Author Archives: Brian Schroeder

The Dirty Dozen: Twelve of the Best Offensive Players in the NBA.

While going through an impromptu refresher course on Jimmy Butler’s sophomore season, as I am wont to do, I came across an interesting trend. Of the dozens of players whose Offensive Rating clocked in above 120, there were only 12 who played at least 1000 minutes. For the unaware, Offensive Rating is essentially the points scored by a player per 100 possessions. An ORtg of 100 would equal a player scoring 1 point per possession, or a 2 point basket every other possession. An ORtg of 200 would equal said player scoring 2 points every time he touches the ball, which is essentially impossible for any extended period of time outside of a statistical model. With this in mind, 120 is a high enough offensive rating to be impressed with, especially in the extended minutes these 12 players have seen.

This is not to say that these are the best offensive players in the league. This is merely a sampling of the myriad paths players in this league take towards the almighty temple of efficiency. Plenty of guys who had ORtgs between 110 and 119 are arguably better scorers and cornerstones of a potent offense. I had to make the cutoff somewhere, and 12 is as good a number as any. Sadly, there were a number of players who would easily have made this cut if injuries and relative playing time hadn’t gotten in the way. Chris Wilcox and Chris Andersen were chief among them. Without any further adieu, I’ll start breaking down these twelve players and identify where they stand in three separate categories, based on how they generated their offense: At Rim Finishers, Spot Up Shooters, and Foul Drawers.

These players will be ordered by their Offensive Rating. All averages per 36 minutes. Other pertinent stats will be listed with the player in question.

 

Player #1: Tyson Chandler

Offensive Rating: 133        Minutes Played: 2164         Points: 11.5         Shooting Splits: .638 FG/.694 FT/ .671 TS/ .638 eFG

Shots Taken: 6.7 FG/0.0 3Pt/ 4.3 FT      Usage Rate: 13.0     Distribution: 36% Jumpshots     74% Assisted    23.2% Fouled

Tyson Chandler 2012-13 Highlight Tape

Tyson Chandler is, unsurprisingly, the best finisher on this list, or at least the most prolific. With only 36% of his shots coming on jumpers, he scores primarily in the paint, and primarily on easy dunks, primarily as a finisher off the pick and roll or after making himself available in the scrum, as 74% of his points came after being assisted. His foul drawing rate is absurd, yet his limited number of possessions (a remarkably low 13.0 usage rate) restricts his appearances at the foul line to only 4.3 per game (which still qualifies him for 4th on this list). His percentage at the foul line is solid if not particularly lethal, limiting even more the effect his incredible foul drawing rate has on his game.

What does this all mean? It means that while he’s not a guy you could conceivably throw the ball to 15-20 times a game and expect high-level production, Chandler’s still an incredibly efficient finisher in the paint, consistently near the top of the league in field goal percentage. He’s one of only seven players on this list to hit the 2,000 minute mark last season, further illustrating the longevity and consistency of what he offers offensively. As a former Defensive Player of the Year winner, his offensive contributions could be seen as secondary and relatively unimportant. Instead, he’s the most efficient offensive player in the NBA, further demonstrating the incredible value he provides to the Knicks.

 

Player #2: Chris Paul

Offensive Rating: 127      Minutes Played: 2335      Points: 18.3      Shooting Splits: .481 FG/.328 3PT/.885 FT/.594 TS/.526 eFG

Shots Taken: 13.2 FG/ 3.6 3Pt/ 5.0 FT     Usage Rate: 22.6      Distribution: 84% Jumpshots     22% Assisted     6.8% Fouled

Chris Paul 2012-13 Highlights (passing, too, because Point God)

Any doubts you ever might have had about CP3′s claim to the Iron Throne of Point Guards should be shelved right here and now, lest you take umbrage with what I’m about to say: Chris Paul is statistically impossible. 84% of his shots come off jumpers, and yet he’s not a particularly great shooter, specifically from deep, where his .328 rate on 3.6 per game seems to drag his efficiency down a bit (to say nothing of the relative worth of three pointers compared to two pointers). He’s by no means a bad shooter, but at first glance it seems a little difficult to glean where exactly his efficiency comes from. These statistics have nothing to do with passing or running an offense, the two things CP3 is perhaps most known for. He’s a high-level foul shooter, but doesn’t get to the line all that often, with his 6.8% foul drawing rate ranking 8th of the 12 players profiled.

So how does it he do it? Looking at the amount of shots he takes, nearly 10 shots a game came from inside the arc, yet only 16% of his shots on the season were not jumpshots. Knowing what we know about how he plays, it’s safe to say that Chris Paul is the best shot creator in the NBA. Using only the above video as reference, it becomes very apparent that his proficiency in the midrange game is due to two things: his lethal dribbling ability and his reflexive, almost robotic ability to square his shoulders on every shot. CP3′s reputation, especially through those without any sort of inclination towards more than the surface level statistics, is of a “true point guard” who prefers to make plays for his teammates rather than himself. He’s not seen as the sort of shot creator other high-level point guards are, specifically Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry. Still, he’s on this list and they aren’t. He’s not Rajon Rondo. He can and will create his own offense if need be, and he’ll do it while being incredibly efficient with the least efficient shot in the sport.

 

Player #3: Steve Novak

Offensive Rating: 125      Minutes Played: 1641     Points: 11.7      Shooting Splits: .414 FG/ .425 3Pt/ .909 FT/ .602 TS/ .587 eFG

Shots Taken: 9.4 FG/ 7.7 3Pt/ 0.7 FT     Usage Rate: 13.0     Distribution: 99% Jumpshots     94% Assisted      1.4% Fouled

Steve Novak can’t feel his face

There are three players on this list with an ORtg of 125. By no means am I claiming that Steve Novak is the best among them. He’s simply the best example of the exact opposite of both Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul. 99% of his field goals were jumpers, and 94% of his made baskets came off of assists. He is a spot up shooter. This is not news. What is news is how striking his numbers really illustrate the value of the three point shot. He shoots a poor .414 from the field, doesn’t get to the line, rarely shoots inside the paint and yet ranks as one of the most efficient players in the league. This is entirely due to his marksmanship. Hitting 42.5% of his 7.7 attempts from deep per 36 minutes would leave him with nearly 3.3 makes from deep, resulting in a little under 9.9 points per game. With a usage rate so low, Novak essentially produced 10 points for almost no cost. He’s an entirely one-dimensional player, but he fulfills that single dimension so thoroughly that the Bargnani trade looks even worse than it did when it happened. He’s better at shooter than Bargnani is at anything. Here’s to hoping he remains a rotation player in Toronto, who will surely be in need of some high-efficiency, low usage shooting with the wing players they’re trotting out there.

