Monday, June 23, 2008
The 2008 NBA Draft is this Thursday, June 26th 2008. Though not extraordinarily rich in superstar talent (no Greg Oden's in this draft), this draft is deep on quality players who can play major roles in the league. Here is a go at the Mock Draft through the lottery.
1. Chicago Bulls- Derrick Rose PG Memphis
The Bulls lucked out in getting the top pick and they are in position to add to their impressive stock of young talent. The 6'3'' Rose combines a point guards mindset with exceptional athleticism and size; think Steve Francis, only with top intangibles and a winners mentality (therefore not totally cacked). His feel for the PG position (mainly improving his ability to play slow, not breakneck at every moment) needs some work and so does his jump shot, but #1 overall picks are supposed to have the on-court and off-the-court game of Derrick Rose. The Chicago Simeon graduate comes home in a dream scenario.
2. Miami Heat- Michael Beasley SF/PF Kansas State
Beasley is taking something of a beating right now, with questions about his character and his size for the PF position (only 6'8'') taking center stage. Forget all that: Michael Beasley is a pure talent with rare skills. He can finish with both hands, rebound at both ends of the court and shoot from the perimeter. He has a fearless demeanor and dominated the college game like few in recent memory. Rumor has it that Pat Riley is dreaming of a "Flash and Dash" backcourt of Dwyane Wade and OJ Mayo. Maybe it's just me, but maybe Riles' needs to lay off the tanning booth and put a little less oil-can in that hair, it seems to be affecting his judgment. Miami would be foolish to pass on "Beastley", the 20-10 machine.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves- OJ Mayo PG/SG Southern California
Minnesota might be the most troubled franchise in the NBA, what with their bottom-feeder status in the standings, their apathetic fan support, poor ownership and the trade of their lone great player in franchise history (the indomitable Kevin Garnett). They need talent and have only 1 guy to build around (rising star and low-post beast Al Jefferson). They have combo guards galore with Rashad McCants and Randy Foye, but the 6'4'' Mayo is substantially better than both with his all-around polish and aplomb. He has a PG's handle, a SG's jump shot and plays great defense against both positions. For all the talk about how shady of a guy he is, Mayo appears to be a mature player ready to handle the NBA lifestyle. The Timberwolves should go for the 3rd best talent in the draft.
4. Seattle/Oklahoma City Sonics- Russell Westbrook PG/SG UCLA
This is where the draft gets interesting. The Top 3 players are pretty clear and now there is glut of talented but unpolished players. The 6'4'' Westbrook's stock is on the rise following a string of strong workouts. He plays as hard as anyone in the draft and is as unselfish as they come. He has shown he can play the point and some exceptional defense, even guarding the lightening fast Derrick Rose with some success. However his offensive game is unpolished; his moves to the hoop can be awkward and his jump shot is suspect. Seattle/OK City just needs good players to team with young forwards Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, and Westbrook would be a good young guard to develop.
5. Memphis Grizzlies- Brook Lopez C Stanford
Memphis made the worst trade of the decade last season, shipping All-Star Pau Gasol to L.A. for All-Time Bust Kwame Brown and other clutter. They have some good young talent in Rudy Gay and Mike Conley but they need a lot more. Brook Lopez was projected as the 3rd pick at the end of the college season but has seen his stock fall during workouts. Lopez is not the best athlete as he appears to lumber down the floor at times, but he is reasonably flexible and has tremendous size at over 7'0'' and 260 lbs. He has a tremendous touch from the free-throw line in, has a few legit post moves and can play solid post defense. If he can learn to rebound a bit better, tighten up his shot-selection and improve his agility, Lopez could turn into a rock solid starting center in the NBA.
6. New York Knicks- Kevin Love PF UCLA
This is pick is crucial for the Knicks, who need to change the culture of their team about as bad as Manhattan tycoon Donald Trump needs a new hairstyle. A smart, unselfish big man with the best outlet pass since We Unseld would be a nice start. The 6'9'' Love is pudgy, can't jump and doesn't run the floor with grace. But he can pass, he can rebound and can score inside or out. His basketball IQ is unusually high, and the hope would be that age and an NBA caliber training program/diet would help him grow out of his baby fat. The Knicks need more team-oriented players, so they should pass on flashy but ball-hungry combo guards Jerryd Bayless and Eric Gordon and go with the talented Bruin big man.
