Word leaked out this week that Kevin Garnett was discussing a buyout with the Minnesota Timberwolves, presumably to retire after tying the record for most seasons played in NBA history.
If true, Garnett officially will end his career as one of the best power forwards of all-time. Known first and foremost for a competitive drive that borders on insanity, Garnett has always deeply, truly cared about the game of basketball. And when a person like that possesses talent like Garnett’s, the results are almost sure to be as impressive as they’ve been for KG.
Had Garnett played this year, he would have been the only active player left from the 1995 NBA Draft. To put that in perspective, there are currently no active players from the 1996 or 1997 NBA Drafts. He’s lasted forever in a way that’s always resonated with his fans, and his career is one of the more fascinating and memorable of anybody in his generation.
The High School Renaissance
Drafted fifth overall out of Farragut Academy in Chicago, Garnett was the first player to skip college for the NBA since Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby did it 20 years prior. He played only a single season at Farragut, but averaged 25.2 points, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 6.5 blocks while he was there. This was more than enough to earn him a McDonald’s All-American nod (where he’d win the game’s MVP award) and plenty of attention from NBA scouts who wondered if he would forego an opportunity to play at the University of Michigan or University of Maryland to turn pro.
He was unable to qualify academically for college, but that didn’t matter. He was so good in high school that he easily went top five to a Wolves team that still hadn’t found its way out of its expansion team doldrums. In high school, Garnett already had his patented turnaround jumpshot and his ability to slam home a missed shot off an offensive rebound, but he was also a gifted passer and an otherworldly defender. In the mid 1990s, Garnett was built like Thon Maker, but his passion was clear even then and he displayed it immediately in Minneapolis.
The fact that Garnett was able to make the leap from high school as successfully as he did (averaging 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his rookie season) paved the way for Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal to do the same a year later, then Tracy McGrady the year the after that. Those guys got the gumption to skip college because Garnett did it. And without KG proving that 18-year-old kids could make that transition so seamlessly, NBA drafts and NCAA tournaments between 1995 and 2005 could have had very different results.
The Rise to Relevance
Garnett started his NBA career with a team that had never in its entire five-year existence won 30 games in a season, so expectations were obviously tempered. Nobody expected Garnett to turn things around immediately, especially given his age. However, as soon as the Wolves replaced head coach Bill Blair with Flip Saunders that year, Garnett was injected into the starting lineup and played well enough over the course of the season to be named to the All-Rookie Second Team. He wouldn’t make the playoffs in 1995-96, but that would be the last time he’d fail to make the postseason for the next eight consecutive years.
In his second season, Minnesota pulled off a draft-day trade to pair Garnett with Stephon Marbury, and that was the exact moment that things turned around for the franchise. During that sophomore campaign, Garnett would average 17 points, eight rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.7 steals, which earned him a spot on his first All-Star team. Minnesota would finish two games under .500, but they finally, mercifully, made the playoffs in 1997. They didn’t win, but the fact that Garnett could will them there at such a young age spoke volumes to what the future held for him.
Of coures, it only got better from there. In 1997, Garnett agreed to what at the time was an unheard-of $126 million contract extension to be paid over the course of six years. But despite some controversy about what was then considered an exorbitant amount of cash, he earned every dime of that money. Over the course of that six-year deal, he averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds every season while leading the Wolves to the playoffs each year. The only All-Star Game he missed during that span was in lockout-shortened 1999 when there was no All-Star Game, and he made an All-NBA Team (including three First Team selections) in each of those six seasons as well.
By 2004, the Wolves were a Western Conference powerhouse and Garnett was considered one of the league’s most dominant players. It only took him about two seasons in the NBA to transform from a teenager to a superstar. Then, within a half decade, he was one of the best professional basketball players alive.
