NBA Draft 2009: Top 10 Largely Picks Itself

May 26, 2009
Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

by Jack Maidment

Why would you pick Blake Griffin with the #1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft?

The answers are two fold:

1. You get the only player ‘guaranteed’ to make an impact straight away a player destined for All-Star status sooner rather than later.

2. As a struggling franchise you draft the player that will sell the most season tickets through sheer weight of interest.

Now, both of these reasons are obvious and self explanatory. Yet it is with no surprise that we hear that the Clippers are listening to offers for their pick.

Such a rumour has started to grow pace as a result of one man’s actions: Ricky Rubio.

It could be argued that the DNA of this Draft class rests heavily on how the man from Spain decides to handle himself as the Big Night draws closer.

Rumours are rumours and their one constant is that they don’t have to hold an ounce of truth: they will still grow larger and gain more talk time. Whether Rubio will commit to the draft regardless of location could dictate the specifics for, at least, the other players in the top 10.

It is difficult to isolate Rubio because his decision will affect everyone making the first 10 picks largely difficult to predict. However, some should be sure things. Observe:

Barring trades and Clipper Madness, Blake Griffin will go first to Los Angeles. As Ron Burgundy would say, ‘that’s a given’.

If Rubio plays hard ball the Grizzlies will likely take Hasheem Thabeet for two reasons. Firstly, he should compliment Marc Gasol’s post game.

Secondly, Memphis couldn’t accommodate another perimeter player who needs the ball to be successful. They already have OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay to demand the rock and it can only be shared so much.

Ricky Rubio may well look attractive to the Thunder, but the bottom line is: could he play in the same backcourt as Russell Westbrook? No. Westbrook can play at the 2, but both want the ball in their hand. Conflict? Yep.

So who do Oklahoma take? James Harden, the best SG in this class would provide them with a perimeter threat who can go to the hoop and finish. A perfect compliment to Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green.

The Sacramento Kings could be a viable alternative for Rubio who would get the reigns to the team and would sell tickets. But, whether he would mesh with Kevin Martin, the franchise’s main scorer and ball demander, is a tough question to resolve.

The Washington Wizards will likely take Jordan Hill who will bring toughness and heart to a front line which lacks fire. His offensive game may be far from polished, but the fact that the Wiz will have Arenas, Butler and Jamison, Hill wont be relied on for production anyway. Just clean the glass and hustle.

Hill seems like a lock for Wahington. He just makes sense. The same can not be said for the next two picks.

It would appear that the T-Wolves and the Warriors will take Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, but which way round does not scream out.

Nellie Ball would suit Jennings more but Monta Ellis might not be too keen. But, to be fair, he might not like the other option any better.

Tyreke is probably a better fit for the Wolves who can persist with Randy Foye at the 1.

It’s a tough call.

If he is still there, the New York Knicks will take the best shooter in the draft, Stephen Curry who should fit perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s offense. That will be nice.

Toronto picks 9th and they will need to address their lack of backcourt power, probably by taking Demar DeRozan. A real slasher, he should fit nicely with Calderon and compliment the Raptors frontline perfectly.

Ramon Sessions’ contract demands will likely lead the Bucks to draft a PG in the shape of Jonny Flynn.

If Rubio pulls out then everything will change, with Jennings the one to benefit.

If he stays in the draft and Memphis or Oklahoma call his bluff, the landscape will change all over again.

It’s all on Rubio.


Good Times in Los Angeles: Lakers Survive Nuggets, Clippers Get Lucky

May 20, 2009
Jennings is Flashy

Jennings is Flashy

by Jack Maidment

One night. Two major stories.

Firstly, the LA Lakers recovered from an early hole to take game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against a Denver Nuggets team which threatened to steal home court all night long on the back of a lights out shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony.

Secondly, LA’s ‘Other Team’, the Clippers, lucked out and obtained the right to pick first in the eagerly anticipated NBA Draft.

Both events promised shocks and surprises and neither disappointed.

For the most part the Lakers were out played by a fired up Denver team who raced out to an early lead before the Lake Show’s bench dragged themselves back into it.

To be honest I’m not sure how Denver lost this game and George Karl’s face told the story at the final buzzer as his side ended the game 2 points down thanks to a Trevor Ariza steal, Kobe Bryant’s 4th quarter scoring outburst and Derek Fisher’s series of crucial big shots.