7. L.A. Clippers- Eric Gordon SG Indiana
Gordon is an interesting prospect. Short and powerful (some would say a little pudgy), the 6'3'' Hoosier has tremendous knee bend, which allows him to explode for powerful slams in the half-court over larger defenders. He has unlimited range out past the NBA 3, has the first step to blow by his man on the perimeter and the swagger to be a go-to scorer in the NBA. The problem with Gordon is that he regressed after Coach Kelvin Sampson was fired. He began jacking up terrible shots from 25 feet, began caring even less about his defense and his lack of body control was exposed as he began barreling into well-positioned defenders for costly charging violations. Was this because he lost his mojo after losing his beloved coach or was it precursor to his shortcomings? Gordon is something of a boom or bust pick, which is right up the Clippers alley. They need a SG to take over for the aging Cuttino "Cat" Mobley.
8. Milwaukee Bucks- Joe Alexander SF West Virginia
The Milwaukee Bucks, it would seem, have fully embraced the motto "Striving for Mediocrity" over the past 15 years, ever since the decline of the glorious Jay Humphries, Fred Roberts and Danny Schayes era. The fiercely loyal fans who flock to the Fortress on 4th Street every night are weary of excuses and rebuilding plans; they want results now. Which makes Alexander an interesting pick here at #8. Though a Junior, Alexander is a relatively raw talent, save his ripped 6'8'' physique. A tremendous leaper with great knee-bend, he has a very nice mid range face-up game, using both the jumper and the bounce well from that area. He hustles and scraps with the best of them, running the floor well and digging in on defense. Alexander lacks a great feel for the game and his toughness will be tested in The Association, but the Bucks would do well to address their glaring hole at the SF position and take this fast rising Mountaineer.
9. Charlotte Bobcats- Jerryd Bayless PG/SG Arizona
The Bobcats should be thrilled about Bayless being on the board, as he could go as high as #4 to the Sonics. The 6'3'' Bayless fits the mold of the dynamic combo guards who are tearing up the league right now. He has a full arsenal offensively, including a buttery pull-up J and explosive open court quickness. There are very few guards in the league who possess his raw talent; he is similar to Monta Ellis in his ability to blow by helpless defenders. The problem with Bayless is that he is not a real PG. As great as these combo guards are, true PG's like Tony Parker, Deron Williams and Chris Paul are the ones who are getting their teams deep in the playoffs. Still, a team like Charlotte needs front-line talent. Bayless could be a spark off the bench to start out and eventually push the underwhelming Raymond Felton for time at the point.
10. New Jersey Nets- Danillo Gallinari SF/PF Italy
The Nets need a spark. They have a nice nucleus of talent with Richard Jefferson, Devin Harris and Vince "Half-Man Half-Amazing" Carter. What they could use is an unselfish facilitator who can shoot from the perimeter. Enter the 6'9'' Gallinari, who very well might be off the board at #6 to the Knicks. He has drawn comparisons to Toni Kukoc for his versatile game, as he has the vision to play point-forward and the outside shot to stretch the defense. He will not be a traditional physical PF and like most Euros will need to work on his defense, but he has the type of game that can fit in well on most teams.
11. Indiana Pacers- DJ Augustin PG Texas
Indiana needs a PG. They were trotting out Travis Diener as their starter last year and though he boasts nice assist/turnover ratio, he shoots a miserable percentage and is a defensive liability. I have serious reservations about Augustin's viability as a lottery pick but teams need PG's and Augustin is a real point. He distributes handles and shoots very well, and shows the type of offensive creativity teams covet at the PG spot. However, the 5'11'' Augustin is very undersized and does not possess top end athleticism to compensate. I think Augustin can play in the league, but the Steve Nash comparisons are ridiculous; think Jameer Nelson.
