Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mock Draft #1 (Lottery Picks)

With what could be the best NBA draft, top to bottom, in history only two days away, we are looking at monumental reshaping of the league. Kobe and KG are on the trading block, Danny Ainge is trying to figure out how to get his Celtics out of mediocrity, and Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard is about to make the toughest decision of his life. If you're an optimist, Pritchard can't lose with either pick. However, history has shown that even with two greats coming out, one will be better than the other. Hakeem vs. Michael. Lebron vs. Darko vs. Carmelo. Without further ado, here goes; these picks are slated as to how best they would help a team, and the rumors I have heard on the wire, they will not factor in potential trades.

1. Portland--Greg Oden. Pritchard makes the safe choice, and gets the best big man to come through the NBA in 2 decades. Oden, with paired with the duo of Randolph and Aldridge, also leaves Pritchard wiggle room to trade one of his other bigs. Or, he could just keep them all and have the most dominant, deepest front line in the league. Oden is a defensive ace, and while he needs to develop offensively, sheer size and athletic ability make him an immediate force in the paint.
2. Seattle--Kevin Durant. New GM Sam Presti, who was schooled under Spurs gurus R.C. Buford and Greg Popovich, makes the no brainer choice with Durant, who simultaneously opens up the perimeter and frontline for the Sonics. Durant can spread the floor, back his man down, run the offense, and take it to the cup. This allows the Sonics to let Rashard Lewis go if they please, and saves cap space for a franchise in flux.
3. Atlanta--Al Horford. Billy Knight's practice of taking the best player available finally pays off. Though Mike Conley should be in the argument here, Horford gives the Hawks legit low post scoring and defense, and passes well for a big man. Along with Shelden Williams and Pachulia, the Hawks all of the sudden have an intriguing frontcourt.
4. Memphis--Mike Conley. Why take Joakim Noah or Brandan Wright when you already have Pau Gasol? Firesale talks in Memphis will quiet down with the lightning quick PG, who draws immediate comparisons to TJ Ford, but with a better sense of pace, and a semblance of a jumper. Conley is a superb athlete who should be able to break defenses down a la Tony Parker. He might be one of the few players in the league able to stay with Parker on the perimeter, and extremely valuable skill come playoff time.
5. Boston--Yi Jianlian. This is where things get interesting. Ainge will likely be drafting for someone else, and Yi gives him some options there. Yi is also a better complement to Al Jefferson than Brandan Wright or Jeff Green, should the Celtics choose to keep the pick. Wright has been slipping, after being outplayed in workouts by Green and Corey Brewer.
6. Milwaukee--Brandan Wright. The Bucks roll the dice on Wright instead of taking Jeff Green. Wright has better longterm potential, and in an East that is beginning to get crowded, there is no immediate future with Green--short term, he doesn't raise them to a second round team. Wright is an athletic complement to the bruising Andrew Bogut, and also benefits from Bogut's passing ability.
7. Minnesota--Cory Brewer. With a KG trade imminent, possibly with Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum coming in from the Lakers, Brewer shores up the 2 and 3 spots for Minne. Paired with Randy Foye, he can provide an athletic backcourt, and be a defensive thorn.
8. Charlotte--Nick Young. With a frontcourt already filled with young solid players Okafor and Sean May, MJ turns to the backcourt and drafts someone who reminds him of himself, athletically. Young is a smooth 6-6 who can do it all, back down, shoot the 3, take it to the rim and finish. He and Ray Felton give the Bobcats a quick backcourt to offset their deliberate frontcourt. And if the team can retain Gerald Wallace at the 3, we're talking playoffs next year.
9. Chicago--Spencer Hawes. While Jeff Green and Joakim Noah intrigue, the Bulls go for sheer size and low post scoring, drafting for need in the conservative Paxson way. Hawes speed and defensive deficiencies can be masked by Ben Wallace and a long Luol Deng. The Bulls get a proven back to the basket player who has a creative arsenal of moves, and who should be able to pass out of the post to their perimeter shooters.
10. Sacramento--Jeff Green. Green has the more polished offensive game than Noah, which is what this pick comes down to, as Sactown is forced to hang onto Bibby. Green can play either the 3 or 4 along Brad Miller and even Ron Artest, because he is an unselfish player who can be effective as a focal point, or not.
11. Atlanta--Acie Law. Atlanta finally shores up their PG spot, though Mike Conley might have been a better pick at #3 strictly based on team need. Law and Joe Johnson both can shoot it, and Law and the moxie and closer mentality that the Hawks sorely lack. He can step right in, contribute, and be a captain for the future.
12. Philadelphia--Joakim Noah. The slide is over for Noah as he falls into the Sixers--who need a power forward--lap. Noah is never going to be a great scorer in the league, but at 12 he's too good to pass up. He can be a double double energy guy a la Marcus Camby, and delivers defense to any 3, 4, or 5. Noah can be a matchup nightmare and gives Philly some needed star power.
13. New Orleans--Julian Wright. The Hornets get another initiator in Wright, who can take some of the pressure off Chris Paul. Wright can run the floor and be a matchup nightmare defensively, offsetting the plodding D of Peja Stojakovic. He makes the Hornets make the jump to playoff team in the West.
14. LA Clippers--Thaddeus Young. The clippers got hosed, watching Law and Wright fall off the board, their two best fits. So they go future with Thaddeus Young, who is a better fit than Elton Brand than Al Thornton. Young is athletic, and does it all for this team, allowing them to move Maggete.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Spurs Stomp Cavs into Ground