But lose they did and despite the hit that their playoff momentum took last night, at least the Nuggets know they can take this Laker team to the edge. A sweep this will not be.

The other half of LA joined the victory celebrations as the Clippers snatched the number 1 pick from the other hopefuls.

Hope for the re-birth of a long moribund franchise has been rekindled as the Clips won the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes.

The speculation now focuses on how the ‘Craziest Franchise in the League™’ can go about ruining the opportunity that chance has bestowed upon them.

It would not be a surprise to wake up and discover that the Clips had traded their first pick for a pack of magic beans. Or Tracy McGrady.

But, sanity prevailing, the Los Angeles Clippers will take Blake Griffin, adding character and ferocity in the paint.

The only other consensus top picks are center Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut and Ricky Rubio the Spanish wunderkind point guard.

Barring a spectacular workout by any other prospect, these two will go 2 and 3 with the Memphis Grizzlies likely to take Rubio second given his talent set and the apparent incompatibility of Thabeet with Marc Gasol.

Memphis promises to be a much improved team next year with a nice core of young, exciting players: Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo. Now that is the definition of promise and potential.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will also rapidly improve after their 3rd pick likely takes the 7-3 Thabeet to bolster its front court with a shot blocking and athletic big man.

Based on starting point, the Thunder should become the new Portland, blessed with young players all of whom have tremendous upsides. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, the hugely underated Jeff Green and Hasheem Thabeet? Yes please.

Outside of Griffin, Rubio and Thabeet, the lottery gets vastly more difficult to call with teams reliant on workouts to determine their guy. However, the player snapping at the top 3 is surely Brandon Jennings, arguably the most exciting player in the draft.

An outstanding playmaker with a penchant for the flashy pass, the Compton native is the exact player that struggling teams need to fill arenas making it highly probable that he will be playing in Sacramento next year.

The League’s worst team slipped as low as they could in the Lottery, but the silver lining could be Jennings. A 6-1 point does not get the nickname ‘Young Money’ by chance. Dude is cash and promises much.

A year playing pro ball in Europe can only have given Jennings the experience that his draft colleagues lack. He is used to a demanding schedule, more practices, more travel.

Griffin may be solid and fierce. Rubio might possess great court vision. Thabeet might have a great upside. But, none of them can match the excitement that Jennings can, and will generate. My tip for fan favourite of the year.

Beyond that, the draft of 2009 is far from as deep as the past two years with GMs having to pray that they can uncover a diamond in the rough. Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and James Harden will all look to impress and move up.

This class is open and the fact that nobody really knows who to take makes the build up to the big night itself almost as exciting as a Kobe/LeBron Finals. Ok, maybe not.

But it will be fun.

Do Be Do. 


Shaq Means Championship? NBA GMs Look To Change Their Fortunes With Trades

April 15, 2009
Center Seeks New Home, Willing To Travel For Rings.

Center Seeks New Home, Willing To Travel For Rings.

The final day of the season represents two separate things. For those 16 teams in playoff positions it is a last opportunity to try and improve their seeding. For the other teams in the League it is a chance to savour the last competitive encounter of the lengthy season and to look forward to a period of relaxation and the off season improvement that follows.

 

While the players of teams like the Grizzlies and the Warriors go fishing and eventually hit the gym, the front office of each franchise will be busily planning and revising their strategy for constructing a team capable of storming the playoffs next season.

 

Some of the playing personnel will be working out harder than others in the off season, or at least you would suspect they were, given the fluctuating nature of rosters in teams not necessarily happy with their performance.

 

Some players will be cut and asked to look for employment elsewhere, whereas others will be nervously anticipating any trades that could materialise. The nature of the economy dictates that many teams will in all likelihood not be involved in any blockbuster transactions. So, if we were still in the days of the boom, rather than the bust, which players would be looking for new accommodation?

 

Shaq. Despite his aging hulk of a body, the Big Diesel has proven this season that he is still a major force in the paint, replicating some of the form which led the Lakers and the Heat to Championships. If he is healthy he is still one of the best centers in the L without question.

