Tyreke Evans got paid but will he be overpaid?

Tyreke is really good at this

The New Orleans Hornets Pelicans got their man on Thursday by completing a three team trade with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trailblazers. The Pelicans agreed to pay Tyreke Evans $44 million over 4 years, the Kings received combo guard Greivis Vasquez from the Pelicans to help facilitate the sign and trade plus a second round pick from the Blazers, and the Blazers got center Robin Lopez in exchange for the newly drafted, Jeff Withey.

Evans is a player who showed enormous promise in his first year, winning the rookie of the year award, dropping a very good (for a rookie) 18+ Player Efficiency Rating. The problem for Evans, and now for the Pelicans, is that Evans hasn’t gotten any better, really, since that rookie season. He got worse for two years following his rookie year before bouncing back this year where he was marginally better than his rookie year. Players this young and this talented shouldn’t stagnate for 3 full years but that is just what Evans has done. This deal feels like it could be a pretty big overpay, but Tyreke Evans has consistently shown the rare ability to get wherever he pleases on the basketball court, along with solid passing and rebounding for a wing player. He’s still a below average shooter and his defense is poor. If his shooting continues to improve, as it did this year, and if he can figure things out defensively, this will seem like a good, maybe even great deal. Looking at it without the benefit of knowing the future, it feels like a reach. The Pelicans are betting on Evans’s talent and their own coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of him, and it’s hard to totally blame them. After his first year in the league, Evans looked like a sure bet to be a candidate for a maximum contract extension. If he lives up to that promise in New Orleans, this deal will go from looking like a reach to an absolute steal. That’s the way these things go sometimes. Just ask people who bashed Mike Conley’s extension or questioned the Warriors for locking up Stephen Curry when concerns about his weak ankles were rampant. Conley now seems appropriately paid and Curry is, rightly, perceived to be an absolutely incredible value as a borderline superstar level player working on a contract several million a year below the maximum he could be paid. Evans will be just 24 next season and if you’re going to risk overpaying a player based on projected growth, betting on a player who will be just 24 in the first year of a 4 year deal is one of the best bets you can make, especially when it is already clear, as is the case with Tyreke, that the talent is there.

The Kings, under newer, much more competent management, have done well for themselves here. Once it became clear that New Orleans was going to pay much more for Evans than his production the last few years would suggest is wise, and the Kings knew they were uncomfortable making the bet that Evans lives up to his potential, getting assets in return for losing him became paramount. That’s just what the Kings have managed. Greivis Vasquez is a solid offensive player, who doesn’t really have the physical tools to be a plus defender. Vasquez has improved every year he’s been in the league and stands to make just a bit over $2 million next year. He’s a nice value to go with the second round pick the Kings picked up in the deal from the Blazers.

The Blazers got Robin Lopez as a defensively focused center to pair with their star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Lopez is also an efficient scorer on an average usage level, so he is not a negative on the offensive end by any means. He should be a very good fit with Aldridge, and the Blazers must hope his presence will help convince LMA to stop demanding trades to my beloved Bulls.

The Timberwolves add shooting, likely at a cost to their defense

New Timberwolf, Kevin Martin

The Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to terms with free agents, Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger, the latter of whom spent this year as a member of the ‘Wolves squad. Budinger’s deal runs 3 years, for a total of $16 million, according to, who else, Woj. Martin, for his part, agreed to a deal for 4 years, $28 million. The Wolves were clearly interested in fixing on of the team’s biggest problem areas on the offensive end last near, namely that they had very little ability to stretch the floor or shoot beyond the arc. They were dead last in 3 point shooting percentage at a pitiful 30.5% as a team and were 28th of 30 teams in 3 pointers made.