The MVP and Western Conference Finals
That all came to a head in the 2003-04 campaign, when the Wolves won a franchise-record 58 games and found their way to the Western Conference Finals. Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell came aboard that year to help push the Wolves over the postseason hump, but Garnett posted a career-year in which he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, five assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals for the season. Those are Most Valuable Player numbers, and the league rewarded him with the trophy.
Best of all, though, after seven years of getting ousted in the first round, the Wolves finally won their first-ever playoff series with a 4-1 thrashing of the Denver Nuggets in the spring of 2004. They won another, tougher series in the second round when they toppled the Sacramento Kings, 4-3. Then, they found themselves up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, Cassell got hurt in that series and backup Troy Hudson was already injured, so despite the fact that Garnett was averaging career-best playoff numbers – 24.3 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.2 steals in 43.5 minutes per game – it wasn’t enough to beat a loaded Lakers team. At the time, that L.A. squad was viewed the same way that the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors are now (with not only Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on the roster, but also Karl Malone and Gary Payton).
With Cassell out and the competition so stiff, Garnett and Co. would lose that series 4-2. That would be as close as Garnett would ever get to winning a championship in Minnesota.
Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Champion
In fact, the Wolves would miss the playoffs for the next three seasons in what has to be considered one of the nastiest basketball hangovers in league history. Sprewell turned down a $21 million contract in the summer of 2004 because he had “a family to feed,” and the Minnesota front office traded away Cassell to avoid getting hampered with the contract of an older, oft-injured player.
These weren’t happy times for Garnett. After a nine-year career building himself into a superstar and helping his team make baby steps toward contending for a championship, everything fell apart and it clearly wasn’t going to turn back around any time soon. That’s when Wolves owner Glen Taylor finally agreed to listen to trade offers for his franchise cornerstone, and he found a very willing trade partner in the Boston Celtics.
Danny Ainge shipped five players and two draft picks to Minnesota for Garnett, which still constitutes the most players ever swapped for a single player in league history. Garnett immediately signed a three-year extension with the Celtics after the trade, and with the addition of Ray Allen to a roster that already included Paul Pierce, there absolutely was a sense that Garnett might finally be in position to win his first ring. At the time, there were even whispers that the Celtics may be the NBA’s next modern dynasty.
That first season in Boston, Garnett averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks. His numbers were down, but he was only playing 32.8 minutes per game and the focus was clearly on hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. Even with those stats, his smothering team defense and leadership on that end of the floor earned him the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008. Interestingly, it was the only major NBA award that a Boston Celtics player had never won.
It was only a preview of good things to come. Boston would rip through the 2008 NBA Playoffs and topple the Lakers in six games, giving Garnett his first (and ultimately only) championship.
Garnett’s post-game speech remains one of the most emotional celebratory interviews NBA fans have ever seen.
After six seasons in Boston, the core of the group started to show its age a little as the team became less competitive with every passing year. After making the Finals twice in Garnett’s first three years there, the Celtics only even got to the Conference Finals once in the next three seasons (and even that particular run was pretty improbable). In 2013, the last time that particular “Big Three” played together, Boston was bounced in the first round.
That summer, Ainge traded Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for a king’s ransom, but Garnett wouldn’t even last two years there.
After a season-and-a-half in New York, Minnesota made a move to bring Garnett back in February of 2015, mostly to mentor some of the team’s younger players. Younger Wolves players talked about how much more intense practice got after the trade.
It might not be any coincidence that Minnesota has had the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in each of the last two seasons, with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns taking home that hardware under Garnett’s tutelage.
His numbers in Minnesota have been awful. Garnett averaged only 3.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in what may be his final season in the league, but he wasn’t brought back to help the team win a championship. Not right now, anyway. They brought him in to show kids like Towns, Wiggins and Zach LaVine how to be a pro, maximize potential and build a winning culture so that they can eventually compete for titles. You can bet that if this Wolves core ever wins a title, at least one of them is going to thank Garnett for being such an important influence in their formative years.
