When you’ve been on the job for less than a week, indecisiveness reigns supreme. Just ask Magic GM Rob Hennigan or newly appointed Atlanta Hawks boss Danny Ferry. Both were named General Managers for their respective teams with little time to prepare for the draft and it is showing.
Both teams have players in Josh Smith and Dwight Howard who have been shopped around for almost a year, but neither is ready to pull the trigger. With Houston trying to send two top-10 picks to Orlando and multiple teams showing strong interest in Smith, now is the time to make a deal. In what is considered one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, Atlanta and Orlando could both bring back young talent for their outgoing stars, but neither Hennigan nor Ferry feel comfortable shaking up a roster they’ve had only a few days to mull over.
And honestly, you can’t blame either one of them for being gun shy.
The mistake here lies with the owners and management in both Orlando and Atlanta. When the Magic decided to part ways with GM Otis Smith on May 21 there should have been a contingency plan in place. Instead, Orlando performed their due diligence and considered every option available, taking over a month to find the right guy to run their basketball operations. Unfortunately for Orlando, time was a luxury they did not have.
It is safe to assume that the fates of both Otis Smith and former head coach Stan Van Gundy had long since been sealed. Therefore, Orlando should have been preparing for their departures long ago. They should have been ready to find a replacement for Smith in 2 weeks or less. By hiring Hennigan days before the draft, they have put him in an awful situation. Now may be the best time to deal Howard, but without giving him ample time to assess the lay of the land, Hennigan is not prepared to trade Howard for what may ultimately be the best package offered to him this offseason. Realistically this would take some creativity on the part of Rockets GM Daryl Morey, but if Houston could offer two top-10 picks, Kevin Martin, and Luis Scola for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu, is that not likely better than any package Brooklyn, Dallas, or Los Angeles is going to offer in the foreseeable future?
Likewise, Atlanta knew that the contract for Rick Sund was set to expire June 30, but instead waited until three days (yes, 3 DAYS) before the draft to bring in Ferry. How could anyone expect him to be prepared to flip Josh Smith for draft picks when the ink on Ferry’s new six-year contract has barely even dried?
None of this is to say that Hennigan and Ferry are not prepared for the draft this evening. No, I expect these two to be among the most prepared in the league. They will surely know the available players backwards and forwards; it is just that their lack of familiarity with the rosters they just inherited is limited and, because of this, so are they. Their respective owners have not put them in a position to wheel and deal on a night when they ought to be most flexible. The draft presents the best time in the year to make a trade as team’s try to set themselves up for long-term success with young talent. Bad timing likely will stop these two new GMs from making much noise tonight.
Yes, the NBA Finals finished less than a week ago, but the NBA offseason is about to get into full swing with the Draft on Thursday night. For anyone living outside of Miami, this is the perfect opportunity to forget about the oh-so-hateable champs and focus on their teams’ and the league’s future talent. Disregarding any trades that may happen on draft night, here is how Original NBA sees the draft playing out:
1) New Orleans: Anthony Davis
On Thursday New Orleans Hornets General Manager Dell Demps is going to have a tougher time deciding what he will have for breakfast than he will making this pick. This one is obvious and has been for months. Davis is a shot-blocking machine with a decent low-post game, good mid range shot, tremendous athleticism and loads of potential. From his demeanor all the way to his eyebrows, there is nothing not to like about this guy. The Hornets will be getting a player they can build around for years to come. The intrigue for this team begins at pick No. 10 when Mr. Demps will have to decide how he best wants to complement Davis. Will they find another big to put up front with him or a backcourt player with a completely different skill set? We will just have to wait and see…
2) Charlotte: Thomas Robinson
When you’re the Charlotte Bobcats, you do not, I repeat DO NOT, draft based on need; you take the best player available no questions asked. With Davis off the board, there is a swell of candidates for who is the second best player available. There is almost no way of knowing who out of the next several picks will be the best, but Robinson represents everything you would want from a high draft pick. He’s got a great build (6’9”, 240 pounds), a high motor, and a wide range of skills. While at Kansas the guy got better every year and there is no indication that he has hit his ceiling. Although there will be questions about his potential, the guy is going to give it his all and already has the talent to contribute to this team.
3) Washington: Bradley Beal
The way that GM Ernie Grunfeld is operating this team, he is trying to build a team that will win now while throwing caution and any thoughts of future roster flexibility out the window. Along the same line, he is going to focus on what player fits this roster best now. Beal certainly has the talent to start right away for this team and fill a need at the 2 spot. Beal will give John Wall a great running mate for years to come and, possibly more importantly for Grunfeld, he fills an immediate need.
4) Cleveland: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Cleveland would have to be ecstatic if Kidd-Gilchrist was still on the board for a litany of reasons. First off, Kidd-Gilchrist has become borderline legendary as a player with a rare combination of athleticism, skills, and athletic ability. He is the kind of guy that any player in the league would want on their team because of what he brings to the table night in and night out. With Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and Kidd-Gilchrist, Cleveland would have a solid foundation to build a contender.
5) Sacramento: Andre Drummond
Athletic big men with loads of potential should scare executives all over the league, but I cannot help but think that Sacramento is going to pull the trigger with Drummond. DeMarcus Cousins started to develop into a force during the latter stages of this season, but pairing him with a more athletic shot-blocker and defensive presence would free him up defensively, where he certainly is a liability. At this point in the draft, Sacramento would be lucky to fill a need like this one
6) Portland: Harrison Barnes
I know the Blazers has Nic Batum and are adamant that they plan on re-signing him, but if Barnes drops this far, I have a hard time imagining that new GM Neil Olshey would pass on him. Portland had a middling offense finishing 16th and 17th in scoring and field goal percentage, respectively. Barnes can obviously fill it up, as shown by his 17.3 points a game on 45% shooting from the field, and Portland cannot afford to pass up a player of his caliber. There’s such a drop off after the top 6 that Portland may have no choice whom to select no matter who is still available.
