Some Quick Draft Takeaways

Generally I feel like draft “winners and losers” or grades are a useless exercise within the first three years or so of a draft, let alone the first day, so I’m not gonna do that. I just wanted to give a few quick takeaways on what I thought of last night’s draft:

  • The 76ers are basketball’s Houston Astros

In using their first two picks on injured Joel Embiid and Croatian Dario Saric via trade, the 76ers showed the world that winning clearly in the short term isn’t the priority, as neither of those players will play much in the NBA this season, if at all. The Sixers have stripped down their roster and have worked to hoard young assets over the last two years, and will likely pick near the top of the draft again next year. This falls in line with their draft strategy last year in taking the also injured Nerlens Noel, who will debut with the team this season. There are some pieces there, like Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, and Embiid has superstar potential if he can stay on the court and develop, but 76ers fans are gonna have to be real patient for a while.

  • The Magic could be a really, really fun team to watch

The Magic made a mildly surprising selection last night, taking Aaron Gordon fourth overall. He is regarded as a top prospect, but his offensive game is limited as he is a weak shooter. Where he lacks in shooting, he makes up for in ridiculous athleticism. Orlando then acquired the rights to goint guard Elfrid Payton from Louisiana Lafayette, a speedy, athletic point guard who loves to run in transition. Combine these two athletes with last year’s top pick Victor Oladipo, and Magic games could quickly turn into track meets. Should be a lot of fun to watch that team progress.

  • I really like the Celtics draft

The Celtics had two first round picks last night, and used the first on Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. Smart reminds me of Kyle Lowry in that he has a couple of screws loose, but is an all-out competitor and should be a great fit in Boston. If he develops into a quality NBA starting point guard, it makes it much easier for Danny Ainge to dump Rajon Rondo and acquire more assets for their rebuild. Their second pick, James Young from Kentucky, is a project but has lots of talent and potential. Young starred in the NCAA tournament, showing great athleticism, and quality, albeit streaky, outside shooting. I can see them both being big contributors in Boston for a long time.

  • Toronto made a weird pick

This was the first real head-scratcher of the draft, as the Raptors took Bruno Caboclo 20th overall. ESPN’s international hoops guy Fran Fraschilla described Caboclo as the “Brazilian Kevin Durant,” but then went on to say he is “two years away from being two years away, then we’ll see.” I’m not one to doubt Raptors GM Masai Ujiri because I think he’s one of the best in the league, but taking a project like that in the middle of the first round was odd to say the least.

  • The Heat got their man

It was the worst kept secret in the draft that the Heat wanted UConn guard Shabazz Napier, and they traded up two spots to make sure they got their man. Much has been made of a tweet that LeBron sent out three months ago while watching him play, but Napier really is a good fit for the Heat. They need to bolster the point guard position, and his scoring, defense, and attitude will all be welcomed in Miami as they likely let Mario Chalmers walk in free agency. I would still try to acquire Kyle Lowry and let Napier come off the Heat bench, but acquiring these types of assets can go a long way towards keeping the Big 3 around for a while.

  • Isaiah Austin getting drafted was the best moment of the night

The night’s most emotional moment came when Commissioner Adam Silver drafted Baylor Center Isaiah Austin on behalf of the league. Austin’s career was taken from him before it began when he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome earlier this week, but the league made sure he would have the memory of hearing his name called and walking across the stage, and even received a standing ovation from the crowd. Austin handled the situation with amazing maturity and dignity, so it was especially cool to see him have his moment.

 

Featured image: (credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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If you can’t appreciate watching LeBron, why bother watching?

Last night the Heat evened their Finals series with the Spurs at 1-1 with a 98-96 win in San Antonio. Dwyane Wade struggled for much of the night, and the Heat bench provided just 12 points. The difference, much like always, was the greatest player in the world. LeBron James was brilliant, with 35 points and 10 rebounds, knocking down jumpshots and getting to the basket at will. James also assisted on Chris Bosh’s go ahead three pointer with 1:18 to play. The play was identical to the one the Heat ran at the end of game 5 vs Indiana, when James was foolishly criticized for passing up the last shot for the obvious smart basketball play.

