2017 NBA Free Agency Recap

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With most of the big names signing deals over the weekend, the NBA Free Agency Frenzy is basically wrapped up. Apart from a possible Carmelo Anthony move, I don’t have much investment left in the guys still on the market. So, in case you were out celebrating the holiday like I was and missed the headlines (or if you haven’t seen my past 2 posts in which I correctly predicted most of the signings: Part 1 and Part 2)… allow me to recap. Let’s take a look at what went down during NBA free agency this past week.

 

Paul GeorgeImage result for paul george

The Paul George Saga finally ends in the most fitting way possible… a surprise trade to Oklahoma City. I use the word “end” loosely, because I know his name will be thrown around quite a bit next season when he is a true unrestricted free agent. But for now, we must analyze how this helps the Thunder and the Pacers. Here’s my take: it doesn’t.

The only thing I like is that a deal finally got done, and we can finally stop talking about it. Unfortunately, nobody wins in this trade. The Pacers are taking on more money for long-term control of Victor Oladipo, whom I really like, but he’s obviously not even close to the realm of caliber that George possesses. But the main reason I don’t like this trade from Indiana’s perspective is because it seems like they panicked and signed off on a deal too soon. There were plenty of other suitors with a lot more to offer, and I don’t agree with settling in their situation. While it’s nice that they got something for the departing George, I think they missed a huge opportunity.

As for the Thunder, while they become moderately competitive in the short-term, once things don’t work out this year (I’ll get to that in a minute), they will be left with an organization stuck in the cellar for at least a decade – I’m not exaggerating. Listen, Chris Paul and James Harden will be great together. Paul can play with anybody, as he’s an exceptionally adaptable PG. Russell Westbrook is NOT. He played very well with Kevin Durant in OKC, don’t get me wrong… but what happened when Durant left? The Thunder became Westbrook’s team and he more than earned the MVP honors with 42 triple-doubles. So now the Thunder grabs another strong, sharp-shooting, small forward to presumably make their team stronger. And yeah, it does on paper, but at the cost of making their best player weaker. So whether or not they win the extra 5 or 10 games, they are still the 3rd or 4th best team in the loaded Western Conference, and will ultimately fall short of their lofty goals.

So, then what happens? Paul George won’t want to re-sign to a sinking ship… he will leave in free agency. Likewise, Russell Westbrook will be sick of mediocrity and opt out of his contract and enter free agency himself. Therefore, the Thunder will lose their only 2 legitimate players and   be left with literally nothing with which to build. The only way they can save this from happening is to realize the mistake they’ve made and trade George before the deadline to a desperate, competitive team that might over-buy. Then, before Westbrook takes advantage of his player option, offer a sign-and-trade like the Clippers offered Chris Paul. I hope GM Sam Presti recognizes the reality of Oklahoma City’s situation, and takes action before it’s too late…

Blake GriffinImage result for blake griffin

He’s baaaaack! The first of a multitude of re-signings saw Blake Griffin earn a max deal in L.A. There’s not much to say.  The Clippers had a ton of excess cash after trading Chris Paul, and Griffin wanted a max deal. So, this was a great job on both sides getting it done and forming a relationship for the next 5 years.

The downside is that the Clippers aren’t good enough. Again, stuck in the West, they can barely hope for a playoff spot with their current roster. The reward for a 6-8 seed is a date with the Warriors, Rockets, or Spurs on the road. If that’s the Clippers goal, so be it. But in the end this deal doesn’t accomplish anything except a more stable look at their future.

 

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Kyle Lowry is in a similar position as Griffin. Because of his age, ability, and playing style, he had limited options this offseason for his asking price. As I said prior to his signing, despite a less-than-attractive offer from Toronto, it was his best choice. I love that he can continue to dominate with DeMar DeRozan, but the re-signing only keeps the Raptors in the same situation as last year. No step back, but no progress either.

Meanwhile, they are still not as good as the Cavaliers, and the Celtics have made great strides to improve. That leaves the Raptors as the 3rd best team in the East if everything goes their way where, of course, they would wend their way to a 3rd-straight elimination by the Cavs in Round 2 of the playoffs. Again, if that’s Toronto’s goal, so be it. As long as their roster looks the way that it does, nothing will change, and they can continue to look forward to getting ousted early in the playoffs every year.

 

Paul MillsapImage result for paul millsap

This 3-year, $90 million signing makes a lot of sense. Millsap was in talks with the Nuggets, Suns, Kings, and Hawks, but ultimately chose the Nuggets due to their young core and upside for the future. After missing the playoffs by just one game last year, Millsap can definitely put Denver over the edge and extend their season in 2018 assuming they effectively clear out the excess salaries to meet the cap space requirements.

This decision was made easier by Millsap’s claim that his other top contender, Atlanta, failed to make an offer. He also said that he felt very comfortable in Denver and that they made a compelling pitch. Despite the abrupt end in Atlanta, it seems as though all sides are very content with the proceedings. While Atlanta is in rebuild mode, they are luckily in the very weak Eastern Conference, and Millsap can stay somewhat competitive in the stronger Western Conference. However, like I said about the Clippers, I wonder how long the Nuggets will be content with a low playoff seed.