 

Player #4: LeBron James

Offensive Rating: 125     Minutes Played: 2877     Points: 25.5     Shooting Splits: .565 FG/ .406 3Pt/ .753 FT/ .640 TS/ .603 eFG

Shots Taken: 16.9 FG/ 3.2 3Pt/ 6.7 FT    Usage Rate: 30.2    Distribution: 65% Jumpshots     40% Assisted      13.5% Fouled

LeBron, Burdened with Glorious Purpose

It shouldn’t be a surprise that LeBron is a great (and greatly efficient) offensive player. Nor should it be a surprise that the bulk of his production comes from his greater than 70% shooting percentage at the rim (would have an exact figure if the NBA’s stats page felt like working). What is mildly surprising is just how good a jump shooter he’s become. He takes a significantly smaller amount that he did in Cleveland, hitting at a higher rate than could have been dreamed possible just three short years ago. 40% from deep is no small feat, and when factored in with his nigh unstoppable ability to get into the lane and the high amount of fouls he draws simply by being so physically dominant, LeBron is fairly close to flawless offensively. Even his foul shooting, often the target of derision, clocked in at a respectable 75.3% last season.

His usage rate is the highest in this group of players and the fifth highest in the NBA as a whole last season (trailing Melo, Westbrook, Kobe and Kyrie), and he was assisted on only 40% of his baskets, second lowest among this group. Similarly to Chris Paul, LeBron’s efficiency despite heavy usage and reliance on isolation speaks to how dominant he really is. He’s an unstoppable juggernaut running roughshod over the terrified countryside and he’s not even 30 years old yet. This might not be going away any time soon. Imagine if he were a great free throw shooter. He’d have destroyed us all by now.

 

Player #5: Greg Smith

Offensive Rating: 125    Minutes Played: 1110     Points: 13.7       Shooting Splits: .620 FG/ .623 FT/ .636 TS/ .620 eFG

Shots Taken: 8.9 FG/ 0.0 3Pt/ 4.2 FT      Usage Rate: 14.7     Distribution: 15% Jumpshots     75% Assisted     19.9% Fouled

Greg Smith, wondering why there aren’t any mixes of him on youtube

Greg Smith scores his points in a way quite similarly to Tyson Chandler: at the rim. An impressive 85% of his shots came on shots not classified as “jumpshots,” and he drew fouls an even more impressive 19.9% of the time. Where Chandler operates out of the pick and roll and uses his immense size to deter potential defensive adjustments, Smith moves away from the paint entirely, picking his spots and waiting for the defense to be drawn to teammate, generally James Harden on another foray into the paint. Smith gets a fair amount of work on put backs and tip ins, but primarily seems to function as a secondary option in the pick and roll, which he uses to great effect as a more viable option off the catch than Omer Asik, whom he’s able to use as a shield of sorts to get to the rim unnoticed.

Part of this is, assuredly, due to his status as a relative unknown. It’s entirely conceivable that he just doesn’t appear on scouting reports. The Thunder seemed to have an idea of how to get rid of him in the playoffs, which is disconcerting. With the addition of Dwight Howard, however, it stands to reason that Smith will get more than his fair share of open looks near the basket. He presents himself well to passers, has good hands, and is generally a powerful finisher. He has next to no jumper to speak of, and his post moves when forced to score on his own are rudimentary, but he’s got more than enough to stick in this league and prove that his efficiency last season was not a fluke.

 

Player #6: Jose Calderon

Offensive Rating: 124     Minutes Played: 2160     Points: 13.8     Shooting Splits: .491 FG/ .461 3Pt/ .900 FT/ .616 TS/ .594 eFG

Shots Taken: 10.6 FG/ 4.7 3Pt/ 1.3 FT     Usage Rate: 17.0    Distribution: 92%/83% Jumpshots     57%/58% Assist     2.2%/2.5% Fouled

Jose Calderon, shooting shots.

First things first: the splits on the second line of Calderon’s stat line refer to his shot distribution in Toronto followed by in Detroit. Ok then, now that that’s done, I can talk about just how good of a shooter Calderon is. Not only does he have the highest three point percentage of anyone on this list, he’s an elite free throw shooter (despite not getting to the line all that much) and maintained a .616 True Shooting % despite taking at least 83% jumpshots. That’s stupendously high, and it’s not as though he barely shoots. 10.6 field goals per 36 ranks him 4th on this entire list. Calderon gets his fair share of shots up, and he hits them at a remarkably high rate. Add in his career 4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, and Jose becomes one of the most well-rounded offensive point guards in the NBA. Something of a poor man’s Steve Nash.

Unfortunately, just like Steve Nash, the next person he defends will be the first. Interestingly, he was the only player on this list to have a negative point differential. He was also the only player on this list not to reach the playoffs. While playing for two bad teams certainly didn’t help, perhaps his infamously bad defense had something to do with being on such bad teams in the first place (it didn’t). All this being said, Calderon is cheap, intelligent, and hyper efficient. If the new Mavs fail, it almost certainly won’t be his fault.

 

Player #7: Nick Collison

Offensive Rating: 123     Minutes Played: 1583     Points: 9.4      Shooting Splits: .595 FG/ .769 FT/ .624 TS/ .595 eFG

Shots Taken: 6.7 FG/ 0.1 3Pt/ 1.8 FT     Usage Rate: 11.5     Distribution: 41% Jumpshots      79% Assisted      10.6% Fouled

Nick Collison: BAWSE

Nick Collison is perhaps the most interesting player on this list. As an offensive product, he’s probably the least polished guy on this list. He’s not a bad shooter, but he rarely shoots, as evidenced by jumpshots only accounting for 41% of his shots. The majority of his offensive contributions come from tip ins and garbage plays, more so than even Greg Smith. He draws fouls at a respectable rate, and is a very good free throw shooter, which is tribute to how well he positions himself off ball and reacts to what the rest of the offense is doing. Rarely is Nick Collison in a bad spot. He has the third lowest usage rate of anyone on this list, and easily the lowest for a post player. His 79% assisted rate ranks very highly, even in the presence of big men like Chandler and Smith, who rarely create for themselves. Collison is every bit an offensive role player, but his role is to convert at a high rate and never take shots he doesn’t need to take. Taken next to how good a defensive player he is, it’s even more remarkable that Kendrick Perkins is the starter in OKC. Collison is significantly better in pretty much every regard. Then again, you already knew that, or else you probably wouldn’t be reading here.

