Who was the biggest steal of the 2014 NBA Draft? Basketball Insiders’ interns Cody Taylor, John Zitzler and Jesse Blancarte give their thoughts in this week’s edition of Cheap Seats:
The New York Knicks didn’t have a single draft pick in the weeks leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft, but Knicks president Phil Jackson executed a trade with the Dallas Mavericks just one day prior to the draft to acquire Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington and two second-round picks. Even though the Knicks didn’t have a first-rounder, it certainly seems that they landed a first-round talent in Cleanthony Early. The Wichita State product was selected at No. 34, but was projected as a first-round player for much of the pre-draft process. When the Knicks went on the clock on Thursday night, they selected the 23-year-old small forward, who may end up being this draft’s diamond in the rough.
Adding Early to the roster was perhaps one of the biggest steals of the draft due largely in part because he was projected by many mock drafts as a late first-round selection, and was even projected to go as high as No. 24 by Basketball Insiders’ own Yannis Koutroupis. Early is a player who will likely be able to step in immediately and contribute given his ability to create his own shot and score from beyond three-point range. In 35 games during his last season at Wichita State, Early averaged 16.3 points on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three-point range, as well as six rebounds per game.
His ability to score could become extremely valuable should the Knicks lose Carmelo Anthony in free agency. Having Early on the team without Anthony would enable the Knicks to replace part of the 27.4 points per game Anthony averaged last season. Coming in at 6’7, Early also has the physical tools to become a star defender given his 6’10 wingspan and above-average athleticism. The fans on hand at Barclays Center in Brooklyn cheered the pick when it was made, providing perhaps the biggest sign that the Knicks hit a home run on draft night.
Maybe the most impressive part of the draft was the fact that the Knicks were able to land not just one, but two draft picks. The running joke after the Knicks acquired the picks from Dallas was that the idea of the Knicks acquiring draft picks in recent years was just unheard of. Handcuffed by the large contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler before he was traded, the Knicks managed to get younger with the trade and change the landscape of the team.
Of course, the biggest change to the team could come should Anthony leave in free agency after opting out of his contract last week. However, should Anthony return, the Knicks could already be in a much better position than last season despite just finishing the draft. The Knicks would have veterans in Anthony, Calderon, Stoudemire and J.R Smith, with younger players in Early, the Knicks’ second draft pick Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert. It is said that Shumpert has already started training for next season, practicing twice a day, learning the triangle offense and reading all of Jackson’s books to prepare for the season. It seems like the Knicks may be having one of the best offseasons already, and it just started.
– Cody Taylor
At this point, it’s almost safe to assume that whoever the San Antonio Spurs pick will be developed into a useful player down the road. The organization has done a fantastic job evaluating talent in both free agency and the draft, finding guys that will fit into the team’s system and franchise’s culture. Credit general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich, who have done a great job working together hand in hand finding players that can come in and help the team.
In 2007, the Spurs chose Tiago Splitter with 27th pick in the first round. Splitter and the Spurs were patient with his development and adjustment to the NBA after being an accomplished player in Europe, and both sides were rewarded for their patience as this year Splitter played a key role on their championship team. Then, there is Kawhi Leonard, who was acquired during the 2011 draft for George Hill and has blossomed into a star and Finals MVP. Not to mention, key guys like Tony Parker (28th pick) and Manu Ginobili (57th pick) were both selected later in the draft. The Spurs’ ability to find value outside of the lottery has been a big factor in their success. Similarly, in free agency the Spurs been able to turn castaways into contributors with regularity, with guys like Danny Green and Patty Mills, both signed to cheap free-agent deals after toiling away the on Cavaliers and Blazers respectively, becoming crucial players on this year’s championship team.
In the draft on Thursday, the Spurs had the 30th pick and selected Kyle Anderson, a versatile forward out of UCLA. Anderson, nicknamed Slow-Mo for his deliberate pace as well as his lack of quickness and agility, is one of most unique players in this year’s draft class. While he may not be the most athletic player in the world, Anderson makes up for it with a special feel for the game. He was able to keep opposing defenders off balance with a good hesitation move and used his length to finish around the rim in college. He did a little bit of everything at UCLA – a team that certainly wasn’t lacking talent and produced three first-round picks this year – averaging 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. Anderson led the Pac-12 in total assists and total rebounds. He became the focal point of Steve Alford’s attack in just his second year with the program. For a guy his size, Anderson possesses an impressive assortment of skills – he has a solid handle, excellent passing skills and impressive rebounding ability. He made strides as a shooter and was a much more efficient scorer during his sophomore season. His field goal percentage went up from 41.6 percent to 48 percent and even more impressive his three-point percentage was up from 21.1 percent to 48.3 percent from his freshman to sophomore season.
Anderson, like every player in the draft, is certainly not a finished product yet. His most glaring weakness is his lack of athleticism, which will be even more magnified at the next level. However, his versatility and ability to play multiple positions as a point forward should allow him to succeed, and having Popovich helping him maximize his potential will certainly help him. There are questions regarding his remarkable improvement as a shooter, as some wonder if he will be able to continue to knock down shots at or near the rate he did as a sophomore after struggling from the perimeter as a freshman. Also, defensively, his lack of athleticism may be a challenge so it will be important for Anderson to be fundamentally sound when matched up against players who have an edge in athleticism, as most will.