Cleveland's best game of the 2007 NBA Finals wasn't good enough. The San Antonio Spurs, the class of the NBA, won game 4 83-82 in what was the only remotely compelling game of the series. The game wasn't as close as the score indicated, not with Tony Parker attacking the paint relentlessly, and Tim Duncan crashing the boards (he finished with 15 rebs) to overcome a poor shooting night. The Spurs, as they have done every opponent this year and in years past, ground the Cavs down clinically and once again made LeBron James look human.

While questions of a Dynasty, in my opinion, should be reserved for teams who have pulled off back-to-back titles, the Spurs have a longevity that some great teams like the Rockets, Pistons, and Shaq-Kobe-lead Lakers did not. And don't even begin to think this team is finished. Tim Duncan is a young 31, and his game, premised on defense, rebounding, and footwork , should age well. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are just entering their primes, and you can bet the Spurs will find somebody worth keeping--my bet's some Euro--with their 28th pick in this year's draft.

The Spurs got it done--as always--with stifling perimeter and interior defense. LeBron's epic drives were met by 2 or 3 of the best defenders in league, and his teammates couldn't hit a jump shot to save their respective lives. Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones, formerly solid contributors, showed their age and as much as I like Daniel Gibson, he's not a true point and still has a long way to go. It seems that every Cavs player--maybe LeBron included, even--has some flaw that prevents them from working cohesively with their teammates. Whereas the Spurs are built perfectly: their talents accentuate and feed of each other's. Duncan's passing breeds good drives for Parker and Ginobili, for example. Oberto and Horry's rebounding give second chances that end up in the hands of lights out shooters like Michael Finley and Brent Barry.

Speaking of Finley, his acceptance speech was muddled and hilarious: he let out a King Kong growl and that game ball was glued to his hands, which doubtless, are huge and lend themselves to good shooting, unlike certain Cavs players, probably Larry Hughes, whose jumper makes me grimace.

The Cavs were worse finals opponents for the Spurs than either the Pistons--proven history-- and the Bulls, whose peak performance ability could probably have taken at least a game or two. Cleveland needs many a band-aid, but they have untradeable contracts and a plethora of decent parts that fail to add up to a good whole. It is worth noting, again, the greatness of the West; I am convinced that the Suns, Mavs, Jazz, and Rockets even would have beaten the Cavs in a 7 game series. That doesn't take away from Cleveland's excellent play against Detroit, but the Cavs would have been a 4 or a 5 out West and might not have escaped the first round. Last year's finals was better by a mile.

The Cavs need a good distributor not named Hughes to take the pressure off the Chosen one. The need 1 or 2 shooters who can do what Damon Jones did the past two years. Drew Gooden was solid, but they need more upfront, a slasher who can crash the boards. Would Phoenix take Gibson and Gooden--or another package-- for Marion? Marion and Lebron would get it done, and Marion could be a clear cut #2 in Cleveland. Phoenix could unload cap.

That would never happen, unless it were in the Cavs dreams. Just like an NBA title is only a dream with this flawed roster.

As for the Spurs? The most efficient and boring NBA team needs no further explanations. They are the best, and they will be the best, or among them, for the next 5 years.