 

Player #8: Kosta Koufos

Offensive Rating: 122    Minutes Played: 1817     Points: 12.8     Shooting Splits: .581 FG/ .558 FT/ .585 TS/ .581 eFG

Shots Taken: 10.1 FG/ 0.0 3Pt/ 2.1 FT     Usage Rate: 14.5     Distribution: 17% Jumpshots     75% Assisted     8.3% Fouled

Kosta Smash!

Kosta Koufos is a different animal than the other centers on this list. While his jumpshooting and baskets assisted percentages are par for the course, the sheer volume of shots he puts up separates him from the others. He seems to subsist a great deal more off of quick post ups and his back to the basket game than either Smith, Chandler, or Collison. His usage rate isn’t much higher, which in the end makes him a similar sort of player: a finisher around the rim and a bailout option for his more isolation oriented teammates. He’s not a very good foul shooter, nor does he get to the line all that much, but his size is an asset.

At the expense of under-discussing Koufos’ effect, this brings me to an interesting idea. Why is it that the basketball community seems not to care about too many so-called “traditional” post ups in comparison to hero ball isolation? While a guy in the post is significantly closer to the basket and stands a better chance of converting, it can still drastically slow the offense. How much better would Dwight Howard be if he agreed to be more of a pick and roll threat? The idea that big men who don’t operate out of the post are somehow less effective is just silly, even if guys like Brook Lopez can be legitimate offensive forces while operating with their backs to the basket.

Operating out of the high post is different, opening up a bevy of passing and cutting options if the big man in question is a good and alert enough passer. This is not to say that a guy taking 20 mid range shots is going to be any near as effective as a guy taking 20 shots in the paint, just that running isos and dumping it into the post are similar philosophically, both dependent on simplifying the game and shrinking the floor to remove the other eight players and rely on your guy beating their guy. I’m not trying to say that it’s bad basketball, just that an over-reliance on it can severely limit a team’s efficiency. Notice how only Koufos (and perhaps LeBron) could be considered legitimate post up threats? Just food for thought that I’m not entirely sure I thought out all the way.

 

Player #9: Kevin Durant

Offensive Rating: 122     Minutes Played: 3119     Points: 26.3     Shooting Splits: .510 FG/ .416 3Pt/ .905 FT/ .647 TS/ .559 eFG

Shots Taken: 16.5 FG/ 3.9 3Pt/ 8.7 FT     Usage Rate: 29.8    Distribution: 81% Jumpshots     52% Assisted     16.9% Fouled

KD must be colorblind

There’s nothing about Kevin Durant’s offensive profile that should surprise you, and yet, it’s still incredible to look up and see a guy with a 29.8 usage rate hitting the fabled 50/40/90 mark, which to this day is the second highest usage rate among any member of the 50/40/90 club (Larry Bird hit the 30 mark in 1988). He’s a shooter at heart, and in practice, as his 81% jumpshot rate ranks 5th among the twelve players profiled, and his .416 percentage from deep on nearly 4 attempts per game results in around five easy points per game. In fact, that seems to be KDs modus operandi: brilliance by accumulation. He gets to the foul line a lot, and is an excellent free throw shooter. He’s a prolific and deadly three point shooter, just as he is a dependable threat from mid-range. He doesn’t take an overwhelming amount of shots at the rim, but he’s generally effective when he does. There’s not one singular thing Kevin Durant does that leads to his high level efficiency on the offensive end. It’s everything. He does everything, and he does it well enough that to pressure him into attacking from a different angle is simply picking another blade for him to gut you with. Trying to deter Kevin Durant’s stoic, gradual domination is like trying to fight through a pit of snakes with your hands. No matter which way you attack, you’re going to get bit.

 

Player #10: Shane Battier

Offensive Rating: 122     Minutes Played: 1786     Points: 9.5     Shooting Splits: .420 FG/ .430 3Pt/ .842 FT/ .623 TS/ .608 eFG

Shots Taken: 7.3 FG/ 6.4 3Pt/ 0.8 FT     Usage Rate: 11.0     Distribution: 91% Jumpshots     96% Assisted     2.7% Fouled

Shane Battier Shane Battiers all over Game 7

Shane Battier understands his role better than perhaps anyone in the NBA. He is the very definition of a spot-up shooter, taking 91% of his shots from outside the paint and having 96% of his makes assisted. He almost never gets fouled, though he is a good foul shooter. His three point percentage is higher than his vanilla field goal percentage, and he obviously understands this, taking 6.4 of his 7.3 field goals per 36 from behind the arc. This results in over 8 points per 36 minutes, almost the entirety of his 9.5 points per 36. His usage is the lowest of the 12 players profiled here, which makes sense when you remember that essentially all of his minutes came next to LeBron James, one of the league leaders in usage. There’s no need for Shane Battier to be doing anything on offense other than spotting up and letting loose. In the video clip linked above, that’s exactly what he did. Despite shooting well under 30% from deep in the playoffs, Battier spent all his time on the court positioning himself for open looks, which in Game 7, he hit. No hesitation, no attempts to open up the rest of his game, no wasted effort that could be better used utilizing his still decent defensive skills. Shane Battier is essentially the perfect role player at this stage of his career, maximizing his utility without slowing up the offense in any way.

 

Player #11: Thabo Sefolosha

Offensive Rating: 121     Minutes Played: 2229     Points: 9.9     Shooting Splits: .481 FG/ .419 3Pt/ .826 FT/ .617 TS/ .597 eFG

Shots Taken: 7.5 FG/ 4.2 3Pt/ 1.1 FT     Usage Rate: 11.4     Distribution: 72% Jumpshots    79% Assisted     6.2% Fouled

Thabo Sefolosha, OG 3 and D guy.

