National League Midsummer Report

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If you thought the American League was crazy, wait until you hear about the NL. With injuries abound, the defending World Champs floundering, and a few dark horses emerging, it’s anyone’s guess what the second half of the season will hold. Luckily for you, I think I can help sort through the mess. Let’s take a look at what’s happening in the National League.

NL West

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We start with the best division in baseball, and we’re not even talking about the Giants. The top 3 teams in the National League at the All-star break all hail from the NL West. While it’s no surprise that this was going to be a competitive division, until game 162 I never expected the race to be this high-profile.

I knew last year that the Diamondbacks were primed to shake up the MLB, and if it wasn’t for A.J. Pollock’s injury during 2016 Spring Training, they may have been in this position sooner. In any case, the stars are aligning in Arizona. The Zack Greinke of old has returned, Paul Goldschmidt has a chance to capture MVP honors, and most importantly, they’re healthy. I’m eager to write more about my preseason dark horse as the trade deadline approaches, as I expect them to continue to push the pedal down and try to make a run in the NL that’s completely up for grabs. So until then, do yourself a favor and keep an eye on the Dbacks.

UPDATE: The Diamondbacks have acquired slugger J.D. Martinez from the Tigers to beef up their roster. Awesome. Keep it up, Arizona.

Not-so-lost in Arizona’s ascent has been the Rockies’ rise. Nolan Arenado and the Mile-High city have matched the Dbacks step-for-step as they chase down the Dodgers atop the division. I credit this climb to a host of breakout arms. All 5 starters have exceeded the loftiest of expectations, and even the veteran Greg Holland is playing like he’s in his prime again. Despite surrendering about 4 runs per game in a hitter-friendly park, Colorado’s bats seemingly always outmuscle their opponents’. If it wasn’t for Carlos Gonzalez’s season-long slump, I don’t think the Rockies would be looking up at anyone. As for now, I anticipate a tight Wild Card race among the Rockies, Cubs, and Brewers. I’m interested to see if the Rockies will sacrifice some prospects to win-now, or if they’ll throw in the towel if things get rough and go for it next year.

Finally, we focus on the best team in the MLB, the L.A. Dodgers. Currently boasting a 65-29 record along with a 10-game win streak, L.A. sent a league-best 6 All-stars to Miami. Headlined by perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time in Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers saw rookie Chris Bellinger, and stellar infielders Corey Seager and Justin Turner take at-bats during the Midsummer Classic. To complete the overall dominance, closer Kenley Jansen has been as perfect as can be by carrying an incredible 0.90 ERA into the second half of the season. The only question surrounding L.A. right now is…Can anyone stop the Dodgers??

NL Central

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Shifting gears to the NL Central, the main headline is, “What happened in Chicago?” The answer… nothing. Chill. No, the Cubs aren’t going to win an MLB-best 103 games again, and they’re only on pace for a 84-78 record. While I’m fairly certain the champs won’t repeat, I’m equally confident they will make the playoffs. The World Series hangover is real. No one has been able to repeat since the Yankees won 3 in a row from 1998-2000. Among the reasons for this are the shortened offseason. Not only did the Cubs play an extra month of baseball, but they spent most of the winter on a world celebration tour with the trophy. Before they could breathe, it was time for spring training again.  So it’s no wonder that the Cubs struggled out of the gate. The odds are stacked against them. Not only do they have a huge target on their back, but what do they have to play for? They just won the first title for Chicago in 108 years. All of their dreams came true. The value of a 2nd Commissioner’s trophy is far less than the first.

Now, as we get deeper into the MLB season, the Cubs are hitting their stride. Therefore, I’m not worried in the least about their chances of getting back to playing in October. In fact, just 2.5 GB on the division-leading Brewers, Chicago can easily win the division. Regardless, everything resets in the playoffs, so all they have to do is get there. And if you think a team as stacked as the Cubs is won’t squeak in… you’re crazy. I don’t even expect any moves late in July. The Cubs can just play at this pace and wait for the Brewers to drop down a little bit.

But wait.. will the Brewers drop? We’ve been waiting and waiting… but they’re still in first place. Milwaukee has fought off injuries in their starting pitching and continue to get great outings by their rock-solid bullpen. Not to mention… where did Travis Shaw come from?? Probably the biggest snub, I would’ve loved to see him instead of Justin Turner get an invitation to the All-star game (the 6th Dodger voted in). How a team in first place only gets to send one player (well-deserved closer Corey Knebel) is beyond me. Anyway, the world waits to see if this unpredictable production will last the remaining 65ish games, or if it will finally succumb to the Cubs’ pressure. Don’t hold your breath.

