Thursday, May 21, 2009

What of 15-30? Early First Round Projections

The lottery comprises less than 1/2 of the NBA draft's first round. As of now, here's how I see the rest of the picks falling:

15 Detroit Pistons
Soon enough, the Pistons, who already rue the day they dealt Chauncey Billups to Denver, will be in need of a PG more than any team in the league. Virginia Commonwealth product Eric Maynor is a perfect fit due to his ideal size (6-3/185), extraordinary experience, stat-stuffing potential (22.4-6.2-3.6 as a senior). With Rip, Prince and 'Sheed not getting any younger, the Pistons will look for someone who can contribute immediately, and Maynor would make an ideal backcourt mate for future star Rodney Stuckey.

16 Chicago Bulls
With Ben Gordon ready to test the free agent waters, and a plethora of promising young big men, the Bulls will take a good long look at this year's fruitful guard crop, likely leaning towards USC swingman DeMar DeRozan, who could become one half of the most athletic backcourt in the league when paired with ROY Derrick Rose.

17 Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have a great young core (Iguodala, Young, Williams, Speights) and a couple veterans who still really produce (Miller, Brand). In short, they have no visible holes at this point, but could still use a good shooter to offset the many guards who rely heavily on their athleticism to score. I like the 2009 NCAA Final Four MOP Wayne Ellington here.

18 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves sadly struck out with promising swingman Corey Brewer, it seems, and while Ryan Gomes is a serviceable SF, I don't see him playing a prominent role their future plans. The versatile, experienced Sam Young doesn't have the upside that Brewer had entering the draft, but he certainly doesn't have his downside, either.

19 Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are a major anomaly in the world of drafting, as they have a knack for expertly cultivating raw talents (Martin Williams, Josh Smith) and wasting proven NCAA superstars (Acie Law, Shelden Williams, though they got it right with Al Horford). Gonzaga forward Austin Daye, projected as the #1 pick in this draft when he entered college by, could benefit from Atlanta's propensity for making unproven prospects into well-rounded ballplayers.

20 Utah Jazz
Boasting arguably the least intimidating bench in the league, Utah is in dire need of a scorer who Kobe can't afford to guard with 10 feet of separation between (I'm talking to you, Ronnie...). Marcus Thornton, who, when on, is the best scorer in this class (21.1 ppg), is a perfect fit. He would add some much-needed firepower to this deflated second unit.

21 New Orleans Hornets
CP3 has probably spent the last three seasons dreaming of having an ally in the backcourt who could scare the defense a little bit and relieve the pressure of organizing the offense every possession. Gerald Henderson's athleticism and constantly improving shot would finally give the second best PG from the 2005 draft class a fellow guard to complement his tremendous skill.

22 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs might just as well face the fact that most of them are just a bunch of pansies, Nowitzki excluded, of course, who don't want to play defense and chuck the ball. Terrence Williams , arguably the most well-rounded player in the draft (12.5-8.6-5 and 2.3 spg), would add some toughness and unselfishness to this spoiled, slowly regressing team.

23 Sacramento Kings
As I noted earlier, this team has two very good young big men (Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson), and their top 5 scorers are 6-7+, so they should look to go small with their 2nd pick as well (I have them taking Harden 4th overall). Jodie Meeks is a dynamite scorer, arguably the best in this class, and his refined, NBA-ready game would benefit the woeful Kings immediately.

24 Portland Trailblazers
The best drafting team in the league over the past 4 seasons is also exceptionally deep, so they can afford to make a potential pick and maybe stock him overseas for a year or two. 6-10 forward Victor Claver has long been projected to be a first-rounder, and he could be a nice backup to Travis Outlaw at the 3.

25 Oklahoma City Thunder
Which brings me to my 4th favorite player in this draft: St. Mary's PG Patrick "Patty" Mills. The first time I saw Mills play, in a game against Gonzaga, in which he scored 18 in the first half and then got injured, I was stunned like I can't ever remember being. As a backup to Westbrook, or the starter at the helm of this exceedingly talented young team, he's a great fit.

26 Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have essentially no holes, so they can take a chance on UCLA PG/SG Jrue Holiday, who made one of the most bone-headed decision to enter of any player in this draft, but is still quite talented and a respectable defender.

27 Memphis Grizzlies
Hakim Warrick has slowly regressed in each of the last three seasons, meaning the Grizz might be looking for a change of scenery at the 4. Jeff Adrien's toughness (9.9 rpg) would nicely complement Gasol down low, and Memphis' front line a little more intimidating.

28 Minnesota Timberwolves
In letting go of Rashad McCants, the T-Wolves let go of one of their best shooters and weapons off the pine. Florida State G Toney Douglas could average 15 ppg with enough playing time, for he's a real scorer, and true scorers don't tend to lose much in the transition from NCAA to the L.

