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NBA PM: Trying to Trade Carmelo Anthony

Trading Carmelo Anthony is complicated. Tommy Beer goes in-depth to break down some scenarios.

Tommy Beer

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So, in full disclosure, I have previously avoided dedicating a column to potential Carmelo Anthony trades primarily because Melo had made it crystal clear time and again that he had absolutely no interest in waiving his no-trade clause. Accordingly, it seemed to be a fool’s errand to conjure up hypothetical trades when it appeared there was no way Melo would ever approve any such deal.

Welp, after four straight losing seasons, and the looming likelihood of a fifth, in addition to a terribly fractured relationship with team president Phil Jackson and purported issues in his personal life, it seems we may have finally arrived at a point where Melo would actually prefer to be traded.

Thus, here we are. Now, let’s gets down to business.

From a Knicks perspective, there should be three primary objectives in any trade involving Melo:
* Clear cap space, and/or
* Acquire young, promising players on affordable contracts, and/or
* Obtain draft picks

History tells us it is almost impossible to get equal value in return when trading a star. And while Melo is clearly no longer an elite all-around player, he remains one of the NBA’s most accomplished and skilled scorers. However, Phil likely lost leverage and devalued his asset during his divisive diatribe after the end of the regular season. And, of course, there is the looming no-trade clause, which gives Anthony ultimate power and the final say on any proposed deal.

One other impediment to a deal is the trade kicker in Carmelo’s contract. Before we get to the fun exercise of examining and deliberating potential trades, let’s get some bookkeeping out of the way so we know how much the team that trades for Melo will have to accept in salary.

Back when Melo initially signed his massive, $124 million contract in July of 2014, Phil Jackson not only decided to pay Anthony $25 million more than any other team could offer, Jackson also agreed to include a no-trade clause and a trade kicker (a decision that was derided soon after it was announced).

Melo is owed $26,243,760 million in 2017-18 and has an Early Termination Option for the following season. If he does not exercise that option and opt out, he will be paid $27,928,140 million for the 2018-19 campaign.

Thus, Melo is owed a sum total of $54,171,900 over the next two seasons. Melo’s contract also includes a 15 percent trade kicker. 15 percent of $54.2 million is $8.1 million. If we divide that number by two (the remaining years on Melo’s deal), we get $4.1 million.

$26,243,760 (Melo 2017-18 base salary)
+$4,062,892
= $30,306,652

Thus, when configuring trades involving Melo, we have to use an outgoing salary for Melo of approximately $30.3 million as opposed to just his base salary of $26.2 million.

The bonus money owed to Anthony would be paid by the Knicks but it would go on the acquiring team’s salary cap.

So, because Melo’s outgoing salary would count as $30.3 million with the trade bonus included, the team that acquires Anthony will have to send back $24.2 million (125 percent of Melo’s contract plus $100,000).

Two caveats here: As will be discussed below, if the Knicks wait until after July 1 (the start of the new NBA year) to trade Anthony, then the salaries may not necessarily have to match up evenly. For instance, if a team is $20 million below the cap, they can use that cap space to absorb/offset the difference in outgoing salary. Also, Melo has the option to waive his trade kicker to facilitate a deal, just as Roy Hibbert did when he waived his $2.3 million trade kicker when the Pacers traded him to the Lakers in 2015.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s now talk trades…

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New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for J.J. Redick (via sign-and-trade), Austin Rivers and 2021 first-round draft pick.

Why it makes sense for the Clippers:
It’d be an easy decision for the Clippers. They would avoid overpaying an aging, slowing Redick and bring in a sublime scorer in Anthony, who just so happens to be BFF’s with Chris Paul, the free agent point guard who the Clips badly wants to keep in L.A. Assuming the Clippers re-sign Blake Griffin as well, that gives them an incredibly intriguing Big 4 of CP3, Melo, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Billionaire owner Steve Ballmer has already avowed he is willing to pay a hefty luxury tax bill for a superior product. This would be the best of both worlds for L.A.; they keep their core together but also infuse new life and shake things up with the exciting addition of 10-time All-Star.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
It doesn’t. But before we break down this potential deal, let’s first discuss why a sign-and-trade with Blake Griffin is extremely unlikely. Assuming he opts out of his contract this summer, he can sign a max contract with the Clippers (who own his Bird Rights) for $175.7 million over five years. If he inks a deal with any team other than the Clippers, he can sign for “only” $128.5 million in guaranteed money over four years. When a player agrees to a sign-and-trade, they lose their Bird Rights in the process. Thus, the Knicks would be able to offer a max amount of $128.5 million. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Griffin willfully choosing to sacrifice nearly $45 million in order to leave a team that has won more than 50 games in five straight seasons so he can join a team that has won more than 50 games just once since 1996-97. Moving on…