 

Gordon HaywardImage result for hayward

Finally, the decision we’ve all been waiting for… Gordon Hayward. As ESPN put it… should he choose Money, Respect, or Power? The Heat’s Pat Riley offered Hayward everything he could ask for. Great beaches, great fans, great atmosphere, oh yeah… and a max contract. The Jazz had the ability to offer Hayward more money long-term, but most would agree that Salt Lake City is no Miami, and he would certainly have earned some respect from everyone who has followed his story.

However, in the end, Hayward decided to move to Boston and join Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford as the next powerful Big 3. With so much speculation leading to this decision, there is already plenty of talk about what this means for the NBA.  In my opinion, it doesn’t change as much as you might think.

Hayward adds a secondary option that can flat-out shoot, and he’s a great defender that can make the Celtics competitive on both sides of the ball. While that’s great news for an excessively deep Celtics team, they already earned the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference last year. So, all they can really do to improve is beat the Cavs. Does Hayward do that?

I’m still not sure. At best, they are now equals, and Boston has a 50/50 shot at winning Game 7 against the Cavs to advance and lose to the Warriors in the Finals. I’m cautiously optimistic that Boston will try to trade a few of it’s excess players that it can no longer afford in exchange for a big-time big man. If they trade 2 or 3 forwards and another depth position plus a draft pick or two, there isn’t a team in the country that could say no. Obviously, that’s not the fairest deal of all-time, but the Celtics have the room to do it. Adding one final piece can put Boston over the top and give them a shot at taking down Golden State. Until then, the dynasty will live on.

UPDATE: The Celtics are rumored to be trading Avery Bradley and a 2nd round pick to the Pistons for PF Marcus Morris. Bradley has shown in recent years that he is an excellent guard with amazing defensive skills, so while I’m happy that Boston got their big man, I would’ve tried to keep Bradley for his last year under contract as a 6th man. Nonetheless, they have met the NBA-mandated budget restrictions and filled out their well-rounded roster… job well done.

 

With the NBA news stories wrapping up, it’s time for me to move back to the MLB. If you’re looking forward to more NBA coverage, be sure to tune back in around October for my full NBA preview and predictions. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me at maleopold15@gmail.com for any questions or comments regarding all things basketball.

Until then, please enjoy my midsummer baseball reports, All-star reactions, the long-awaited trade deadline mayhem, and an update on who can play in October. Cheers!

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2017 NBA Draft Winners & Losers

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After the draft concluded, many were left with a bunch of questions regarding players taken too early, falling too far, or being traded before they were even selected. Allow me to break down what happened on draft night, and let’s take a look at those winners and losers.

Winners:

Sacramento Kings– I was very impressed with the Kings to say the least. With a need at every position, they managed to stretch their resources and acquire 4 big name players. Their 2017 class is highlighted by superstar De’Aaron Fox, who is capable of earning rookie of the year. Alongside Fox is fellow point guard Frank Mason, who exhibited maturity and leadership throughout his 4 years at Kansas. Furthermore, the Kings traded their 10th pick for an underrated small forward in Justin Jackson, and a natural scorer in Harry Giles. Overall, the Kings just needed a bunch of players to step into roles all over their depth chart, and they did that on Thursday night. I hope the management can continue to make more decisions like these.

Minnesota Timberwolves– Obviously, the T-wolves are not just winners because of their draft pick, but because they were able to trade for one of my favorite players in the league. Jimmy Butler is the superstar Minnesota was missing, and he’s a huge upgrade from a guard recovering from an ACL tear. Furthermore, despite dropping 9 spots in the draft, the Timberwolves were still able to get Justin Patton and provide depth at center. Patton is a big body that can make space for Karl Anthony Towns and pick up some rebounds, too. With Rubio being a pass-first point guard, the T-Wolves are set to break into the postseason.

Portland Trailblazers– A genius move by the GM to trade up gives the Trailblazers a huge boost in 2018. Last year, the Blazers were unfortunate enough to draw the Warriors in Round 1, but with Zach Collins and my man Caleb Swanigan on board, they are in position to win their division and lock up home-court advantage next year. Before I get too ahead of myself, I want to take a look at this starting 5. First, one of the best back courts in basketball, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe unleash 3-point barrages every night. Also, Jusuf Nurkic really came into his own last year and proved he can be a key role player in the Blazers’ success. Now, two big men with experience in college are fully prepared for the pressure of the next level. Collins was a vital part of Gonzaga’s runner-up finish in the tournament, and Swanigan helped Purdue coast to the regular season Big Ten title and collected some personal hardware. I still don’t think anyone compares to the Warriors, but it doesn’t get much closer than Portland.

Los Angeles Lakers– I’m really loving this new-look Lakers team. Starting with Brooks Lopez and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers picked up a stellar point guard with pick #2. Lonzo Ball has proven he can play despite some questions on his shooting touch. Then, with the #27 pick the Lakers got Kyle Kuzma. I really didn’t care for this because he is undersized, unproven, and just not a great fit for the organization. But then I thought, he might be a good fit in Indiana… So, I hope L.A. can redeem themselves by shipping Kuzma, Julius Randle, and perhaps a draft pick to the Pacers for Paul George. Lastly, the Lakers traded their 28th pick for Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a great talent from the University of Indiana, so it would be a nice story to see him traded too, but he’s a solid backup if Lopez needs rest. But the cherry on top, the icing on the cake, the ribbon to tie this package together- Josh Hart. An NCAA Champion groomed by some of the best coaches in college basketball, Hart is a stable leader with maturity L.A. can lean on when times get tough. If they get George- you’re looking at a serious contender in 2018.

