With the NBA Draft Combine under two weeks away, really serious and in-depth coverage of this year’s event is about to ramp up considerably, especially now that the NFL Draft is done and out of the way.
The 2016 NBA Draft looks like it’s shaping up to be one of those where the team picking first overall (whoever that may be) will have a difficult decision to make between the season-long favorite in Ben Simmons or the somewhat surprising upstart Brandon Ingram.
The debate about which player should ultimately be the top overall selection has already been written about repeatedly, so there’s no point in rehashing that here. What does matter is that there’s a real debate at all. This isn’t one of those drafts where there’s a clear-cut generational talent ripe for the plucking. For example, 1997 was The Tim Duncan Draft, and 2003 was The LeBron James Draft. Those top overall selections were all sewed up months before David Stern called either guy’s name.
What really makes for an interesting draft season is when there’s a real debate, and there have been plenty of times over the course of the last 25 years in which it wasn’t always clear who would be the top overall selection, oftentimes until the name was actually called on draft night.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest debates for that No. 1 pick from the last 25 years, all of which should do nothing to answer the question of whether Simmons or Ingram should be this year’s top pick. As we’ll see, making the right selection is seldom that easy.
2013 – Anthony Bennett/Nerlens Noel/Alex Len/Victor Oladipo – In one of the muddiest conversations in recent history regarding a top overall selection, Cleveland ended up taking the worst possible player, but as with all of these picks hindsight is 20/20. Still, the Cavaliers came into the draft needing a big guy to go with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters and actually gave serious consideration to Len with that top pick before ultimately deciding to take a huge risk on Bennett at No. 1. Oladipo reportedly was the top prospect on a lot of teams’ big board, but he didn’t fill a need for the Cavs with so many equally talented big men available at that spot. Noel was thought to be the sure-thing top pick for most of that year until things got more confuseint closer to the draft; without his ACL injury, he very well may have been the guy. Instead, Cleveland made arguably the worst No. 1 overall selection in league history. At least they didn’t pass up on any All-NBA First-Team players to make such an egregious error.
2008 – Derrick Rose/Michael Beasley – When Chicago ended up with the No. 1 overall selection, it became clear pretty quickly that they would be taking the hometown star Rose. But before the lottery (and even for a couple of weeks after), the “Rose or Beasley?” articles were ubiquitous on the internet. Chicago needed help at both spots, needing a competent point guard and more consistent frontcourt scoring, so either player would have made sense. Both guys also left college playing at an elite level, so there was a real debate there for a while. Ultimately, Chicago picked the young man whom they felt like had the stronger character and ties to the city, and it proved the wiser choice. Rose would be an MVP within three years while Beasley would struggle just to find minutes in Miami and subsequently bounce around the NBA.
2007 – Greg Oden/Kevin Durant – While Oden proved to be the most painful incorrect No. 1 draft choice in recent NBA history, Portland really did (understandably) struggle in making this selection. On the one hand, they had a gaping hole at small forward and Durant came into the NBA as one of the most freakishly gifted offensive players the college game had ever seen. But then there was Oden, a defensive Monet they saw as a perfect complement to the emerging LaMarcus Aldridge. Many called Oden the best big man prospect since Tim Duncan and while they weren’t wrong, his health derailed what could have been a massively impressive career as a defender. We know what the right answer would have been here, but Portland erred on the side of size. One would assume they’d learn something from erring on the side of size in drafting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984, but not all of history’s wrongs get righted.
2004 – Dwight Howard/Emeka Okafor – This was a classic case of drafting for floor versus drafting for ceiling, and it very likely has served as a blueprint for other executives in the years since this was the epitome of taking a chance on a raw blue-chipper over an established college star. More often than not, it has been those athletic, burgeoning prospects who have formed into the league’s biggest stars – Howard included – but at the time that school of belief hadn’t shifted yet. Okafor had just wrapped up a stellar Final Four tournament, winning Most Outstanding Player to go with all of his other NCAA accolades including First-Team All-American and the Co-National Player of the Year. Howard, meanwhile, had all the athleticism in the world and a still-growing frame (he measured at 6’9 at the combine that year). Unproven? Sure, but Orlando went with the possibility that he’d blossom into a superstar (he would), while Okafor never quite figured out how to dominate in the pros like he did at UConn.