As a sure-thing Hall-of-Famer, Garnett walks away from the game as an all-time great. He helped make Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady and even LeBron James happen, but his impact goes beyond his prep-to-pro barrier breaking. His ultra-competitive nature turned him into one of the great rebounders and defenders of his generation. While he didn’t get to bring a title to the team he helped legitimize, he does walk away with the one thing he always wanted: an NBA championship ring.
NBA Daily: One Year Later, Yogi Ferrell Continues To Rise
One year after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Yogi Ferrell is still thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.
It was never going to be easy for Yogi Ferrell.
At just 6-foot-0, there were major concerns about Ferrell and his ability to effectively contribute at the professional level, so the 24-year-old was a near-lock to go undrafted despite his impressive haul of collegiate honors. In 2016, he did not hear his name called on draft night — but for a gamer like Ferrell, pushing on was always the only option.
However, on this particularly cold mid-season evening, Ferrell sits at his locker and studies film on a tablet. He looks comfortable and focused as if he knows that this moment cannot be ripped away from him once again. Today, Ferrell is the Dallas Mavericks’ backup point guard and is settled into a consistent, steady role amongst a currently crowded backcourt. For Ferrell, he now finally has the life of an everyday NBA player.
But just over one year ago, Ferrell had to take the road less traveled to reach professional basketball for good.
“It was actually about this time [last year] when [the Nets] decided to waive me and I went back to Long Island,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t know I’d be here. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me and I’m just still trying to be here in Dallas.”
To be exact, the Brooklyn Nets waived Ferrell on December 8th, 2016. 365 days (and counting) later, Ferrell has earned his guaranteed contract but he’s still playing like he has something to prove.
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In order to fully understand Ferrell’s winding journey, it’s necessary to go back to where his story really kicked off: Summer League. Following a solid audition in Las Vegas — 8.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game — Ferrell was shifted to Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. With the offseason signings of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, plus the addition of rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, there was no room for Ferrell and he was the last man cut in training camp.
Before the Nets could even blink, Vasquez re-injured his problematic ankle just three games into the campaign, an ailment that would eventually require season-ending surgery. Lin, of course, lasted just two more games before a hamstring injury derailed the key free agent acquisition until December.
Out of nowhere, it was time for Ferrell.
After waiving Vasquez, the Nets signed Ferrell on November 9th — the same day as his NBA debut, where he logged five points and three assists in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. But as the Nets continued to free fall without their veteran point guards, Ferrell grew more confidently into his role and was a solid fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s three-point heavy rotation. Over 10 contests with Brooklyn, Ferrell tallied just 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15 minutes per game. Nonetheless, for a suddenly talent-deficient roster, it appeared as if the point guard was poised to stick around through the winter.
In a surprise twist of fate, the Nets waived Ferrell to sign Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially guaranteed three-year deal, opting to tie their future to a different G-League point guard instead. Just like that, it was back to Long Island for Ferrell — but surprisingly, it wasn’t something that he hung his head over for too long.
“I knew my next opportunity was going to come — I didn’t know when, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Ferrell said. “I had a great coach — coach [Ronald] Nored — and he told me to still go about my business as if I was still in the NBA. I didn’t get all the luxuries, but if you treat yourself like a pro, like you’re there now, once you get there, it’ll make it easier and you can make a splash.”
Upon returning to the G-League, Ferrell continued his hot streak and ended up averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds over a total of 18 games — both before and after his NBA call-up with the Nets. Ultimately, it wasn’t long before another franchise took notice of the enigmatic guard and the Mavericks capitalized, signing Ferrell to a 10-day contract while both Deron Williams and Devin Harris were hampered by injury. His debut with Dallas saw Ferrell tally nine points and seven assists in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker — but somehow, that was only the beginning
Affectionately nicknamed Yogi-Mania — a play on Linsanity, Lin’s historic stretch with the Knicks back in 2012 — Ferrell re-joined the NBA red-hot, even leading Dallas to back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. Quickly thereafter, Ferrell signed a multi-year deal with Dallas and then promptly torched the Portland Trail Blazers for nine three-pointers and a total of 32 points. Over his initial two-week stretch with the Mavericks, Ferrell scored 10 or more points in seven of his first nine games and made a serious claim for a permanent spot in the rotation.