James has been subject to more criticism than any two time champion and 4 time MVP than anyone in the history of sports. Shows like “First Take” on ESPN fuel the idiocy that is broadcast to the world via social media. These days everyone has an opinion on everything, and more than ever those opinions are influenced by mainstream media, and tweeted by fans too childish or ignorant to make any sense. The question I have is if you can’t appreciate watching LeBron play, who can you appreciate? If it’s not apparent to you that he’s the most brilliant performer of a generation, perhaps in any sport, at the peak of his powers, than maybe basketball just isn’t for you.

So go on, pile on the world’s greatest player on Twitter because he got cramps or because he passed the ball to his all-star teammate, I’ll be busy watching basketball at the highest level it is played on this planet.

 

Featured image: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Ballmer Reportedly Agrees to buy the Clippers

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reportedly agreed to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers for the cool sum of 2 BILLION dollars, according to the LA Times. The sale is pending approval of Donald Sterling and the NBA’s owners.

Ballmer attempted to purchase the Sacramento Kings last year to bring them to Seattle, where Microsoft is headquartered. Now retired, Ballmer has claimed to have no intention of relocating the Clippers should he obtain ownership of the team.

I think this is a good purchase for both the league and the Clippers, should it go through. Ballmer is a wealthy, wealthy man (approx $20 billion) with a large personality, and clearly a strong desire to own a franchise. In reality anyone would be an upgrade over Sterling, who has proven inept over the past few decades, so good for the Clippers contingent of Los Angeles to get this breath of fresh air.

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Does the Cavs winning the lottery mean LeBron will return to Cleveland?

Last night, miraculously, the Cavaliers won the lottery yet again. Today the hot topic among the talking heads is whether this signals LeBron James’ triumphant return to Cleveland. I don’t understand it.

ESPN’s Colin Cowherd sent out this dumb tweet:

Really Colin, he loves that role? How has LeBron possibly demonstrated his desire to mentor young players in his entire career? Was it when he left a Cleveland roster with 21 year old JJ Hickson, 22 year old Danny Green, 23 year old Daniel Gibson, 24 year old Sebastian Telfair, etc. to join up with his veteran friends to win titles? He really seemed like a perfect caretaker then, Colin. (I’m sure Colin’s tweet was intended to stir this kind of reaction, but it was so stupid I had to comment).

It’s not just Cowherd, though, as the topic has been discussed all over sports radio and ESPN today. So let me guess this straight, 4 time MVP and 2 time defending champion LeBron James is expected to trade Miami for Cleveland because he can’t resist the urge to teach a 19 year old how to play in the NBA? This is all foolish, manufactured news, typical of ESPN and mainstream media.

The only plausible theory I’ve heard is that Cleveland could use to pick to acquire Kevin Love, which could draw LeBron back to Cleveland. Why would LeBron possibly leave his current situation, living in a tropical locale, playing with hall of fame caliber close friends, for a top organization, for that? What is it about playing with Kevin Love, who has never appeared in a postseason game, that would be so irresistible? I know Love is younger than Bosh or Wade, which would have some appeal I’d imagine, and he’s a terrific player, but I think Pat Riley has shown the creativity needed to surround LeBron with talent that he could only dream of during his first stint with Cleveland. And oh yeah, he’d have to go back to working for this guy.

This stuff is fun, and it’s good for the league’s popularity, but don’t believe everything you hear or read. I’m not saying for sure that LeBron won’t leave Miami, because that would be impossible for me to say, I’m just saying be wary of the million speculative headlines you’ll read from now to July.

 

 

Image Credit: Corey Sipkin/ New York Daily News

Western Conference Finals Preview

The Western Conference Finals starts tonight, as the Spurs take on the Thunder in San Antonio. It’s not really surprising that either team is still playing, as they’ve pretty much been the top two teams out West all season. What should we expect from this match up?

