Here’s a mock for one of the weakest drafts in years. It’s essentially a three-player draft — or a one-player draft, if you don’t think that Hasheem Thabeet and Ricky Rubio are for real, and one could make a very convincing case that neither is. The draft is loaded with point guards, and none of them are guaranteed to be that much better than the guys currently starting in the league. Proof positive is Stephen Curry, who is highly coveted, and yet is no sure bet. Jonny Flynn might go No. 4 tonight. No. 4 last year was Russell Westbrook, head and shoulders above him. No. 4 in 2003 was Chris Bosh. That said, it might end up being better than the draft two years ago, so at least that’s something. Away we go:
1. Clippers: Blake Griffin, PF Oklahoma – For the record, I’m not convinced Griffin will be a great NBA player, at least not right away. Witness two big forwards’ final years in college:
Player 1: 22.7 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 65% FG, 59% FT
Player 2: 26.2 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 53% FG, 77% FT
Player 1 is Griffin. Player 2 is K-State’s Michael Beasley, who couldn’t hold down a starting job with the Heat and averaged about 14 and 5. Beasley had some big games in the playoffs – and some very small games – and will almost definitely round into a solid player. But the Clippers aren’t getting Tim Duncan – i.e. an instant impact – here. And coming to that team, with their horrendous owner, is not the best environment in which to succeed. Blake’s going to be a good player, but this isn’t like getting the No. 1 pick and drafting LeBron.
2. Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet, C Connecticut – I’m just not sure what kind of player you think you’re getting here if you take him. Is he going to score? Almost definitely not. So you’re hoping for Dikembe Mutombo, but you might get Theo Ratliff, or worse, Michael Olowokandi. If Greg Oden is having the trouble he is, how will Thabeet do? Plus, he didn’t want to work out for them, or for anyone, and likely doesn’t want to play in Memphis. This smells like a trade with Rubio the main prize.
3. Thunder: Ricky Rubio, PG Spain – I don’t know why people don’t like Rubio. He thrived in the Olympics (watch in HQ, but mute Franz Ferdinand), and he’s young enough that he could end up developing into the best-case scenario, Steve Nash. Or he could be Beno Udrih, which is a worst case. Regardless, I think there’s a very good chance he turns into a very productive player, he’s used to playing against top competition and he’s marketable. If the Thunder end up with him, they wait until Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are ready to win, and off they go. But I suspect their interest in him is an attempt to generate a trade, most likely with Minnesota, where they’d move down and take Harden, probably a better fit.
4. Kings: Tyreke Evans, PG Memphis – Everyone’s saying that the Kings love Jonny Flynn, but Evans was physically superior in their workout. Personally, I think Evans is going to be a significant NBA player despite not being a true point guard. One need only look at what he did in the tournament to know that he’s a true talent and a future leader. I like him a lot more than Flynn.
5. Wolves: Johnny Flynn, PG Syracuse –The Wolves have let it float that they like Flynn. I’ll take them at their word and figure that they’re going to reload their backcourt, but it’s hard to see them having traded up for Flynn. I think they were banking on either Evans or Rubio. That said, Flynn’s stock has soared, he showed his toughness and talent in the Big East Tournament, and he reasonably could be the pick here. Or, they could go with Curry, who most think is a better player, though not a true point guard.
6. Wolves: James Harden, SG Arizona State – In a draft loaded with point guards, he’s the best swingman. Since the Wolves gutted their backcourt to get these two picks, here’s saying they reload if they end up having to stay here. Athletically, he’s unimpressive, but he knows how to play. They obviously still want to attempt to move up for Rubio, though, so a lot can change.
7. Warriors: Jordan Hill, PF/C Arizona – This team sorely needs a point guard, unless they’re sold on Monta Ellis at the position, which I doubt they are. Hill is a lot like Anthony Randolph, who Don Nelson soured on for no apparent reason as he’s wont to do. No matter – after watching Channing Frye flame out, I wasn’t high on Hill, but I hear he’s killing it in workouts. If he doesn’t go here, the Knicks would almost certainly take him at No. 8. Drafting him would allow them to trade a power forward for a point guard as well. Just because they need a point guard doesn’t mean they draft one.