At the expense of repeating myself, I’d like to say that Thabo Sefolosha is as accepting of his role as anyone in the NBA. He defends, he shoots, he plays 20 minutes a game and he does it all very efficiently. Compared to Battier, he has at least some game off the dribble and driving to the rim. His 72% jumpshot rate pales in comparison to Battier’s all-encompassing 91%, his foul drawing rate is nearly three times higher, and his assisted rate is much lower. Thabo has more shot-creation in his arsenal than Battier, which is to say he has more than zero. That being said, he makes his money as a spot up shooter, taking 4.2 threes per 36 and making nearly 42% of them, accounting for nearly six points per game. That he, too plays next to a high-usage, high-efficiency small forward who allows him to play off ball and step into the gaps created by Durant’s presence. He’s been perceived as something of a spot-starter, holding down a spot for a superior bench scorer for years now. While that’s certainly the case, it’s not as though Thabo doesn’t contribute. In fact, he does so at a level even Kevin Martin, formerly one of the most efficient players in the NBA, couldn’t dream of reaching in 2013.

 

Player #12: Jimmy Butler

Offensive Rating: 121     Minutes Played: 2134     Points: 11.9      Shooting Splits: .467 FG/ .381 3Pt/ .803 FT/ .574 TS/ .506 eFG

Shots Taken: 8.6 FG/ 1.8 3Pt/ 3.9 FT     Usage Rate: 14.6     Distribution: 63% Jumpshots     69% Assisted     16.3% Fouled

Djimmy Unchained. The D is silent (and also not appearing on this mixtape)

The singular defining thread of Jimmy Butler’s breakout half-season was his immediate emergence as a defensive stopper, someone who guarded LeBron James and didn’t look completely helpless while doing so. One of the most popular youtube videos concerning the soon to be third year Bulls swingman was his role as a “Kobe stopper” in a Bulls victory over the Lakers.

While his contributions defensively are impressive and certainly important going forward (especially if the Bulls sell on Luol Deng), it’s his offensive acumen that made him so pivotal to the Bulls’ 2012-13 season. I’d go as far as saying he was so far and away the best offensive player on the team that to compare him to anyone else is a grave insult to just how good he was. Like LeBron, Butler’s primary offensive contributions came at the rim, where he shot well over 60% despite playing the lion’s share of his minutes at the two. Cuts to the basket, offensive rebounds, alley-oops and in transition, Butler was lethal, and seeing him run off cuts with Derrick Rose back in the fold could be incredibly effective next season.

What’s perhaps most impressive was his foul-drawing rate and how well he capitalized off those opportunities. Of the twelve players on this list, only Butler and Durant drew fouls at a rate higher than 15% while still shooting at least 80% from the line. That Butler did this without being a particularly good shooter is testament to how overpowering his combination of athleticism, activity and effort caught opposing teams off guard. While I said earlier that he wasn’t a particularly good shooter, in the 20 games he registered as a starter, Butler shot a smoldering .458 from deep. If that’s a prelude to his 2013-14 season, then the sky is truly the limit for Jimmy Butler, 30th overall pick, afterthought, emerging Chicago folk hero.

 

So ends this little experiment I made partially out of boredom and partially out of a desire to properly contextualize Jimmy Butler. Through this, I found just how insane the three best players in the world truly are and how important good, efficient role players are to a contender. Eleven of the twelve players on this list made the playoffs. Eight of them played on division champions. Two of them won a title. Three more likely would have been in the running for one had injury not struck. Efficiency is important. It may not be the end all, be all some want it to be, but woe be to the fan that neglects it entirely. Carmelo Anthony is no where near these proceedings, and neither are Monta Ellis, J.R. Smith, or Brandon Jennings. It might be unfair to single those four out, but considering how those four seem to be the rallying cry for the “just watch the game” traditionalist crowd, it seems apt. Thank you for reading what is now well over a 4,000 word piece about statistics written about someone with a tenuous at best grip over them.

Like Clockwork: A Journal of the 2013 Summer League Championship Game

The following is a journal of my thoughts during and directly after the first and possibly only Summer League Championship Game between the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns on July 22, 2013. The entries will be found here, in their entirety, unedited for content and left as I type them, interspersed with mood-appropriate lyrics from songs that have helped get me through this arduous final day. Obviously, the primary focus of this exercise will be the game, but this will not be a play by play. Just whatever observations my brain is still capable of making after a week in this make-believe juvenile fantasy land of despair.

5:36 PM, local time: After sitting down and opening my computer, I marvel at how few media members are seated in Press Row. I predicted a couple days before that there might be more media people here than fans or players, and I could not have been more wrong.

5:42 PM, local time: Zach Harper, Justin Verrier and Danny Chau arrive, with Kevin Arnovitz soon after. They’ve all been here longer than I have, and somehow still seem conscious and relatively jovial. I don’t know how they do it. I think they all might be robots.

5:46 PM, local time: the Warriors arrive, announced to serious applause. Oracle East, as I’ve taken to calling the Thomas and Mack Center over the final few days of this…experience, lives up to its reputation. The Suns arrive a few minutes later, announced to polite applause. They, too have a fair sized contingent.

Patience is a virtue / Until its silence burns you- TV on the Radio, “Love Dog.”

5:52 PM, local time: I’m already bored of this game, and it hasn’t even started. The same eight to ten songs are playing on repeat, with the same Phoenix Suns Gorilla coming out and firing the same T-Shirts to the same crowd in the same building at the same time. They call this place Paradise, and after a few days, it was true. After 7 days, it’s more akin to Purgatory.

5:56 PM, local time: Earlier today, I walked a half mile or so east of my hotel to a Target I had just realized existed, for the purpose of buying and consuming something resembling actual human food. To my pleasant surprise, I found a Dollar Store and a Gamestop, venturing inside both to experience something closer to the day to day actions of normal humans who didn’t scream at me over a mic and demand I get excited for more foam fingers. It’s takes some doing, but it turns out it’s entirely possible to find something in Las Vegas that isn’t complete artifice.

6:01 PM, local time: Rey Moralde, also known as @TheNoLookPass on twitter, arrives. He’s been here the entire time. Not sure how he’s done it, either, although I’m pretty sure he’s not a robot.

Does it feel like a trial?- The National, “Exile Vilify”

6:05 PM, local time: the PA announcer announces the matchup and that the winning team will receive a trophy, which looks exactly how you’d imagine it.

6:08 PM, local time: Draymond Green and P.J. Tucker speak to the crowd, thanking them for attending. Both then focus their collective basketball effort and work ethic into a beam that devastates the crowd, the stadium, and the greater Las Vegas area.