To me the thing to watch is the injury factor, for both teams. Spurs point guard Tony Parker strained his hamstring in the second round against Portland, but he is expected to play tonight. Obviously the Spurs need him to be effective, as he’s unquestionably their most important player offensively. Fortunately the Spurs are deep and balanced, but Russell Westbrook is a nightmare to cover on a good day, now imagine doing so on a bad hamstring. For Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka is expected to miss the rest of the post season, although the Spurs are skeptical. Without Ibaka, someone will have to step up for the Thunder as a third scoring option behind Westbrook and Durant, as well as help protect the rim. Ibaka helps draw opposing big men from the paint with his strong mid range game, and Kendrick Perkins ain’t scaring anybody from outside, so it could be troublesome for OKC to move Duncan and Tiago Splitter from where they’re comfortable.

Two years ago these teams matched up in the Conference Finals, and San Antonio won the first two games, extending their win streak to 20. Oklahoma City proceeded to win the next four games to advance to the Finals, losing to the eventual champion Heat. I don’t think either team will win 4 straight in this series, but I do expect Oklahoma City to win. I think it’s incredible what the Spurs have been able to do (I wrote about it here), but I think they’re running into a team that is younger, fresher, and perhaps feeling more pressure with their newly crowned MVP. I know it seems more logical that the Spurs would face more pressure, being that they are older and another year closer to the end of their run, but at this point they’re almost playing with house money. They shouldn’t be doing what they’ve been doing for so long, but OKC has two superstars entering their prime, with nothing to show for it yet. Can they get back to the finals, or continue to regret trading James Harden? We’ll see.

To be clear, I’m not picking OKC because of pressure, or anything like that, it’s only one factor. The Thunder offense, when clicking, is just too explosive for San Antonio. The Spurs do have excellent three point shooting on their side, however, and I do not like the way OKC executes late in games. I’m not one to jump on Westbrook like many members do, because I think OKC needs him to be his explosive, attacking self to be able to advance, but Durant needs to ball late in games. I expect one or two of Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, or Perry Jones to step up and make significant contributions in this series. Kawhi Leonard will certainly bother Durant defensively, but he hasn’t blossomed into the offense force expected of him yet, and there’s still this to worry about:

Westbrook

I’m picking Thunder in 6, but of course it wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Spurs advanced. They are the Spurs, after all, and they just do not die.

Featured image credit: Mark D. Smith- USA Today Sports

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Finally the matchup we’ve all been waiting for all season is here. The Heat and Pacers took different paths to get here, and this should make for an interesting series.

Down the stretch of the regular season both teams played relatively subpar basketball, with the Heat finishing at 3-6 in the month of April and the Pacers at 10-13 from March 4th on. Typically you can attribute this kind of play to two teams sitting comfortably atop the conference and resting for the playoffs. Few truly questioned whether Miami would turn it on for the playoffs, and after steamrolling the Bobcats and Nets in 9 games it’s clear that’s what they’ve done. Something has been different about this Pacers team since their scorching hot start to the season, though. There was Roy Hibbert calling out his teammates, rumors of fights between players, and some weirder stuff going on. There was also the trade sending longtime Pacer Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Evan Turner, which many have speculated ruined the team’s chemistry (I think that’s somewhat of a copout, but whatever). While the Pacers have succeeded in advancing this far, it hasn’t been easy. The team played a seven game series against an awful Atlanta Hawks team and looked inconsistent in defeating Washington in six.

So what can we expect from this series? Despite the mind-boggling inconsistency the Pacers have played with for several months, I expect them to look better against Miami. These two teams seem to bring out the best in each other, so I wouldn’t count out the Pacers just because they look like they forgot how to play team basketball for two and a half months. Last year’s series was intensely physical. The Pacers typically try to take the Heat off their game with chippy fouls, but the veteran Heat are usually not too bothered. The important thing for Indiana is Center Roy Hibbert playing like a 7’2″ all star, not playing entire games without recording a point or rebound. Indiana has good size and when Paul George plays like he’s capable of playing they are a tough team to beat. If the Pacers got any positive contribution from the maddening Lance Stephenson it would be an enormous x-factor, but I wouldn’t count on it. His immaturity was on full display in their previous matchup, when Dwyane Wade baited him into a senseless ejection.

