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NBA Daily: David Fizdale, the Draft Lottery, and Turning the Tide in New York

All the New York Knicks need now is a little luck. They’ll hope to get some on Tuesday night.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Phil Jackson should be thanked for—aside not trading Kristaps Porzingis for a bag of cement—it’s the fact that he had the foresight to not trade away any of the club’s future first round picks while he was in charge of the New York Knicks.

Heading into Tuesday night’s draft lottery, the Knicks will have the opportunity to cash in a lottery ticket and utilize their opportunity to draft a game-changing prospect in June’s draft.

Whether the club improbably wins the rights to a top three overall pick or stays put and drafts toward the end of the top 10, Scott Perry and newly hired head coach David Fizdale will make their first selection together, and betting that they’ll come away with a winner might actually be the wise move.

I’ve been on the record as being an advocate for the hiring of Perry and went on record as calling Fizdale the right man for the job. Each of the two have impressive pedigrees and each of their backgrounds are littered with examples of competently utilizing their resources and helping young players become all that they could.

Perry began his career as a basketball executive with the Detroit Pistons in 2000 and spent seven years there before moving on to Seattle in 2007.

Although we can’t ever be certain as to the extent and force with which Perry advocated for these particular selections, he deserves per se credit for being a part of Joe Dumars’ front office. From 2000 to 2006, the franchise drafted Mehmet Okur with the 38th pick in 2001, Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd pick in 2002, Carlos Delfino with the 25th pick in 2003, Jason Maxiell with the 26th pick and Amir Johnson with the 56th pick in 2005 and Rodney Stuckey with the 15th pick and Arron Afflalo with the 27th pick in 2007.

At the very least, each of those picks should be considered competent, with Okur, Prince, Johnson and Afflalo being considered slam dunks, relative to where they were selected in their respective drafts. He was also a part of the front office in Seattle when they selected Kevin Durant and spent a few years in Orlando where they walked away with Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon over the course of a few years.

Sure, aside from Durant, there might not be an All-Star among the bunch, but that’s not the end-all be-all when it comes to determining whether or not a particular draft pick was wisely utilized. The gross majority of NBA hopefuls don’t spend more than four years in the league, while the gross majority never amount to anything more than bench warmers for the duration of their rookie contracts.

As for Fizdale, he spent the better part of his formative years as an NBA assistant sitting next to Mike Woodson in Atlanta and Erik Spoelstra in Miami. In Atlanta, with Woodson, Fizdale witnessed the club go from a 13-69 embarrassment to a playoff team that would eventually become a fixture in the Eastern Conference.

Similarly, in Miami, Fizdale joined Spoelstra on his bench coming off of an abysmal 15-67 season. The ensuing season, the HEAT would turn things around in dramatic fashion, winning 43 games. The turnaround had a lot to do with the fact that Dwyane Wade missed the majority of the 2007-08 season with injury, but the fact of the matter is that Fizdale, a descendant of Pat Riley’s coaching tree, witnessed and actively assisted in the club’s going from a 15-win squad to a four-time Eastern Conference champion with LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Wade and company in South Beach.

While some would hardly consider that team’s success to be anything worth bestowing credit upon Fizdale for, it’s far too easy for us to forget that the HEAT team faced an incredible amount of adversity. There were quite a few that felt that Spoelstra and his staff were in over their heads and would have trouble standing up to James, Wade and Bosh and demanding greatness from them.

Without coaching brilliance and chops, the Miami three would have run Spoelstra and his relatively young coaching comrades out of Miami, but instead, the club ended up winning two championships.

When you think back to those championship years for James and Wade in Miami, you’ll probably only remember James’ historic Game 6 performance against the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and Ray Allen’s incredible shot to force overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

You won’t remember (nor have you ever heard about) the late nights and early mornings that Spoelstra’s coaching staff endured during the team’s playoff runs in either of those two seasons. You probably also wouldn’t know anything about Fizdale’s gifts as it relates to advanced scouting, dissecting plays and, in particular, motivating young guards by challenging them and ascertaining their strengths.

A former point guard himself, Fizdale had aspirations of playing professionally. Immediately after completing his college career, though, he jumped at the opportunity to become a video intern with the HEAT. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his passion was in coaching and teaching the game.

Go ask Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole or Udonis Haslem a thing or two about Fizdale; they’ll each give you an earful.

In the end, what that means for the Knicks is two important things: they have a general manager who has shown that he has the knack for evaluating talent and a head coach who knows how to harness and develop it.

As it relates to winning in the NBA—that’s half the battle.

Although any suggestions as to any team knowing which players they truly covet at this point should be taken with a grain of salt, the early word on the street for the Knicks is that if they managed to jump into the top three, their hope would be Marvin Bagley, while Mikal Bridges is said to be the player they’d covet around the 10th selection.

Either way, the Knicks seem to have two men who are properly cast to attempt to restore the club to respectability, and whether they move up or stand pat in the draft lottery, you can rest assured that Perry will do all in his power to draft an impact player while Fizdale does his best to develop him.

Without a doubt, having hit the reset button yet again, the Knicks are embarking on another rebuilding project. It’ll take a few years.

Unlike prior regimes with Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, however, they have a franchise that not only has the right people calling the shots from atop Penn Plaza, they also have decision makers who appears to be on the same page.

All the Knicks need now is a little bit of luck.

We’ll see if they can get some on Tuesday night.

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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