Budinger struggled with injury this past season and only managed to play and his absence surely didn’t help the Wolves’ lack of shooting. In addition, when Budinger was on the floor he shot just 32% from three, likely, again, owing to his injury woes. The Wolves are betting that Budinger will be closer to the high volume, medium efficiency 3 point shooter that he’s been for most of his career, as a career 36% three point shooter on 5.9 threes attempted per 36 minutes. A deal that sees Budinger making basically a smidge above the league’s average salary for 3 years, given his status as a league average wing (in just about every way), feels like the right value, especially given the salary bump that shooters, rightly, receive for their floor spacing value which goes even beyond their box-score contributions. The Wolves may have been wise to make this deal a bit longer, given how young Budinger is, and his room for improvement, as he gets set to enter his prime years. All in all, this deal is a good one and it seems obvious that the Wolves did well to retain Budinger at a solid price.

Less obvious is the merit of signing a 30 year old Kevin Martin for a 4 year deal that will pay him an average of $7 million a year. Martin is a hyper-efficient guard who can shoot the lights out, and as mentioned above, the Wolves really need the shooting and floor spacing that Martin has provided for his whole career. There’s reason for worry here, though. Thirty years old tends to be the point at which many shooting guards, historically, have begun to decline.  Often, that decline is precipitous. Martin has never been a superstar. He has been an above average player whose ability to score many points without taking many shots has managed to balance out his, frankly, terrible defense. If Martin’s offensive ability declines as he ages, he could easily become a liability to have on the floor. Paying $7 million a year for a player who could become a liability on the back half of his newly signed contract is obviously not great. Unfortunately, Martin has already shown what may be indicators of athletic decline. He’s getting to the line much less frequently than he once did. In his seasons four seasons from age 24 to 27, he averaged well over 9 free throw attempts per 36 minutes three times and the one season he didn’t he still got to the line for a healthy 7.5 attempts per 36. Over his last two seasons, Martin has averaged 5.1 and 4.1 FTAs per 36 minutes, respectively. Last season, Martin was able to counteract that lack of attempts at the line to retain his normal hyper-efficiency by simply making even more shots per attempt than normal, shooting 45% from the floor and 42.6% from three, topping his career averages of 44.3% and 38.5% respectively. It should be noted, though, that Martin likely shot so much better due to the quality of looks he was getting playing alongside two of the league’s very best players in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. His looks are unlikely to be quite so open in Minnesota. The Wolves front office has to hope that Martin can buck the historical trend and the trend he himself appears to be on by relying even more heavily on his highly effective, highly ugly looking three point shot. If the years on Budinger and Martin’s contracts were reversed, these would be pretty perfect deals for Minnesota. For this year, though, the Wolves appear to have done much to fix their absolute biggest weakness on offense.

Unfortunately, in order to pull the move to sign Martin, it appears the Wolves will be sacrificing one of last year’s team’s relative strengths. The Wolves were 13th last year in Defensive Efficiency, just above average. One of the biggest reasons for the Wolves relative strength on defense was the presence of veteran swingman and current free agent, Andrei Kirilenko. Given the money Minnesota has just doled out to Martin, along with a likely extension for restricted free agent big man and Superman villain Nikola Pekovic, it appears unlikely Kirlienko will be back with next year’s team. Two steps forward, for one step back, it appears for Minnesota President of Basketball Operations, Flip Saunders, this offseason. It will be interesting to see if Coach Rick Adelman can get this squad to defend, despite a lack of obvious stoppers. On point rotations with very few, if any mistakes will be what’s required. Time will tell if these Wolves are up to the task.

Clippers become scarier through blockbuster trade, Suns rebuild, again

Oddly, J.J. Redick and I have the same facial hair pattern

The Los Angeles Clippers, yes those Los Angeles Clippers, have had perhaps the NBA’s best offseason thus far. The Clippers landed on the league’s top coaches by prying Doc Rivers from the Celtics (a massive upgrade from the “coaching” provided last year by Vinny Del Negro) and reached an agreement on a maximum contract extension with one of the league’s very best players, point guard Chris Paul. Today, they gave Doc more talent to shape and CP3 a better supporting cast with which to work. In a blockbuster three team deal, the Clippers agreed to trade promising guard, Eric Bledsoe and aging small forward Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for 3 and D swingman Jared Dudley, while simultaneously sending a second round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in a sign and trade for shooting guard J.J. Redick. The Bucks will also receive a second round pick from the Suns for their trouble.*