NL East

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There’s really only one team worth discussing in the NL East and that’s the Washington Nationals. But before I get into that, here’s a snapshot at the rest of what used to be the best division in the National League. The Braves, Marlins, Mets, and Phillies need to be sellers at the deadline and hope for better luck in the coming years. I love the Phillies’ and Braves’ potential, so look for them to continue to add to their youth. Meanwhile, the Mets have a strong team that was ravaged by injuries and is left wondering what could have been. So New York might be content holding their cards and hoping for better luck in 2018.

As for the Marlins, there are rumors swirling about Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna being up for sale, and I’m all for it… for the right price. Obviously with the unexpected and tragic loss of Jose Fernandez, the Marlins were looking at a tough year. It shouldn’t be time to sell your stars unless you can get proven young talent in return and set a strong base for years to come. If the deal isn’t there, be content to pack up and go at it again next year. There is always the offseason to look forward to, and…mark my words… it’s going to be wild.

And last, but far from the least… the Nationals. There is a clear two sides to this team. First, batting. The Nats lead the NL in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBIs, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Wow. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, they only trail the Astros in each of those categories for best in the MLB. In other words, no one hits better than the Astros or the Nationals.

However, while the dominance of the Nationals’ starting rotation is unquestioned, their bullpen has been a huge point of focus for the doubters, and rightly so. Washington’s relievers rank last in the MLB with a 5.26 ERA, only 237 strikeouts, and opponent’s batting average of .277. What really sticks out to me though is the fact that they’ve pitched a league-fewest 258.1 innings, a full 18 innings fewer than the 29th team. While that seems like a good thing, it actually means that most of the innings are being chewed up by the starters. With the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez expected to go 7+ innings every outing, it’s easy to assume they’ll run out of gas when the games matter the most late in the season. Unfortunately, the bullpen woes have left manager Dusty Baker with no choice but to force his stars to go deep into ball games regardless of the score. Hopefully the trade for the Athletics’ Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle can ease some pressure off the rotation, but is the damage already done?

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American League Midsummer Report

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It’s the middle of July and you know what that means! Sports fans get to watch baseball and only baseball for the next few months! If you’ve been caught up in all of the NBA craziness and haven’t been keeping tabs on the action since my 2017 MLB Predictions, have no fear… I’ll bring you up to speed. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the AL and what chaos lies just around the corner.

AL WestImage result for springer correa altuve

In the AL, the Astros have jumped to an astounding 16.5 game lead in the AL West, and their 60-29 record is just .5 games shy of the Dodgers for the best in the MLB. While I had predicted Houston to win their division, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the dominance that Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer have unleashed across the league. Three of the All-star leading vote-getters, the trio never seems to have an off night (and it’s been great having Correa and Springer on my fantasy team). With the lead the Astros hold, they would literally have to lose for an entire month straight to be in danger of dropping out of the division lead. With that in mind, whether or not they keep up their hot play, consider them a lock for the AL West crown.

The other talking point is whether or not the Rangers and Mariners will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. With these teams only a handful of games out of Wild Card contention, they must quickly decide if they can build a World Series around their current assets, or if they should let them go for top future talent. It’s always a tough spot to be in with only a few weeks left to determine if they have what it takes, but remaining stagnant is never a good option.

In my opinion, I think the Rangers certainly need to be sellers. Their roster has an average age of 29.5 which is good for 26th out of 30 MLB teams. That’s not a recipe for future success, and Texas needs to be honest with themselves here. Even if they pick up controllable bullpen help or the power hitter they’ve been lacking, and it happens to be enough to squeak into the Wild Card, I can’t imagine they’ll get past the division winners in the ALDS. Then, they’ll be in an even worse position in 2018. It’s always tough to give up halfway through the year, but they have to look at the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, both the Rangers and Mariners are currently anticipating buying, and I hope they don’t go through with this huge mistake. Also, keep in mind that they still trail a Trout-less Angels team for second in the division. If Texas and Seattle aren’t better than L.A. now, there is no way they will be after Trout returns… no matter what new bat they could acquire. They better change their tune in the next two weeks before its too late.