7) Golden State: Perry Jones III
There is no questioning Jones’ athleticism or potential, but he has consistently been criticized for his effort and willingness to take over games. However, Jones gets knocked for all the things he does not do to the point that critics overlook the things that he does well. People are quick to forget that he averaged 13.9 and 13.5 points a game in his freshman and sophomore campaigns while shooting 54.9% and 50.0%, respectively, from the field. Jones has said that his confidence, which held him back at Baylor, is at an all time high, but that’s all talk for now. Realistically he may not be what people want him to be, but in Jones, the Warriors would be taking the best guy still on the board and a player who may have the most potential out of anyone in this draft at a position they covet.
8) Toronto: Jeremy Lamb
Putting up a third worst mark in the NBA of 90.7 points per game, the Raptors need offense and they need it now. Lamb represents possibly the most offensively gifted player still on the board and the Raptors certainly will have him on their radar. This past season, Lamb posted 17.7 points a contest with the ability to both score from the outside and get to the free throw line. Although Toronto may be set at the SG position for now with DeMar DeRozan, they cannot afford to pass up on an offensive talent like Lamb.
9) Detroit: John Henson
The Pistons have been assembling a roster of misfits for quite some time, but picking up Henson here actually makes perfect sense. Joe Dumars has repeatedly expressed how pleased he is with Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight on the offensive end, but Henson would be an obvious upgrade defensively at a position of need for these Pistons. They ranked No. 27 in the NBA in rebounding and certainly need an athletic rebounder and defender like Henson to pair with Greg Monroe up front.
10) New Orleans: Tyler Zeller
There are plenty of options here for the Hornets, but this pick once again is all about Anthony Davis. He is their building block for the future and they should be thinking about how they can best help his transition into the NBA. A good place to start is to take an experienced player like Zeller to take a lot of the frontcourt pressure off of Davis. Davis will be at his best on the defensive end of the court as a help side defender so getting another guy on the team who can occupy the other team’s best big man is a must for New Orleans. Zeller is a tough player with a solid offensive game, but he and Davis both need to hit the weights. This would make for a scary frontcourt in New Orleans for years to come.
11) Portland: Damian Lillard
To me, this is one of the most obvious picks in the entire draft if Lillard is still available. Portland was clearly dissatisfied with the play of Raymond Felton last year and desperately needs to upgrade at point guard. Lillard was a big time scorer in college (24.5 points a game his senior year) and will fit in nicely with a unit looking for more production out of their backcourt.
12) Milwaukee: Meyers Leonard
With a backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis that is likely to give up their fair share of drive-bys, the Bucks would love to add a shot-blocker as a second line of defense. Leonard’s game is far from polished, but he would serve as an effective post defender, shot blocker, and finisher in transition for a team desperate for some size after the departure of Andrew Bogut.
13) Phoenix: Austin Rivers
Rivers is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft as he is so talented, but did not show the promise that was originally anticipated when he committed to Duke. I believe that where he is drafted will largely determine whether he plays the point or on the wing in the NBA. Phoenix would serve well to pick Rivers, giving them a possible replacement for Steve Nash if he leaves during free agency. If Nash sticks around or they determine Rivers’ skills are better suited on the wing, Phoenix has one of the best shooters in the draft and an effective penetrator.
14) Houston: Dion Waiters
We have absolutely no idea what will end up happening with Houston and their abundance of mid first-round picks, but until they are traded, we will operate under the assumption that Houston is drafting for themselves and not somebody else. Waiters has loads of potential and only in a year with this much talent would you see a player of his caliber drop to the bottom of the lottery. His stock has been going up since pre-draft workouts were held in Chicago so it would not be a surprise to see him go sooner. However, Houston loves to stockpile talent and it would be no surprise if they snatched this athletic slashing combo guard.
15) Philadelphia: Terrence Ross
What does Philadelphia need? Wing scoring and perimeter shooting? Check and check. Terrence Ross can shoot from deep (37.1% on three-pointers) and puts the ball in the hoop at a good clip overall (45.7%). Add in his great size (6’7”, 197 pounds) and he looks like a great pick for Philly. The 76ers could certainly draft an athletic big here, but seeing as they would certainly have to reach for a player like Festus Ezeli, Ross makes a lot of sense.
16) Houston: Kendall Marshall
With Houston likely to be forced into choosing between Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry, there is suddenly a need a backup point guard. Marshall is a steal here as a fantastic distributor and floor general. The assumption here is obviously that either Lowry is dealt or Dragic leaves in free agency, but either way, Marshall would be a capable understudy and a valuable asset for Daryl Morey.
17) Dallas: Terrence Jones
Jones seems like a great fit at a spot in the draft where there is an excess of players who are very similar in overall talent. Deciphering one player’s overall talent from the next becomes harder and harder as the draft goes on, but Jones is a matchup nightmare who is able to score both inside and out. His athleticism would be a tremendous asset on an aging Mavericks’ team and with Shawn Marion possibly on his way out, Jones would fill a need as a versatile and physical defender and slasher.
18) Houston: Jared Sullinger
I know that Sullinger has been red flagged because of his back issues, but I just cannot see him slipping past Houston here at No. 18, assuming they still hold the pick. Sullinger, who likely would have been a top five pick in last year’s draft, is just too good to let go. GM Daryl Morey would love to add a player of Sullinger’s talent level, even if Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson are ahead of him on the depth chart.
19) Orlando: Arnett Moultrie
New Magic GM Rob Hennigan is in an incredibly unenviable position with this pick. He can choose a player who can help Orlando win now or go for someone who will develop into a contributor down the road. The question is essentially this: should the Magic draft a player who will help the team win with Dwight Howard or begin the rebuilding process now? Hennigan needs to know Howard’s fate in order to effectively implement an effective offseason strategy and that all begins Thursday night. Don’t be surprised if Orlando is involved in a draft night trade or two, but if they keep this pick, Moultrie would be a good selection as he would provide the Magic with a versatile big who can score inside, outside, and in transition.
20) Denver: Moe Harkless
What do you get for the team with the most top to bottom talent in the league? Seriously, in which area should Denver focus its draft efforts? You guessed it: the Nuggets are going to take the best player available because they have good young talent at every single position. The addition of Harkless would certainly create a logjam on the perimeter, but with his length and athleticism, he represents the best player available at this point. Seeing as they do not have many glaring needs, I would not be shocked to see Denver package this pick with some of their young talent for a more experienced player.