6:10 PM, local time: The game’s first basket is scored by Kent Bazemore, which is the least surprising thing in the history of things. He’s still playing as hard as one can possibly play basketball. He’s like a beacon of energy and hope in this wind blasted desert of monotony.

6:16 PM, local time: Archie Goodwin scores on a left-baseline floater. He’s 18 years old. God only knows what he did to entertain himself this week without even the option of drinking himself into a stupor available. Not to say I did that, or anything. Just that I had the option.

6:19 PM, local time: Marcus Morris executes a series of dribble moves leading to a pretty stepback jumper. The crowd oohs appropriately. I know some of these people have been here all week. Their optimism is equal parts inspiring and depressing. Still, a nice shot.

6:26 PM, local time: Bazemore scores again at the rim. His energy is as relentless as his arms are long. Archie Goodwin responds with a drive of his own. I would like to buy them both personalized coffee mugs reading “World’s Best Basketball Player” and hope that they each never know I bought one for the other.

6:30 PM, local time: A surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, given that these two teams were probably the only two to really make an effort to reach this game) good first quarter comes to an end tied at 22. Kent Bazemore has 10 points, Marcus Morris has 7. If the games on Saturday had been this good, we might not have lost our collective minds.

6:35 PM, local time: A couple minutes into the second quarter, the stat person hands me a stat sheet, even though I’m sitting right next to an updating stats monitor. These people have worked hard all week, but this has to be a massive exercise in futility.

6:37, local time: Ian Clark hits another three pointer. He’s looked good this week, and he looked good in Orlando. Surely playing well for that long on two different teams warrants a camp invite, no? You can never have enough point guards. Look at me, analyzing basketball when there’s perfectly decent proselytizing to be done.

6:43, local time: I spy David Aldridge doing an interview with who appears to be Mark Jackson behind the Warriors bench. Having ridden an elevator with DA twice now, I’m just now starting to understand how it is he’s become so well regarded. He just doesn’t stop working. Ever.

 You’re living in a fantasy world / another message I can’t read- Radiohead, “In Limbo”

6:48, local time: Another fan giveaway, another outcry of impoverished souls who can’t conceive of going on without a free basketball or t-shirt or bottle of SPAM or whatever. Afterwards, Ian Clark scored five points in rapid succession. He has 19, and it’s not even halftime. He’s posing after his threes, of which he’s hit four, in five attempts. So this is happening.

7:04 PM, local time: After the halftime buzzer sounds, Rey and I go in search of the new Media Room, located in something called the Backcourt Cafe. A full search of the Thomas and Mack concourse is fruitless. The magical, ever refreshing plastic tin of Red Vines has evaded me. I will not give up so easily.

7:08 PM, local time: The third quarter begins, and I have to say I am not upset about it. This has been a competitive and relatively decent game thus far, one that reflects well on Summer League as a whole.

7:13 PM, local time: Bazemore picks up his man 70 feet from his own basket and scores after a missed shot. I believe he’s headed off to to Mars to play Dr. Manhattan one on one after this, such is his commitment to basketball.

7:20 PM, local time: Another timeout, another t-shirt toss. Guy in the far corner of the area casually chucks a shirt up the giant Summer League banner into what would be like the 25th row anywhere else. Where has this bionic man been for all the other t-shirt tosses? Surely he could throw a shirt into the sun if he really tried.

7:26 PM, local time: The PA guy announces the All-Summer League Team: Bazemore, Valanciunas, Cody Zeller, John Henson, and Jeff Taylor, of the “Charlotte…team.” Obviously, he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to refer to them as the Bobcats or the Hornets, but I laughed. It feels good to laugh. A great deal of the crowd booed as Valanciunas was announced as the MVP, which I’m sure he would see as “f*cked.”

7:32 PM, local time: Three quarters gone, and this is still a pretty good game. 65-61 Warriors. Bazemore has 18, Ian Clark has 22, and Archie Goodwin has 16. I am slightly delirious from hunger, so I may go buy a horrendously overpriced snack food of some kind.

Shame on us / doomed from the start / may God have mercy on our dirty little hearts- Nine Inch Nails, “Zero Sum.”

7:39 PM, local time: Ian Clark misses a shot, a Suns player grabs the rebound and fires upcourt directly to Kent Bazemore. That old familiar fog is starting to set in. Perhaps my plan to stay up until sunrise my time (around 3:45 Pacific time) is coming back to bite me. I’ll soldier through, I suppose. Warriors (or WARRIOR, as the jumbotron says) are starting to pull away, 75-66.

7:42 PM, local time: Another t-shirt toss. Guy right on the baseline fires one straight up into the air, and it comes down five feet from him in the courtside seats, all of it captured on the jumbotron. The cameraman trying to film it falls over. It’s Summer League for everyeone.

7:48 PM, local time: I walk around the concourse for a bit, just to get some feeling back in my legs. The security personnel yawn. I recognize most of them by this point. The entire staff here has been through a lot, I imagine. Some of them probably don’t even like basketball. Yesterday, I wandered around the Cox Pavilion area in a sea of kiosks and merchandise stands, all of them fully attended and with no customers. That was a very particular type of apathy. I walk back in to see Ian Clark hit another three pointer. He has 33 points. I am Ian Clark. You are Ian Clark. We are all Ian Clark.

7:53 PM, local time: Up 15 points, the Warriors send in Scott Machado, Gary McGhee and James Southerland. The dogs have been called off. The Suns are playing their famed Babb/Abercrombie/Cohen/Collins/Oriakhi lineup.

7:55 PM, local time: Cameron Jones dribbles out the clock, and it is finally, mercifully over. I imagine Ian Clark will be the MVP of this game. I’m off to find some damned Red Vines.

9:18 pm, local time: After getting lost on the UNLV campus in a misguided attempt to find the In N Out whose location I had forgotten, I stop at a CVS between the arena and my hotel and buy some trash food (and water). Upon getting back into my room, I collapse on my bed and lie there, without moving, for nearly five minutes. Eventually, I get up and write this little epilogue you’re currently reading. This week started off swimmingly, being the first time I’ve ever been credentialed for an NBA event and the first time I’ve ever interviewed a professional basketball player. I met Tom Thibodeau and complimented him on his shoes. I met Kevin Arnovitz and complimented him on his Bowie singing. The second half of the week was more like work than any job I have ever had, and I wasn’t even getting paid for it. It was arduous, difficult, boring, exhausting, and tedious. Mostly tedious. I met some great people and probably walked 30 miles. Me ankles are swollen. My back hurts from the awful chairs on press row. I haven’t had milk in a week. I miss my dog so much that I spent an hour earlier today watching “lost dog reunited with family” videos on youtube.