29 Los Angeles Lakers
LA has seemingly 4 good players at every position except at PF and C, where they might be hurt even more over the summer should Lamar Odom, one of their key big men who excels at post defense, leave as a free agent. Gani Lawal is a little short (6-9/235) to be a fill-in for Gasol or Bynum, but his top-shelf athleticism, 7-foot wingspan, and 1.5 bpg suggest otherwise.

30 Cleveland Cavaliers
3-time Final 4 vet Darren Collison could be the true backup PG the Cavs have been without for far too long.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Early NBA Draft Lottery Mock

1 Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin could not have landed in a better position, as he preps to play for a major market team with a veteran PG (Baron Davis), plenty of special young talents (Eric Gordon, Al Thornton), and a couple established big men to teach him how to buckle down on the block (Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman). If they're smart, they'll get rid of Zach Randolph ASAP - he's a bad influence both on and off the court, but even if he should encroach on BG's development, at least the Clippers know they don't have another Kandi Man on their hands.

2 Memphis Grizzlies
Shockingly, Memphis has a very neat lineup set for the next few years, with Conley (10.9-4.3) at the point, Mayo (18.5-3.2) at the 2, Rudy Gay (18.5-5.5) at the swing, Hakim Warrick (11.6-5) at the 4, and Marc Gasol (11.9-7.4) down low. There isn't much toughness to speak of in that lineup, but their most dire need lies at the point, where a mid-season trade sent a promising Kyle Lowry to Houston and left 21-year old starter Conley without a backup. There has been much talk of the Grizz dealing him, and even if that never comes to fruitition, having Spanish gem Ricky Rubio would make for a nice safety net, because I can promise you no set of guards in the Association will ever look forward to a date with a guard rotation of Conley, Rubio and Mayo.

3 Oklahoma City Thunder
There isn't a more perfect fit in this draft. The Thunder have enough young stars dying to get their shots as it is, and their only real hole is at the center position. Hasheem Thabeet would be asked to do nothing more than block as many shots as possible and rebound like a fiend, which suits his game, and the Thunder's style, just fine.

4 Sacramento Kings
The Kings' top 5 scorers in the 2008-09 campaign were all over 6-7, which suggests they're certainly leaning towards going small on draft night. With Beno Udrih locked in at the point, Arizona State All-American James Harden would be a perfect fit alongside bonafide star Kevin Martin. Harden, unlike fellow lottery-hopeful SG's Tyreke Evans and DeMar DeRozan, is ready to contribute immediately, something the league-worst Kings will undoubtedly have in mind when they pick fifth.

5 Washington Wizards
This is the pick that will most drastically alter the course of the draft. Expecting to be in a position to at least draft Ricky Rubio, the commanding PG they've been without since Rod Strickland departed for Portland in 2001, the Wizards instead find themselves in a major bind. In an attempt to make up for the gap between picks 2 and 5, they might do something irresponsibly brash and take a DeRozan or a Holiday in the hopes of striking gold - that would be an irreparable mistake. Still in need of a PG, I see North Carolina product Ty Lawson as the perfect fit. Many will suggest they draft Brandon Jennings, but I just don't see the trigger-happy, exceptionally immature Jennings lasting more than a week with Arenas, Butler and Jamison, all of whom demand at least 16 shots per game. Lawson is exceedingly unselfish, poised, always under control...and, oh yeah - he's a champion. That's the type of player the Wizards need right now.

6 Minnesota Timberwolves
If I hadn't already made this clear, let me reiterate: I am not a fan of Brandon Jennins. I don't ever see a team winning with him, and I wouldn't draft him if he inexplicably dropped to 53. But in this case I'm thinking as I suspect the T-Wolves GM might think, and I think he's thinking he needs a PG to spice up a squad that, despite having a couple talented low-post players in Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, looks to be the Western Conference's punching bag for the next few years. And, well, If you need spice, Jennings is you're boy, and he'll make this team very hard to manhandle.

7 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors, like the Wizards, are chock full of born scorers who want nothing less than a young stud stealing their shots. This team needs a player like Jordan Hill, a real bruiser who can run with the guards and put a body on the opposition's bigs. Hill is not yet a proven scorer, and being on a team like the Warriors where he won't be expected to produce immediately on the offensive end will help him in the long run.

8 New York Knicks
There's been speculation in the media that the Knicks have promised to select Stephen Curry, my favorite player in this draft, at #8. I don't know that he'll make it that far - I think Sacramento and Minnesota will definitely have him in mind even as their clock winds down - and they're no way he's slipping any lower. I've never seen anyone like him in college, and he may well be the player that revives the Knicks, a challenge that I'm sure he'll welcome with open arms.