8. Knicks: Stephen Curry, PG Syracuse – And the Knicks get their man. I do think he’s almost a lock to go before this, but I’m having trouble figuring out where someone would take him. I like Curry a lot, I’m just not sure if he’s going to translate on the next level. He’s a good shooter, can handle and pass, and he has experience leading a team. But he has a frail body. Regardless, there are a lot of teams that like him, his rise has been meteoric and he’ll probably be solid. I do believe that the Knicks will end up with him by hook or by crook – even if they have to trade. If Curry, Evans and Hill are all gone, they probably don’t get Flynn, opting for Gerald Henderson.
9. Raptors: Demar DeRozan, G/F USC – Provides athleticism and toughness the Raps sorely need, with Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon providing none. Personally, though he’s a project, I feel he’s a pretty good bet to do something at some point.
10. Bucks: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy – I don’t like this guy at all in terms of personality. And this pick would definitely be Flynn if around, but he could go as early as No. 4 to the Kings. Jennings called out Rubio and basically said he was a fraud. What the hell has Jennings ever done? Rubio only held his own against Chris Paul and Jason Kidd in the Olympics. You’re looking at Stephon Marbury Version 2. However, some say that in a few years, his talent could be off the charts. Time will tell.
11. Nets: Terrence Williams, SF, Louisville – Williams seems like a Richard Jefferson type. He won’t go lower than No. 12 to the Bobcats, but would fit in well with a young nucleus of Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and, well, Vince Carter (who’s not so young and whom I expect to be traded at some point this season).
12. Bobcats: Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke – I’m not sure he’s ready to step in and be a big star right away, but with Raja Bell injury-prone as usual, they need to build up that position. And Henderson is a potential star – many compare him to Dahntay Jones, but he’s a lot more skilled than Jones while being just as explosive. Michael Jordan would get a kick out of taking a Duke guy, especially one who has the athletic gifts he values.
13. Pacers: Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA – I was surprised that he wasn’t better in college, but the tools are there. The only problem is that you’re drafting a player that averaged under 9 PPG in college. No matter, he’s a big lead guard who plays good defense, and I think he could be good in time – not right away. Definitely still a possibility for the Knicks, who have considered him extensively.
14. Suns: James Johnson, PF, Wake Forest – Could go as high as No. 9, to the Raptors. If Toronto didn’t have such a need at the wing, I’d say he would just go there. If Jennings is there, the Suns probably take him as a potential successor to Nash. Could there be a bigger character dropoff? I like Johnson as a player but I’m unclear as to whether he has NBA athleticism, though his handle is good. Earl Clark and Austin Daye are possibilities – they’re all being considered right around this range.
15. Pistons: Earl Clark, PF, Louisville – Is it any wonder Louisville was as good as it was this season, with Clark and Williams? Clark could be a player in the Tayshaun Prince mold in terms of versatility and shooting ability. Consider me a fan.
16. Bulls: B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State – If Henderson slips, he’s probably too talented to pass on. But it’s unlikely he gets past the Nets and Bobcats. Lots of rumors about Mullens having a promise at this pick, from either the Bulls or someone trading here. Nothing I dislike more than a project center, with the exception of Andrew Bynum, who I adored coming out of high school. They could also look at DeJuan Blair here.
17. 76ers: Tywon Lawson, PG, UNC – Andre Miller is as good as gone. The only thing that would prevent this pick would be Lawson going before this, as a lot of teams are high on him. It’s weird, he doesn’t seem to have an NBA body, but he’s fast and has killer instinct. Probably the most ready-made point guard in the draft.
18. Wolves: Sam Young, SF, Pitt – Most have him going later, but they need a versatile small forward type to fill in after dealing Mike Miller, and presumably they’ve already addressed their backcourt. Athletically, I’ve never been impressed with him, but he’s probably going to be at least a solid player on the next level.