Redick’s new deal is reportedly for 4 years, $27 million, which feels right for a floor-spacing shooting guard who does a little bit of everything while shooting very well from deep (39% for his career). Redick’s numbers did slip overall last year, but it was primarily due to the pretty miserable situation in Milwaukee into which he was traded. J.J. Redick things are meant to be done for a smart team with smart teammates, and well, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are not smart basketball players. They make lots of bad decisions and take bad shots and waste opportunities created by the off-ball movement of a player like Redick. That should change in L.A. where Redick will be playing for a great coach and with one of the league’s smartest players in CP3, Redick should see many more open looks and should really shine for the Clippers. It is worth noting, though, that Redick’s production did slip this year, as he will be 29 in the first year of this new deal and many a shooting guard has seen his production slip starting at around age 30. Should Redick follow that path, the numbers on this deal might end up seeming a bit bloated, but for a team that is clearly all in and going for it with superstar Chris Paul, this is a minor worry. In addition to shoring up the shooting guard position, the Clippers are getting an upgrade at small forward swapping out the declining 34 year old Caron Butler for career 40.5% 3 point shooter and solid defender, Jared Dudley. Dudley doesn’t have the ball-handling or penetration skills of Butler, but he’s younger, on a very friendly deal, and will be a great offensive fit with CP3 dribble drives and pick-and-roll dives to rim by DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin resulting in the collapse of the opposing team’s defense inside freeing Dudley for open looks in the corners. This trade is a big win for the Clips.

For the Suns, the deal is an opportunity to rebuild, yet again. This time they’re betting on Eric Bledsoe to be a star. Bledsoe has certainly shown flashes that he could be that guy. Bledsoe is an athletic freak, who can do things like this:


And perhaps more impressively, he did this to Dwyane Wade:

Get that out outta here. Gif via SBNation.com.

Phoenix, and its new GM Ryan McDonough, are hoping that Bledsoe can develop into the next Russell Westbrook: an incredible athlete who is a terror on both ends with whom opposing point guards must deal. At just 23 years old, Bledsoe has shown improvement in leaps and bounds and this year posted a solid 17+ PER while also becoming a terror on the defensive end. The Clippers were nearly 5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Bledsoe on the floor versus when he sat, which is doubly impressive when you realize that the player he was usually replacing was CP3, who made the NBA’s All-Defensive Team this year. This is a smart move by the Suns, as they sacrificed relatively little (Jared Dudley’s talents are mostly wasted on a bad team like the Suns and taking on Caron Butler’s deal is not that onerous) in order to acquire a guy who has the potential to be an impact player on both ends of the court. Bledsoe is the sort of talent you bet on. Good job by Mr. McDonough.

*The Bucks have to be disappointed to receive just two second round picks for Redick after giving up promising rookie combo-forward Tobias Harris to acquire Redick for just the back half of this past season, especially given how well Harris played in Orlando following the trade. On a brighter note, Redick was going to leave the Bucks either way so prying two second round picks out of the process is not nothing, but it probably feels pretty close to Bucks’ fans right now.

The San Antonio Spurs do a smart thing, lock up Tiago Splitter

In news that will surprise no one, the San Antonio Spurs just made a smart decision. The Spurs locked up free agent big man Tiago Splitter to a 4 year deal, worth $36 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. The big Brazilian won’t make many headlines or sell many jerseys, but what he does do is defend expertly, score quite efficiently, make the right pass almost always, and just generally make the Spurs better when he’s on the floor.