12. Sacramento Kings- Darrell Arthur PF Kansas
The Kings are stuck in no-mans land. They have great fans, one of the best home-court advantages in the league, and some functional pieces in Kevin Martin, Brad Miller and Ron Artest. But they are stuck at the 35 win level, good enough to be competitive but not good enough to make the playoffs. What they do need is some frontcourt help and Arthur is a talented prospect. The 6'9'' Jayhawk has a smooth, athletic game, reminiscent of a smaller LaMarcus Aldridge. He has a nice mid-range game, equipped with a quality first step and a very good mid-range shot. But he is undersized and slight for the PF position and does not have the perimeter skills of an SF. He may be destined to become a valuable offensive specialist in the league, which is not ideal but good enough for the 12 spot.
13. Portland Trailblazers- Brandon Rush SG/SF Kansas
The Blazers are on the verge of becoming a top-flight contender, even in the rugged Western Conference. The much-anticipated debut of phenom C Greg Oden could send Portland deep into the playoffs next year, what with their already strong young nucleus of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and the superb coaching of Nate McMillon. The do need a PG and could look at Kansas PG Mario Chalmers, but Brandon Roy is a combo guard who alleviates some of the need for a true PG. They do have a need for an athletic wing who can play a role and do a little bit of everything and Rush is the perfect fir for the winning culture being built in Portland. The 6'7'' Jayhawk can hit the 3, finish on the break and play lock-down D on the perimeter. He may never be superstar because of his tendency to float during games, but the Blazers don't need a superstar, they need a championship caliber role player. You would be hard pressed to find a better one than Brandon Rush.
14. Golden State Warriors- Marresse Speights PF/C Florida
The Warriors love to run-and-gun and don't have the biggest need for a traditional big man, but Nellie-ball is all about creating mismatches and the 6'10'' Speights is the kind of rugged low post scorer a team can turn to for a few efficient buckets a game against a weak post defender. He shot well over 60% from the field for his college career and has the girth to play solid post D and box out for defensive rebounds. He needs to polish his game and gain more game experience, but Speights could be a steal at this point of the draft.
(Rare photo of Beasley playing street-ball in his native Philadelphia)
Preeminent sports journalist KC Johnson has noted that Beasley's off court troubles "run the gamut from stereotypically abhorrent behavior as a 12-year-old—slashing tires to a dead rat in a teacher's drawer." And new allegations of deliquent High-School behavior are still leaking from basketball blogs on a daily basis. This blurry camera-phone picture shows him in the act stealing his dean's (possibly Scott Skiles?) cap and showing a blatant disregard for Bel-Air Academy's strict dress-code. Michael was also found guilty of academic fraud after plagarizing several poems from well-known urban wordsmith Raphael De La Ghetto, including Street Beat, and several other modern classics.
(Beasley, left, was known as a high-school prankster)
But is Beasley getting a bad wrap? Several of his high school shifts can be attributed to his move from West Philadelphia to Bel Air, where Beasley relocated in order to live with his affluent uncle Phillip Banks and avoid trouble from area gang members. Life in Bel-Air wasn't all Cross Colours and "fly honey dips" either. Beasley has also overcome numerous hardships on his path from Philly to the NBA. Few NBA scouts are talking about the time Michael was shot in a february 1995 episode while being robbed with alongside his cousin Carleton.
(Beasley takes the tip during K. State's first victory at KU in more than 20 years)
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Much like his two older brothers Jaron and Kareem, Brandon Rush came into college with lofty expectations. If anything, he has had the least prolific college career of the brothers, at least individually. But it has become apparent that Brandon will be the best NBA Rush. In fact if NBA GM's look past his surgically repaired knee and underwhelming statistics, he may have his name called in the Lottery come draft night.