21) Boston: Royce White
There were recent rumors that White canceled his scheduled workouts because he had received a promise from Boston that if he were still available, they would take him. Even without that piece of gossip, I think that White is an ideal fit for a Celtics team that will likely be trying to pull off a quick rebuild. To me, White is a more powerful Lamar Odom with the ability to develop into a more consistent scorer. That is an absolutely terrifying thought for teams not selecting the Iowa State product.
22) Boston: Fab Melo
Boston has needed size since the day GM Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. As exceptionally as Kevin Garnett performed in the playoffs filling in at center, he may not be back next year and even if he is, KG is not the long-term solution. Melo has all the physical tools to be a tough, physical, defensive center in the NBA. He will certainly have to overcome questions about his basketball IQ and character issues, but he could be the answer to whatever question the Celtics were trying (and failing) to answer with Jermaine O’Neal.
23) Atlanta: Quincy Miller
It is fair to say that the Marvin Williams experiment in Atlanta has not turned out as planned. Although Williams may not be on his way out just yet, bringing in another wing forward to compete with him would be a smart play for the Hawks. Miller is a skilled and versatile forward, much like Williams was when he came into the league. Miller likely could have benefited from staying in school, but he could ultimately be Williams’ replacement if the Hawks are able to deal the six year veteran down the road.
24) Cleveland: Andrew Nicholson
Nicholson’s numbers at St. Bonaventure are simply jaw-dropping. His junior year he scored 20.8 points a game while shooting 57.1% from the field and only 26.1% from three. In his senior campaign, his overall scoring dropped to 18.5 points a game, yet he still shot 57.1% from the floor and a breathtaking 43.4% from distance. It is astounding that a player like Nicholson put up such impressive and consistent numbers in back to back seasons while at the same increasing his three-point attempts a game from 0.7 to 1.7. For a team that is simply in need of young talent, Nicholson would be a fantastic pick here for the Cavs.
25) Memphis: John Jenkins
OJ Mayo is a restricted free agent this offseason, but with the more restrictive penalties against teams who are over the salary cap impending, Memphis may be forced to let Mayo walk and replace him through the draft. With Mayo gone, Memphis would have an overwhelming need for a perimeter shooter and Jenkins would be an ideal fit. Jenkins led the SEC in scoring the past two seasons while shooting 43.9% from behind the arc in 2011-2012. Although he may be a reach at this point in the draft, the best three point shooter in this class would be a smart selection.
26) Indiana: Jeffrey Taylor
As impressive as Indiana looked on the wing with fixture Danny Granger and budding star Paul George, their second unit could surely use some offensive help. Taylor is physically gifted with a tremendous build and impressive athleticism. He will take time to develop into a consistent contributor on a good team, but Indiana has been patient in their development into a contender and can afford to continue waiting on a player like Taylor.
27) Miami: Festus Ezeli
Miami’s need to a big man who can defend has been well chronicled so please allow us to beat a dead horse. The Heat won a championship by going small with Chris Bosh at center and LeBron James at power forward, but James has already stated that him playing in the post is not sustainable. Ezeli represents the best big available at this point in the draft; Miami would be smart to not overthink this one and select this shot-blocking fiend who averaged 2.6 blocks a game his junior year.
28) Oklahoma City: Draymond Green
Green seems to be a perfect fit with the Thunder because of his demeanor, if for no other reason. He is willing to do anything and everything to help his team win, as demonstrated by his leading Michigan State in scoring, rebounding, and steals while finishing second on the team in assists. For a team that has its talent as evenly distributed as any in the league, Green would be a perfect addition for the Thunder because of his ability to step up in multiple capacities depending on what the circumstances call for.
29) Chicago: Will Barton
Barton’s stock has sky-rocketed enough to launch him into the first round, which could land him squarely on a contender’s bench. Players like Barton might prefer being drafted in the second round and being given a chance to play more minutes on a lesser team, but I doubt Barton will scoff at a guaranteed contract. If Rip Hamilton continues to struggle with injuries, Barton may have a shot to step in and contribute immediately as the wing scoring threat the Bulls have been looking for.
30) Golden State: Evan Fournier
I badly want to put Bernard James in this slot as he would bring some serious toughness down low to a team who has been perennially soft in the paint. However, the Warriors don’t seem to think like I do and have not been shy about drafting wing players with upside. He has good size for a perimeter player and has the ability to score in several different ways, something that Golden State has valued for years. With a late pick like this one, I would expect the Warriors to take a project like Fournier.
There have been amazing games, incredible performances, and dramatic storylines throughout these playoffs, but when it’s all said and done the one thing we will all remember is the first thing we will want to forget: the injuries. Beginning with Derrick Rose in the first round and spanning until now with Chris Bosh, some of the best players in this league have had to sit out multiple games because of a litany of bumps and bruises. Not only have fans missed out on some memorable games, but audiences have also been deprived of great individual matchups, some of which certainly would have affected the outcomes of their respective series. Here are the top five one-on-one matchups that could have been, but injuries prevented from happening in this year’s playoffs:
5. Al Horford vs. Kevin Garnett
This matchup of two of the best centers in the Eastern Conference (and no, I cannot believe I just called KG one of the best centers out East) was ruined very early on in the season, January 9th to be exact. The only reason this matchup is so low on our list is that Horford was able to make it back for Game 4 of these teams’ first round series, salvaging one of the best one-on-one matchups in the first round. During those three games, Horford went for 15.33 points a game along with 8.33 boards a game. Garnett, on the other hand, posted averages of 19 points and 8.67 rebounds over the same span. It surely would have been a treat to see these two go at it for the first three games of the series.