A deal centered around J.J. Redick would be an awful move for the Knicks. Redick will be 33 years old when he signs his next contract. It’s been rumored Redick will be seeking around $16 to $18 million annually. While he is still an elite shooter, a skill that has increasing value in today’s NBA, Redick is on the downside of his career. Last season, he averaged less than 15.2 points per game and shot below 45 percent from the floor for the first time since 2012-13. In the 2017 postseason, Redick averaged 9.1 points on 38.0 percent shooting. In the two most important games of the Clippers season, Games 6 and 7 vs. Utah, Redick was invisible. He scored a total of seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. As noted above, if/when the Knicks move on from Melo, the team needs to embrace a complete rebuild and focus on the future, i.e. building a young foundation that can grow with and around Porzingis. If the Knicks clog up their cap space going forward by overpaying a defensively deficient guard creeping towards his mid-30’s because he would be a great fit in the Triangle Offense, it would be a major mistake that sets the franchise back years. Furthermore, it would likely force the Knicks subsequently trade Courtney Lee, New York’s current starting shooting guard. While Lee had an up-and-down season in New York, a young 3-and-D wing on an affordable contract is preferable to Redick.

Rivers is a decent player, but obviously not a difference maker. While his 2017-18 salary ($11.9 million) isn’t terrible considering his skill set, he has a player option for 2018-19. Thus, even in the best case scenario of him playing very well and exceeding expectations, the Knicks would be forced to offer him a raise and long-term contract next summer to keep him in New York.

Would Anthony accept a trade to L.A: We have to assume the Clippers would be one of his top choices, if not his preferred destination.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Boston Celtics in exchange for Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller and Memphis’ 2019 first round draft.

Why it makes sense for the Celtics:
There are a lot of unknown variables that have to play out before Boston considers trading for Carmelo. If the C’s advance past Wizards and put up a strong fight vs. the Cavs in the Conference Finals, they may be unmotivated to make a major move, especially considering they will be adding a top-tier prospect via a top-three pick in the 2017 Draft (courtesy of the Nets). Also, because they will have upwards of $30 million in cap space to spend this summer, Danny Ainge and company will likely target a younger, max-level player. Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately under Brad Stevens at Butler, is presumably the apple of their eye.

But what if the next few weeks and months play out differently? Maybe the Wiz come back and knock off Boston in round two. Or the Cavs crush them in the Conference Finals by shutting down Isaiah Thomas, with Boston unable to produce offense elsewhere. Then, come July, Hayward re-signs with Utah. At that point, maybe Ainge is willing to roll the dice and bring in Anthony. Maybe a hungry, motivated Melo is viewed as the piece of the puzzle that takes Boston over the top.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
It’s a no-brainer for the Knicks. While not nearly as gifted as Melo offensively, Crowder is a terrific defender with an improving offensive game (he shot a career-best 39.8 percent from 3-point territory this past season). Best of all, Crowder is just 26 years old and locked into one of the more attractive contracts in the league, which would clear a ton of cap space for New York. Crowder will make a total of $21.9 million through 2020, or an average of just $7.3 million annually over the next three seasons.

The Celtics are swimming in extra picks. The Knicks would benefit greatly from any additional draft selections they can acquire. The salaries don’t match, but Boston would be able to absorb the excess salary into their cap space. (Safe to assume that Phil Jackson was hoping that Rajon Rondo had not gotten hurt and the Celtics flamed out in round one, as it would have increased the chances Boston would be willing to deal.)

Would Anthony accept a trade to Boston?
The C’s would seem to check a lot of boxes for Melo. Boston is a major market on the east coast and just a few hours north of NYC. And, with a top rookie and Melo added to an already stellar collection of talent, the Celtics would enter next season as a legit contender for the crown.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Toronto for DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Pascal Siakam and Toronto’s 2018 first-round pick

Why it makes sense for the Raptors:
The Raps have a solid nucleus, which has carried them to playoffs in four consecutive seasons. The problem is they have stalled once arriving in the postseason, unable to get past Cleveland, the cream of the crop in the East.

Toronto will almost certainly make every effort to re-sign Kyle Lowry and keep Serge Ibaka in Toronto by inking him to a new deal. Obviously, they are in “win now” mode. Much like the aforementioned Celtics, the Raps might believe they are just a key player away from dethroning the Cavs. A starting five of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Melo, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, with Norm Powell and Delon Wright coming off the bench would surely have to excite fans north of the border. Furthermore, they’d rid themselves of Carroll’s onerous contract, which was a rare swing-and-miss by GM Masai Ujiri.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Carroll’s contract ($14.8 million in 2017-18 and $15.4 million in 2018-19) is certainly not cap-friendly, but it will be off the books in two years. In addition, Carroll is owed far less than Melo and obviously doesn’t have a no-trade clause. A gaggle of smaller pieces will be easier for Phil Jackson to flip in future deals down the road.