Rush is a cut 6'7'' and 210 lbs. He has a great NBA body; lean but strong, with a 7' foot wingspan and big hands. His defense was once a question mark but now may be his strongest suit. He has tremendous lateral quickness and can guard wings of all shapes and sizes, using his great footwork and long arms to stay in front of his man. He is a solid rebounder who gets his boards on good position. Rush possess a deadly jump shot from 3 point land and can work the mid-range game and can hit off the bounce and off the screen. He has a good basketball IQ; he spreads the floor well in the half court and takes excellent angles in the open court, setting himself up well for the easy bucket. His passing and ball handling have improved to the point where they are no longer questionable. His body control and athleticism are first-rate. He is a good team player who will be able to fill a role on any succesful team.
The problem with Rush's game comes down to aggresiveness. He does not attack the rim like a player of his athletic prowess should. Maybe it was the Kansas system, or maybe it was his reconstructed knee. Or maybe Rush simply lacks the killer instinct to ensure that he gets his points. He did have reconstructive surgery on his knee during the summer of 07', but by the end of last season he was showing very few ill affects. Though not an elite prospect, Rush is one of those well rounded players who can do most anything at least adequately.
Brandon Rush, in my opinion, is one of the most underated draft prospects in recent memory. He does turn 23 this summer, has never averaged more than 13 points per game and is coming off a knee reconstruction. But he was the best player on a national champion and is such an elite athlete that it would be silly for too many teams to take a pass. My personal opinion is that Rush should be a top 10-12 pick. He is one of those wings that can be the perfect compliment to any frontline perimeter or post players, a quality starter who can defend and score. Though he may never be a superstar, Brandon Rush will have an impactful NBA career.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
By Nicholas Churchill
All is quiet on the western front. It's almost 4 o'clock am and I'm standing outside the open bedroom door of former NBA player and Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles. The room and everything in it is midnight black and the only thing I can hear is Skiles' laborious breathing. Skiles suffers from sleep apnea, a condition he earlier attributed to to "an overstrengthening of neck musculature, from an early age" Skiles, like so many of his generation, lifted weights pre-pubescently. I tiptoe toward the door, peering in. Skiles doesn't know I'm here. He gave me the keys to his house so I could gain exclusive access to him for the biography I'm writing. He told me not to tell him when I was coming, so that I could get a true picture of him when he wasn't awake. "I'm a different person, then," the NBA all-times assists in a game (30) leader said. Even in his loud breathing, I notice an uncanny slowness, a calm over Skiles. He is at peace.
That ends now, when his alarm-clock goes off, at 3:59:59. I jump at the cacophony of sounds.
Whistles blowing, sneakers squeaking, nets swishing, clips of Skiles himself yelling, point guards barking plays, big men slamming dunks, buzzers going off. Sounds of the game. For Scott Skiles, wakeup time is game time. He flips on the lights. Next to the alarm clock on Skiles' nightstand is a 1st edition autographed copy of Wilt Chamberlain's epic, A View From Above--"The Bible," Skiles says with a wistful look. "The greatest player to ever play the game, on and off the court."
Skiles brushes his teeth, flosses twice, lathers his face vigorously. One thought pervades every corner of my mind: Scott Skiles is a man of discipline. He still hasn't spoken to me.
As he exits the bathroom, he clears his throat and says, "Good morning," and heads toward the kitchen in his slippers. On the way, I can see his energy building with every step. Skiles makes a sharp right and shows me his trophy room. In addition to his many gleaming gold, silver, bronze and brass awards, Skiles has a great photo of his Hoosier high school days, when a shaggy-haired boy took a no-name high school to the Indiana State Basketball Title. "Back then it was all one tourney, not that 4-class BS they have now. We slayed the dragon that day, and that's not all I slayed," pointing to a cheerleader in the background. "Man that was a great day, but this is the real trophy," he says as we walk into his garage. "This, my friend, is a 1981 Dodge Stratus. I stole this car the night we won it all, back in high school. This was a car of conquest for me--sexual conquest. Obviously, I'd conquered everything else Indiana had to offer by that point."
At first glance you wouldn't think of Skiles as a ladies man. He's a shade under 6 ft, balding noticeably, and his regimented coaching style carries over to his life, even with the ladies. "Women, you have to understand, they need to be smacked around once in a while. I learned that from my Granpappy Skiles down in Terra Haute, IN. He was born in to a polygamist sect, and well, sometimes, the best way to a woman's 'heart' is with the back of your hand."