2002 – Yao Ming/Jay Williams – On the one hand, Yao always had an edge as the No. 1 pick in this draft, because 7’5 centers with a skill set like his just don’t come around very often. But there was Williams, easily the best American player in the draft that year, who many thought was just as good and was at least a more known commodity. That presented some considerable debate about the top pick in the weeks leading up to the draft. Chicago, who ended up taking Williams second overall, legitimately planned for the possibility of taking either player, believing that Yao really could fall to them. Houston, though, read the tea leaves not only in terms of Yao’s talent but his marketing potential, and while he didn’t have a particularly long or overly-prosperous career, he still was a smash hit for the Rockets in terms of worldwide popularity. Williams, meanwhile, found himself the victim of an unfortunate motorcycle accident following his rookie year, which forced him out of the NBA forever. However short Yao’s career was, it wasn’t as short as Williams’ time in the league.
2001 – Kwame Brown/Tyson Chandler – According to SI’s Ian Thomsen, Michael Jordan, then in charge of the Wizards’ front office, had Brown and Chandler in for a workout together and let the two face off against one another in a game of one-on-one. Jordan, ever the competitor, told them that whoever won the game would be first in line to be made the top pick in the draft that year. Brown, who had 15 pounds on a rail-thin, younger version of Chandler, apparently won the match handily. Then, he walked over to MJ and said, “If you draft me first, I’ll never disappoint you.” Well, that convinced Jordan, who grew disappointed almost immediately. Chandler (or Pau Gasol or Jason Richardson or Shane Battier or even Eddy Curry) would have been the better choice at No. 1, but Brown’s failure turned teams off to gambling on high school players for some time to follow. In fact, his failure almost certainly played a role in pushing through the one-and-done rule that forces kids to attend at least a year of college before declaring for the NBA Draft.
1998 – Michael Olowokandi/Mike Bibby – For weeks leading up to the 1998 NBA Draft, the general consensus was that standout Arizona guard Mike Bibby would be made the first overall pick by the L.A. Clippers because the team did need a point guard at the time. But they also needed a franchise big man, preferably a seven-footer, which in the ‘90s was a much more in-demand wish-list item than it is today. “True seven-footers” were a lot harder to track down than talented point guards, so L.A. found itself leaning more toward Olowokandi, which may very well have been the crown jewel of the Clippers’ pre-2000s mediocrity. Few No. 1 picks in league history have been quite so disappointing.
Of course, all of this is easy to see in retrospect. We know that Oden and Brown and Olowokandi were the wrong choices, and that Rose and Yao and Howard were the right ones. The point, though, is that at the time these were debates every bit as real as the one we’re currently having about Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. Who will end up on the right and wrong side of this conversation in five or 10 years? That, as always, is a very good question.
NBA Daily: Second-Round Draft Steals to Watch
Several possible second round picks have a chance to make an impact at the NBA level, writes David Yapkowitz.
The NBA Draft is upon us this week. The hopes and dreams of many basketball players will become reality. Each year there are players who are drafted in the second round who end up outperforming their draft selection spot.
A premium has been placed on draft picks in recent years. Even second round picks have become extremely valuable. For a team like the Golden State Warriors whose payroll might limit their ability to sign quality rotation players (veterans taking discounts to win a ring notwithstanding), smart drafting has seen them scoop up steals like Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell. Both those players have emerged as key rotation guys on a championship team, and both were taken in the second round.