 

Losers:

Orlando Magic– The Magic got some nice talent, but it just didn’t fit their draft needs. While Elfrid Payton is a lock at point guard, I feel they really need depth there, and a good shooting guard with the 6th pick. Instead, they went for Jonathan Isaac who is admittedly a very versatile player, but just not the right fit for Orlando. His style is a lot like Terrance Ross, and if you add on Aaron Gordon, it appears as though they’ve created a log jam in the forward position. So the next pick will surely be a guard, right? No. Seven-footer Anzejs Pasecniks. He’s a great international player don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know why the Magic felt they needed him to challenge Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo in the 5-spot. Now the Magic have no stability in the front court, and no depth in the back court. Yikes.

Chicago Bulls Fans– No, not the Chicago Bulls, but the fans. I don’t hate the trade as much as everyone seems to. Yes, the Bulls traded away a superstar and any chance they had at making the Divisional Round, but check this out: On Tuesday night they offered to give the Celtics Jimmy Butler for the #3 pick straight up, and luckily for Chicago, the Celtics somehow declined. So on Thursday, they get pick #7, a budding two-guard with lots of energy, and last year’s #5 overall pick. That doesn’t sound to bad to me when you consider the position the Bulls are in. Torn between going all-in or rebuilding, I think this is a great way to hit the reset button. Sorry Bulls fans, you’ll have to wait a couple of years to contend again, but take solace in the fact that this trade isn’t as bad as everyone is making it seem. Also, Lauri Markkanen is an absolute stud, so maybe you’ll make it back to the playoffs before you know it.

Utah Jazz– This was not a good night for Utah. It started off well with a trade up to draft the athletic Donovan Mitchell. I thought, “Great! He’s a solid backup if Gordon Hayward stays, and a good replacement of he leaves.” Well, then comes Tony Bradley and Nigel Williams-Goss. A national champion and the guy he beat. Unfortunately, neither player has the body for the NBA. Bradley is a raw prospect who needs a lot of conditioning, and Goss is a workhorse on defense but struggles on the offensive end. With that I realized, if Hayward leaves, the Jazz are screwed. And by drafting two guards, it appears the Jazz might be preparing for just that. It was fun while it lasted Utah…

Miami Heat– The Heat only had one pick and they blew it. Bam Adebayo was completely out of my 2017 NBA Mock Draft, and cannot be a difference maker for a team that missed the playoffs by one game. And fine, it’s one game, they can make that up, right? Well maybe, but look at all the talent that got scooped up in this draft by the teams behind the Heat. While Miami stays stagnant, teams like the 76ers and Hornets are making moves to pass them. Had they drafted Justin Jackson or Justin Patton, I would have put them in the Winners column for finding someone to work with Whiteside and prove the difference to breaking into the playoffs. Instead, the Heat will be stuck in limbo again in 2018.

 

So there you have it. Do you think I nailed it? Or did I get it all wrong? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check out my 2017 NBA Draft Grades for in-depth analysis of every first round pick.

LIVE: 2017 NBA Draft Grades

The NBA Draft is live with Sports Thoughts! Watch with me as I react and give grades for each team as their picks come in. Whether you can see what happens on ESPN or not, be sure to check back in to this post for the latest updates on all the action. And as always, feel free to discuss all the surprises and trades in the comments below and let me know what you think! Also, if you want to see how my predictions stack up, you can find them here: 2017 NBA Mock Draft. Now, join me as we take a look at the future stars of the NBA find their new homes.

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1      Philadelphia 76ers- Markelle Fultz, PG Washington

A.  This comes as no surprise as Fultz is far and away the most dynamic player in the draft and his self-described unorthodox playing style gives defenders fits. His phenomenal talent and ball-handling skills are enough to go #1, but what sets him apart is his leadership and ability to make his teammates better. With Fultz at the helm, the new era of 76ers basketball is here.

2      Los Angeles Lakers- Lonzo Ball, PG UCLA.

A-. The California kid is coming home! A predictable pick given L.A.’s preparation for the draft, Ball is a perfect fit in the Lakers’ game plan. He surely impressed new president Magic Johnson during his private workouts with his court vision and impressive work ethic. I only worry that his father may become an unnecessary distraction for the franchise. Regardless, time will tell if L.A. has the means to put the rest of the pieces together to make the Lakers a championship contender again.

3      Boston Celtics- Jayson Tatum, SF Duke

B+. The first mini-surprise of the draft falls to Boston. Given the fact that Josh Jackson never got a chance to work out for Danny Ainge’s Celtics, it’s not too shocking to see them take the safe route. Nonetheless, they got a gifted scorer who can mesh with Isaiah Thomas and help take the Celtics to the next level

4      Phoenix Suns- Josh Jackson, SF Kansas

A+. The Suns happily capitalized on Jackson falling right in their lap. A #1 overall talent, Jackson is an excellent rim protecter, and he always knows what to do with the ball in his hands. There is a small hole in his jump shot, but with extensive offseason training among the best coaches in the world, I expect Jackson to mold into the face of the franchise in Phoenix.

5      Sacramento Kings- De’Aaron Fox, PG Kentucky

A+. I love this guy for his personality alone. A likable character from a proven NCAA school, Fox is more than ready to take on the NBA. Furthermore, expect his vendetta with Ball to drive him to succeed in Sacramento. Despite my feelings for the decline of the Kings, I’m really excited to see what Fox can do at the next level.