9 Toronto Raptors
Memphis combo guard Tyreke Evans and USC swingman DeMar DeRozan have already begun battling for the right to become the Toronto Raptors SG of the future. Anthony Parker worked out well for a few years, but this team has big plans, with Chris Bosh entering his prime, former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani finally playing close to his potential, and PG Jose Calderon arguably the most efficient player in the league (4.2 A/TO, 98.1% FT). Evans is the dynamic guard who, despite leaving after his freshman season, has the appearance of a seasoned pro, leading Memphis to a 35-4 record last year, and seems to me to be a real difference maker, not just a potential pick.

10 Milwaukee Bucks
There's no getting around it: the Milwaukee Bucks are a boring, boring team that really nobody wants to watch. That could easily change in the coming months, though, should the Bucks select an exciting PG with the potential to turn this team upside down and justly complement the fine talents of Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson and Andrew Bogut. Syracuse PG Johnny Flynn is that player, a surprisingly mature spark plug who could one day become a force in the league. I really like him here.

11 New Jersey Nets
As my dad, a lifelong Nets fan pointed out, this up-and-coming NJ team is one player able to set a rock hard pick for Devin Harris away form contending in the East, and I think he'd surely agree that Pitt PF/C Dejuan Blair is that player. The Nets have gone after pure rebounders in the past with Josh Boone and Sean Williams, but neither had Blair's pedigree, his winner's mentality or his smooth 16-foot J. He's the blue-collar big man who will make Harris' and Vince Carter's lives a lot easier as they prepare to make their first run since JKidd's departure.

12 Charlotte Bobcats
For probably the first time in franchise history, the Bobcats, coming off their best season in franchise history, don't feel the weight of the world resting on their lottery pick. With two franchise PGs (Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin) and a couple other stars worth mentioning in Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor, the Bob Johnson Cats can rest easy and take a player such as Louisville's Earl Clark, a swingman with the potential to play 4 positions and will eventually contribute, for he has all the tools and experience you could hope for picking at this spot.

13 Indiana Pacers
I'm not the biggest James Johnson fan, but I feel he fits in really well here, on team whose tallest starter is 6-10 with the rest standing 6-8 or below. Johnson is versatile on both ends of the floor, and would likely get some run on a smallish team such as this.

14 Phoenix Suns
Considering the success Rajon Rondo (the 21st overall pick by Phoenix in 2006) is having in Boston, one thing's for sure: the Suns certainly aren't selling this pick. Not only does Chase Budinger fully deserve to be drafted in the lottery due to his commitment to improving his game on the college level even after being projected a top-10 pick after his freshman and sophomore seasons. Budinger's versatile offensive game and superior athleticism should allow him to fit in fine in Phoenix.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cavs vs. Magic: 2009 Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Despite being shamefully denied a matchup of St. Joe's alums Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, this could still be an exciting Eastern Conference finals, though it all depends on how badly Orlando wants it. They fought tooth and nail in game 7 against Boston, displaying an intensity and a hunger that we hadn't yet seen from this relatively inexperienced squad. They can shoot with the best of them and have the best young big man - if not the best of all big men - in the league down low, and an exceptionally deep bench that's driven teams crazy thus far in the postseason.

The Cavs need no introduction, no assurance of their drive or their will. The consensus among fans, writers, and commentators seems to be that this team is destined to win a championship, if not this year then next. Let's see what Dwight Howard has to say to that...

Chief among the reasons to care about this series, even if its rarely close, is the matchup between LeBron James and Dwight Howard, two #1 picks out of high school who really panned out. Selected first overall in consecutive years, James and Howard represent the epitome or potential realized. They were the prospects scouts and GM's scour all ends of the earth for, and are now the perennial All-Stars and record-breakers they were born to become. They are the two most athletic and physically awe-inspiring specimens in all of sport, and are aged 24 and 23, respectively. They are the Most Valuable Player and the Defensive Player of the Year. This is just the first of many crucial meetings between these generational talents, and is therefore of historical significance. Watch, and witness, er, take notice as these future hall of famers do battle for a shot at glory.