The second round is an opportunity to pick up overlooked young talent on cheap contracts. Sure, it’s rare to get a Manu Ginobili or an Isaiah Thomas or a Draymond Green that goes on to become an All-Star caliber player, but plenty of quality contributors can be found.
Here’s a look at a few guys who have a great chance at becoming second round steals.
1. Allonzo Trier – Arizona
Outside of DeAndre Ayton, there may not have been a more valuable player to the Arizona Wildcats last season than Allonzo Trier. He was the Wildcats second-leading scorer at 18.1 points per game. There have been questions about his supposed selfish style of play, but he’s been a solidly efficient player his three years at Arizona.
This past season as a junior, he shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. Over his three years in college, he was a 47.5 percent shooter from the field and a 37.8 percent shooter from the three-point line. He’s also an 82.3 percent shooter from the line. And he did dish out 3.2 assists this past season.
Trier is a scorer, plain and simple, an efficient one at that. Despite this, his name has failed to appear on many mock drafts. The few that actually project the second round as well have him being drafted near the end. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Trier has great size for a shooting guard in the NBA. A sixth man type scorer is probably his best projection at the next level.
2. Brandon McCoy – UNLV
The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t quite have such a noteworthy year, which might explain a little about why Brandon McCoy is flying under the radar. UNLV posted a 20-13 record and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, McCoy managed to emerge as their biggest bright spot.
In his lone college season, he led UNLV in scoring with 16.9 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field. He also pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game and was their leading shot blocker at 1.8 blocks per game. For a big man, he shot a semi-decent 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.
He has good size, he’s a legit seven-footer. He moves well on the floor and with some work, can be a very good defensive player. Part of what might be causing him to get overlooked is he doesn’t have much in terms of a mid-range game, a necessity for big men in today’s NBA game. But that can be worked on. At any rate, he can be a high energy big off the bench, good to come in and block some shots, grabs some boards and clean up around the rim. Every team could use a guy like that.
3. Devonte Graham – Kansas
One year ago, Devonte Graham’s Jayhawk teammate Frank Mason III was also being overlooked in the draft. Like Graham, the major issue working against him was his status as a four-year college player. Mason went on to be one of the bright spots for the Sacramento Kings, establishing himself as a legit NBA point guard.
This summer, Graham is looking to do the same. Mason was also a bit on the shorter side, coming in at 5-foot-11. Graham has little more size than that at 6-foot-2. He was the Jayhawks best player for most of the year, putting up 17.3 points per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the three-point line. He also dished out 7.2 assists per game.
Most mock drafts have consistently had Graham being drafted early to middle second round. Being a college senior, he has leadership abilities. He’d be perfect for any team looking for a solid point guard off the bench.
4. Chimezie Metu – USC
For much of the mock draft season, Chimezie Metu’s name appeared as a first round selection. But in recent weeks, as other names began to climb up the draft ladder, Metu it appears has fallen back into the second-round. It’s interesting though, as his skill set for a big man appears to project well in today’s NBA game.
He was the Trojans’ best player as a junior this past season. He put up 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field. He pulled down 7.4 rebounds while averaging 1.7 blocked shots. Although the percentages may not reflect that, he has an improving jump shot. He’s quick and mobile defensively.
He’s got all the tools be able to guard the post as well as switch out and guard other positions if need be. With a little more work, he can be a good jump shooter. With the evolution of today’s game, Metu has the perfect build and talent to find success as a modern NBA big man.
5. Tony Carr – Penn State
Tony Carr has been a consistent second round pick in most mock drafts. There has been the occasional one here or there that had him being drafted at the end of the first-round, but the second round is most likely where he’ll hear his name called.
Carr was the best player for a Nittany Lions team that ended up winning the NIT. This past season as a sophomore, he put up 19.6 points per game and shot 43.3 percent from the three-point line. He was able to pull down 4.9 rebounds per game and he dished out 5.0 assists.