Cory Joseph is an above-average backup point guard. He is owed $7.6 million next season and has a $7.9 million player option for 2018-19. He’ll most likely opt out in July of 2018, clearing cap space in the process. Assuming the Knicks draft a point guard with their lottery pick next month, Joseph can serve as a starter for a season and help mentor the Knick neophyte. Siakam was the Raps first round pick in 2016 and showed flashes of promise as a rookie, starting 38 games. If those pieces don’t fit for either side, the Raps have plenty of other attractive assets to dangle in a deal. I’m sure New York would be very interested in adding Delon Wright or Jakob Poeltl as opposed to one of the other principles in the deal.

Would Anthony accept a trade to Toronto?
Toronto is further away from NYC, but much of what was said above about Boston applies to Toronto. If he values winning, Melo has to be at least intrigued by joining a stacked Raptors lineup.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kevin Love and Kay Felder

Why it makes sense for the Cavs:
This is another hypothetical trade dependent upon future events. If the Cavaliers defend their title this season, they would have no reason even to consider breaking up a core coming off back-to-back titles. However, if they were to get knocked off in the NBA Finals, or, especially, if they were tripped up in the East, the Cavs might investigate shaking things up.

One other factor in play here is the fact that both Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade have the opportunity to become free agents this summer. All four friends have been open about their desire to team up and join forces at some point in their careers. While LeBron somehow figuring out a way to make “Team Banana Boat” a reality in Cleveland is extremely unlikely, it’s not impossible to envision him pressuring Cleveland management to trade for his buddy Melo.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Yes, Kevin Love has some flaws, but he’s also an extremely skilled big man who is five years younger than Anthony. Granted, he’s not an ideal fit alongside Porzingis, but if you’re Phil, you make the trade and figure out how to realign the remaining chess pieces later in the game. Love is not only younger than Melo, but he also has a lower annual salary.

Would Anthony accept a trade to Cleveland?
Melo has nearly every individual accolade a player could hope for. At this stage of his career, considering the toxic work environment in New York and the roster assembled around him, one has to assume he’d now jump at the opportunity to join his friend LeBron and compete for a championship.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier and Portland’s 2018 first-round pick.

Why it makes sense for the Blazers:
After going on a shopping spree last summer and doling out $350 million in long-term contracts, the Blazers will be bumped up against the cap for the foreseeable future. They will have to wheel and deal if they want to substantially improve their roster, just as they did in acquiring Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round pick from the Nuggets in exchange for Mason Plumlee. After stumbling out of the gate last season, Portland made a remarkable run to qualify for the postseason. Nonetheless, they squeaked into the playoffs and were quickly swept by Golden State. Afterward, Dame Lillard, the face of the Blazers franchise, discussed how the organization needs to find a way to compete with the vaunted Warriors. Procuring a talented veteran in Melo would provide an upgrade and allow the Blazers to start three elite scorers (Lillard, Anthony, and rising star C.J. McCollum) and a big man in Nurkic. Basketball Insiders’ own Moke Hamilton broke down this intriguing possibility last month.

Why it makes sense for the Knicks:
Making the salaries match would be difficult. Inserting Allen Crabbe in place of Harkless would get the job done, but Crabbe is owed $56.3 million over the next three seasons. That would be a tough contract for the Knicks to swallow. Harkless, who was born and raised in Queens, NY, is set to earn just $30.9 million over the next three seasons. Considering both players are comparable, Harkless is the more desirable option. In this scenario, a third team would be needed to absorb some of the excess salary.

Noah Vonleh hasn’t lived up the hype after being selected ninth overall in the 2014 draft. However, he’s still just 21 years old and played the best basketball of his career this past April, averaging 8.7 points (shooting 57.1 percent from the floor) and 9.1 rebounds. Shabazz Napier hasn’t had a chance to play consistently since his rookie season in Miami. The Blazers have a glut of picks they can include to spice up any deal. Portland has three first-round selections in the 2017 draft (15, 20 and 26th overall picks).

Would Anthony accept a trade to Portland?
A couple of factors to consider regarding Melo waiving his no-trade clause. First, he has a player option for the 2018-19 season. Thus, Anthony would only have to option of spending only one year with his new team before opting out and becoming an unrestricted free agent. Secondly, he gets to collect a cool $8 million via the trade bonus if he approves any deal. In Portland, Melo could revive his career playing alongside young, hungry players on a team with a high ceiling.

****

Here are a few more potential (albeit somewhat unlikely) trade scenarios.

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer and Larry Nance Jr.