6      Orlando Magic- Jonathan Isaac, SF Florida State

B. Another hometown kid makes the quick drive from Tallahassee to Orlando. Isaac is a great athlete with excellent defense. He can play all over the front court, and he has good range. For these reasons, I don’t mind the pick. However, I would have liked to see the Magic firm up their back court and establish stability before looking for big men, especially considering Isaac is not known for his strength down low.

7      “Chicago Bulls”- Lauri Markkanen, PF Arizona

A+. TRADE ALERT: The Bulls were able to trade Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and take the 7th pick as well as Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn to officially start the rebuilding process. Another man that will help is Markkanen. I had the Bulls selecting a big small forward with pick 16, so an upgrade to this 7-foot sharpshooter is well worth the trade. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in the lineup with the way Nikola Mirotic has been playing lately, but Bulls fans can still be excited about the post-Butler era.

8      New York Knicks- Frank Ntilikina, PG France

A. You may recall the last reaction New York fans had after drafting an international player. However, none of the boos rained down on this guy. A truly gifted guard from France, the 6’5″ Frenchman has an excellent basketball IQ with a smooth fluidity to his game. Already familiar with top international competition, it won’t take long for Ntilikina to be the next big thing for the Knicks.

9      Dallas Mavericks- Dennis Smith Jr., PG NC State

A. I’m very impressed with the picks so far. Smith Jr. was my preseason #1, but after seeing him struggle with a poor NC State team this year, I still think he’s a good value in the top 10. His size and ability to drive to the hoop is a huge advantage, and he’s an easy plug-and-play in Dallas.

10      “Portland Trailblazers”- Zach Collins, PF Gonzaga

A+. TRADE ALERT: Portland moves up to #10 by trading picks 15 and 20. I like this move a lot because there isn’t much the Trailblazers can do to get better with a bunch of late round draft picks, and the Kings just need to stockpile assets. So, the Trailblazers go out and pick up a big team need with Collins. A huge presence under the rim, Portland now has a well-developed roster that can go out and win their division in 2018. They may not be championship caliber yet, but I commend their efforts by building a team the right way.

11      Charlotte Hornets- Malik Monk, SG Kentucky

A+. Finally! So far the steal of the draft, Monk lands in Charlotte. All of a sudden this roster is starting to look a little bit scary. With Kemba Walker and Monk holding up the back court and Cody Zeller and Dwight Howard down low, the Hornets are definitely capable of making the playoffs next year. It’ll be interesting to see how the new tools build chemistry, but if they work together throughout the summer, there will be no problem making the most of their combined talents.

12      Detroit Pistons- Luke Kennard, SG Duke

A. I apologize for all the high grades, but I’m really loving how well scouts and GMs are getting the perfect fit for their teams in this deep class. Kennard is one of the best shooters in the draft with great basketball IQ. Perhaps not a starter for the struggling Pistons, he can still be a very useful 6th man that contends for serious minutes in Detroit.

13      “Utah Jazz”- Donovan Mitchell, SG Louisville

A+. TRADE ALERT: The Jazz trade up and select a very athletic guard from Louisville who can play behind (or replace) Gordon Hayward. Like the Blazers, the Jazz knew they cannot get much better with a late-round pick, and wisely moved up to nab Mitchell. If they can sign Hayward back, I expect the Jazz to be back fighting for 2nd in the Western Conference next year.

14      Miami Heat- Bam Adebayo, PF Kentucky

C+. My first disappointment. Adebayo has great size, and you can never underestimate a Kentucky Wildcat, but I feel there are way better power forwards on the board. I like addressing their biggest need and giving help to Hassan Whiteside though. Hopefully he can be a big contributor to the best team to miss the playoffs, but I think Miami could’ve done better.

15      “Sacramento Kings”- Justin Jackson, SF North Carolina

A+. With their second of 3 picks now, the Kings pick up an awesome small forward. Many think he’s overrated, but I think he’s quite the opposite. I thought the All-American and NCAA Champion should fall 13th, and I’m thrilled to see him picked higher than the experts thought. His 6’9″ frame can control the glass and he has a very reliable jump shot. Nice job by the Kings so far.

16      “Minnesota Timberwolves”- Justin Patton, C Creighton

A-. Along with one of the best players in the league in Butler, the Timberwolves pick up Patton with their 1st pick. A very strong center, Patton excelled in the Big East. He may be young, but he has a very high ceiling and great range for a big man. I do have a couple more mobile centers above Patton, but if the T-wolves are looking for some muscle, they got it.

17      Milwaukee Bucks- D.J. Wilson, PF Michigan

D+. While Wilson has great length, he pales in comparison to my prediction of Anibogu. Furthermore, Wilson has a very low floor and a surprisingly small sample size even though he is a junior. I just don’t see where he fits on the floor in Milwaukee. If he can perform like he did at the end of his 2017 season, then great. However, I think he will wind up as a bust. Whatever the case, the Wolverine is now a Buck (haha).

18      Indiana Pacers- T.J. Leaf, PF UCLA

B. Leaf is a great power forward who can knock down 3s like nobody’s business. He also offers hustle on the defensive end and always exhibits a great work ethic. Furthermore, the UCLA freshman has shown great maturity, especially in the wake of all of the Lavar Ball distractions. All of that said- I don’t think he’s a first round talent. With the depth of big men in the draft, I think the Pacers had much better options with similar skill sets.

