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NBA PM: Correcting Draft Mistakes

Teams make draft mistakes (like passing on Skal Labissiere 27 times), but we’re righting Thursday’s biggest wrongs.

Joel Brigham

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It never fails. Every NBA draft, there are a handful of moments that make the people watching shake their heads in disbelief, but this year it seemed as though there were more questionable draft picks than usual. Those surprises are obviously a big reason why this particular NBA event is so entertaining to watch, but thanks to what many considered to be a pretty flat class of potential draftees after the top couple of tiers, as well as the recent success of international stud Kristaps Porzingis, teams felt the need to gamble on a lot of international players in spots that didn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and anybody who’s ever done a live fantasy basketball or football draft with their friends knows how easy it is to get caught up in the moment and just flat-out pick the wrong guy. Going back over the draft results not 10 minutes after the thing ends, we have zero issues finding holes in our draft results. It’s a whole lot of, “I can’t believe I did that when I could have done this.”

But that’s what we’re doing here, looking at some of the most surprising and questionable picks of the 2016 NBA Draft and making a serious attempt at giving the offending teams a better shot at making the right choice.

These picks may turn out just fine and be more valuable than the experts expect, and the guys we think would have been the better players may turn out to be huge disappointments. We don’t know, but the general hoops fandom does understand how their favorite teams can minimize risk without sacrificing ceiling. The following corrected draft picks do exactly that for the teams that made the most shocking picks on draft night.

#10 Milwaukee Bucks

What they did: Draft Thon Maker

What they should have done: Draft Skal Labissiere

It’s pretty clear that the Milwaukee Bucks have a draft philosophy that involves taking the longest, most athletic player possible with the hope that they will turn into something as special as Giannis Antetokounmpo has become. That’s where the 7’1 Maker fits into the Bucks’ plan moving forward, but that doesn’t mean this pick wasn’t a massive risk anyway. In fact, in my last mock draft before the real thing on Thursday, I predicted that the Bucks would draft Skal Labissiere in their apparent effort to snag an athletic, long big with sky-high potential. I would contend that Labissiere, while still a gamble, would have been a safer one than Maker, even though both fit the same general profile.

For one, there are questions about Maker’s actual age (is he 19, or closer to 23?), but more importantly, Labissiere is only about seven months removed from being projected among the players considered for the top overall pick in this draft. His first season at Kentucky was beyond disappointing, but there may have been reasons for that. It is much too early to give up on his talent, especially considering his age, as John Calipari isn’t always the easiest guy to play for. Jason Kidd would have been much better for him, and Skal would have been much safer for Milwaukee.

Maker’s an easy guy to get excited about, but Labissiere would have been even more so, especially that high in the draft.

#13 Sacramento Kings

What they did: Draft Georgios Papagiannis

What they should have done: Draft Wade Baldwin.

The trade to move down wasn’t a bad deal. There’s a chance that Sacramento could lose their first-round pick next year, and getting Bogdan Bogdanovic for 2017-2018 would sort of be like getting a lottery-level rookie for that season regardless of what else happens. Marquese Chriss was the “best” player on the board at #8, but he’s a huge risk and trading down to make the most of Phoenix’s adoration of him actually was a pretty savvy move considering everything they got back for that selection.

Picking Papagiannis at #13, though, was the wrong way to go, not because the 7’2 Greek superhuman isn’t talented, but because the Kings had a lot of other needs beyond their frontcourt that they still haven’t solved. Further frustrating DeMarcus Cousins, who tweeted, “Lord, give me the strength” following that draft pick, makes the Papagiannis reach an even more frustrating selection. Whatever we can do to make Boogie even angrier, right?

Nabbing Labissiere at No. 28 was a steal regardless of what else happens as a result of this trade, but at No. 13 the Kings could have selected a much-needed point guard. It just so happens there was a really good one in Wade Baldwin sitting right there for them to snag, and in my last mock, I actually had the Kings taking Baldwin at No. 8, a bit of a reach but a testament to how good I think he is and how much he would have helped Sacramento. Taking a center when they already have the best big man in the league and another center in Willie Cauley-Stein that they drafted last year with a top-six selection is flat-out ridiculous, and that was a good window for a kid as talented as Baldwin.