It was widely talked about when the Heat took a flier on Greg Oden that he would be their answer to Hibbert, but interestingly the Heat have used Udonis Haslem instead, to relative success. Haslem is a pro’s pro, at times a team enforcer, and his contributions are rarely reflected in box scores, but his defense on Hibbert will be crucial to the Heat returning to the Finals for a fourth straight year. He will be helped by “Birdman” Chris Andersen, who at 35 is as active as ever down low. Otherwise the keys for the Heat are relatively straightforward. LeBron has to be the MVP, scoring, creating for teammates, while locking down Paul George on the defensive end. Wade needs to make the most of his rest days so he can attack the Indiana defense, and it will be important for Chris Bosh to stretch the floor and draw the Pacers’ big men out of the paint.

My prediction for this series isn’t groundbreaking, it’s a victory for Miami, but I do think it will be a better series than most would have you believe. These two teams dislike each other too much for the Heat to roll through the series as they did in the previous two rounds. Look for a lot of hard (dirty-ish) fouls and trash talking, and probably a couple close finishes. I just think the Heat are playing better basketball, maintain their composure better in big games, and have enough three point shooting coming off their bench. At this point it’s hard get a feel for what kind of team these Pacers truly are, and I think the two time defending champs are a considerably safer bet. Oh yeah and they have the best player in the world, which is always a plus. Look for the Heat to win in 6.

Western Conference Finals preview to follow.

Featured image credit: Steve Mitchell Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Some perspective on the brilliance of the Spurs

The Spurs have once again made it to the Western Conference Finals. In other news, water is wet. Really, it’s astonishing what the Spurs have been able to accomplish all these years, so I wanted to try to put it in some perspective. All stats/facts will be in regards to the “Duncan Era,” from the time Tim Duncan was drafted (1997) until the present.

In the Tim Duncan Era, the Spurs have yet to miss the postseason. That is seventeen straight years, so you could have been born during Duncan’s first season and be legally driving an automobile in any state in the U.S.

The last time the Spurs missed the postseason, 1997

  • Bill Clinton was starting his second term as U.S. President
  • OJ Simpson was found liable in a wrongful death suit
  • The average cost of gas in the U.S. for the year was $1.245/gallon
  • The Florida Marlins won the World Series, and 22 year old Livan Hernandez was series MVP
  • The Titanic debuted in theaters
  • Harry Potter was published in the UK
  • Hong Kong was returned to China
  • Princess Diana was killed in a car accident
  • Spurs Guard Tony Parker was 15 years old, and Forward Kawhi Leonard was 6

In the Duncan Era, leading into this Western Conference Finals, the Spurs have a postseason record of 141-87, good for a .618 winning percentage, tops in the NBA over that span. The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, who have each won a championship and have been to the Finals twice over the same period, have won 140 postseason games, COMBINED. Additionally, the Spurs 141 wins are more than the postseason wins of Charlotte, Washington, Toronto, Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Memphis, and Denver COMBINED.

The Spurs postseason winning percentage in comparison to other notable eras since 1983 (as far back as realgm data goes):

  • 1986-1992 Detroit Pistons-Bad Boy era- .663% 2 championships
  • 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls- Jordan era : .661% 6 championships
  • 1996-2004 LA Lakers-Shaq/Kobe era: .639% 3 championships
  • 1997-Pres San Antonio Spurs-Duncan era- .618% 4 championships (obviously will change until conclusion of 2014 post season)
  • 2007-2010 Boston Celtics- Big 3 era- .576% 1 championship
  • 1992-1999 Houston Rockets- Hakeem/Rudy T era- .567% 2 championships

Bear in mind the difficulty of maintaining such a high level of production over 17 seasons, factoring age, injury, free agency, etc.

Postseason numbers courtesy of http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/playoffs/history/1998

The Spurs have employed one head coach during the Duncan Era, Greg Popovich. A look at how many coaches each team has employed or will soon employ during the Duncan Era, either on a full time or interim basis:

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*Team employed the same coach on more than one separate occasion

The Spurs await the winner of the Thunder vs. Clippers series, and they just may go on to win another NBA Championship. Win or lose this conference or league finals, sooner or later the reality will sink in that this just can’t go on forever. The run that the Spurs are continuing is nothing short of remarkable, in the age of big free agent contracts and the formation of super teams, it’s the small market Spurs who have been the model franchise for nearly a span of two decades. We may not see anything like it again, or maybe we will. Either way it’s something to cherish and marvel at, because it simply defies logic.

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)