Splitter struggled a bit against the Heat in the finals due to the lack of a traditional big man for Splitter to match up with. Tiago, also rather famously, got obliterated at the rim by, the world’s best player, LeBron James. In case you forgot, it looked like this:

Yiiiikes. Gif via SBNation.com

What’s not immediately apparent from that quick look on the gif is that the reason LeBron is in position to crush Tiago so badly is that Kawhi Leonard was too close to the paint, allowing LeBron to protect the rim. Kawhi should have been in the corner, forcing LeBron to guard him. If Kawhi does his job, Tiago, having done everything right to this point, gets an easy dunk. Instead, Tiago ends up on the wrong end of a SportsCenter highlight. Poor guy. But this play shows you two things about Splitter. He knows where to be offensively and is unafraid of challenging shot-blockers at the rim with a strong finish. Against just about anyone else, save a LARRY SANDERS!, a healthy Dwight Howard, or in this case, an engaged LeBron freaking James, Splitter finishes that dunk through contact. That finishing ability and knowledge of where to be is a big reason why Splitter has a career True Shooting Percentage of 61% and sports a nifty 18.7 PER along with a pretty great .188 WS per 48 minutes. Splitter also will turn just 29 early this coming season and will be on a solid contract until he is 33. As a result, the Spurs can expect Splitter’s excellent production to continue relatively unabated for the duration of the deal. Just another solid, smart move from the team that makes them seemingly always.

The Indiana Pacers will, unsurprisingly, keep David West

Here’s hoping there’s less of this

The Indiana Pacers signed free agent power foward David West to a 3 year, $36 million deal today, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The soon-to-be 33 year old power forward was never considered a serious threat to leave Indiana but that lack of surprise doesn’t make this signing any less important for the Pacers, coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

West was, arguably, the Pacers most important player this season, both from an on the floor perspective and, perhaps more importantly, as a leader in the locker room and beacon of professionalism for a relatively young playoff team making its deepest playoff run since the days of Reggie Miller. The Pacers were significantly better with West on the floor versus when he was on the bench – an eye-popping 8.9 points per 48 minutes better. It’s no wonder, then, that the Pacers were eager to hold onto the veteran 4-man, whose mid-range shooting opens things up for Roy Hibbert’s emerging post-game and Paul George’s slashing attacks towards the rim. It will be interesting to see if West will be able to live up to his contract towards its end, as he will be 36 years old in its final year.

As it stands now, West has shown no signs of decline. Last year, he posted a Player Efficiency Rating and WinShares per 48 minutes which outpaced his career averages, while at the same time playing more than his career average in minutes for the year. West’s jump shooting should keep him from losing too much of his effectiveness as his athleticism wanes but its worth keeping an eye on as West is a player who was never terribly explosive to begin with and is undersized at his position. Fortunately for Pacers’ fans, the Pacers are competing to win this year and West should be well equipped to keep them in the mix near the East’s top tier, nipping at Miami’s heels. Additionally comforting for the Indiana faithful should be the fact that Andrea Bargnani’s albatross contract was able to be moved, and given the short duration of this deal, it’s exceedingly unlikely West’s deal will become a millstone, should his play somehow careen off a cliff.

The Chicago Bulls have, wisely, agreed to sign Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Boozer and Lil Dun’ reunited!

I like the Chicago Bulls. Okay, that’s a lie. I love the Chicago Bulls and I have for basically my whole life. In the past, the team’s ownership and front office have done a lot of things to make me question my loyalty to the red and black. They signed Ben Wallace to a massive free agent deal, as his athleticism was waning, and then compounded the mistake by trading away the young, promising Tyson Chandler for basically nothing besides an expiring contract, which they then failed to use in a trade to make the team better. They refused to re-sign Ben Gordon because of money (which it turned out was the right move). They signed Kirk Hinrich last off season for 2 years, $8 million, when there were younger, healthier, better options. They dismantled the Bench Mob that was so great in 2011 and got nothing in return for it. They didn’t match Omer Asik’s restricted free agent offer sheet from Houston. They avoided paying the luxury tax every year in its existence, until last year, where they only ended up paying it because they couldn’t find any team with cap space interested in absorbing the (dumb) contract to which they signed Rip Hamilton. Their GM just recently fired their amazing head coach’s lead assistant, Ron Adams, over some petty in-fighting, power playing nonsense. So, yeah, I have had a lot of complaints, over the years, about the people running things for my favorite basketball club. But not today; because today, why today they have done something pretty great. Today, the Bulls agreed verbally to sign Mike Dunleavy Jr. for 2 years, $6 million, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.