4. Roy Hibbert vs. Chris Bosh
Hibbert is just about as frustrating as it comes in terms of inconsistency, as shown by his point totals of 17, 8, 19, 10, 8, and 12 in Round 2. From game to game, from minute to minute even, Hibbert can go from looking like the All-Star he was this season to giving off the vibe that he is an unfinished project, which he may always be. But the great thing about Hibbert is that for every head-scratching play he makes, there’s at least one that is just as jaw-dropping. That’s why I would have loved to see Hibbert challenged over a seven game series by a player like Chris Bosh. With Bosh in the lineup, Hibbert would have been forced to extend out and defend his jumper while also attempting to maintain a defensive presence in the lane. It would have been quite the task for Hibbert to hold up over an entire series, but it at least could have given us a better idea where this big man realistically falls on his ever-changing spectrum of talent.
3. Derrick Rose vs. Jrue Holliday
We got to see these two duke it out for almost an entire game. Somehow, after only putting up 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists compared to Rose’s 23 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds, Holliday came out on top simply because he was still standing by the end of the game. Without Rose around to wear him down over the final five games of the series, Holliday posted averages of 18.6 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. Those stats nowhere approach Rose’s regular output, but Holliday was able to establish himself as Philadelphia’s most consistent offensive threat. The 76ers have to feel pretty good about their point guard heading into his third season, but you have to wonder if the franchise would be as confident about their lead guard of the future if Rose had been able to contain him in the first round and prevent an appearance in the conference semifinals.
2. Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh
We were almost lucky enough to see these two forwards-playing-center go at it in Game 5, but instead Bosh only played 14 minutes. That now makes four games we’ve missed out on seeing these two match up when they’re both one hundred percent. Granted, Garnett rarely ever matches up on the opposing team’s best big man because his strong suit lies in his help side defense, the Celtics might not have many options. In Game 6, fans and media members alike had their eyes on Bosh to see how he would spread out the Celtics’ defense with his midrange jumper. However, Bosh played sparingly and failed to consistently challenge Garnett on both ends of the floor. Although we have seen Bosh for a limited amount of time in this series, we surely have not seen his best against what could arguably be the best basketball KG has played in his career. And that, my friends, is a crying shame.
1. Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade
Bradley has turned into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Wade continues to be one of the best penetrators and finishers in both transition and the half court. How could that matchup not be a classic? Seeing one player transform into one of the most daunting defensive presences in the NBA while matching up against one of the most explosive players in the game certainly would have been a treat. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be as Bradley was knocked out of the playoffs with repeated shoulder problems. Instead, Bradley has to sit on the sidelines while his team has taken a 3-2 lead against the favored Heat and wonder what could have been if he had his shot at Wade. In a postseason that has been fascinating from so many angles, matchups like these that should have been are about all fans can find to complain about.
Can the Heat bounce back? How are they going to plug the hole in the middle with Bosh injured? Is their bench good enough? They are never going to advance if Wade keeps playing like this. Can LeBron come up big in the 4th quarter for once?
We all want to know how and when the Miami Heat are going to stumble. Any chance critics get to point out a flaw they are quick to hypothesize over the demise of the team. This team, understandably, is analyzed and picked apart like no other in the league. I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest offenders; any chance I get to rip on LeBron James and company I will take it.
But it is time for all of us to realize one thing: this team, as much as us haters loathe admitting it, has proven time and again that it can bounce back from almost anything.
Believe you me, I want to see them fail just as much as the next person, but their track record shows that this team is at its best when its doubters have the most ammunition.
You need not look further than the Heat’s first round matchup with the Indiana Pacers. After Chris Bosh went down in Miami’s Game 1 victory, they dropped two in a row to fall back 2-1. Not only that, but the way they dropped Game 3 (which Original NBA predicted) by giving up 38 points in the paint and making Roy Hibbert (19 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks) look like the franchise player he never will be, while getting only 5 points out of Dwyane Wade had the doubters in full force. Wade was injured beyond repair, the Miami bench was quite possibly the worst in these playoffs, and the Heat absolutely could not replace Chris Bosh in the middle.
However, Miami shut us all up real quick. They reeled off five straight wins to knock the Pacers out of the playoffs and go up 2-0 against the Celtics. In fact, since that game Wade has put up 26 points a game and played some of the best ball of his life. Miami has had huge games from their non-star players, including Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem. Haslem and Joel Anthony have at times filled in admirably for Bosh, who will in all likelihood be back for Game 5 against the Celtics.
Earlier in the season, when Miami lost three games in a row in January to the Warriors, Clippers, and Nuggets, critics across the country were telling us all the reasons why the Heat should be concerned in the long term. What did they do to respond? They put up 20 wins over their next 23 games. Hell, that run included a nine game winning streak and Wade even sat out six out of those 23 games.
And speaking of Wade, during the 14 games he missed due to injury, when Miami was supposed to be relegated to a two-man team incapable of running with the big boys without their leader, the Heat went 13-1.
The long and short of it is this: any time the Heat have faced significant adversity this season, they have bounced back to play some of their best basketball.
So now that they have dropped two in a row inBoston, how ever will the Heat rebound and get back on track? They will do the same thing they have done all season long and battle through the questions and just play basketball. Getting Bosh back is certainly going to help ease the pain, but even without him back in the fold, my money would be on the Heat to make a big statement against the Celtics tonight. Instead of overreacting as I and countless others have done after things don’t go Miami’s way, I instead expect them to respond to their previous two defeats in a big way. After how they responded to adversity throughout this season, I would be a fool not to expect their best tonight.
5. Gregg Popovich vs Scott Brooks
This is a matchup of great minds, both who have received the Coach of the Year award, Brooks in 2009-2010 and Popovich in 2002-2003 as well as this season. Brooks represents a fast-paced young team ready to take over the NBA while Popovich is the wily veteran who has managed to get his veteran players to buy into a system that values the team over any single player. What amazes me about the Spurs are their ability to rotate so beautifully on defense and their knack for passing up a good shot for a great shot, they always seem to make that extra pass. The Thunder surprised me several times last night when the rotated just as well, stopping the Spurs from any good looks no matter how many passes they made. If the Thunder can keep that up all series (or at least for an entire game) this series is going to be even better than anyone anticipated.