 

It is highly doubtful that a player who likes to deal in rings is at all happy with his early holiday. Missing the post season is simply not Shaq. The acknowledgement that the great experiment in the desert, where Shaq’s Ying did not mesh as hoped to the Sun’s track meet Yang, is over will surely lead to the Big Aristotle leaving Arizona.

 

The rumoured mid season trade to the Cavaliers should have happened simply because Shaq and LeBron on the same team would be just too much fun. Imagine the pre-game introductions. Imagine Shaq reducing the Celtic’s front line to tears. Imagine the fifth ring and the parade.

 

There is no doubt that Cleveland could use a banging inside presence to compliment Big Z’s more cultured/finesse approach on offense, and Cleveland’s contender status would provide a fitting stage for Shaq to bow out as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.

 

While Shaq finishes his career in Cleveland, a young player could make a big step toward post season success by ditching his lowly franchise for a legit contender. Enter Kevin Durant. Despite the fact that the people of Oklahoma would probably riot if the trade were to go through, KD to Houston would catapult the Rockets forward giving them an explosive swingman capable of hitting big shots: something that they are already supposed to have but for injury after injury to T-Mac.

 

Not only would the Rockets have a great 1-2 punch in Yao and Durant instantly, they would also safe guard the future of the franchise with Durant looking likely to cement his position as one of the League’s absolute elite players, possibly taking Kobe Bryant’s mantle when the lock Hall of Fame player decides to retire in the relatively near future. Durant versus LeBron could replace LeBron versus Kobe as the clash of the titans.

 

The trade of Shaq and Durant as illustrated above may be slightly fantastical to say the least, so how about a shade of realism? The Wizards, the worst team in the East and second worst in the League, have a statistically compelling shot at the number 1 draft pick for this year’s draft. Taking Blake Griffin first overall would give the Wiz some much needed power down low and height on the boards. Combine what is considered to be the only lock-star in the draft with Washington’s roster and on paper you have a contender. On paper.

 

Injuries have blighted the Wizards the past few years but one season is all they need to get back toward the top end of the League. Gilbert Arenas, on the back of rest and renewed focus, is easily one of THE elite guards in the NBA. There is perhaps only one guard by the name of Kobe who you would rather have the ball down the stretch.

 

Caron Butler gives scoring and defensive toughness. Antawn Jamison is probably the most under-rated scorer in the entire League. Guaranteed points. Brendan Haywood gives them valuable size and presence in the paint. Add Griffin and a few veteran role players and the Wizards record one of the biggest turnarounds on their way to a deep post season run.

 

One or two trades is all it can take in the NBA for a franchise to transform its fortunes, see Celtics, Boston. And, Cavaliers, Cleveland.  Equally, one or two trades can be enough to cause an otherwise successful franchise to implode, see Suns, Phoenix. And Pistons, Detroit.     

 

Mediocrity is far from good enough in professional sports, so change is in the air regardless of the economy because ultimately the pursuit of trophies does strange things to people. 


NBA Draft 2009: Luck, The Priceless Commodity. Just Ask The Indiana Pacers…

April 2, 2009
Diamond in the Rough

Diamond in the Rough

The Lottery. A place where statistics can only do so much. A team can certainly improve their odds of success by aiming for a truly horrendous regular season record, but without fate smiling on you come draft night a 10 win season is far from a guarantee of your franchise securing one of the top 3 picks.

 

Cast your mind back a year ago when the Chicago Bulls snatched the number 1 pick when statistically they had a pretty pathetic 1.7% chance of doing so. It was the second biggest upset in draft history behind Orlando’s 1.5% number 1 pick in 1993. All of this serves as a reminder that the lottery is named so for a reason. Anything could happen and probably will.

 

Obtaining the top pick is only part of the problem. No player is a guaranteed sure fire thing coming in to the draft and even the most highly praised prospect can fail to make it in the NBA. And herein lays the major obstacle for GMs around the League: how do you establish which players have the long term potential to become stars based on relatively little information which cannot possibly figure out how well equipped a player is to make the step up into the league? There is no crystal ball. Just ask the teams who have seemingly squandered the top pick in the past.

 

People say that ‘you are better lucky than good’ and no where is this more apparent than on draft night. The difficulty in predicting a player’s potential is illustrated by the fact that numerous current All Stars were drafted outside the top 10, some out of the second round and some go un-drafted only later to excel when given the chance.

