong urge to bang in the post.  To put it in basic terms, this is the next great center in the league.

The only drawback, and its a potential biggie, is the condition of his knees.  Especially after the travails of Portland with Greg Oden and Houston with Yao Ming, teams may be a little gun shy to take that risk.

But this draft possesses very few all NBA type talents, and Kanter is definitely one of those, more so than Irving or Williams, in my opinion.  I think his knees hold up, early on at least, and hard questions will be asked of the teams that passed on him.  

As I expected, the Dallas Mavericks finished off the Miami Heat in game six last night, proving pretty clearly that a legitimate team built around one superstar beats out three superstars with little in the way of a team behind them.  We can argue all day long about the validity of Miami’s attempt to built a star-studded group and ride sheer talent to multiple titles, but for today, right now, it doesn’t look like such a hot idea.  Of course, barring a new CBA that forces the team to dump one of the big three, there is still ample time for Miami to achieve all of their dreams.  It just didn’t happen this year.

Much has been said and written about how Miami was the overwhelming favorites in this NBA Finals, how Wade, James and Company were just too much for anyone, let alone Dallas to withstand in a seven game series.  Personally, I thought this was premature hype to begin with.  Dallas was and is the better team.  After the fourth quarter of game one, the Mavs controlled the series despite what all the press reports were saying.  Dallas was “lucky” to get the come-from-behind wins in games two and four, we were told, they couldn’t possibly hold up much longer.

Well, just a brief look at the first four games shows pretty clearly a series that wasn’t lopsided at all, but played fairly evenly.  Of the 16 quarters played in the first four games, 4 ended in ties and the other 12 were split evenly, with Dallas winning 6 and Miami taking six.  Worse still for Miami, Dallas totally controlled the second half of the 4th qaurters of games 2,3 and 4.  In fact, Miami is fortunate that they managed to hold on in game three.  Dallas came roaring back from 14 down to tie the game, then Jason Terry missed a three to give them the lead and Dirk missed a jumper to tie at the end.  How many times has that happened in this year’s playoffs?  Just the once.

When a team comes from down late to win a game once, it can be seen as a fluke, or a lucky break.  When it happens twice, it’s not quite a fluke anymore.  When it happens three games in a row, you’ve got a trend.  And when it happens all playoffs long against the best the league has to offer, it’s not luck, it’s their style of play.  Dallas is a deep, versatile team.  They wear other teams down over the course of the game.  And unlike Miami, they actually know how to close.  I’m not certain why anyone is surprised that Miami would blow late leads repeatedly in the Finals, they’ve been doing that against good teams all season long.

No, Miami shouldn’t be condemned for “being upset” in this series, they never should have been the favorite to begin with.  Dallas managed to work a split in the first four games (very nearly a 3-1 lead) despite the fact that they had gone cold as a team.  Dirk strapped everyone in a Mavs uniform on his back and did what LeBron only imagines he can do, carry them to victory.  Dallas was not playing anywhere near as well as they had earlier in the playoffs.  Once their shooting stroke returned in game 5, Miami had no chance, evidenced by the fact that the Mavs scored about 108 per game in the last two against the supposedly elite Heat defense.

Dallas couldn’t go into Miami and win, we were told after the Mavs went up 3-2.  This despite the fact that Dallas was 6-1 in its last 7 road games (now 7-1 after last night’s win.)  The closed out Portland in Portland, the won both games in L.A., they won both games in OKC, and they won 2 out of 3 in Miami.  No, Miami didn’t choke or blow this series, they were the victim of over-hype from the get-go.  In retrospect, Dallas did to Miami exactly what they have been doing to teams all season long.  But the Mavs  have a long standing reputation for coming up short, so they weren’t respected for it.  Miami was the big fish in a small pond from the day of the infamous “Decision”.  They were the team that most everyone in the media had decided were the champions by default.

Even the criticism heaped on Miami during the season wasn’t so much a consequence of their actual performance, it was because they looked like what they actually are, a thin team with no bench to speak of and major flaws on the offensive end, particularly in end-game situations.  They’re sin was in not living up to the invincible force nearly everyone thought they were certain to be.

LeBron James wanted to be a global icon, he wanted his legacy to be Michael Jordan only bigger.  The celebration in South Beach the day after winning the free agency sweepstakes sticks out in everyone’s minds today, and it should.  Whoever’s idea that was really needs to be fired.  When LeBron started sticking fingers up to indicate how many titles they would; win, five, six, seven; it harkened back to Jordan doing the same thing.  The difference being that MJ did it during the locker room celebration after actually winning a title.  And the six fingers Jordan held up that day, he eventually backed up with titles.  It’s one thing to be confident when you’ve got the resume to back it up, quite another when you haven’t won anything yet.

The Miami Heat did themselves no favors this season.  Be it Coach Spo ratting out his players for crying in the locker room after a mid-season loss to Chicago, to Dwayne Wade playing the victim card with his “All’s right with the world, the Heat lost” whine.  The hubris continued with a celebration after beating Boston in the second round that made the one the Mvas just engaged in after actually winning the title look tame in comparison.  Beating up on a wounded and worn down team and celebrating like it was the best thing that ever happened in all of civilization isn’t exactly a classy thing to do.  But then neither is mocking a guy who just beat you with a 102 degree fever for being sick.  Where was the focus?

LeBron has gotten his wish after all.  Today, on the eve of the most crushing defeat of his professional career, he is indeed a global icon.  His name has become synonymous with failure.  Whether that is fair to him or not is irrelevant. LeBron wanted all of this attention, courted it like no other player, and now he has it, for better or worse.

After the game, LeBron was asked about all of the people rooting against him.  He responded with a vintage arrogant whine.  “At the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today.”

It’s good to see LeBron hasn’t learned a thing.  The problem is, King James, you’ll wake up tomorrow with the same life, too.  All of the failure, the hubris, the shrinking under pressure, the increasing cacophony of voices chipping away at your legacy one paragraph at a time, it’ll all still be there.  And until you learn a thing or two about actually becoming a champion, that will never go away.