4. Tim Duncan vs Kendrick Perkins
Perkins brought to the Thunder a defensive minded post player with championship experience and toughness in the paint. He has been very important in their rise to the top, but unfortunately his counterpart in this matchup exceeds his pedigree by a longshot. Duncan has receded from his super-stardom with great dignity, taking a reduced scoring role all while maintaining solid interior defense, rebounding, and passing out of the post. Perkins may be able to stop Duncan from scoring inside (Duncan was 6 for 15 in game one) but Duncan’s vision from the post frequently leads to an assist or a pass leading to an assist. Watch for Duncan to hit those open midrange shots when Perkins is slow to rotate.
3. Kevin Durant vs Kawhi Leonard/Stephen Jackson
Last night we saw Popovich throw the combination of Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson at the scoring king Kevin Durant in an effort to at least slow him down. That strategy didn’t work so well as Durant scored 27 points on 42% shooting and was 11 for 12 from the free throw line. Leonard was struggling offensively and Jackson wasn’t a detriment on that end so the Spurs’ coach opted for the veteran late in the game. Personally, I think Leonard has a better chance at stopping Durant if you keep him out there most of the game. He has the length and athleticism to stay on him and contest those difficult shots that KD is known to make so frequently. Obviously you can’t expect anyone to shut Durant down, but if you play defense well enough on him he’ll be forced to pass it to Westbrook who has the unseemly talent of putting up terrible shots, especially late in the game. If the Spurs can figure this out they’ll have no problem in this series, but if Durant continues to produce at this level expect every game to be as competitive as last night.
2. Manu Ginobili vs James Harden
James Harden may have won 6th Man of the Year, but Ginobili has long been one of the greatest bench scorers in the NBA. Manu easily won the matchup in game one, scoring 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting while Harden struggled, going 7 for 17 with 19 points, but Harden will come out on top over the course of the series. Ginobili really stepped up his game last night, but he has struggled throughout the playoffs, which we delve deeper into here, shooting 30% from beyond the arc and 43.8% from the field. Meanwhile Harden has slipped a little in shooting from the field (41.8%) but has maintained his 3-point shooting (38.1%) and has gotten to the line almost twice as much as Ginobili (7.1 times per game compared to 3.6) while shooting 90.1% from the line. Harden’s youth, consistency, and ability to get to the line really give the Thunder an outstanding option off the bench that will surely pay dividends throughout the series.
1. Russell Westbrook vs Tony Parker
Westbrook is the epitome of what teams look for in a young point guard. He’s incredibly quick and athletic, gets to the lane with ease, has a developing jumper, and rebounds well for his position. Parker, on the other hand, is a coach’s dream of what a point guard can become. He creates his own shots as well as setting up others for shots. He always seems to know whether he should take the jumper, drive the lane, or pass up the shot and make the key extra pass to a wide open teammate. In Game One of the series this wasn’t much of a competition. Parker had 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, not to mention some key buckets towards the end of the game to extend San Antonio’s late run. Westbrook, however, went 7 for 21 from the field while accumulating 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. His shot selection towards the end of the game was a momentum killer and he could not seem to contain Parker. If the Thunder are going to win this series they will need their star point guard to step up, put that athleticism to use on defense, and work on being much more choosey with his shots.
In the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ ouster from the playoffs, fans of all allegiances are calling for the Lakers to shake up their roster if they want to compete for a title any time soon. Naturally, the first name to be mentioned is Pau Gasol. As important as Gasol was for this organization in bringing two titles to LA, he has struggled mightily in the past two postseasons (13.1 points per game on 42.0% shooting and 7.8 boards in 2010-2011 and 12.5 points on 43.4% shooting this year). The Lakers are a team that desperately needs multiple consistent contributors to add depth to a roster than saw their bench score a meager five points in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. So if the Lakers choose to deal Gasol, where might he go and what might a potential deal look like? Here are six teams that would most likely entertain the thought of adding Pau for the 2012-2013 campaign, in order of least to most likely:
6. NEW YORK KNICKS
How it could happen: The question really becomes: how desperate are the Lakers for change? If down the road they are in fact reeling after being ousted in the second round, losing GM Mitch Kupchak, and looking like a team without a plan, the New York Knicks may sneak into this conversation. Why? Two words: Amare Stoudemire. Again, this is highly unlikely, but New York may, in Stoudemire, be able to offer a star who could use a change of scenery to resurrect his career as much as Gasol does. Rather than adding more depth to their bench, the Knicks could potentially send star power in return, something that few other teams can offer. The risks are obvious here, but gambling that Amare may bounce back to his 2010-2011 levels (25.3 points per game and 8.1 rebounds) after a rollercoaster 2011-2012 season might be worth it.
The trade: New York receives Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts
Los Angeles receives Amare Stoudemire
Trade analysis: Los Angeles is not going to pull the trigger on this deal without receiving additional depth, salary cap relief, or draft picks from the Knicks. By trading away McRoberts, who had fallen out of favor in LA, the Lakers not only shed a contract, but preserve their amnesty to use on another player. LA would surely have to do some retooling of their offense to incorporate Stoudemire’s skill set but, considering the way Gasol struggled to fit in, that might not be the worst consequence. New York surely has to be thinking about ditching the idea of making a contender out of the Carmelo Anthony-Stoudemire pairing. Gasol certainly knows he is a second option and would not have as difficult a time coexisting within the same offense as Stoudemire seemed to.
5. ORLANDO MAGIC
How it could happen: There is only one person who has the power to make this trade happen: Dwight Howard. If Howard says that he would be open to signing a long-term extension with the Lakers then a Howard for Gasol trade immediately makes sense for both teams. However, the Magic are likely to ask for more than the Lakers are willing to give up, so this trade is still a long shot.
The trade: Orlando receives Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Christian Eyenga and future draft considerations
Los Angeles receives Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu
Trade analysis: Unfortunately for the Lakers, they may have to give up Bynum and Gasol to get Howard, something that may not be worth it for the Lakers. Hypothetically, a trade that has Orlando receiving Gasol and Bynum while LA brings in Howard and Turkoglu seems to be just too perfect for Orlando to ever happen. Instead, LA is more likely to offer something more along the lines of the above package for Howard. If Orlando is comfortable giving up Howard for Gasol, cap relief, and future draft picks, then this trade makes sense for both sides. The Lakers would then be able to flip Bynum, who is proving to be a major headache, for players to complement the Bryant-Howard pairing.