19      Atlanta Hawks- John Collins, PF Wake Forest

A+. Speaking of better power forwards, Collins is another big steal. A projected lottery pick, Collins commands the floor and has a seemingly endless battery. His energy can revitalize the Hawks as they start from scratch next year. Also, with Howard and Paul Millsap gone, he’s desperately needed to fill the void and perhaps start on opening night.

20      “Sacramento Kings”- Harry Giles, C Duke

B-. Mmmm. I’m fine with this, but Giles has some durability problems. Though he has some experience under his belt from a great university, I think there are better all-around players on the board. But if the Kings are looking for a great inside scorer and a good post player like Demarcus Cousins, it doesn’t get better than Giles.

21      Oklahoma City Thunder- Terrance Ferguson, SG Australia

B. Ferguson is a lengthy shooting guard who took his talents overseas instead of going to college. It paid off well for him as he absolutely excelled in the NBL down under. However, as I said in my predictions, it’s always risky to draft international players, and this 19 year old is definitely no exception. The NBL is not necessarily up-to-par with the USA college basketball programs, so it’ll be interesting to see how Ferguson’s skills translate. This is one of those boom or bust selections.

22      Brooklyn Nets- Jarrett Allen, C Texas.

A+. And finally here comes the worst team in the NBA last year. I had the Nets drafting Pasecniks, but that was considering Allen was off the board. So I really like that they’re addressing the need at center with Brooks Lopez gone. Allen is one of the most athletic centers in this class, and he’s a gifted defender with great hands off the glass. The Nets will depend on him to help slowly turn their organization around.

23      Toronto Raptors- OG Anunoby, SF Indiana

A-. The best player left from my mock draft, Anunoby is an athletic forward that can stretch the floor in Toronto. He can definitely help the Raptors continue their success in the regular season as long as Kyle Lowry stays in town, but I doubt he helps them get over the hump in the playoffs. Ousted by Cleveland the past two years, the Raptors probably need a little more help to compete with the Cavs and to go after a title.

24      “Denver Nuggets”- Tyler Lydon, SF/PF Syracuse

A+. I’ll be honest, this is mainly an A+ because I correctly predicted a pick this late. But don’t let that fact take away from Lydon’s all-around ball skills. A good passer with stamina to go up-and-down the floor, Lydon fits well in the Nuggets’ roster. I like this trade even more because Denver was able to drop back 11 picks in the draft, pick up a team need, and gain another asset in Trey Lyles. Very well done.

25      Orlando Magic- Andzjes Pasecniks, C Latvia

A. Orlando is a team that loves international scouting, and I’m sure they’re confident with this athletic big man. He’s a tall presence with tons of momentum in the lane that compliments fellow draftee Isaac very well. The Magic now have a very young inexperienced roster, but they look forward to growing together and building chemistry to be competitive in the future. Let’s also hope they hit the weight room because none of the starters have much strength right now, and that can lead to losing a lot of rebound battles.

26      Portland Trailblazers- Caleb Swanigan, PF Purdue

A+. YES! The Big Ten Player of the Year is by far the most underrated player in the draft. A relentless scorer, the 250-pounder loves to work his way around the lane. He also has a reliable fadeaway and jump shot if he can’t get the layup he wants. His shoot-first, aggressive mentality is key for a team trying to make a deep run in the playoffs.

27      “Los Angeles Lakers”- Kyle Kuzma, SF Utah

D+. He might be trade bait for Paul George, but there are way better small forwards out there. Kuzma is a hard worker, but undersized for the position. While he had a good season for the Utes, they still failed to make the NCAA tournament. I just think this was a missed opportunity for L.A.

28      “Utah Jazz”- Tony Bradley, C North Carolina

F. TRADE ALERT: The Jazz move up two selections to get this center from the Lakers… but why? They already have Rudy Gobert and, again, there are better big men with more size and mobility on the board. Bradley is a winner, but he struggles to maintain long minutes on the floor. Come playoff time for the Jazz, that is a big red flag. I would’ve preferred seeing Anigbogu, Hartenstein, or White here depending on Hayward’s pending decision.

29      San Antonio Spurs- Derrick White, PG/SG Colorado

A-. White is a small guard that can learn a lot from Tony Parker. With a bunch of trade rumors surrounding the Spurs, it might appear they’re selling this offseason instead of buying. I really wanted to see Chris Paul in San Antonio, but with LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green on the trading block, the Spurs might be willing to put their 20-year playoff run at risk to reload for the future.

30      “Los Angeles Lakers”- Josh Hart, SG Villanova

A++. Josh Hart isn’t the best player left on the board, but I LOVE this pick. Hart is a natural leader (and an Eagle Scout like myself), who will be vital in the Lakers’ success. I’m one of Hart’s biggest fans, and I’m thrilled to have called this pick by Los Angeles. Now the Lakers have two outstanding young guards, Brandon Ingram, a veteran Brooks Lopez, and potentially Paul George? Look out Western Conference. Look out.