This sort of reaction to a guy signing for the mini-midlevel exception might seem surprising. Well, it’s no overreaction, and here’s why: the Bulls have one glaring weakness on offense and it’s that they can’t shoot straight from three and Mike Dunleavy is a dead-eye three point shooter. Dunleavy shot a blistering 43% from three last year for the Milwaukee Bucks on 5.5 threes attempted per 36 minutes. Dunleavy also fits the Bulls offense to a T. He is excellent at moving off the ball, in the sort of pin-down actions that the Bulls have been quite fond of running with Kyle Korver, then Rip Hamilton. With Derrick Rose back, Dunleavy should see even better looks than the ones he got for a pretty mediocre Bucks team last year, playing alongside chucking guards, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Dunleavy also rebounds the ball well for a wing player, passes the ball deftly, and is a solid, if unspectacular defensive player. Dunleavy is basically a perfect fit for what the Bulls need in a backup wing player and should have coach Tom Thibodeau’s trust right away. The commitment to use the MMLE also seemingly indicates a change in the team’s stance on spending. After committing to Dunleavy’s $3 million dollar salary this year, the Bulls will be deep into the luxury tax, with the new CBA’s harsher luxury tax penalties kicking in this year, it’s very nice to see ownership not shying away from paying out some of their league leading profits to pay for a winner. Maybe Derrick Rose’s brother Reggie’s comments about the need to improve the roster had their intended effect. Finally, the Bulls have clearly made an offseason priority of shooting. Coach Tom Thibodeau mentioned the need for better shooting several times in interviews following the season’s end. Then, the Bulls drafted Tony Snell (a wing who shot 39% from distance in college), Erik Murphy (a floor stretching big man who shot 45% from 3 in the SEC), and now the signing of an elite shooting wing in Dunleavy. The Bulls probably need one more big man, in addition to Nazr Muhammed, who they are likely to re-sign for the veteran’s minimum, again, but this off-season is shaping up quite nicely for the team from Chicago – aside from that bit of nastiness between the front office and the coaching staff linked above, which is admittedly very troubling.

And now just for fun, here’s highlights from Dunleavy Jr. dropping 29 points on the Cavs early this past season. Good times!

The New York Knicks trade for Andrea Bargnani because they’re the Knicks

The New York Knicks completed a trade over the weekend for former number 1 pick and all-around terrible basketball player, Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors. Not only did the Knicks trade for Bargnani’s hefty $10 million per year contract, but they paid 3 draft picks (1 first rounder and 2 second rounders) for the privilege. Bargnani is a 7 footer who plays like a (bad) shooting guard.  He doesn’t rebound the basketball, he shoots poorly from distance, despite a reputation for being a “stretch” big man, and he plays poor team defense (he’s actually a solid man-to-man post defender, despite his overall terrible impact on the defensive end).

This feels like a huge overreaction from the Knicks to the Nets blockbuster trade on draft night. But it’s not a reaction that really makes the Knicks any better on the floor. In many ways, Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, the players New York surrendered for the Italian big man, are better players than Bargnani. Camby is a better defensive presence and scores more efficiently, while taking many fewer shots. Novak is a specialist shooter, but he’s actually, you know, good at shooting the basketball, which is not true of our man Andrea. Even still, this trade, were it just a swap of on-court players, might be justifiable. Bargnani is a former first overall pick, with size, who has shown flashes of the potential that lead him to be drafted so high. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs and he will finally come close to living up to his contract. But the Knicks needn’t have surrendered the draft picks they did in order to grab him.