4. BOSTON CELTICS
How it could happen: With Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett becoming free agents this summer, Boston may be looking to revamp its roster. Rondo has got to be untouchable, unless an elite PG is coming back, so that leaves Boston with little else to offer. But again, if Los Angeles desires another star to pair with Kobe Bryant before his window slams shut, Boston should be getting a call from Lakers management about the following trade.
The trade: Boston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Paul Pierce
Trade analysis: If LA could ever convince the Celtics to give up the face of their franchise, this might be the trade that makes the most sense. Sure, it would be interesting to see how Pierce and Bryant would coexist on the same court, but along with Bynum, they would form quite possibly the third best “Big Three” in the league behind Miami and Oklahoma City. Boston could then attempt to re-sign Allen and/or Garnett, or pursue other free agents to build around Rondo, Gasol, Brandon Bass, and Avery Bradley.
3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
How it could happen: Minnesota figures to be aggressive this summer in an attempt to make the jump from rebuilding team to playoff contender. The Timberwolves were slotted as the eighth seed out West before Ricky Rubio’s injury and in order to guarantee a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they need to improve the roster. Gasol would be a natural fit in Rick Adelman’s offense as a big man who can pass, knock down open jumpers, and create his own offense.
The trade: Minnesota receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Luke Ridnour, Nikola Pekovic, and Michael Beasley
Trade analysis: In order for this trade to work, Minnesota would first have to re-sign Beasley at approximately $6.4 million. Granted, this gets tricky as Beasley is a restricted free agent and would have to agree to be signed-and-traded to the Lakers. But if the Beasley signs on, this trade could have the desired effect on both teams. Minnesota would get a player Rubio is extremely familiar with who A) would compliment Kevin Love’s game reasonably well and B) would thrive in Rick Adelman’s system. The Lakers, on the other hand, would obviously add some much needed depth. Ridnour could easily compete with Ramon Sessions for the starting spot and, at worst, would be a great back up, thus freeing the team to amnesty Steve Blake. Beasley would add some scoring off the bench that the Lakers desperately need. Pekovic is one of the rising stars in the league who, although he may not have a obviously clear role with the team, has a bright future as a solid contributor. With this trade, the Lakers would address several needs by adding point guard depth and consistency, another scorer, and a big with a high motor who can score and rebound.
2. CHICAGO BULLS
How it could happen: We wrote earlier about how, after the Derrick Rose injury, Chicago needed to seriously look at bringing in another star to compliment Rose. Considering Gasol had been on the team’s radar at the trade deadline, with Rose supposedly advocating for his team to acquire him, Gasol is a natural choice.
The trade: Chicago receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Carlos Boozer, CJ Watson, and a draft pick (No. 29 this year)
Trade analysis: This is very similar to the rumored trade discussions that happened around the deadline this year. Chicago would do this trade in a heartbeat for obvious reasons, mainly the fact that they could add Gasol without breaking up much of their core group of players. Los Angeles certainly would be a little more hesitant. However, Boozer is a guy who put up 15.0 and 17.5 points a game, respectively, in his two seasons with the Bulls despite the perception he has been a let-down. Watson, likewise, could add offensive fire power off the bench to a Lakers team that had very few contributions on the wing outside of Kobe.
1. HOUSTON ROCKETS
How it could happen: It is well documented that the Rockets have been zealous in their pursuit to add both a star and a big man. With Gasol, a player they have long coveted and almost landed before the start of this season, they could accomplish both tasks. They certainly have plenty of assets to offer the Lakers; it could simply come down to how much they are willing to give up in exchange to bring Gasol to town.
The trade: Houston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, and two draft picks (No. 14 and 16 this year)
Trade analysis: Houston is even more attractive because they possess two picks in this year’s stacked draft. Not only would this trade provide the Lakers with a satisfactory replacement for Gasol to start at PF and give them an intriguing prospect in Lowry, but they would be able to further add to the roster with these two picks. There will be an abundance of wing players who will still be on the board that could come in an contribute right away. This trade gives the Lakers a great deal of depth while replacing Gasol with Scola, a player who is only one season removed from a campaign in which he averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. The Rockets would be ecstatic to add Gasol while holding onto key pieces such as Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Patrick Patterson, Samuel Dalembert, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and Chandler Parsons.
Game 2 of the Indiana-Miami series showed just how important Chris Bosh is to the Heat’s chances of contending for a title this season. Without their best big man, Miami lost gave up its +12 advantage it had scoring in the paint in Game 1 and the rebounding margin was +10 in favor of the Pacers. Clearly, the Heat ought to be worried about their glaring disadvantage in the frontcourt.
However, more than anything else, Miami ought to fear the theory of “Mean Reversion.” This theory states that a statistic’s high and low values are only temporary and that over a longer period of time, these statistics are bound to move towards the average. In basketball terms, it’s simple really: no player or team will stay cold or hot forever; they are bound to return to normalcy.
So far in the playoffs the Pacers have not played up to their regular season standards and, more than likely, their production will return to normal sooner rather than later.
Offensively, the Pacers numbers are down across the board when compared to their regular season output. During the regular season Indiana scored 97.7 points a game on 43.8% shooting from the field and a 6th best mark of 36.8% from behind the 3-point line. In the playoffs, Indiana’s scoring is down to 91.0 points per contest while shooting only 29.3% on three-pointers. If the Pacers shot that poorly during the regular season, it would have been the worst percentage in the entire league.
Individually, several players are bound to break through. Shooting percentages for many of the Pacers’ key players have plummeted. Danny Granger shot 41.6% from the field during the regular season, but is only shooting 38.0% in these playoffs. Paul George has regressed from 44.0% to 39.0%. David West’s 48.7% conversion rate has dropped to 43.9% in the playoffs.