19. Hawks: Jeff Teague, PG, Wake Forest – A few years back, they passed on a speedy Wake Forest point guard – Chris Paul – to pick Marvin Williams. Let’s not make the same mistake, huh guys? Mike Bibby isn’t getting any younger.
20. Jazz: DeJuan Blair, PF, Pitt – Anyone who saw him decimate Hasheem Thabeet knows he gets the most out of his physical attributes. Personally, I think he’s too slow and his knees scare me, but there’s no question he has the potential to be a beast.
21. Hornets: Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Hornets – I get the feeling they’d prefer Blair, since he’s tougher, but anyone who saw Hansbrough stalk around with his bloody nose after Henderson whacked him in the face knows he’s got toughness. The only question here is whether he can mount an offensive game in the pros with sketchy athleticism, but he has a motor and can rebound with the best of them. This is probably about his floor, but his ceiling is much higher in this draft.
22. Blazers: Omri Casspi, SF, Israel – They moved up two spots, apparently to take this guy, who the Kings had supposedly locked in on. With a loaded roster, you probably won’t see him for a while.
23. Kings: Austin Daye, F, Gonzaga – Excellent shooter for his size, but very unpolished. The Kings are rebuilding anyway, so why not get him and wait it out? Reminds me of Boris Diaw, not a bad thing.
24. Mavericks: Eric Maynor, PG VCU – Seems to be their major need with Kidd ancient. There’s no guarantee that any of the guards ahead of Maynor – Flynn, Holiday, etc. – will be any better than he’ll be.
25. Thunder: DeMarre Carroll, PF Missouri – The Thunder have a lot of good things about them, but they could use some fresh blood down low.
26. Bulls: Chase Budinger, G Arizona – I think I’m a bigger fan of this guy than most, but I think he’s a winner and would be good to have on any potential playoff team.
27. Grizzlies: Taj Gibson, F USC – Overshadowed by Demar DeRozan, but could round into a decent player.
28. Knicks: Danny Green, SG UNC – All indications are that the Knicks are going to buy this pick, in which case I think they go with the athletic Green, who should pray that he ends up playing in this system.
29. Lakers: Nick Calathes, PG Florida – He’s already overseas, so they’d save money and be able to bring him in later on, when Derek Fisher is closer to retirement.
30. Cavaliers: Darren Collison, PG UCLA – After a rough postseason for Mo Wiliams, the Cavs could get this underrated guard to help fill in some depth.
It’s time to look back at my NBA Playoffs Crystal Ball to see how well my predictions fared. Flashback a few weeks to the 2nd round. Much like everyone outside the Rockets’ locker room, I underestimated Houston’s ability to score points without Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in the lineup. Shane Battier and the undermanned Rockets demonstrated a tremendous amount of heart in pushing the Lakers to a Game 7. This series featured the most intriguing offense-defense matchup (Kobe vs. Shane) of the playoffs and was probably the second most entertaining series, following the ridiculous Bulls-Celtics matchup in the opening round where nearly every game went to OT on clutch-shooting heroics. All that said, I’m going to take a point here since I did predict the Lakers advancing. Ditto for the Nuggets blasting the Mavs, the Magic taking out the Celtics, and the Cavs beating the Hawks. (OK, maybe I should only get a half point for each of those since they were relatively obvious picks.)
Moving on, let’s see how I fared in the next round. While I correctly picked the Lakers to advance past the Nuggets, the Nuggets proved substantially less threatening than I originally thought. I also predicted that LeBron and the Cavs would steamroll the Magic on their way to the NBA Finals. Someone forgot to send the Magic the script. The Magic 3-point sharpshooters were on target in this series, and I was particularly amazed at the relative ease at which the Magic dispatched the Cavs. So much for my recommendation to “safely pencil” LeBron into the NBA Finals!