#16 Boston Celtics

What they did: Draft Geurschon Yabusele

What they should have done: Draft Henry Ellenson

Fran Fraschilla called Yabusele the “French Larry Johnson” on the ESPN broadcast of the draft on Thursday, which is great and everything, but we’ve seen European versions of other superstars drafted in the past that more often than not didn’t come anywhere close to their comparisons. (Remember Sofoklis “Baby Shaq” Schortsanitis?) The Celtics obviously were not going to roster three first-rounders next season, so one of them inevitably was going to be a draft-and-stash. But with the talent on the board at pick No. 16, they could have taken a win-now kid and used No. 23 to pick among the remaining available international kids. Furkan Korkmaz, for example, was still there.

So while Yabusele may end up being just fine whenever the Celtics do eventually bring him over, using this pick on Henry Ellenson, who unexpectedly dropped out of the lottery, would have been a much better use of the selection. While Boston already boasts a pretty loaded frontcourt, Ellenson does the sorts of things out of the four spot that Brad Stephens loves, making the Marquette product a pretty good fit with the Celtics that could even allow them to more easily trade other frontcourt players like Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk should someone like Jimmy Butler eventually become available. Danny Ainge has developed a reputation for taking some wild risks in the draft the last few years, but this one is perhaps the wildest, especially considering the high-level talent that was still on the board when he made this pick.

#26 Philadelphia 76ers

What they did: Draft Furkan Korkmaz

What they should have done: Draft Tyler Ulis

Nothing against Korkmaz, who frankly was value this late in the first round, but his selection was the most Sam Hinkie thing ever—odd, considering the organization literally just fired Hinkie for making too many moves exactly like this one. Korkmaz isn’t expected to play in the NBA this year, making him an odd draft-and-stash for a team that ostensibly looks prepared to turn a corner and start competing more seriously this season.

Adding a real point guard would have helped them do that, and Ulis at this spot would have been a slick pick for a team looking to start winning some games. While he is undersized, smaller guards certainly have seen success in the NBA before and Ulis is a winner who deserved a first-round slot. Going into the season with Ulis and Timothe Luwawu to complement Ben Simmons would have been a tremendous haul, and if any team was going to bring in three first-round picks to actually play this season, Philly would be the organization to accommodate the youth movement. Are they afraid there won’t be enough roster spots to accommodate a constant stream of D-Leaguers if they bring in too many rookies?

#27 Toronto Raptors

What they did: Draft Pascal Siakam

What they should have done: Draft Deyonta Davis

For those that know nothing about Siakam, he’s a rebounder, which along with the Jakob Poeltl pick proves just how little the Toronto front office believes they’ll be retaining Bismack Biyombo this offseason. Still, the Raptors could have bolstered their frontcourt in a much more substantial way by selecting Davis, a one-and-done freshman out of Michigan State that looks like he was custom made in a lab to play the four in today’s NBA.

Offensively Davis is still a bit of a project, but he’s a defensive monster and has the potential to develop into something special someday. Perhaps that’s why a whole lot of mock drafts had him projected as a lottery pick. That he slipped to the second round is still a bit of a shock and a shame when so many less-touted talents like Siakam went ahead of him. While this may not be Bruno Caboclo all over again, it brought just as big a gasp of “Huh? Who?” from the Toronto fandom, and considering how well that other pick has worked out so far, one would think Masai Ujiri would have learned to play things a little safer.

The Raptors could have stuck with a philosophy to draft a big in taking Davis, who would appear to have a significantly higher ceiling than just about anybody left in the draft at this point. Skal Labissiere would have been a perfectly appropriate selection here, as well. And, while he isn’t a big, no Raps fan would have complained about Dejounte Murray either.

***

It’s impossible for every team to get everything right on draft night. Otherwise we’d never get to read those endlessly entertaining “Re-Draft” articles that put players on different teams in order of their eventual success.

Still, it’s easy for fans of certain teams to get frustrated about the way things played out when so many things could have gone differently. All there is to do now is keep your fingers crossed and hope all these gambles work out the way these front offices hoped they would.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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