AL CentralImage result for twins players

The surprise team of the American League is undoubtedly the Minnesota Twins. In fact, I still don’t know how they’re within a series sweep of 1st place. If you remember, I ripped them apart in my preseason predictions, placing them 4th because the White Sox traded away all of their good players last offseason (and now Jose Quintana). Nonetheless, I must have lit a fire under this gang of misfits as they have showcased a balanced hitting attack night after night, as well as strong outings from their starters. Not to mention, Brandon Kintzler is probably the most underrated closer in the game today right beside Corey Knebel. But seriously- if you want a good laugh, read what I said about the Twins in my AL Central Preview at the beginning of the year. At least I’m proud to say I called Jose Berrios’ rise in the organization!

As I previously mentioned, the last place White Sox traded their ace to the Cubs. Luckily for Quintana, he won’t need to hire a real estate agent as his new home ballpark is 30 minutes away from his old one. I love this move to the “friendly confines.” Quintana has an ERA north of 4.48 this year, but he has seemingly shrugged off a rocky start by avoiding a loss in every appearance since June 11. While it hasn’t been the season Quintana would have liked to this point, the Cubs are showing a great deal of confidence in the 28-year-old to revive their ailing starting rotation.

As for the White Sox, the best farm system in the MLB gets even deeper. Yes, the Yankees have a great one too, but I’m seeing a lot of guys being promoted to the MLB so Chicago will carry the torch. As GM Rick Hahn seems prone to do, after he fleeced the Nationals for most of their prospects, he did the same to the Cubs. CWS picks up MLB top-10 prospect Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease (who is a really strong young arm), as well as two other deep options to load up the minors. Soon enough, the White Sox are going to be MLB’s version of the Celtics… leading the division with all of the chips to help them go all the way.

Finally, the Cleveland Indians. Quietly the reigning AL Champions (just 2 runs away from MLB Champions might I remind you), they find themselves in 1st place again. It took the majority of the first half of the season for Cleveland to overcome the Twins, but now they’re in prime position for another deep playoff run. Assuming the Twins dip off and the Tigers sell at the deadline, the Indians will only have to fend off the Royals to secure back-to-back AL Central titles. Because of recent successes and stability in the organization, I won’t be surprised if you don’t hear Cleveland pop up in any rumors over the coming weeks. As long as they stay the course, they can look ahead to a best-of-5 series in October.

AL EastImage result for aaron judge

At last, you get to hear more about the most-talked-about team of 2017 so far. The Yankees rise and fall back to Earth has been well documented, but hardly surprising in my opinion. New York has long held the most prized farm system in the league, and when it was time for the best young talent in the world to finally showcase their skills in the MLB, there’s no wonder as to why they’ve exploded out of the gate. Of course, the unprecedented success of Aaron Judge is an outlier, and I’m anxious to see just how long he can make a mockery of the MLB.

Anyway, the baseball season is 162 games long for a reason. Sure enough, the Yankees hot streak has fizzled out, and they are now on the bubble for a Wild Card spot. As I said at the beginning of the year, unless GM Brian Cashman makes one more big move at the deadline, New York will be on the outside looking in come October. If that disappoints you, they’re my 2018 World Series favorite so hang in there.

As for the division leader and my World Series champion, the Boston Red Sox are in a great position to finish the season on top. With the rest of the division floundering and the 2nd place Rays losing one of their hottest hitters in Colby Rasmus, there isn’t a lot to get in Boston’s way. Chris Sale has benefited leaving Chicago and is now having perhaps the best year of his career with the Red Sox, and besides David Price, the rest of the staff is following suit.

Furthermore, after a sluggish start by Mookie Betts and Co., the Boston bats have caught fire leading up to the break. Despite not quite having the offensive year fans had anticipated, there are plenty of signs anticipating a solid second half of the season. The only question will be if they have a roster that has what it takes to win in October. I’m looking forward to seeing what depth they might add around July 31 to ensure a deep postseason run.

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!

Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 2/2)

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This is Part 2 of my NBA Free Agency Preview. If you haven’t done so already, please check out Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 1/2). If you have, enjoy reading about where I think these big targets should land. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Paul George Image result for paul george

Yeah, I know he’s not actually a free agent, but he might as well be one with all of the rumors flying around. I won’t spend too much time with him because I think we’ve all heard enough about it, but I want to put my piece in.

Here’s the thing. I have no idea where he’s going. Indiana wants him to go to the Celtics because they can probably get the most from Boston, but the Celtics only want George if they can get Hayward. So, if they don’t, Indiana has to look at offers in the meantime, and there is a lot to sort through. First, the Cavaliers want to work out a three team trade (because they have nothing to offer the Pacers), that would give Indiana some prospects from a different team in exchange for Kevin Love. That sounds fine and dandy, but if the Cleveland Championship plan falls through again, both Paul George and LeBron James will likely leave to get a trophy in 2019, as they are UFA. So the concept of George being a potential one-and-done spices things up in the short term.