And just like that, the NBA viewership was denied the ultimate Kobe-LeBron showdown. Fortunately, we do have the Nike commercials featuring Kobe-LeBron puppetry hi-jinks, so all is not lost. For the most part, the Magic have proven worthy championship opponents, but after falling in overtime last night, I think most of the suspense in this series is now gone. In the end, my final prediction will hold true, as Kobe raises a 4th Larry O’Brien trophy over his head. Lakers in 5.
I started this post Friday night / Saturday morning after the Lakers took out the Rockets 108-94 in Game 3. After watching the Magic take a 2-1 series lead earlier in the night, and watching LeBron continue to dominate the day before, I pretty much saw everything I needed to put my predictions in print.
However, for the sake of journalistic integrity, I decided not to post this article until I also saw Game 3 of the Nuggets-Mavericks series. Well, waiting one more day took a lot of the suspense out of these predictions!
In that one day, the playoff picture became much clearer in two ways:
- Yao Ming broke his left foot and is out for the remainder of the playoffs
- The NBA refs missed the Mavs “foul-to-give” prior to Melo’s game-clinching 3-pointer
Both series are now over.
When Tracy McGrady went down earlier this season, Houston completely restructured their offense to flow through Yao, and the center flourished in his expanded role. Without Yao and T-Mac, the Rockets simply do not have the offensive firepower to stay with the Lakers. As much as I love Shane Battier and the Rockets, and I was really REALLY looking forward to an epic 6/7-game series featuring the Kobe-Shane offense-defense battle, this series is now finished. The Rockets might be able to ride home court emotion to a win today, but it is far more likely that their Game 1 victory becomes the Rockets last win this season.
The Mavs showed great potential in their opening round dismantling of the Spurs, and I was fully expecting the Mavs to make the Nuggets series competitive yesterday. And they did, until the waning seconds of Game 3. In fairness, this loss can’t be pinned on the refs. If Antoine Wright correctly wraps up Carmelo with his arms, as all players are taught to do in foul-to-give situations, then the refs are a non-story today. Furthermore, even if the refs called the foul-to-give, the Nuggets would still be in-bounding the ball with ~4-5 seconds on the clock, depending on which of the two missed calls the refs whistle, and it is certainly possible that the Nuggets hit a similar shot to win the game. Regardless, the bottom-line here is that the series stands at 3-0, and the Mavs are finished.
Same 3-0 logic applies to the Cavs series, although this series was over at 0-0 once LeBron walked onto the court.
And without Kevin Garnett powering the Celtics, they’re going down to the Magic in six. The Celtics gave us a great series against the Bulls, but Dwight Howard and the 3-point shooting Magic are going to be too much for the Celtics too overcome without KG.
That sets up an interesting Lakers-Nuggets battle out West, and a less-interesting Cavs-Magic series in the East. It’s obvious that LeBron is on a mission and we are all witness. While the Cavs will get tested (i.e., lose a game, maybe two) in this series, you can safely pencil LeBron and the Cavs into the NBA Finals.
Out West, the Nuggets are going to prove to be a dangerous opponent for the Lakers, particularly if the Cavs quickly dismantle the Magic and the Lakers start to look ahead to their much-hyped Finals opponent. The Nuggets are surprisingly deep, and if Dahntay Jones can apply similarly effective Battier-like defense on Kobe, the Nuggets will have a fighting chance. In the end, the Nuggets series will prove to be the Lakers “test of will” that the Rockets series should have been. Lakers in 6.
Now, the ultimate showdown: Kobe and the Lakers vs. LeBron and the Cavs. An NBA fan’s dream match-up! (Not to mention the NBA execs – imagine the ratings for this one!) I’ll save the more in-depth analysis for when this series actually comes to fruition, but in short, I expect the Lakers supporting cast to be too much for the Cavs. LeBron might average a whooping 37-12-9 in the series, and likely outduel Kobe in the process, but can his teammates keep up with the Lakers’ Gasol, Bynum, and Odom? I don’t think so.
LeBron vs. Kobe. Lakers vs. Cavs. An epic. Lakers in 7.