Roy Hibbert, who shot three out of his six field goal attempts in the first two minutes of Game 2, is bound to perform better against lesser competition. You would have to imagine that he will outperform his Game 2 numbers of 8 points on 2-6 shooting from the field. His 8.7 attempts per game are 1.6 less than he averaged during the regular season.
The theory of mean reversion would indicate that all these areas in which the Pacers are under-performing will eventually return to normal. It is highly unlikely that a very good three-point shooting team will continue to struggle in that category and that a player will shoot well below his season average.
Long story short: at some point Indiana is going to start making their threes, Granger, George, and West will step it up, and Hibbert is going to take advantage of the obvious advantage he has in the post. When all of that happens, how will the Heat respond? Certainly their defense has been a factor in keeping some of these numbers down, but a team that shoots the ball from distance as well as the Pacers do is bound to regain its form. Especially when you consider that Miami was tied for 25th worst in the league in opponents’ 3-point percentage.
Miami has to pray for a speedy recovery for Chris Bosh and that Indiana’s reversion to the mean does not happen any time soon.
Some players thrive in the playoff atmosphere, the pressure ignites something within and they call upon every ounce of talent they have to give it their all when it matters most. On the flip side some players just can’t handle the spotlight of the NBA playoffs and end up withering when their team needs them the most. These are the 5 players who improved the most from the regular season and the 5 players who saw the biggest drop offs in the 2012 playoffs.
The 5 Up
We all knew Rondo was a triple-double waiting to happen when the playoffs started, but his performance so far in the playoffs has been ridiculous nonetheless. Over the course of the Celtics’ seven playoff games Rondo has averaged 15 points, 12.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds. That’s an increase from 11.9, 11.7, and 4.8 respectively from the regular season, all while maintaining a shooting percentage around 44%. The Celtics will need his consistent play and ability to improve the veterans around him if they hope to advance past the Sixers.
Yes, the Nuggets eventually lost to the Lakers, but the series would have never made it to seven games if it weren’t for Lawson’s play. Lawson increased his scoring from 16.4 per game in the regular season to 19 in the series against the Lakers, playing almost the exact same minutes per game and meanwhile improving his shooting percentage from 48.8% to 51.4%. Lawson’s performance in game 6 and 7 are reason enough to include him on this list. In those two games he averaged 28 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting 64.9% from the field and 58.3% from beyond the arc.
Garnett has re-emerged as the KG of old in the playoffs, scoring, rebounding, and bringing the swagger that won him defensive player of the year in 2008. After averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1 block on 50.3% shooting in the regular season the 2004 season MVP has improved to 19.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks while shooting 52.9% and giving Rondo a reliable scoring option. Look no further than Game 6 against the Hawks for proof, when he scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and garnered 3 steals and 5 blocks.
In 22 games for the Clippers during the season Young provided a solid but streaky scorer off the bench. So far the former reigning “Not Top Play” champion has excelled in the playoffs. Despite seeing less minutes per game Young has averaged 8.8 points on 45.8% shooting, 59.1% from three, making the most of the 6 shots he sees per game. Considering he shot 39.4% (35.3% from three) during the regular season it’s great to see him pick up his play in the postseason. I guess it takes a little while to scrub the musk of the Wizards off you.
Hill contributed 9.6 points per game off the bench for the Pacers after they took a risky move trading Kawhi Leonard for the former Spurs guard. That move is now paying off with Hill stepping into the starting lineup and providing a reliable scorer while Darren Collison comes off the bench. The guard out of IUPUI has contributed 13.7 points per game during the playoffs and has more than doubled his trips to the free throw line where he has improved from 77.8% in the regular season to 85.3% in the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Roy Hibbert, Reggie Evans, and David West
The 5 Down
Gasol’s strength and resolve have been questioned in previous years when it came playoff time, and this postseason does nothing to refute those claims. While his counterpart in the post has maintained his performance, Pau has experienced a significant drop in a number of major statistical categories. Throughout the regular season he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and shot 50.1% despite the continued emergence of Andrew Bynum. Unfortunately during the playoffs he has regressed to 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds while only shooting 43%. The last time the Lakers won the championship Pau averaged 19.6 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 53.9%, what a difference two years make.
Ginobili struggled to stay on the court during the regular season due to injuries, but he still provided a reliable and efficient scorer off the bench that was a threat from anywhere on the floor. The Spurs have succeeded in the postseason so far despite Ginobli’s significant decline in production. After posting 12.9 points on 52.6% shooting, including 41.3% from three, Manu has been struggling to find his shot. He is averaging more shots per game (9.2 compared to 8.4) while scoring less (11.2, down from 12.9) thanks to his 41.4% field goal percentage and 27.3% from beyond the arc. The Jazz weren’t even a speed bump on the Spurs path to the championship, but the Clippers are a significantly better team. If the Spurs hope to put away good teams Ginobli is going to have to step up his production.
Bradley impressed Celtics and NBA fans alike when he stepped into the starting lineup for Ray Allen and produced spectacularly. He averaged 15.1 points while shooting 52% from the field and 54.5% from three during the month of April, a promising performance knowing Allen may have to miss some games during the playoffs. Despite his regular season burst in production Bradley has fallen hard back down to Earth after Allen returned. During the postseason Bradley is averaging 7.4 points on 38.3% shooting from the field and 23.5% from three.
Rarely does the leading scorer of a playoff team happen to be a bench player, but the Sixers put together an impressive season that led to a playoff berth with Lou Williams leading the charge with 14.9 points per game off the bench. He wasn’t the most efficient scorer (40.7% from the field and 36.2% from three) but he brought life to the second unit and proved to be a valuable asset. During the Sixers playoff run Williams has seen a drastic drop in his already not-so-efficient play. The runner up for the 2012 6th Man of the Year is currently shooting 34.8% from the field and 15.2% from three point land, making the already difficult task of taking down the Celtics that much tougher. Fortunately the Sixers have enough players that can contribute scoring that it may not be too detrimental to their playoff hopes.