I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Most of what you see, my dear / is purely for show- Queens of the Stone Age, “Like Clockwork”

Summer League Fringe Event- Andrew Goudelock: Conscience Does Make Cowards.

Andrew Goudelock has carved a very atypical path to the NBA. After leaving the College of Charleston as it’s all-time leading scorer, he was a second round pick of the Lakers in the 2011 Draft. Over the course of that season, he played in 40 games, averaging 4.4 points and under 1 assist and rebound per game on .391 shooting from the field. After being cut by the Lakers before the 2012-13 season, he was drafted by the Sioux Falls SkyForce with the second overall selection of the 2012 D-League Draft (after former Purdue standout JaJuan Johnson). While with Sioux Falls, he averaged 20.3 points, 5.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds, marked improvements from his passing and rebounding numbers in the NBA, even at 36 minutes. When asked about the ability to get into the paint he’s shown at Summer League, he had this to say.

“In the D-League, when my shot wasn’t falling I had to do something else” and describes himself in the D-League as “more of a get to the rim guy, with floaters and things like that. It comes in handy when your shot isn’t falling.” He credits the D-League for helping him refine the rougher edges of his game.

“The D-League has helped me out so much, completing my game, and showing everything I can do.”

After a couple months with Sioux Falls, Goudelock was traded to the eventual D-League champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he was even better than in Sioux Falls, posting averages of 21.4 points, 5.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals on .491 shooting from the field, .404 from the line. For his efforts, he was named the 2012-13 NBA D-League MVP, and was called back up to the Lakers in time to play in the regular season finale against the Houston Rockets. He played in three playoff games with the Lakers, starting Game 3 against the Spurs and recording a career high 20 points in the loss.

And so, Andrew Goudelock came to Vegas Summer League 2013 with the Bulls, trying to prove once and for all that he belongs in the NBA. He averaged 19.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on .471 shooting in five games in Las Vegas.

“I think it definitely helps,” Goudelock said about Summer League.  ”Guys that haven’t seen me besides the playoffs with the Lakers or in the D-League, you know it’s a good opportunity for them the see the other sides of my game besides more than scoring the ball.”

When asked about what he can take from his experiences in the D-League and this Summer in Vegas, he responded. “I played point the whole time today, and we got the dub. I played point the whole time in the D-League, and we won a championship. I’m a winner. That’s the biggest thing, it’s a basketball game, and everyone’s playing to win. I just wanna come out here and show that, I can do a little bit of everything.”

Whatever anyone says about Andrew Goudelock, they can never say that he lacks for confidence. If he doesn’t make an NBA roster this summer, he’ll certainly try again next year. If he doesn’t make it then, he’ll try again the year after that. No is never an answer where the NBA is concerned for the indefatigable Andrew Goudelock.

Summer League Fringe Event- Othyus Jeffers: They Will Have Need of Wood

Whomever first said that you can’t keep a good man probably wasn’t talking about Othyus Jeffers, but it’s hard to think of someone who better fits that particular idiom. Through four games at the Las Vegas Summer League, the D-League stalwart is averaging 7.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists on .588 shooting from the field in a little over 13 minutes a game, which translates roughly to 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, all very Othyus Jeffers-ian numbers when taken in context with the rest of his somewhat remarkable basketball career.

Growing up on Chicago’s west side, Jeffers transfered to Hubbard High School as a sophomore and left the school’s all-time leading rebounder. After not qualifying academically for NCAA ball, he attended Los Angeles Southwest College, posting well over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. After that first season, he managed to qualify for Division I ball and returned home to Chicago at UIC, where he played two seasons, leading the Flames in scoring and rebounding as a junior. After a shooting incident involving defending his sister from her boyfriend, and due to friction with his head coach, Jeffers again transfered, this time to Robert Morris University of the NAIA. Due to Robert Morris’ position as a non Division I school, he was not forced to sit out a season, which allowed him to post his best collegiate season yet, averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds en route to being named NAIA Player of the Year and leading the Eagles to a Final Four run.

After going undrafted in 2008, Jeffers bounced around in the D-League and Europe for a couple seasons, winning Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, until eventually getting called up to the Utah Jazz, who signed him for the remainder of the season. After being cut by Utah the following training camp, he returned to the D-League’s Iowa Energy and made his second D-League All-Star game, before signing a 10 day contract with the San Antonio Spurs. After that expired, he signed the first of two 10 days with the Washington Wizards, eventually signing for the remainder of the season and enjoying the best stretch of play in his brief NBA career, posting per 36 minute averages of 10.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.9 steals. After the season, the Wizards initially extended a qualifying offer to him, before he tore his ACL in what has been described as a “freak accident” during workouts.

“It’s basketball, and that’s part of life. A lot of key players got hurt the same year,” naming Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert, two other Chicago products, “but they had contracts. I worked hard to get to that point, and I always knew I’d be in the position where I’d be able to prove myself.”

When he speaks about being the position to prove himself, it’s obvious that Jeffers doens’t mean this in the past tense. After recovering from his ACL tear, Jeffers returned to the D-League, again with the Iowa Energy, and began the arduous task of fighting his way back into the NBA. He’s never been a good shooter, but this last season saw a marked uptick in his percentages, specifically from deep, where he raised his career high in the D-League from .311 to .348. He’s never going to be a spot up shooter or anything, but any improvement bodes well for his NBA prospects. He’s still only 27, and unlike some players, knows that scoring prolifically is not necessarily his best bet on sticking in the NBA.

“I know my role. With the Wizards, I knew I wasn’t going to score 20 points. I had to find a niche. It’s not that I can’t do it, I’ve scored 20 points everywhere. You gotta play your niche, and my niche to get into the NBA is defense.

While this is undoubtedly true, another calling card of his is rebounding, specifically on the offensive end. Compared to some of the best small forwards in the game, Othyus could be considered an elite offensive rebounder for his position. His ORB, or Offensive Rebounding Percentage, is 9.4% in his 31-game NBA career, an astronomical number considering he’s listed at 6-5 but is almost certainly closer to 6-3. If this seems flukish, know that his ORB in the D-League stands at 7.6, which would still rank him above the career NBA totals of Kawhi Leonard (6.0), Andrei Kirilenko (7.0), Jimmy Butler (7.2), Carmelo Anthony (6.1), and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (7.2). Suffice it to say, Othyus Jeffers is high level offensive rebounder. He was a power forward in high school, and he’s obviously continue to hone those instincts. To be 6-5 and a perpetual 20-10 at any level is no easy feat. He’s a good athlete, and always seems to know where to be on the floor, which is the best compliment you can give a rebounder (or a defender).