Anderson and the Spurs seem like a perfect marriage, with his skills and their system. Landing him at No. 30 may prove to be steal for a team that has shown one of the best eye’s for talent over the last decade. Anderson has already been compared Boris Diaw with their similar ability to do a variety of things. It’s not hard to picture Anderson playing a very similar role to Diaw in the Spurs’ system. His ability to pass the ball will be a great fit in an offense that relies heavily on ball movement. The Spurs have to be ecstatic that they were able land such a talented guy who should mesh with organization seamlessly. In a few years, don’t be surprised if Anderson is playing a major role as the team transitions into a new era.
– John Zitzler
With the 14th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns selected T.J. Warren from North Carolina State. Last season, Warren contributed 24.9 points (third in the nation), 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. He was the ACC Player of the Year and named a second team All-American by the Associated Press and the Sporting News.
Warren is 6’8, has a 6’10 wingspan and weighs 220 lbs. He is not a great athlete, but he knows how to effectively utilize the athleticism he does have. With his size and skill-set, Warren can play both forward positions, which can create mismatches for opponents, especially in an up-tempo offense such as the Suns’.
Warren’s best attribute right now is his ability to score the ball. He is a very fluid, smooth player who has great scoring touch around the rim (where he shot 70 percent last season). With Eric Bledsoe (if retained) and Goran Dragic alongside him, Warren should have plenty of opportunities to attack the rim in transition, which is a big part of his game.
“Their style fits my game pretty well,” Warren said after being picked by Phoenix. “Transition and fastbreak, that’s my game. I like to get up and down and run.”
In addition, Warren is good at moving without the ball, and cutting to the basket. This part of his game also works well within the Suns’ offensive system, which is based on a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and weak-side movement.
While Warren is a tough cover from mid-range and at the rim, he is a poor shooter from three-point range (26.7 percent), which is something he will need to address moving forward. His shooting mechanics are not bad, so with proper coaching Warren should be able to develop into a solid threat from beyond-the-arc. Though Warren won’t be knocking down a ton of three-pointers in his first season with the Suns, head coach Jeff Hornacek believes he will still be able to contribute.
“He’s such a great scorer, he’s not going to have to rely on the three-point shot,” Hornacek said. “He’ll be able to move without the ball and catch it on the move. When he moves he’s very slick, and he knows when to get the ball up or take an extra dribble and take it up. He has a great feel for the game offensively.”
Warren’s best performances last season came in back-to-back games, scoring 41 points against Pittsburgh and 42 points against Boston College. These games highlighted Warren at his best, especially the game against Boston College. In that game, Warren went 14-of-23 from the field, 14-of-17 from free throw line and also grabbed 13 rebounds. He did not attempt any three pointers, and instead did his damage in transition, off backdoor cuts and with midrange floaters.
While Warren is a talented offensive player, his defensive skills need some work. He is not great at guarding opposing players in isolation, but he is a solid team defender. He also plays passing lanes well, evidenced by his 1.8 steals per game. In addition, Warren showed improved defensive skills in his workout for the Suns prior to the draft. After Warren’s workout, Hornacek said: “The question for him wasn’t the scoring part, it was the defense. I thought he did a great job defensively. Getting his hand on the ball, he was better than I anticipated from watching tape.” The ability to play the passing lanes will be especially important in Phoenix, where the team is always looking to create transition opportunities.
While some may argue that Warren was drafted in a position that is representative of where he stands in comparison to his peers, it is not unreasonable to think he could end up being one of the top players to emerge from this draft years down the line. Keep in mind that opposing defenses geared up to stop Warren, which led to him taking a lot of tough, contested shots. Warren will be on a team that could feature Bledsoe, Dragic, Gerald Green, Channing Frye, the Morris twins and other talented players. This should keep defenses from loading up on him like they did in college. Add to this the possibility that Warren could become a three-point shooter down the line, and you start to see how effective of a player he could be as a pro, especially with a team like the Suns that will utilize and maximize his talents.
Players like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid will likely be the top players to come out of this draft, yet there is room for Warren to establish himself as a steal at 14 in hindsight. Players like Nik Stauskas, Noah Vonleh, Elfrid Payton, Dario Saric and Zach LaVine have great potential, but they are not locks to be great players several years from now. Warren has that same great potential, but his ability to score is almost certain to translate to the NBA.
Warren may not be the best player to come out of this draft, but several years from now, we will wonder how he was not picked higher. Credit the Suns for recognizing what he can do, and not overly criticizing him for what he currently cannot do. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is assembling an impressive core of young players in Phoenix, and in Warren he got the steal of the draft.
– Jesse Blancarte
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”
NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18
With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.
A Lot of Mock Movement
With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.
It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.
Here is this week’s Mock Draft:
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with the season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.