Giving up the rights to future first round draft picks under the new collective bargaining agreement is the height of foolishness, unless you’re getting a proven star player in return. Andrea Bargnani could hardly be further from a star player. This is a bad, bad deal for the Knicks and they will almost certainly regret it in the future. This is now the second time that Masai Ujiri, the head man in Toronto and former head man in Denver, has fleeced the Knicks of valuable assets for a “name” player. At least last time the Knicks got Carmelo Anthony, a star player who falls short of being a superstar. This time they’ve sacrificed future assets for a player whose contract was thought by many to be such an albatross that it would necessitate the trading of assets for the Raptors to be rid of it. A word of advice to Glen Grunwald: the next time Masai Ujiri calls you, don’t answer the phone.

Why the Nets-Celtics Trade Makes Sense for Both Sides

At first blush, the Nets-Celtics trade reported last night, which sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and the Nets’ first round picks from 2014, 2016, and 2018, appears incredibly one-sided in favor of the Nets. And in some ways, it is. The Nets got the two best players in the deal, two future Hall of Famers for what amounts to a bunch of crummy flotsam from the Nets and 3 future first round picks. It’s easy to bash this deal for the Celtics.* The Celts got some picks that figure to be pretty low value in 2014, 2016, and a pick of more indeterminable value in 2018 and a bit of salary relief for two Celtics’ legends and guys who can definitely still play. That’s the bad part.

The more nuanced way to view this deal is that the Celtics had already determined they weren’t winning anything with their aging group and Rajon Rondo recovering from ACL surgery and they’ve now totally blown up their roster. In the NBA, the worst thing you can be is mediocre. So the Celtics got what they could for their guys, and they are now pretty clearly tanking to try and position themselves the best that they can for what is being touted as the best draft class since the fabled 2003 draft that brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony into the league.

Celtics fans would be forgiven if they weren’t thrilled with that plan, given what has happened to them the last two times they brazenly attempted to tank for top picks in the 1999 draft (targeting Tim Duncan) and 2007 draft (targeting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant). The plan, however, remains the C’s best bet to return to relevancy. They need to be bad before they can become good again. They’re accumulating assets, hoping to get a great draft pick in next year’s draft, and then hoping Danny Ainge can pull of another amazing set of trades like the ones which brought the Big 3 together. Ainge got absolutely the most value he could get from his current situation, make no mistake about that. Garnett seemingly wasn’t waiving his no trade clause unless he was dealt in tandem with his buddy Pierce. The only team nuts enough to trade for both Garnett and Pierce, at their advanced ages, given what they’re owed, was the Nets. Ainge found the only trade partner who he could realistically get to take those two deals and got the most value from them he could get. It will be interesting to see how things shake out for these Celtics, but Ainge has, rightly, blown up the Ubuntu Celtics and managed to come out of it with 4 future first round picks (including the one he received from the Clippers for Doc Rivers’s services) and the Celtics themselves will be one of the worst teams in the league next year and will have good odds of a top pick in next year’s loaded draft. Good on Ainge for making a hard choice and pulling the trigger, and kudos to Mikhail Prokhorov for being willing to spend, spend, spend to try to make his team a viable contender.

*I’ve seen some people try to bash this trade for the Nets, which I just don’t understand. The Nets made immediate improvements to their team and gave up picks that will likely now not be worth a whole heck of a lot in 2014 or 2016, who knows about 2018? But people saying they’ve mortgaged their future have it exactly wrong. They didn’t have a future, they just lost to half a Bulls team in the first round(!), now they’ve firmly ensconced themselves in the tier of contenders beneath the Heat. If Dwyane Wade has an off series next year or suffers more knee pain or an injury, it’s totally conceivable that the Heat could fall and the Nets will be as well positioned as anyone to take advantage of such a situation. 

Thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s NBA Draft

I wanted to get some quick thoughts down on the record ahead of the draft tomorrow night. I always enjoy the draft; in year’s past, when my Bulls were bad to mediocre, draft time was my favorite time of the year. This year has a lot of room for intrigue, as some teams at the top of the draft have cap space (Cleveland, Orlando, and Charlotte) and the talent at the top is considered relatively weak. It’s possible that there could be a lot of trades of top picks for established players, as teams try to unload large salaries and add cheap production on rookie contracts, adjusting to the new, harsh reality of the CBA’s more restrictive salary constraints, or we could see little movement as no one finds deals they like (to me, always the more likely scenario). In any event, this draft will still have some productive players in it. A lot of the success of the players drafted tomorrow night will depend on their situation and their work ethics, but I do believe there will be a fair number of contributors in this draft, if not any stars.