While Jeffers is an interesting and somewhat unique player, it’s his steadfastness as a person that makes him so easy to root for. He projects every bit of being an approachable, level headed and collected man, seeming to be completely without pretension or undue confidence. He does this because he wants to, and if the day came when he didn’t feel like doing it anymore, he’d probably stop then and there, with no regrets. When I asked what the best piece of advice he’s received over his basketball career was, he thought for a moment, and answered:

“The best piece of advice I got was, “all advice is good advice, it’s up to you to add it to what you’re going through.”

Othyus Jeffers isn’t the sort of guy I’d bet would have a long and prosperous NBA career, but I can tell you that I definitely wouldn’t bet against him.

The Door Unlatched: Of Mercenaries and Free Agency

NBA Free Agency is marked by three common threads: the occasional superstar trading places, taking with him both the title aspirations and the suffocating media attention that comes with a top 10 player in today’s NBA. The second is younger players who have played their way into a steady contract. Every one of these players, from Earl Clark to Dwight Buycks, is worth writing about, but I’d like to focus on the third group: the Mercenaries. Veteran players whose services are essentially rented out to the highest bidder in exchange for market value services. Equal parts soldiers of fortune and day laborers, they are arguably the most professional of basketball players, with all the positives and negatives connotations that arise from such a description.

We’ve seen a series of Mercenaries availing their services to different teams for different reasons. Some of them are sacrificing a bigger pay day to have a shot, however slim, of winning a championship (Andrei Kirilenko, Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy and the rest). Some of them are returning to the stomping grounds that made them the commodities they are now, as salary-cap conquering heroes (Chauncey Billups, Carl Landry). Some are trying to catch lightning in a bottle by tethering themselves to a promising young team before they truly succeed, getting in on the ground floor of a prime investment opportunity like the day traders they are (Jarrett Jack, Andre Iguodala, Eric Maynor, Dorell Wright). Yet more Mercenaries just want to make a lot of money, donning the colors of whoever will pay them the most (Al Jefferson).

What’s interesting about these players is how, for the most part, they’re functionally interchangable. The career role players and the former stars have essentially identical impacts at this point. For instance, take a look at this comparison between Carl Landry and Antawn Jamison from last season. One was considered a serious contender for Sixth Man of the Year while the other is seen as a washed up former star who shoots to much and doesn’t defend. In reality, while Landry certainly had a better season, both are essentially the same type of player: an undersized backup 4 who contributes offensively, rebounds decently and has no interest whatsoever in playing defense. Where the two players get their shots from differs wildly, but their essential roles (and, quite honestly, their overall value), lies somewhere just above the middle of the pack.

Of course, not all of these journeyman are interchangeable. Some of them are quite bad, skating by on mere reputation. Some are real impact players, and it is these players, specifically Andrei Kirilenko, that interest me so. There’s been an alleged backlash to his signing for $3 million a year with Brooklyn after opting out of a much larger deal with Minnesota. Taking away the discouragingly xenophobic elements of said backlash (the Nets, after all, are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, Kirilenko’s countryman and former boss), it reveals an interesting thought: that somehow, Kirilenko broke the rules of being an NBA Mercenary. He undercut his own value to sign for the Mini-MLE, and in some way, insulted the worth that he had spent an entire professional career building. In many ways, modern sports contracts are less about the actual monetary amounts and more about a certain level of respect or acceptance.When a guy like Josh Smith makes more than $13 million a year, the market immediately adjusts to a baseline for a guy like Luol Deng, whose contract expires after this season. This sort of thing only seems to apply to a very specific type of NBA personality, perhaps explaining why Kobe Bryant is scheduled to make more than $30 million in 2013-14, so I’m not trying to posit that taking anything less than your perceived market value in somehow disrespectful. That being said, a player like Kirilenko, who isn’t much, if at all worse than Deng or Smith taking the Mini-MLE seems almost unfair, a team without any money paying very little to get one of the five most impactful free agents on the market.

The Best and Worst Draft Picks of the David Stern Era.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, this past Thursday’s NBA Draft was the final one for long time commissioner David Stern, who is set to retire in February 2014. In honor of this, and of the 30 years of first round picks he’s made, I decided to make a completely arbitrary and utterly pointless ranking system.

To start with, I only used the first ten picks of every draft, and then included some of the more successful later round picks from subsequent years. A team drafting a guy who didn’t pan out at #11 isn’t exactly a franchise killer. Drafting that same guy at #1, is another story.

I used four criteria in my grading system: Playoff success, All-Star games, career success/awards, and loyalty/longevity. The latter two are on a 1-10 scale. If said draft pick played his entire career with the team that drafted him, he gets a 10. If said career was 10 or more years, he might get higher than that. The only players that get a 0 in this field are ones that never became a rotation player for the team that drafted them. Success/awards is out of 10 in multiples of 5. If a player flamed out of the NBA, he gets a 0. If he had a respectable NBA career, he gets a 5. If he was a star player/award winner, he gets a 10. For simplification’s sake, I decided not to differentiate between levels of stardom. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley both get 10s in this category.

The other two categories are somewhat trickier. Playoff success is tallied by the amount of appearances said player made in the playoffs with the team that drafted him, divided by two. If that player was part of a championship team, 5 points are added to his tally (one for every title). The final category, All-Star games, is perhaps simpler: however many All-Star games the player appeared in for any team. This will serve to stabilize some of the stranger careers. For instance, Chris Webber will inherently have a higher score than, say, Danny Manning, due to his status as a perennial All-Star. The final scores will reflect the overall success of that pick for the team who made it (or, more precisely, the team that ended up with the player in question when the season in question began).

0-9: Wasted potential, a player who did not live up the expectations of a top 10 pick for the team that drafted him.

10-19: Solid pro, perhaps not the star his team needed, but a guy whose NBA career can be considered successful.

20-29: Low-level star, ranging from solid career starters to borderline Hall of Fame candidates.

30-39: Superstar, everything a team could have asked for with a top 10 pick and a likely Hall of Famer. Also Derek Fisher.