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That wraps up the first round and does it for me tonight. Thank you to all of those who tuned in! Before I go, here are a few more players I like in the second round:

Ike Anigbogu, C UCLA– Has the most length in this class, and is an intimidating presence in the paint

Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C Germany– A tall shooter with a little bit to learn, he can provide key minutes for ailing centers

Semi Ojeleye, SF/PF SMU– Incredibly very strong, athletic forward that can run the pick-and-pop to provide a versatile offensive attack

Jordan Bell, PF Oregon– Really good scorer with some solid experience. He can be a great asset to a team with a depleted front court

Frank Mason III, PG Kansas– Mason is very undersized and may never be a starter in the NBA, but he is another natural leader with a great motor off the bench

 

Thanks for reading and stay tuned to hear my winners and losers of this year’s draft in the coming days.

2017 NBA Finals Game 5 Reactions

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And with that, the 2016-2017 NBA season is in the books. I wish I could say I am surprised, but I’ll take my preseason pick becoming champions and a 1.000 record in the playoffs any day. Let’s take a look at how the Warriors triumphed, and at what we can expect in 2018.

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One word: identity. The Warriors are comfortable with up-tempo, quick possessions; score fast and score often. Over the course of the playoffs they were able to develop chemistry amongst their all-stars to a point where everyone was comfortable no matter who had the ball. This camaraderie would’ve been heightened during the regular season had it not been for Kevin Durant’s knee injury. Had everyone been healthy all year, we may have seen more of the dominant 31-2 run to end the season.

As the Warriors found themselves in the postseason, they stayed true to their comfort zone and controlled game pace and hit shots they knew they could make. It was a nice effort by the Cavs after Game 3, but had they played that aggressively from the outset, their season might not have been over yet. Only when the Cavaliers got under the Warriors’ skin did the facade begin to crack. If Game 4 wasn’t enough evidence of this, the scuffle in the second quarter (pictured below) led to the Cavs’ comeback before GSW was able to put them away late.

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With the help of their home crowd and some mental fortitude, the Warriors did it. They overcame one last obstacle en route to the second of many titles to come. LeBron James’ herculean effort wasn’t enough. Neither was J.R. Smith’s 7 3’s in Game 5. It was just too little, too late. The Warriors were consistent throughout the season, and will continue to be for years to come. That’s the best thing about Golden State… they don’t beat themselves. It takes a 110% all-around team performance, plus an off-night, for the Dubs to take an L. To have that happen four times out of seven? Nearly impossible.

Shifting gears a little to the controversial Durant decision, you have to give him credit. Agree or disagree with how he won his first NBA Championship, you can’t say he didn’t earn it. Averaging more than 35 points per game is more than enough for the Finals MVP honors. It’s quite the role-reversal from 2012, in which Durant lost to give James his first Championship. It’s pretty cool to check out the images below that capture the difference (or lack thereof) from 2012 to 2017.

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Now, with a dynasty firmly in place pending a huge Stephen Curry contract extension, what does it mean for the rest of the NBA? Answer: Lots of movement every season. Unfortunately, we’ve entered an era in which there is no more loyalty to one’s hometown. If a player wants to win titles, it takes a super team. While the Cavs and Warriors are the clear favorites for next season, the Celtics aren’t far behind.

The defending conference champions, Boston scored the #1 pick in the draft via a trade with the Brooklyn Nets a few years ago. Furthermore, they’re regarded as a prime landing spot for Utah Jazz front-man Gordon Hayward. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers are in position to draft Lonzo Ball, as well as to attract the likes of Paul George. Thirdly, as Chris Paul struggles to hit his stride in L.A., perhaps he can move to San Antonio and help the Spurs. I’m personally not a fan of all of this shifting around to chase championships, but it’s probably moot. It’s going to take everything the league has to offer for the Warriors to surrender their title next season, and I’m not sure any of these scenarios would be enough. With all of that movement merely rumors for now, I fully expect to see Cavaliers vs. Warriors IV in 2018. Until then…

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, 2017 NBA Champions.

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2017 NBA Finals Game 4 Reactions

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They’re not dead yet! After a historic night indeed, the Cavaliers stave off elimination and live to fight another day. “Fight” is the operative word, as Cleveland showed they were not about to watch their season end with a sweep. Let’s take a look at some mind-blowing statistics, how the Cavs found help from an unlikely uniform, and a few other takeaways as we try to digest what just happened.

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First things first… I was wrong. The Cavs overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to move past Game 3 to excel in Game 4. Furthermore, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James showed incredible focus on and off the court as they try to claw out of this deficit day by day. Before I go any further, however, allow me to share some facts from Friday night:

-The Cavaliers’ 137-116 victory is the largest margin of this NBA Finals, as they continue to improve with each game.

-Cleveland’s 49 points in the first quarter (and only 5 came from James) is an NBA Finals record, and their 86 first half points is an all-time record.

-The Cavs’ 13 3s in the first half and 24 3s in the game broke the Golden State’s NBA Finals record that they set 5 days before.

-Kevin Durant scored over 30 for the fourth time, as the Warriors truly didn’t play a bad game by putting up 116 points.

-Irving’s ridiculous 40 points and James’s 31-point triple-double was finally enough to outscore the Warriors. So that’s what it takes every game!?

-There were 7 technical fouls and 1 flagrant in this grudge match, but more on that later.

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With Cleveland’s offensive explosion in Game 4, fans and critics alike have shifted from, “Can the Warriors sweep?” to, “Can the Warriors still win?”.  As crazy as that sounds, it might not be that far-fetched. I’m not saying to bet against GSW just yet, but there is definitely still a lot of hope and grit in Believeland. Their outburst and composure throughout the wild Game 4 was remarkable… but is it sustainable?