Kissing the hairy back of his own right hand, Skiles chuckles. "I gave Shaq some of this back in '93. And he won't ever forget it, don't let him tell you otherwise. Larry Krystowiak, my good friend, who I'll probably be replacing as Milwaukee Bucks coach next year, tried to break it up. Nothing doing. Shaq was a boy back then, and I could make him a boy now. I still don't know why I was the second Magic player on NBA Jam. That game didn't even showcase my skills. Boom-shaka-laka?!?! You couldn't even run a help defense, the guys wouldn't switch. It was like the Bulls this year. What a joke. Although I did like that special code-player, Mark Turmel. I believe his intials that you entered were TUR. I guess he was a designer, and he wrote himself into the game along with P-Funk. Who would've thunk it? That's genius."
The garage opens onto the kitchen. "Skiles makes way for a cabinet and pulls out an industrial sized jar of Metamusil. "That's the stuff. IBS always plagued me as a player, until I met Kareem, and he told the benefits of a healthy diet, with plenty of fiber. I'm a guy who needs regularity in every aspect of my life. Naturally, that includes the can." Skiles claims that he's had "Nothing but one wipers," since his 1992 appearance in NBA Jam. "Being in that game really cemented my legacy as a star. And a true NBA star is always in control, especially a white point guard. It starts with your bowels, and then you go from there.""
"I mean back at MSU, we'd a get a little crazy, but not like that game design guy--Turmel. We'd get a little booze, a little white, you know the usual, maybe jack a couple cars. Back then it was good clean fun. These guys now, I don't get it. Players on their phones all the time. Would you believe Ben Wallace is always texting? Neither could I, but it's non stop. Texting women, never closing the deal. It's the same on the court, he can never finish at the rim."
It's late afternoon, our interviews are done for the day. Skiles shows me his court out back. We play a couple of games of PIG and then lace em up for a little one on one. Skiles insists on lowering the rim to 8 ft so we can both dunk. Needless to say, the thrown downs keep coming and coming. Skiles, though, doesn't talk any smack. He keeps it cool until the end, giving me open jumpers and a few easy buckets, keeping me in the game. "I'm playing you like the Bulls, you see, playing down to your level. Now you're seeing what I had to deal with day in day out."
It's 10-10, Game Point. I post Skiles up, give him a little chin music with my elbow. He ducks and then reaches down to his shoe, like he's twisted an ankle. "Scott, you OK?" After rolling down his old gym socks, he makes a rush at me. There's something twinkling in the sun. Swoosh. It's a switch blade. "What the fuck was that," the Coach says, pointing the knife at me. I block it with the ball which he jabs. That's NBA leather, tough as nails, tough as Scott Skiles." He turns to the other hoop and throws the knife full court, swish. "Game." But just for good measure, he steals the ball and dunks it on the near hoop like Woody Harrelson in White Men Can't Jump, a primordial scream echoes around the Skiles estate.
Inside, Skiles chugs prune juice by the bottle. "Kareem?" I ask. He nods between gulps.
I use the guest shower and Skiles hands me a leather jacket as we head for the garage. Night is falling. He puts on sunglasses and points to the '81 Stratus. "Let's roll."
This text was excerpted from author Nicholas Churchill's forthcoming biography, Scott Skiles: White Noise, due out from Simon and Schuster later this spring. Churchill is a 13 year veteran of The New Republic and a Founding Editor of Sports Illustrated for KIDS.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
BULLS MAGIC NUMBER*:
Thursday, March 27, 2008
During his first (and most certainly only) season at USC, OJ Mayo has become a lightening rod for criticism. His antagonistic, brash style has rubbed many onlookers the wrong way. And though talented, Mayo has failed to live up to the impossible "The Next Lebron James" expectations that preceded him.
Lost in the all the hoopla is that OJ Mayo is a fantastic guard who will be a lottery pick come draft night. Lets take a look at his game.