But lest we forget, this is a team game. Here is how it breaks down:

Cavs 3 Keys to Winning

1. Force the guards to step up
Well over 50% of the Magic's scoring this postseason has come from the big 3 of Howard (19.6), Lewis (19.8) and Torkoglu (14.2), amounting to just over 53 ppg. The Cavs might just be satisfied allowing 53 ppg to those three, because they feel that the erratic Rafer Alston, not entirely healthy Courtney Lee, slumping JJ Redick, and 6th man Mickael Pietrus will have a tough time making up the difference. Should those four play just as they have the past seven games, the Magic will have a tough time breaking the century mark anytime this series.
2. Don't settle for jump shots
If the Magic looked like an impenetrable force against the Celtics, its only because they only ever had three players at most to worry about on the court at once - that certainly won't be the case against the Cavs. An exceptionally patient, remarkably efficient offense that ends just about every possession with a good, high percentage shot, Cleveland should run circles around the Magic. Even the one distinct defensive advantage the Magic have - defensive POY Dwight Howard down low - is all but made inconsequential by the fact that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a good four inches taller, and their second best defender, Courtney Lee, has seen his minutes nearly cut in half since his injury. The way I see it, the Cavs should have no problem dropping 105-115 every game if they remain patient on offense.
3. Stay hungry, my friends
If the Cavs had become complacent yet, they wouldn't have won every game by double digits, so its practically useless warning this Finals-destined team of lackadaisical play...but you never know when complacency might kick in. After they likely take a 2-0 series lead, they had better play even tenser than before if they want to realize their potential as a team.

Magic 3 Keys to Winning

1. Shooters must become playmakers
Its easy to think of the Magic as a band of 6-10 shooting guards who want nothing more than to chuck three pointers and shoot contested fade-aways to their heart's content, but don't get it twisted: when wings Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu make an effort to get teammates involved, this is one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. When either Lewis or Turkoglu record at least 4 assists - just 4 - the Magic are 6-1 this postseason. If you need further evidence of Magic's thriving on these scorer's getting their teammates involved, look no further than their win over the Celtics in game 7, in which the two combined for 16 assists in the team's 19-point win in Boston.
2. Mix and match on LeBron
Shutting down LeBron is an impossibility, which the Magic have probably already accepted, but they can still neutralize him for short, but extremely meaningful stretches. By using their uncommon size, the Magic can rotate the taller and longer Turkoglu (6-10) and Lewis (6-10) on James, while occasionally mixing in the athletic and energetic Mickael Pietrus (6-7), in order to prevent James from settling into a comfort zone where he feels out the defender and proceeds to abuse him for just about the entire game. Plus, the length of Turkoglu and Lewis will undoubtedly encourage him to drive more often, a scenario the Magic should feel more comfortable with with the defensive POY guarding the hole.
3. Utilize depth
For their many shortcomings, the Magic are undoubtedly the deepest team left in the playoffs, which extends about 10 deep on a nightly basis. The Magic have 8 players averaging at least 15 mpg this postseason (to the Cavs' 6), and each player knows his role on both ends of the floor. This is one of the few areas in which the Magic might have the Cavs beat.

Floor Game

Even if Mo Williams (14.8 ppg) and Delonte West (13.3 ppg) weren't playing at their top their game, they're still matching up against a PG - Alston - coming off a 7-game series in which he averaged 7.7 ppg, and a rotations of SG's - Lee and Redick - who are, respectively, ailing, and on a disastrous tear form beyond the arc. This isn't a contest.
Advantage: Cavs

Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are playing great basketball, but so, unfortunately, is Lebron James, whose playoff averages of 32.9-9.8-6.8 and 2.0 spg while shooting 53.2% from the field are the stuff legends are made of. Factor in the contributions of Anderson Varejao, and the Cavs combo significantly outscores (38.5-33), rebounds (17.1-11), and defends (3.25 spg - 1.86 spg, 2.1 bpg - 0.9 bpg) the Magic's 2nd and 3rd best players.
Advantage: Cavs

Here, the Magic take their revenge. Though he might find maneuvering his way around the taller Ilgauskas an inconvenience, Dwight Howard is astronomically better than any big the Cavs could match up against him. His numbers against the Celtics were bananas, downright Moses Malone like, as he tore down an inhuman 17 rpg.
Advantage: Magic

This is a very, very close one. The Magic are certainly deeper, but what the Cavs bring to the table is arguably more appealing, especially in terms of experience. In the end, though having four or five players capable of dropping 4-6 points wins out, though, the Magic's band of Mickael Pietrus, Anthony Johnson, Marcin Gortat, Tony Battie and (occasionally) JJ Redick just barely winning out.
Advantage: Magic

The Magic win 2 of these 4 categories, but I don't see it being that close - I think its hard for any team to have much better guards and forwards and lose in such a series. That said, here's My Prediction: Cavs in 5

It is likely that the Magic will take one at home, but the odds of their winning in Cleveland are about 0-5% - literally 0-5%, for the Cavs, including playoffs, have won 95% of their home games this season. They're in such an unconscious zone right now that I don't think any Western Conference power they face in the next round will have a chance at swiping one either.

What do you have to say to that, Dwight?