 

It can go both ways. Top prospects fail and off the radar players make it big. The drafts ability to surprise and fluctuate is illustrated by the number 17th pick in the 2005 draft, Danny Granger. Drafted out of New Mexico College, Granger was far from an elite prospect, always likely to get taken in the lower first round.

 

Yet, 4 years down the line, Granger has become the Pacers go to guy and the man that the franchise is seeking to build around for future success. He is that good. Averaging 25.1 points per game this season, Granger is one of the premier scorers in the league who continues to improve, consistently getting better every year. His stellar play this year has been rewarded with an All Star nod, and it would not be too brave to suggest that this will certainly not be the last.

 

A 6-8, 228 lbs, forward who can play the 2, 3 and even the 4, Granger is the manifestation of versatility, a man who can help his team in any which way, seamlessly moving around the court to fill gaps left by injuries and his team mates inadequacies.

 

In Danny Granger the Pacers have their franchise player and now its about getting him the help that he can lead into the postseason. Indiana will be hoping that they will replicate their good fortune in taking Granger when they enter the draft this year. They may only hold a 0.7% chance of taking the 1st overall pick, but as drafts of previous years have shown, this does not mean they will not luck out or choose wisely lower down the board.

 

This year’s board is far from loaded, with only one prospect, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, an apparently certified star in the making (ESPN labelled him a ‘young Carlos Boozer. But with hops.’). Everyone else in the lottery occupies a GM’s nightmare grey zone: no doubt talented, but unproven, inconsistent, too small etc. Many of these players are as likely to slide to ignominy as they are to succeed.

 

As GMs know, you are better lucky than good.

 

Welcome to lotteryland.


Phoenix Defeated By Worst In League Sacramento: Lottery Looks Likely For NBA’s Great Entertainers But Playoffs Still No Sure Thing For Rightfully Worried Dallas.

March 30, 2009
Phoenix Still Sporadic, Dirk Still Scared
Phoenix Still Sporadic, Dirk Still Scared

The NBA is full of guarantees. Shaq WILL insult just about every other player who even claims to play the center position in the League. Rip Hamilton IS cash money coming off of screens. Charles Barkley WILL make you laugh. The commentator in Cleveland will NEVER get tired of shouting ‘LEBRON THROWING THE HAMMER DOWN!’ There are many guarantees, but perhaps the most cast iron and absolute is the Phoenix Suns ability to entertain.

 

This entertainment can manifest itself in many forms but usually it is in 140 point outbursts where defence is disregarded and points mean prizes. It is perhaps fitting that as we continue toward the end of the regular season Phoenix has the entire NBA holding its breath as a result of a soap opera style cliff hanger that only the Suns could pull of: a ‘will they, wont they’ stumble toward the post season worthy of America’s finest melo-dramas.

 

Things were starting to look brighter for Phoenix. Despite lying in 9th in West’s standings, the Suns were on a hot winning streak, 5 games; their longest of the season. They were gaining on a faltering Dallas and it seemed inevitable that Nash and Co would squeeze into the second season.

 

If only it was that simple. In the Valley of the Sun simple efficiency is not the done thing. They prefer sporadic genius to sustained grind. So, now, fresh off of a 3 game losing streak, they drop back to 3 and a half games behind Dallas. Of those losses 2 were to playoff calibre teams, Portland and Utah. The third however was against Sacramento last night. The Kings are statistically the worst team in the NBA. Yet they beat Phoenix and in so doing may have spoilt the big playoff party for the Sunds.

 

However, as bad as the Suns were last night, the playoff door is still slightly ajar. They have 8 games to play, only 3 of these are against playoff teams: Houston, New Orleans, and of course, the Dallas Mavericks. The other 5 games provide the Suns with hope: Sacramento (again), Memphis (twice), Minnesota and Golden State.

 

The other reason for optimism lies in Dallas’s schedule: 9 games left, 6 of which are against playoff teams. Miami, Phoenix, Utah, New Orleans (twice) and Houston all stand lie between Dallas and the post season. 3.5 games back, but Dallas must be secretly cautious, especially with Minnesota the only sub .500 team in their final 6 games.