Players I Like A Lot:

Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)

Oladipo is a player who scouts appear to believe in quite a bit, according to Chad Ford’s Secret Big Board.  Oladipo is believed by many scouts to have the highest floor in this year’s draft, and I have to say looking at his production, it’s hard to argue. He rebounds the ball very well for a guard and gets a lot of blocks and steals per-minute (demonstrating NBA-level athleticism). In watching him, you can see how hard-nosed a defender he is and how hard he competes. On offense, he has a tendency to float and not assert himself enough for a player of his talent and his left-hand dribble drive is quite weak. All in all, though, Oladipo was incredibly efficient as a scorer, a ferocious defender, and a great guard rebounder. I think there’s basically no chance he’s not a starter in the league, and might be a bit better than that if he improves his outside shooting.

Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)

Porter basically ticks all the major boxes for a wing prospect coming into the NBA. He’s got the size and length to be a pro, and similarly, but to a lesser extent, his numbers in college indicate that he has the baseline of athleticism to be a successful pro. He can also shoot from distance and is a smart defensive player with the length to do the job on the NBA level. He should be a solid pro.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)

KCP scored over 22 points per 40 minutes (pace-adjusted) on good efficiency, despite playing with absolutely awful teammates. He shoots it well from outside, and under duress, and he has good athleticism and has the length to be a plus defender in the league.

Cody Zeller (PF, Indiana)

Zeller scores efficiently and a lot and he improved his rebounding significantly over his freshman season where it was a bit of a red flag. He’s not a paint intimidator, but he gets a good number of steals for a big man, and he has active feet and could be a plus defender in a system like Tom Thibodeau’s where active, mobile big men with good defensive footwork on the perimeter are prized. As a traditional big man defender, he would be a negative, but since the league seems to be going away from one on one defense in favor of team defense, Zeller gets a boost.

Players I Don’t Like

Anthony Bennett (PF, UNLV)

Bennett is a fantastic offensive player, who didn’t play defense worth a lick. That’s a pretty big problem and I don’t like betting on guys who don’t even bother with defense in college where they have physical advantages to suddenly become positive defensive players in the pros.

Shabazz Muhammad (SF, UCLA)

Muhammad appears to have been very overhyped coming into college, and he turned in a very mediocre season. He was a pretty inefficient scorer, he didn’t have rebounds, steals, and blocks numbers that pointed to elite athleticism, and he also lied about his age. When confronted about the lie in an interview with Grantland, he shuffled the blame off on others. Too many red flags make Muhammad someone I wouldn’t draft no matter where I was on the draft board.

Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)

MCW is a big PG who stinks at shooting, turns the ball over A LOT, is about to turn 22, and got outplayed in the tournament by Trey Burke. Now some people are projecting him to be drafted ahead of Burke. Um, what?

Thoughts on what My Bulls might do at Pick #20

The Bulls have a decent track record of picking late in the first round  (see: Butler, Jimmy; Gibson, Taj; Mirotic, Nikola) but they have made some mistakes (see: Teague, Marquis; Johnson, James). I feel pretty confident that they can get someone useful with their selection, whether that’s a wing or a backup big man. What I don’t want them to do is to trade the #20 pick for Thomas Robinson, a player who is 21 years old and showed nothing at all in his tumultuous rookie season. Unfortunately, the Bulls have been linked to the Rockets for just such a trade.  Ugh. Count me out on that deal.