Of course, the multi-year contract offered Ferrell something else he hadn’t yet experienced in the NBA: Job security. After Ferrell’s team option was picked up last June, he was happy to have a role with the Mavericks once again, no matter how big or small. Without the worry of being on borrowed time, Ferrell was able to train, learn the system and embrace of the city of Dallas during the offseason.
“The offseason was pretty good, I played summer league with some of the young guys,” Ferrell said. “It was great to work every day and get to know the coaches better, the area of Dallas better. Headed into training camp, I just wanted to work on my game and I had lot more confidence.”
One of those coaches he’s gotten to know better is Rick Carlisle, an old-school guard that has found success as both a player and coach. Under Carlisle, Ferrell has averaged 28.3 minutes per game so far as a sophomore, good for the third-highest total on the entire roster. Ferrell, who was in the G-League at this time last year, has merited more playing time than any other point guard on the team — a list that includes rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (28.1), J.J. Barea (22.5), and the aforementioned Harris (18.9). For Ferrell, much of his second-year successes have come from simply putting Carlisle’s words of wisdom into action.
“He’s just always telling me to be a threat,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders of Carlisle. “First of all, be a threat to score because that’s what opens up everything else. If you’re pushing the pace and getting in the paint, attacking, especially for somebody like myself in my position. You want to just cause 2-on-1s and kicks and find whatever the defense gives us.”
While Yogi-Mania was built off of an electric career-altering hot streak, Ferrell has been a contributor this season in a more consistent, experienced way. Building off the All-NBA Rookie Second Team berth Ferrell earned in just 36 games with Dallas last season, the point guard is now often one of the first guards off the bench, a role that Barea has long excelled in. The comparisons between Ferrell and Barea are all too obvious, the latter being another 6-foot-nothing guard that has carved out a 12-year career after going undrafted in 2006.
During the Mavericks’ championship-winning playoff run in 2011, Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists, including massive back-to-back 15-plus point outings in Dallas’ series-defining Game 5 and 6 victories. These days, Ferrell is just thankful to have teammates like Barea and Harris to learn from on and off the court.
“I always say that I like watching them, especially how they play,” Ferrell said. “I try to mimic the older guys, Devin and J.J., they’re so synced together when they play, it’s something special to watch. I just try to go out there and mimic what they do, they’ve been successful at it and been in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to learn from guys like them.”
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Precisely, it’s been 370 days since Ferrell was first waived by Brooklyn and has found success at the NBA level that little believed was possible. Not one to let an obstacle get in his way, Ferrell went undrafted and still managed to earn a multi-year contract before he even hit 20 career appearances. For his dominating stretch in the G-League last season, Ferrell was named an All-Star — although he was too busy with Dallas to attend the festivities — and he still went on to earn a spot with the All-NBA Rookie Second Team as well.
Overcoming roadblocks and adversity at every turn, it’d be easy to now exhale and relax — after all, his contract is currently guaranteed and he’s got a solidified role in an NBA rotation — but Ferrell, forever hungry, isn’t ready to stop there. Staying motivated isn’t difficult for Ferrell because he knows that much of his journey is still left in front of him and he’s ready to keep climbing upward.
“I’m a winner, I came from a winning program,” Ferrell said. “My mentality is still to prove that I belong here. I just want to win, that’s it.”
For Ferrell, this isn’t the end of an underdog story — this is just the beginning of something even greater.
Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17
Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.
It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.
Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.
Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.
By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.
Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.
Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.
His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.
While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)
While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.
Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.
Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.
Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.
The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.
Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.
While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.
It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.
Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.
So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.
NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17
Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.
Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.
The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.
A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.
The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.
This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.
There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.
As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.
So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
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 Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not 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 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 not 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.