Second, the Los Angeles Lakers have made their cycle around the rumor mill, but with little getting done over the past week, I’m not sure this is realistic as a 2018 destination. Especially considering that the Lakers don’t have anything to offer the Pacers at this point. However, I could easily see George going to L.A. next offseason if he still doesn’t have any jewelry. But let’s cross that bridge when we get there.

Finally, and perhaps most intriguing beyond the Boston chaos, the Houston Rockets have emerged as legitimate contenders after picking up Chris Paul. Owner and fellow data analyst Daryl Morey is swinging for the fences and quickly assembling the Avengers to try to take out the Warriors. I would love watching George team up with Harden and Paul as they would certainly become the most fun team to watch in the entire NBA. We’ll see if these rumors come to fruition, but if I know Morey (and I think I do), he won’t quit until he gets his man.

The Celtics are still very much in control of these discussions, and Indiana and Boston have already gone back and forth on various offers. Basically, the Celtics think the Pacers want too much, and it’s a gamble to comply if the don’t pick up Hayward. However, if they do, GM Danny Ainge claims he is more willing to go the extra mile for George. That said, if the Hayward decision takes too long or he signs elsewhere, the Pacers might get impatient and pull the trigger with the Rockets or Cavs. It’s an insanely tense time as we wait for all of these pieces to simultaneously play out and unleash a bomb across the NBA.

Kyle LowryImage result for kyle lowry

Lowry is a complicated case because he’s 32, and no one wants to commit on the superstar long term. The Raptors have stated their interest in Lowry, but they’re more willing to sign him for a 3- or 4-year deal with a possible team option. Obviously, that doesn’t tempt Lowry too much, but as his career dwindles, his options are beginning to slim.

Lowry, in turn, has expressed interest in moving west. I don’t blame him either.  With James and the Cavs breaking the Raptors’ hearts every year, I’d want to move, too. However, interested and affordable parties include the Lakers and Nuggets, so if Lowry does in fact move West, it’ll be part of a rebuilding effort, which he doesn’t need in his mid 30s. The Philadelphia 76ers have reportedly thrown their hat in as well, which might be more tempting because of the weaker Eastern Conference. Stacked with young talent, they are much farther in the process, but still no farther away from the Cavs.

With all of this in mind, despite the Raptors lackluster offer, it’s the best option if he wants to continue to contend. So I expect Lowry to reunite with his brother DeMAr DeRozan and continue their lethal backcourt dominance in Toronto and to hope the Raptors’ front office can put the pieces together to beat the Cavs and Celtics. It’s a tough spot for the veteran, but there are plenty of less desirable places to end up.

One more thing – there are no rumors about this, and I don’t know why. The San Antonio Spurs. Talk about contender, and talk about a need at guard with Tony Parker on his last breath, and Manu Ginobili perhaps already retiring. These parties need each other. Lowry is a perfect fit to play at a high clip with Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs can keep LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol around to keep a solid front court. The Spurs were 2nd in the West last year, and adding the depth with Lowry provides a smooth transition from old to less-old and keeps them in contention a little bit longer. Done and done. Make it happen. …I wish…

Paul MillsapImage result for paul millsap

Last but not least…Paul Millsap. Often overlooked due to his team’s constant finishes in the 1st round of the playoffs, Millsap excelled for the Hawks last year and has put himself in a great spot at the right time. Though he is not the first option for top contenders, or maybe even the second option, Millsap can fill the role at PF that so many teams struggle to find.

There are a ton of teams pursuing Millsap from all over the standings. The most high profile team is the Rockets. Other teams in the mix are the Nuggets, Kings and Suns, but I don’t see Millsap moving to any of those if he didn’t like Atlanta’s set up when he opted out of his contract. Millsap is the type of forward that can mold to any offensive scheme, and can earn a max contract from those who can afford it.

With the Rockets signing Chris Paul, and going after Paul George, it’s no surprise that Paul Millsap is on their radar. Can you imagine all of those Pauls on one court?? A commentator’s nightmare… With the Rockets coming out of nowhere and throwing out deals, I can easily see Millsap going to Houston if George goes to Boston. And that’s not the worst thing in the world.