A cut 6'4'' 210 lbs, Mayo has tremendous body control and all-around athleticism; he looks like he could have played wide receiver in the NFL if this basketball thing didn't work out. Great handle with a lethal crossover and an outstanding first step. In the halfcourt, he has the ability to pull up on a dime and drain the mid-range jumper or go all the way to the rim for creative layups or explosive slams. Has legit NBA 3 range and is a solid free throw shooter. Solid passer with good court vision; he may shoot a bit too often in college because he can get his shot off so easily but he is surprisingly unselfish with the ball at times. Defense is very good, bordering on outstanding; he is tremendous picking up his man at 35 feet and staying in front of him and has quick hands for steals. An extremely confident player who has the courage to take and make the clutch shot.
For all his strengths, Mayo struggles to fit into a team-oriented style of play. Frankly, he is a ball-hog. He needs the rock in his hands to be effective; he does not move well off screens and does not fit as a catch-and-shoot guy. FG % is low because he shoots too often. Launches too many 3's or forced shots over defenders in the mid-range. Rebounding is average for a player of his physical ability. Struggled against Russell Westbrook of UCLA and though Westbrook projects as an All-NBA caliber defender, it raises questions of how tough defense affects Mayo's offensive game. His intangible are below average; he comes off as antagonistic and arrogant on the court. Does not seem to make his teammates much better.
On talent, Mayo should be a top 5 pick come draft night but the problem is ball-hogging guards are about as out of style in the NBA right now as tapered stone-washed jeans (thank you Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis!). The problem with Mayo is that he will never be able to lead a team to a title as a first man but his game as it is now is completely predicated around being "The Man". A tremendously talented but fatally flawed player, he projects as a cross between Larry Hughes and Stephon Marbury in the league. Look for him to go between 4-10 on draft night.
The Bulls don't want the Eighth Seed.
Eighth seed in the East, lets be honest, is like winning your IM B-League. You know, the league where the frats play their third string dudes like it's a damn JV game and there might be a dude out there in loafers. Teams don't have shirts, they have to borrow pennies, and they're one penny short, so they gotta switch when the dude with the loafers come into the game. It's like that. You've clearly got some skills, but you can't compete with the A-League where the dude you heard transferred from D-1 because he blew out his knee dishes to like the thirty year old assistant coach who got in cause he knows the ref, and the 6-4 hippie in Tevas (rainbows, if tevas are no longer the hippie sandal of choice) slams the put-back. (I've literally seen a 6-4 hippie dunk in the lane over some guys. Does every college IM ball have this dude?) My point is, sure you made it, but your not touching the elite teams.
See up here with 300 Level tickets you really need a close game and a team worth rooting for if you want an exciting game, and right now the Bulls rarely put either on display. Excitement for the Dunkin Donuts race is a good barometer for how good the game is (better than the literal fan barometer, the meter that measures the yelling of the crowd. More on this in later entries). For those not familiar with the Dunkin Donuts race, somewhere late in the third quarter the Bulls feature a three lap race between three personified Dunkin Donut products. Without getting into the details, Dashing Donut and Biggie Bagel race against Cuppy Coffee, all with about an equal chance of winning. Now, the discrepancy between the cheering for the game and the cheering for the race can pretty well show how into a game the crowd is. Recently, I would say Dunkin Donuts is beating the Bulls by about 1500%.
Without a team that has some direction and has guys consistently playing hard, that ratio is going to stand pat (Now cheering out of your mind because you won the free chipotle burritos for a year, that's understandable. That's just a damn good prize.) Unfortunately for the Bulls, they have neither of these elements. Some nights they lose to a lottery-bound eastern conference team and you think hey, maybe we can hit the lottery, get lucky, and get a quality draft pick. Other nights, they play like the hard-working Skiles led Bulls that we had come to know and love. But if they keep switching off then we get that eighth seed. No new assets, no real hope for the future of this core. We can do better than the IM B-League championship, either with a solid playoff showing, or a total collapse. But if we keep treading water, that A-League (I guess represented here by the 13 or 14 more legitimate teams than the bulls) will keep showing us how to do this. We might look better than a lottery team, but we'll definitely be losing like one. Phonte Holla at me!