This Year’s NBA Finals and the Pointlessness of ‘Narratives’

Gif via Grantland.com

Last night, and to a lesser degree in Game 6 on Tuesday, LeBron James and the Heat shook off the questions that have dogged them these playoffs and became back-to-back “champeens” (thanks, Commissioner Stern, for that). During his speech accepting the Finals Most Valuable Player trophy, LeBron made a point to say that he couldn’t worry about what people off the court say about him. He even dropped a Lil’ Wayne reference, saying simply, “I ain’t got no worries.”  If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice this is something of a theme for LeBron. He really, really doesn’t care about what the media and others, including fans, say about him. That’s an attitude he shares with Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Pop does not have time for silly media narratives and when he gets a silly question, he generally will embarrass the media member asking the question.

There’s a good reason these two men, at the top of their respective positions within the NBA, have this attitude. It’s because media narratives are BS.  This year’s NBA Finals should make that abundantly clear, once and for all. The grizzled veteran Spurs lost a Game 6 that they had within their usually vice-like grasp. Did they choke? No, they did not choke. They were beaten by a series of events that could have easily swung their way. (Zach Lowe, of Grantland, broke this down in wonderfully great detail over the last couple days). They put themselves in a position to win and didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to complete the job.  That sounds like coach-speak cliché, but it is also indisputably true. There’s a reason coaches, who generally know more about the game than any media member, say these things. They are actually being quite insightful, despite it sounding like they are dodging a “tough” question about their team’s mental makeup. It is not a problem of “mental toughness” that Kawhi Leonard missed that foul shot at the end of Game 6, which opened the door for Ray Allen’s amazing corner three pointer. He just missed. He’s an 80% foul shooter for his career, which means that his odds of making both free throws was only 64%. Those are good odds, but simply because he ended up in that other 36% of the time when he DOESN’T make both shots and the Spurs had the misfortune of giving up an open look off of a loose ball scramble doesn’t make the Spurs or Kawhi mentally weak. These are the same Spurs that they’ve always been. Just as tough-minded as ever. Just as dangerous. The fact is someone had to lose this series. If you had these teams play 100 games, they’d probably split them 50-50. It was that close.

Are you going to tell me that Tim Duncan’s legacy suffers or that he’s no longer the best player of his generation, because he missed a 3 foot hook shot over Shane Battier and the subsequent tip-in, by a few measly inches? Some people will say crazy things like somehow Duncan is lesser for having missed that shot. Those people are idiots. Don’t listen to them. Tim Duncan is still the best player of his generation. What he did at 37 years old was nothing short of amazing. What he’s done since he entered the league is quite simply to have the most sustained record of success since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Tim Duncan is still clutch. He’s still amazing, and he’s still one of the greatest big men to ever touch a basketball. He was simply unlucky to miss a shot he’s made so many times before.

That’s not to take any credit away from Miami or LeBron James. The Heat and LeBron took advantage of the opportunities that they were presented with. But don’t think for a second that LeBron is all of a sudden clutch. He already was. He always was. Clutch is such a troubling, nebulous concept that it warrants its own separate conversation, but basically, it’s like this: the best players are the best players all of the time and what they do in a limited sample of “clutch” time makes no difference in that calculus. LeBron is showing you why, now. He has always had these flashes of dominance in important games or “clutch moments” (ask the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Boston Celtics about it) from very early in his career. And why is that? It’s because he’s the best damned player on the planet and has been for 5 years running (Derrick Rose’s MVP, notwithstanding). LeBron has had moments where he hasn’t played his best in so-called “big” moments, but so has every player who has ever laced up sneakers. More often than not, he has been freaking great in those moments, though. He did it again last night and that should finally put to bed the notion that LeBron isn’t “clutch” or he’s “mentally soft” or whatever other garbage people have wanted to say about him over the years.

The point of all this is: the supposedly infallible, unflappable Spurs lost twice with great opportunities to win their 5th NBA title, and the supposedly mentally weak LeBron-led Heat pulled out two hard-fought close games to win their second title in as many years, proving that all of that noise about both teams was always lowest-common denominator #analysis by cranks and blowhards. The truth is these were two great, great teams, either team could have taken this thing, and the outcome doesn’t change that essential truth at all. What a great season, capped by an incredible playoffs and finals. Man, I love this game. Now, on to the Draft!