 

It seems inconceivable that either of these franchises will miss out on the playoffs this season. But it will happen. And one of them will be in the lottery for the fist time in what seems like forever. Surely, for either team, the lottery spells destruction. It is hardly likely that a Mavericks failure will be met with patience by Mr Cuban. Wide scale changes will surely occur. And Phoenix will almost certainly press the re-building button which will in all likelihood usher in a substantial period of basement dwelling as young pieces are given some time to develop a la Portland.

 

That would seem the most likely course for Phoenix. But the Suns are hardly known for following the script.

 

Everything will change.

 

Maybe.       


It Happens.

March 21, 2009
How far away is summer 2010?

How far away is summer 2010?

Memphis, Sacramento, Washington, Clippers, Oklahoma, Toronto, Minnesota. The 7 teams with the worst records in the NBA. Who is the odd one out? Pretty obvious, right? What the hell are the Raptors doing in ‘The Basement Club’?!

 

The 6 other teams all have excuses for their pretty woeful positions. The good folks in Sacramento have probably accepted their status as the team with the least prospects for the present and the future. No money, no stars: Kevin Martin can try as hard as he likes, but when your franchise is shipping its best players to save money then you really are caught between a rock and a hard place. If I was Blake Griffin I would be worried. Or playing realllllllly badly during the month of March.

 

Meanwhile, Memphis has a dynamite scorer in the shape of O.J. Mayo and one of the most promising young big men in Marc Gasol. They also have, say it quietly, cap room (whether or not anyone will actually want to go play for Memphis in 2009 or 2010 free agency is another problem entirely). But relying on rookies for an entire season? Its hardly a recipe for a successful season. The case is similar in Oklahoma: their young players just need time to develop and mould around the scarily good Kevin Durant.

 

As for Minnesota and Washington, it is highly unlikely that either team would be where they were if their major star(s) could avoid the treatment table. Without Al Jefferson the Wolves are a little lost, lacking his presence inside. And the Wizards have to be sick of the sight of Gilbert Arenas’ extensive wardrobe collection: looking fly does not prevent your team getting blown out everynight.

 

The Clippers are just the Clippers. And that is why they are still one of the worst in the L, despite possessing a talented roster which, at least on paper, should be the perfect match of youth and experience? Apparently not.

 

With the exception of Sacramento, the other teams all have at least some grounds for optimism: injuries can’t last forever, and young players will get better and gain experience. And then there was one. Toronto. Like the Bush administration getting a second term this one takes some explaining.

 

Last year Toronto was a playoff team. One of the franchises seemingly moving forward, toward the next level: Conference Finals, maybe even the Championship. In Chris Bosh they have a player that every GM in the League would like to get their hands on. So what happened?

 

They traded for Jermaine O’Neal. Whether or not this move was wise from an injury viewpoint, there is no denying that a fit O’Neal is a valuable asset, a big man with skill who could take some of the burden from Bosh’s franchise shoulders. Good thinking. Lets gel and crash some skulls. Or not. After a matter of months, O’Neal was shipped out along with Jamario Moon in exchange for the consummate professional and ultimate unifying force; Shawn Marion. That trade is kinda like playing poker and swapping an ace for another ace. Both are quality players who bring different but equally valuable skillsets to the team.

 

So why are the Raps languishing in the dark? They don’t have injuries. And they aren’t young and inexperienced. I guess the answer is simply that, here we go for the big payoff, it just happens. Wow. What an insight. But it is true. It has happened before where other teams with seemingly no major problems just don’t get going. Their season doesn’t ignite and fairly quickly the losing becomes infectious.

 

Look at Tottenham in the Premier League. Good squad, good summer signings, touted as a top four team, and yet they start poorly and progressively get worse, resulting in a scrap to maintain their status as a top division team.

 

The key is to not allow the rot to set in to start with. Losing is infectious and ensures a miserable and confusing season for all involved.

 

The problem for Toronto is that, while the other teams in the basement have bright(ish) futures, losing is one sure way to open the door for your star man to leave. 2010 free agency is not far away, and Toronto must have a huge turnaround next season to have any hope of keeping hold of Bosh. Or they will be back to square one and the drawing board.  

 

It happens.