The Jazz were late in joining the playoff picture and early leaving it. The young team was no match for the top-seeded Spurs and were easily taken care of in four games. I’m sure there are plenty of startling bad stats from that series, but Hayward’s performance stands out among them all. The former Butler phenom enjoyed an impressive improvement from his rookie year this season, averaging 11.8 points on 45.6% from the field and 34.6% from three. Those numbers seemed to indicate progress made on his jump shot, but they took an unfortunate turn for the worse once the playoffs started. Hayward made 6 out of his 33 shots during the series, 1 out of 12 from three, which translates to 18.2% from the field and 8.3% from three. The only player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game and had a worse shooting percentage was Iman Shumpert. However, Shumpert gets a free pass since he played 19 minutes of one game and then tore his ACL. Hayward averaged over 30 minutes per game in that series. I don’t know who to feel worse for, the guy that got injured or the one who had everyone watch him shoot slightly better than Jared Jeffries (16.7% in 6.8 minutes per game).
Honorable Mention: J.R. Smith, Deandre Jordan, C.J. Watson, O.J. Mayo, and Elton Brand
LeBron or Durant? That’s been the question all season. While other names have come and gone these two have consistently been the front runners in the MVP race all season. But who really deserves it more? The two contributors to the Original NBA lay out their cases for their MVP candidates.
The Case for Kevin Durant, by C.M.
People go on and on about the historic regular season that LeBron James had this year. Hell, at one point in the season I heard some people calling it the greatest season of all time. But just compare his numbers to those of Kevin Durant and you will be a lot less floored. This year, Durant averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks, while James posted averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals.
Fans (myself included) and members of the media are astonished by the fact that LeBron posted significant numbers in several different categories. I mean, seriously, how many guys in the league can put up 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals a night? But Durant’s numbers are equally as impressive.
The difference here is that Durant puts up great numbers in the “big man” categories (rebounds and blocks) but does not excel in the guard categories (assists and steals). However, his numbers down low are pretty damn impressive for a wing player as wiry as he is.
The reality is that people think of Durant as simply a scorer, whereas LeBron gets credit as the one guy in the league who can effect a game in every way imaginable. Admittedly, Durant will not penetrate and dish like James, he won’t run an offense like LeBron can, and he isn’t going to shut down the other team’s best player like LeBron can. But Durant doesn’t need to do those things for his team to win like LeBron does. Durant has other guys on his team who can run a pick and roll, who can create for others, and who can shut down the opposition. Instead, KD excels as a scorer (where his input is needed most) and as a rebounder and shot blocker (areas where others on his team specialize).
The Heat need LeBron’s efforts to maintain the delicate balance they have on their roster; the Thunder use Durant’s extra efforts all over the court to put them over the top in several categories.
If you replace Durant with another scorer who would put up those same exact 28 points a game while shooting 49.6% from the field, 86% from the line, and 38.7% from beyond the three-point line, the Thunder become a team struggling for home court advantage. But with Durant on their side, they continue to score the ball at the third highest rate in the league while also standing out as the best shot blocking team and the sixth best rebounding team. For all LeBron’s efforts,Miami still ranks No. 21 overall in both rebounding and assists.
Simply put, Durant puts his team over the top while LeBron is the keeping his team afloat in many different areas.
Lastly, Durant deserves credit for taking a team full of youngsters and delivering them to the third best record in the league; whereas James’ team is stacked with proven veterans. Oddly enough, it is the young Thunder squad who is known around the league for having laser-like focus and the Heat who have a reputation for going through lulls throughout the season. Durant, as the unquestioned leader of his team, deserves a ton of credit for that. He has done everything for this team from leading, to deferring when needed, to sacrificing his body. And for that, he is the MVP.
The Case for LeBron James, by J.M.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. I am not a fan of LeBron. I disliked him when he came into the league and dubbed himself “King James” and that disdain grew when he pulled off “The Decision.” I cheer for almost any opponent he faces and gain sustenance from his 4th quarter meltdowns. With that said, LeBron is easily the best player in the NBA and my vote for the regular season MVP.
After an MVP-caliber 2010-2011 season that was only out-shown by the “anybody but LeBron” MVP race, LeBron took to the offseason aiming to improve his game and take this Miami Heat team to an NBA Championship. With the way he has played this team doesn’t look too far away from that goal. He improved in almost every category including: field goal percentage (53.1%), three point percentage (36.2%), rebounds (7.9 per game), and points (27.1 per game), all while playing less minutes, taking the same number of shots, and greatly improving his post game and defense.
While the argument can be made for Kevin Durant as MVP it is not nearly as strong. Yes, Durant is the better scorer and in all likelihood I would choose him over LeBron in a late game scenario, but his advantage ends there. LeBron is the better rebounder, passer, and defender and a more valuable asset to his team. Some people may argue that because LeBron has one of the best wing players in the league on his side (Wade) along with faux-star Chris Bosh he cannot possibly be the most valuable player. The issue with this argument is that while LeBron may have the better superstar sidekicks, Durant has a team built around him. Surrounding Durant are Westbrook, a young star point guard, Harden, a young wing scorer off the bench, Ibaka, a young dominant defensive presence, and Perkins, a veteran, championship-winning, hard-nosed, post player.
The key difference is that the Thunder were assembled to work as a team, each player knows their role and they almost always defer to Durant (at least this season after the whole “Durant or Westbrook” debacle last playoffs). LeBron, however, is burdened with the task of keeping the Heat afloat without any key role players and two sidekicks who are accustomed to being ball-dominant players. The fact that LeBron distributed the ball well enough to keep both Wade and Bosh scoring frequently and efficiently (22.1 ppg 49.7% FG and 18 ppg 48.7% FG respectively) is reason in itself to hand him this award. I haven’t even mentioned that LeBron was far and away the most efficient player in the league with a PER of 30.8, three points higher than the man in second, Chris Paul, and nearly four points ahead of Durant who placed in fourth.
I know it’s hard to place yourself objectively off the anti-LeBron bandwagon, I struggle with it plenty of times, but when it comes down to it, we all know LeBron is going to win the MVP, and rightfully so. Now if only he could work on that hairline.