If the old management group were still in place (the one that handed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $136 million last summer in a desperate attempt to become an adequate team), it would be easier to imagine the Lakers trading away a couple of their young pieces to net a notable name such as Carmelo. However, with Rob Pelinka now calling the shots in L.A., it’s safe to assume they would have no interest in renting Melo for a year or two on a team that is nowhere near a title contention. The Knicks could surely pique the Lakers interest by discussing a deal that included the dead-weight contracts of Deng and Mozgov along with young talent, but that would be counter-productive for New York.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Miami HEAT in exchange for Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts

This would only be possible once the HEAT cleared Chris Bosh’s salary off their books. It also assumes McRoberts exercises his $6 million player option for 2017-18.

Miami was rightfully ecstatic when Winslow fell to them at No. 10 in the 2015 draft. He was immediately viewed as a cornerstone piece for the franchise. However, his first two NBA seasons have not gone according to plan. He appeared in only 18 games during the 2017-18 campaign before a torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season prematurely. In the 18 contests he played in, Winslow shot 35.6 percent from the floor, 20.0 percent from three-point territory and 61.7 percent from the free throw line. All that said, he is still only 21 years of age and projects as a terrific perimeter defender with a high basketball IQ.

Nevertheless, might Pat Riley be tempted to trade his prized youngster for a player that would be able to provide significant help right away. The HEAT went 30-11 over their final 41 games last season. The Golden State Warriors (33-9) were the only team in the entire league to tally more victories over the second half of the season. The HEAT have to believe they are close to being a real threat in the East. Miami would be able to trot out a starting five that included Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Anthony, and Hassan Whiteside, with Tyler Johnson coming off the bench. The issue for Miami is that they would not only have to part with Winslow, but they’d also have to use most of their coveted cap space to absorb Melo’s contract.

For the Knicks, it’d be a no-brainer. As for Melo, one would think he wouldn’t mind spending a (tax-free) season on South Beach.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn to the –
Detroit Pistons in exchange for Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

How desperate is Stan Van Gundy shake up things in Motown? Would he be willing to dismantle the roster he built?

Based on preseason predictions/expectations, the Knicks were quite possibly the NBA’s most disappointing team last season. You could make a strong argument that the Pistons were a very close second. After winning 44 games and qualifying for the postseason in 2015-16, Detroit was expected to take that “next step” in their progression this past year. Instead, they took a major step backward. The team appeared to quit down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs. Van Gundy was outwardly optimistic at the end of the year and said all the right things, but he had to have been incredibly frustrated. Playing in the first season of a five-year $130 million contract, Drummond was not nearly as impactful as he should have been. Reggie Jackson, who is owed over $51 million over the next three seasons, fought through knee tendinitis all season. He missed the first 21 and the final nine games of the year. Even when Jackson was active, the team was often better with Ish Smith running the point. Still, there would be little motivation in trading away their flotsam for the Knicks jetsam.

On the flip side of the coin, New York would love to get out from under the Noah contract, but how enthused would they be about trading for Drummond and Jackson, knowing that dynamic duo would account for approximately 40 percent of their cap going forward? More importantly, Melo would likely squash this before it even got serious. Moving on…

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Kent Bazemore, Mike Dunleavy, and Malcolm Delaney.

The Hawks are stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference and appear to be trending in the wrong direction. Paul Millsap is a pending free agent. Dwight Howard is unhappy with his role in the offense. The organization consistently has trouble selling tickets. Anthony could be appealing on a number of fronts.

It’s not an overly exciting package from the Knicks perspective, but they do get younger and upgrade defensively. Bazemore struggled to locate his stroke for much of the season but has a relatively high floor due to his solid perimeter defense. Delaney is a backup point guard on a cheap deal. The final year of Dunleavy’s contract is non-guaranteed.

****

New York sends Carmelo Anthony to the –
Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Khris Middleton and Matthew Dellavedova

At first blush, it seems unlikely that Melo would consider moving to Milwaukee; but, upon further inspection, maybe he would entertain the possibility.

The Bucks are a fresh, up-and-coming team that features one of the game brightest young stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Anthony also has a good relationship with Bucks coach Jason Kidd. Melo enjoyed his greatest success as a Knick playing alongside Kidd back in 2012-13. And, again, Anthony would pocket millions by agreeing to the trade, and he’d have to spend just one season there if he was unhappy.

Milwaukee would obviously hate to give up Middleton but would be happy to dump Delly’s deal. Dellavedova signed a four-year, $38 million pact last summer but was replaced in the starting lineup by Malcolm Brogdon in late December. Brogdon, who is favored to win the Rookie of the Year award, is clearly the Bucks PG of the future.

The PG-starved Knicks would be more than willing to add Dellavedova if that was the price to pay for acquiring Middleton as well.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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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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