I would say not. With the referee’s calling foul after foul as the Warriors continued to be incensed with the multitude of technicals, the Cavs home court was a huge plus. As Cleveland’s physical play and the crowd’s jeers got under Golden State’s skin, things snowballed into chaos. The Cavs won’t get that same treatment in Oakland. Whether or not the refs take the game away from the players with their constant whistles, the raucous fans at Oracle Arena will make things 10x harder on the Cavaliers to find their groove.

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Listen, it’s the Finals. Let ’em play! I know it gets testy when one team is a game away from the title, and the other has nothing to lose, but as a ref you have to understand the physical mindset of these powerhouses. This bitter rivalry will continue to swell, and while it’s important to keep things under control, dishing out technicals every 5 minutes isn’t the answer. As fans, we want to see the best players in the world battle it out for the trophy, so let them. Establish control at the beginning of the game and be consistent with the calls and show that there is no tolerance for all of the extra fanfare.

Back to my original point, the Cavaliers were able to overcome the many stoppages with the help of their fans backing them up. You can bet that Golden State is equally unhappy with the chaos the referees created. I mean, they gave so many technicals that they lost track of who they had assigned them to! On the game’s grandest stage, that’s utterly ridiculous. Anyway, in a worst case scenario, where the refs fail to recognize the gravity of the situation, the Warriors will have a 40,000 person swing to their side of the controversial calls. The question is… will Cleveland be able to stay focused and play the same way they did in Game 4?

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Again, I think not. While it’s incredibly impressive that they were able to shoot at such a high clip despite the breaks in the action, they were helped by the Warriors’ fighting both the white jerseys and the striped jerseys. Also, there is no conceivable way that they will be able to knock down as many shots as they did in Game 4, especially on the road. In a hostile environment, it’s going to come down to defense and focus.

The Cavaliers will have to expect some missed shots and bad possessions. More than likely, they’ll find themselves trailing. In Game 4, Cleveland did a good job of answering the Warriors’ scoring runs with some of their own behind the support of their fans. With few and far between making the trip to California, the Cavs will have to depend on themselves alone to squeak out a victory.

It’s going to take more toughness, more composure, and plenty of more clutch plays. Knowing that they will not play as well as in Game 4, the Cavs have to make sure that the Warriors don’t either. There is a lot of variables in play, but if Cleveland can survive Game 5 on the road and come home for Game 6… we are once again looking at an epic NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, Game 4 might have been the last hoorah for this team. As impressed as I was, I’m just not sure I can see them bringing that mental toughness into Oracle Arena. It’s just too late. Expect another battle, but expect the Warriors to become champions on Monday night.

2017 NBA Finals Game 3 Reactions

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I’m going to make this brief… the Warriors are the better team. With all due respect to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, it appears that Cleveland is simply outmatched by the Warriors’ unparalleled talent. With a narrow victory on the road, Golden State is now just 48 minutes away from becoming the first team to sweep the postseason in NBA history. Let’s take a look at what the Cavaliers and their fans can do to try to salvage at least one victory, and avoid having GSW celebrate on the Cavs’ home floor.

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As much as I hate to say it, I’m nearly out of answers. The Cavs did everything right before surrendering 11 straight points in the final three minutes. Blame fatigue, blame missed shots, blame whatever you want to…The Cavs should’ve won Game 3. Nay, they had to win Game 3… and they let it slip away. Kevin Durant’s gut-punch (pictured above) gave Golden State the lead late, and demoralized the entire state of Ohio.

It’s a shame, too. Cleveland came out with a lot of heart. They hustled for loose balls, fought for rebounds, took care of their limited possessions, and James let the ball flow through the hot hands on his team. J.R. Smith was back to knocking down 3s, and Irving and James combined for a staggering 77 points. All in all, they left their hearts on that court, but they still didn’t quite have enough to slip past the Warriors.

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) lays on the floor after colliding with another player during their game against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

It’s too bad that Cleveland didn’t play with that must-win mentality in Games 1 and 2, or maybe this might still be a series. Now down 3-0, I’ll be surprised if they have much fight left. But they’ll need to muster everything they’ve got for Game 4, because the Warriors look to seize upon even the slightest misstep from Cleveland. If GSW gets another considerable lead, it will be very difficult for the Cavs to avoid throwing in the towel and looking ahead to 2018.

It’s hard to blame them. Kevin Durant is on fire, and poised to face more criticism head-on for joining his playoff rival in order to win the NBA Finals. Even better, he’s in prime position to take home MVP honors. Fitting, as he is a major difference between the Warriors blowing a 3-1 series lead in 2016, to locking in a 4-0 sweep in 2017.

You have to commend the Warriors though. It’s no easy task to win 15 straight, let alone against the top competition in the world. You cannot take anything away from this all-star team as they showcase their dominance by proving just how much better they are than the league’s second-best team. KD has scored over 30 in each game, teammate Stephen Curry averages over 28 PPG, and they always get help from the supporting cast. Whether it’s Zaza Pachulia neutralizing the Cavs’ big men, the bench spacing the floor and contributing on the stat sheet, or Klay Thompson rattling home 30 points of his own, the Warriors never seem to have an off night.

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It must be frustrating for the Cavaliers to face, as James said, so much offensive firepower. But we knew as soon as Durant signed with Golden State in the offseason that we’d be here. We may not have predicted this unprecedented run, but it goes to show that if players form a team specifically to win a championship (i.e. 2012 Miami Heat, 2016 Cavaliers, 2017 Warriors), it’s more than likely going to happen.