He can play both guard positions and create for himself or his teammates. There have been question marks about his athleticism and ability to defend at the NBA level, but all a team needs for him to do is come in off the bench, run the offense a bit and get a few buckets. He’s definitely capable of doing that.
NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019
The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.
The NBA world nearly stopped last week when reports circulated that Kawhi Leonard wanted out from San Antonio.
All of a sudden, within a few days, both he and Kyrie Irving were both reportedly open-minded about taking their talents to New York.
And while either (or both) of the two would look great as Knicks uniforms, they’d look much better in orange and blue in 2019.
After all, only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.
Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.
If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right, but one thing that not even Max Kellerman could argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s exactly why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.
So if Leonard or Irving wants to eventually take up residence in New York City, they can prove it… Next year.
If there’s one thing the Knicks historically imprudent front office should have learned from Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s that.
This summer, after hiring David Fizdale, Scott Perry will have another opportunity to prove that the job at Penn Plaza isn’t too big for him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he even publicly entertains the idea of attempting to make a splash this summer or whether he continues to hold steadfast to the belief that there are not shortcuts on the route to contention.
The right play for the Knicks is to follow the route that the Lakers took as it relates to Paul George—refrain from dealing valuable assets for players that you could sign for free. Danny Ainge hit home runs with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and by essentially adding each of them to an existing core of young talent—and more importantly, refraining from acquiring either via trade—the Celtics now have an embarrassment of riches.
The Knicks don’t have those kinds of problems, and as it stands, have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. That could be paired nicely with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the ninth overall pick that they’ll have in the 2018 draft.
In other words, one year from now, the Knicks could have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level. Let the young guys play, let them develop and then carry them into the summer of 2019 with a clear plan in place.
That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.
If they play things right, and if the team managed to unload either Courtney Lee or Joakim Noah, they could open up the very real possibility of landing both Leonard and Irving, but instead of trading the farm for them, they’d have a realistic shot at signing them. They’d be adding them to the core instead of sacrificing it for them. Imagine that.
From where most people sit, Irving seems to have an ideal situation in Boston, and his entertaining the idea of taking his talents elsewhere seems curious, at best… But so did the choice of leaving LeBron James.
Irving has been consistently rumored as having real interest in playing in New York when he’s able to test the market next July, and depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern in Boston that he could opt to take his talents elsewhere.
Growing up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, the young guard knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Probably not. But one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.
As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team, even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.
And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.
Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’ll continue to unfairly carry the reputation of being someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. He’s no Steve Nash, but he is truly special. Just don’t tell the national media that.
Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.
Still, even if Irving and/or Leonard end up elsewhere, the summer of 2019 will feature other free agents including Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, too.
Going from Leonard and Irving to Walker and Butler might seem like a sad story of riches to rags, but one could very easily make the argument that adding two high-quality All-Star caliber starters to a core featuring Porzingis, Ntilikina and two lottery picks would do more to make the Knicks contenders than unloading the cupboard in an attempt to bring one in.
If that sounds like exactly what the Celtics did, that’s because it is. The Lakers, too. There’s a reason why they’re the most winningest franchises in NBA history, it would seem.
One thing we know for sure in the NBA: there will always be marquee free agents. The Knicks just need to do a better job of being able to attract them.
So this summer, if Perry wants to continue to earn favor with Knicks fans with even half a brain, the best thing to do might actually be to do nothing.
In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson and Danny Ainge.
So if word eventually gets to Perry that Leonard’s interest in the team is real, and if Irving decides that he wants to take up residence in his backyard to try to succeed where Patrick Ewing, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing fell short, Perry’s response should be simple.
Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.
Ranking the Free Agents – Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues to evaluate the top free agents at each position. David Yapkowitz breaks down the power forwards.
This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at the top free agents set to the open market in just a few weeks. We’ve already covered the point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards. Now we check in with the power forwards.
There may only be a few power forwards who can probably expect a max or near max deal this summer, but there are quite a few guys that, for the right price, can end up being difference makers on a team next season.
Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump to $101 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$35,350,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
Max/Near Max Guys
Julius Randle* – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,149,242
Julius Randle is definitely in line for a bigger payday this summer. The fourth-year forward turned in his best NBA season yet and was arguably the Lakers best player for most of the year. He played in all 82 games with 49 starts.
He put up career-high numbers across the board with 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field. Most of Randle’s scoring comes in the paint where his “bully” ball type game has proven quite effective. He has an improving jump shot and at 23 years old, he still has his best years ahead of him.
He will be a restricted free agent, giving the Lakers the ability to match any offer he receives, but doing so could come at the expense of signing two max-level free agents as has been the team’s plan. It’s going to be an interesting dilemma for the Lakers as Randle most likely will attract interest right away from potential suitors thus forcing the Lakers hand early on in free agency.
Aaron Gordon* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $5,504,420
Aaron Gordon will also most likely receive a max or near max contract his summer. Early in the season when the Orlando Magic started out hot, Gordon was playing like an All-Star and even a borderline MVP candidate.
The Magic’s play then went rapidly south, but Gordon finished the season averaging 17.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists, all career-highs. At the beginning of the season, he displayed a much improved three-point shot. The Magic have tried him at small forward before, but he’s a natural at power forward.
Gordon is also a restricted free agent allowing the Magic to match any offer. At age 22, he should also have his best years ahead of him. For a team like the Magic, in need of talent and quality young players, re-signing Gordon is probably ideal. But it’s also important to note that the Magic have a newer front office in place, one that did not draft Gordon. It’s also possible that John Hammond and Jeff Weltman might want to shape the roster in their vision.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Jabari Parker* – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Season’s Salary: $6,782,392
Jabari Parker is perhaps one of the most interesting and intriguing names on the free agent market. A former No. 2 overall pick, as a rookie Parker looked like he was definitely part of the Bucks growing young core. Unfortunately for him, injuries struck him hard as he suffered two ACL tears during a three-year period.
This season, he struggled a bit to find a role with the Bucks. There’s no question that if he’s healthy, he’d be quite an asset to any team. He represents the new breed of power forward with a perimeter game. Prior to his injuries, he’d almost assuredly be a max contract guy. It’s a bit difficult to imagine any team willing to pay him anywhere close to that now.
The Bucks have the option to match any contract offer he gets as he is a restricted free agent. It’s conceivable that they would do so as it will probably take a massive offer to pry Parker away from the Bucks. It’s unlikely that any team is willing to go that high.
Thaddeus Young** – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $14,796,348
Thaddeus Young could be another intriguing power forward on the free agent market. The thing with Young is he has a player option he could choose to exercise and become a free agent. Never an All-Star, Young has been a steady and dependable player his entire career.
His numbers were a bit under his career averages this season. He put up 11.8 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and he pulled down 6.3 rebounds. Nevertheless, he remained an important part of the Pacers rotation, especially on the defensive end.
Should he hit the open market, there likely wouldn’t be any shortage of suitors.
Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – Last Season’s Salary: $12,000,000
Ed Davis – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Season’s Salary: $6,352,531
Montrezl Harrell* – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Mid-Level Or Below Guys
Mike Scott – Washington Wizards – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Ersan Ilyasova – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $357,454
Trevor Booker – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $332,516
David West – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Nemanja Bjelica* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Season’s Salary: $3,949,999
Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Mike Muscala** – Atlanta Hawks – Last Season’s Salary: $5,000,000
Amir Johnson – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $11,000,000
Channing Frye – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Season’s Salary: $7,420,912
Quincy Acy – Brooklyn Nets – Last Season’s Salary: $1,709,538
*Qualifying Offer (If made, the player becomes a restricted free agent.)
**Player Option (The player has the choice of whether to opt-in for another year with his current team or opt-out to become an unrestricted free agent.)