I also want to send my apologies to the Nuggets.  I know they want a few of these guys, but I just don’t see what they have to pull them in. With the way this NBA is formatted to make superteams to compete, I’m not sure Denver can ever make it happen…especially being stuck in the Western Conference. By the way, if you don’t know what I mean by that, Google and compare the teams in the West to those in the East. The difference is staggering.

Homebodies

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One last thing before I wrap up. There are plenty of other free agents worth noting, but they are 99.99% going to re-sign with their current teams, and it’s easier to focus on the big story lines. In my opinion, it’s worth mentioning that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are unrestricted free agents. They can literally sign with the Brooklyn Nets if they wanted. Obviously, the only drama is how much money the Warriors can give them to keep their team intact… but I’m just saying.

Other notables like this are Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony. Nowitzki was actually persuaded by the Mavericks to opt out only so they could restructure his contract to his liking. Melo, on the other hand, has been rumored to go everywhere but to New York. However his deal is such that it is his decision and not the team’s, so expect him to stay put. Although, in the past he has expressed interest in teaming up with his good friend LeBron James in Cleveland, so I guess anything’s possible.

 

Whew. Okay. That’s all for me today. I apologize for such a long post, but this free agency is unlike any other with so many variables in play. I can’t wait to see how the dominoes fall. Let me know your opinion in the comments below! I’ll be back shortly to react to the hurricane that sweeps through the NBA over the next week. Cheers!

Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 1/2)

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With the floodgates of free agency about to open at 12:00 AM on July 1st, fans, owners, and players alike wait to see how the NBA will get shaken up. There are a lot of top targets expected to be on the market, and plenty of possible destinations for them to call home next year. Let’s take a look at my top free agents for 2017, and where I think they should play.

Chris PaulImage result for chris paul rockets jersey

Before I could even finish this article, Paul was signed and traded to Houston. So instead of omitting him from this post, let me briefly describe why I love this trade so much. For those of you who do not know, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the Clippers have been known to have some friction.  So much so that Paul and Griffin were willing to forego a hefty pay raise to stay in L.A. in favor of opting out of their player options. Nonetheless, Paul and Griffin were prepared to move out of Los Angeles. So the Clippers, realizing their two biggest superstars were about to leave without the slightest bit of compensation, devised a plan to relatively save their organization.

Here’s where it gets technical. Paul is an NBA veteran and is potentially due for a max contract at the end of next year worth close to $250 million if he were to choose to re-sign for 5 years. However, if he does not sign and simply picks a contract from another team in free agency, he can only make $152 million over 4 years. The fact that he was willing to lose $100 million to leave L.A. truly shows his distaste for the Clippers. And who can blame him? Arguably one of the best pure point guards of all-time, he has never made an appearance in the Conference Finals. With no real potential in L.A., I think he has a right to explore other options to help him find postseason success. I say pure point guard because he is an assist machine, he has unparalleled court vision, and can dictate the pace of the game. Also, standing only 6’0″ tall, Paul doesn’t have the capability to muscle up and score like the other non-traditional superstar PGs in the league today.

Anyway, as I was saying, Paul was going to lose out on $100 million, and the Clippers were about to lose their face of the franchise for nothing. So, the two parties orchestrated a deal to suit both sides. With Houston primed to compete with San Antonio for Paul’s talents, the second the free agency window opened, the Clippers had some leverage for a few more days. L.A. persuaded Paul to accept the player option and promised to trade him immediately. This makes Paul happy, as he gets his guaranteed $24.2 million this year, and his max, 5-year contract next year goes from $150 million to approximately $202 million because he was acquired via trade and not on his own volition so to speak.

So now Paul is happy. Check. The Clippers are happy because they get to work out a deal to acquire 3 mid-tier players and a 2018 first round draft pick when otherwise they would have received nothing. Double Check. The Rockets are even happy because they won the bidding war against the Spurs before it could even begin! Everybody wins! Bravo. All that remains is seeing how Paul and James Harden can work together. Assuming Harden can make a smooth transition to SG, Paul will give him some great touches and open looks, perhaps bolstering him to win MVP in 2018. I think the two can really tear up the league, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Blake GriffinImage result for blake griffin

Obviously, there are a couple of bigger names out there, but I want to discuss Griffin first. Before opting out of his contract, Griffin was scheduled to make about $21 million next year. Now, it appears that he’s ready for a max contract of his own. He hasn’t always gotten along with Paul, so I don’t believe CP3 influenced Griffin’s decisions at all. However, now that Paul has packed his bags, Griffin might be more willing to re-sign with the Clippers. That is surely L.A.’s hope, as he is now their #1 target, and they have the budget to give Griffin anything he wants.