That’s a scary thing for NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Being able to predict the NBA Finals champion before opening night of the season is not a good thing for the sport. However, the dynasties that have formed in recent years will yield to new ones, and I guess that’s what we get to look forward to watching. Who will succeed the Warriors and Cavs in a few years? That’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s see how much longer the 2016-2017 season will last.

If you want my opinion, Cavs lose by 17 on Friday night. Despite what James says, you can tell the extended minutes are nagging this team. The fatigue in the 4th quarters is palpable. They’re slower on fast breaks, lazier on defense, and the clutch shots elude them. The Warriors beat this with hunger, adrenaline, but most importantly, depth. They simply want it more. And even if those weren’t factors, they have more contributors on the bench to spell the superstars.

Win or lose Game 4, the Warriors will not be denied the Larry O’ Brien Trophy, especially with the way Durant ripped Cleveland’s hearts out at the end of Game 3. But hey, stranger things have happened. If the Cavaliers find a way to boost their spirits in Game 4, maybe the tides can turn. Unfortunately, I think their hard work in Game 3 was too little too late, and now they have nothing to show for it. I think we’d all hate to see Cleveland lay down and die tomorrow, so here’s to a battle and at least one more basketball game in 2017.

2017 NBA Finals Game 2 Reactions

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The bad news is that the Cavaliers appear to be in deep trouble. The good news is that their coach Tyrann Lue must read my blog! Not only did he correct every mistake I detailed in my Game 1 Reactions, but they actually beat the Warriors in turnover ratio, steals, and points in the paint by significant margins. Bravo. Now the attention shifts to figuring out how in the hell they still lost by 19. Luckily, I believe I’ve got more answers. Let’s take a look at what happened in Game 2, and what needs to happen in a must-win Game 3 for Cleveland.

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Don’t worry, LeBron James, it’s not your fault that the Cavs are stuck in this hole. After playing perhaps the most complete playoff performance of his career, James’ triple-double was still not good enough to rescue Cleveland. Kevin Love even stepped up for 27 to go along with Kyrie Irving’s 19. I mean, the team’s 113 points would’ve forced overtime on Thursday, but Golden State was just too hot to be stopped on Sunday.

Miraculously, despite surrendering 20 turnovers and only forcing 9, the Warriors still never relinquished the lead after the first 4:30 minutes into the game. That, despite beating the Cavs 12 to 0 in steals in Game 1 and losing 5 to 15 in Game 2. Even despite giving up 20 more points in the paint, the Warriors were able to find their range. Aha! Range. Our first hint into unraveling the mystery of what happened Sunday night…

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While both teams’ field goal percentages went up in Game 2, the Cavs’ 45% was no match for the Warriors 51.7%. While one can’t help but let the Warriors take shot after shot, it’s Cleveland’s job to force contested, difficult jumpers rather than to let GSW step into their comfortable 3-point range. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry’s eight 3s matched those of the entire Cavalier roster. Add on 10 from the rest of GSW, and suddenly it makes sense when you see the overall point differential.

I know, I know. I just said before Game 2 that it was sooo important to protect the rim, and now I’m saying they need to guard the perimeter. But, that’s the problem with the Warriors. They just have so many ways to attack, and it’s nearly impossible to shut them down on every aspect of the game. However, the Cavs didn’t do either. Sure, they won points in the paint. But did you notice what happened off the glass? The Cavs +9 rebound differential plummeted to -14 in Game 2. So, on one hand they did a great job of forcing the outside shot, but on the other hand they were barely able to grab the misses off the boards. Besides turnovers, rebounds are the next great equalizer in basketball, and Golden State did an excellent job of fighting for every chance they could to take possession.

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Hey, listen…all that said, this game was way more competitive than the final score. The Cavs never fell more than 10 points behind Golden State until about 4:00 left in the 3rd quarter. I said all they had to do was stay close, and they did just that until the Warriors were finally able to slam the door late in the 3rd and hold that lead in the 4th. Nonetheless, the Cavaliers are in a must-win situation for Game 3.

They’ve been here before, though.  As I’ve mentioned before, in 2016 they lost the first two games on the road by 48 before winning by 30 at the Q. This year they only lost the first two games by 41, so I guess you could say they’re ahead of schedule. But it’s not 2016. The Cavs have a lot of work to do in front of their raucous fans this time around. So here are the keys to Game 3:

  • Control scoring runs and momentum swings. The Cavs had a lot of great runs on Sunday, but it was always met with another from Golden State. It’s crucial, especially on their home floor, to keep momentum throughout the game.
  • The Warriors are deep, maybe too deep. I talked about stepping up in my first two articles about the Finals, and Golden State’s bench is doing that. Ian Clark and Shaun Livingston have emerged as double-digit difference makers off the bench, while Cleveland is still getting very little production outside their “Big 3”. If the Cavaliers want to get back in the series, that needs to change.
  • Put the past behind you. This goes for both teams, too. For the Warriors, forget letting the title slip away last year. If Cleveland gets a big lead and those thoughts creep in, it will be disastrous. The Cavs obviously just need to put Games 1 and 2 behind them and focus on the task at hand. If they want any hopes of winning back-to-back Finals, they must win Game 3 any way they possibly can.