However, there are many more variables in play. For example, Griffin has reportedly subtly expressed interest in playing in Boston, and the Celtics hold the key to seemingly every signing this July. With an embarrassment of trade assets, Boston can pick and choose who they want. However, it’s well known that the C’s want to prioritize signing Gordon Hayward, and if that works out, they can easily strike a deal for Paul George. However, if Hayward chooses to re-sign in Utah or to take his talents to South Beach, only then will Boston pursue Griffin. Again, as long as they’re  not too late, Boston should have no problem making it happen with all of their draft picks and depth at their disposal.

Still, it’s not that cut and dry. There are a couple of other dark horses in the mix: the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix Suns, and the New York Knicks. The Nuggets emerging as contenders for a few of these big stars surprised me, but they have the means to make it happen under an aggressive team president in Tim Connelly. It’s hard to see where they will cash their chips, as they are an underdog to get Griffin, and they also covet Paul Millsap and Kevin Love. Clearly desperate for a PF, they may get their wish, but at what cost? Also, Griffin has a lot of self interest in Phoenix, but I’m not convinced that is a realistic option for him at this point in his career. Lastly, the Knicks have some down time to go after a big name. Team president James Dolan has expressed that his focus is on free agency before he will search for Phil Jackson’s replacement. With Carmelo Anthony confirming his interest in staying in New York, Dolan has the leisure of concentrating all of his efforts on Griffin. However, with all of the turmoil surrounding the organization, I find it unlikely that Griffin will choose to sign there.

The Clippers have the inside track to retain Griffin, but it all depends on the Celtics. Griffin will likely hold out making any formal decisions until Boston shows their cards, but seeing as they appear locked in on Hayward and George, that leaves Griffin on the backburner. The safe play will be to re-sign and restart with a new-look Clippers team, which I believe has the potential to surprise, despite the insanely deep and competitive Western Conference.

Gordon HaywardImage result for hayward gordon

I loved watching Hayward transform from a role player in Utah to potentially the most coveted player of free agency. After a terrific season, Hayward proved he was no fluke with his leadership and significant stat line during the playoffs. That, without the help of the injured Rudy Gobert for a few key games against the Clippers. I’m sure the Jazz are thrilled with his sudden production, but it comes at a pivotal time in the organization. Will Hayward leave for greener pastures (no pun intended), or will he stay home and bring the Jazz back to the high caliber that they had in the 80s and 90s?

There are 3 front runners in the Hayward sweepstakes: the Jazz, Celtics, and Heat. The Jazz have been campaigning hard with the hashtag, “Stayward”, on billboards throughout the city and on social media. It’s fair to say that Utah has fallen in love with their newfound hero, and are depending on him to return and to keep the Jazz trending upward. It’s a solid option for Hayward, as he is close with his teammates, and he has never suited up for anyone else. After playing in his first All-star game after 7 years in the NBA, he has earned a good contract that Utah can afford, too. If it wasn’t for the Celtics’ stronghold on the market right now, the Jazz would easily be favorites to make Hayward stay.

The Celtics have a lot going for them. They have money, history, and most importantly – a future. Their pitch to Hayward is the fact that he will be a centerpiece in the NBA Finals run in 2018. Not to mention, he already has ties in Boston. Head coach Brad Stevens mentored Hayward throughout his years at Butler. If anyone can take him away from “home”, it’s the family that Stevens has created with the Celtics. You have to remember, Hayward is just entering his prime at this point; he doesn’t need to chase championships yet. But as Boston forms their “superteam” one way or another, it’s probably better to be with them than against them. Better yet, if you have a chance to compete outside of the West, I think you should.

I’ll mention the Miami Heat simply because they have a history of grabbing free agents they shouldn’t. I’d consider them a long shot, but for no other reason than that they are the farthest away from a ring. Goran Dragic and Gordon Hayward would work well together, as they have nearly identical playing styles. With Hassan Whiteside down low, the Heat can definitely pitch a “Big 3 2.0” scenario. Pat Riley is a magician with capturing big talent like this who don’t have experience as free agents, but I wouldn’t bet on it this time. It’s a two-man race between the Jazz and Celtics, and with Hayward remaining mum on the topic, it’s anyone’s guess as to where he’ll end up after July 1st. In my opinion, I think Boston’s offer is too tempting to pass up.

 

I’m only half way done! Please head over and check out Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 2/2), and leave your own thoughts below!

 

 

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.