40+: Legend, an out and out success in every way imaginable. A franchise cornerstone and best case scenario.

 

#1 Pick

Five Best

Tim Duncan, 1997. San Antonio Spurs. 61 Points

Hakeem Olajuwon, 1984. Houston Rockets. 48 Points

David Robinson, 1987. San Antonio Spurs. 46 Points

Patrick Ewing, 1985. New York Knicks. 37 Points

Shaquille O’Neal, 1992. Orlando Magic. 31 Points

 

Five Worst

Kwame Brown, 2001. Washington Wizards. 6 Points

Pervis Ellison, 1989. Sacramento Kings. 7 Points

Michael Olowokandi, 1998. Los Angeles Clippers. 8 Points

Greg Oden, 2007. Portland Trail Blazers. 11 Points

Joe Smith, 1995. Golden State Warriors. 12 Points

 

What’s interesting about the #1 pick is that there aren’t nearly as many out and out busts as you’d imagine. Really, it’s just Olowokandi and Kwame Brown who were bad NBA players. Pervis Ellison had no effect with the Kings, but ended up with a decent career. It’s telling that Joe Smith, consummate NBA journeyman with career averages of 10 points and 6 boards, ranked low enough to qualify for the bottom five. Oden, of course, has been limited by his injuries, but he was not a bad player when he played. In fact, he was quite good, enough that he’s still playing for a comeback.

Here’s the rest of the list, grouped by score. 29-20: LeBron James (29), Yao Ming, Allen Iverson (28), Derrick Rose, Brad Daugherty (25), Larry Johnson, Blake Griffin (22), Chris Webber (21), Glenn Robinson (20), Kyrie Irving (17), Kenyon Martin, John Wall (16), Anthony Davis, Andrea Bargnani (15), Andrew Bogut, Derrick Coleman (14), Danny Manning (13), Elton Brand (12).

 

#2 Pick

Five Best

Jason Kidd, 1994, Dallas Mavericks. 32 Points

Gary Payton, 1990. Seattle SuperSonics. 29 Points

Kevin Durant, 2007. Seattle SuperSonics. 28 Points

Alonzo Mourning, 1992. Charlotte Hornets. 22 Points

Rik Smits, 1988. Indiana Pacers. 22 Points

 

Five Worst

Hasheem Thabeet, 2009. Memphis Grizzlies. 7 Points

Darko Milicic, 2003. Detroit Pistons. 8 Points

Jay Williams, 2002. Chicago Bulls. 10 Points

Stromile Swift, 2000. Vancouver Grizzlies. 10 Points

Michael Beasley, 2008. Miami Heat. 11 Points

 

The #2 pick is, in all honesty, somewhat weak. Only one of these players, Jason Kidd, has won a title with the team that drafted him, and that was at the end of his career, on his second stint with the team. However, there aren’t a huge amount of total busts here, either, although the bottom 5 is full of them, with the exception of Jay Williams, whose career was robbed from his by injury. The rest of the scores follow: LaMarcus Aldridge (20), Marcus Camby (16), Antonio McDyess, Mike Bibby, Danny Ferry (15), Tyson Chandler, Kenny Anderson, Steve Francis, Derrick Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14), Sam Bowie, Evan Turner (13), Keith Van Horn, Armen Gilliam, Emeka Okafor, Marvin Williams, Shawn Bradley (12), Wayman Tisdale (11).

 

#3 Pick

Five Best

Michael Jordan, 1984. Chicago Bulls. 70 Points

Grant Hill, 1994. Detroit Pistons. 26 Points

Sean Elliott, 1989. San Antonio Spurs. 26 Points

Penny Hardaway, 1993. Orlando Magic. 25 Points

Carmelo Anthony, 2003. Denver Nuggets. 23 Points

 

Five Worst

Chris Washburn, 1986. Golden State Warriors, 7 Points

Darius Miles, 2000. Los Angeles Clippers. 8 Points

Adam Morrison, 2006. Charlote Bobcats. 8 Points

Dennis Hopson, 1987. New Jersey Nets. 9 Points

Raef LaFrentz, 1998. Denver Nuggets. 10 Points

 

MJ aside, the third pick is not particularly interesting. It has its share of stars, and its share of busts, but few were momentous enough to effect the course of a franchise substantially in either direction. Sounds like Otto Porter Jr will fit right in with this crop.

The rest: Al Horford (23), Deron Williams (20), Pau Gasol, James Harden (19), Chauncey Billups (17), Baron Davis, Mahmoud Abdul-Raud (16), Jerry Stackhouse, Ben Gordon, Derrick Favors, Bradley Beal (15), Christian Laettner (14), O.J. Mayo, Enes Kanter, Benoit Benjamin (13), Mike Dunleavy Jr, Billy Owens (12), Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Charles Smith (11).

 

#4 Pick

Five Best

Chris Paul, 2005. New Orleans Hornets. 26 Points

Dikembe Mutombo, 1995. Denver Nuggets. 22 Points

Chris Bosh, 2003. Toronto Raptors. 22 Points

Russell Westbrook, 2008. Oklahoma City Thunder. 21 Points

Rasheed Wallace, 1995. Washington Bullets. 18 Points

 

Five Worst

Marcus Fizer, 2000. Chicago Bulls. 7 Points

Eddy Curry, 2001. Chicago Bulls. 9 Points

Wesley Johnson, 2010. Minnesota Timberwolves. 10 Points

Drew Gooden, 2002. Memphis Grizzlies. 10 Points

Tyrus Thomas, 2006. Chicago Bulls. 11 Points

 

A very average group of guys here at the 4 spot, with the difference between the 5th best and the 5th worst picks being a measly 7 points. Interestingly, none of these picks won a title with the team that drafted them. The vast majority of these picks were solid NBA players without much of an impact. The rest as follows: Mike Conley (18), Dennis Scott, Xavier McDaniel (17), Glen Rice, Sam Perkins (16), Chuck Person, Jamal Mashburn, Antawn Jamison, Lamar Odom, Stephon Marbury, Tristan Thompson (15), Tyreke Evans, Dion Waiters, Antonio Daniels, Chris Morris (14), Jim Jackson (13), Donyell Marshall, Shaun Livingston, Reggie Williams (11)

 

#5 Pick

 Five Best

Scottie Pippen, 1987. Chicago Bulls. 56 Points

Dwyane Wade, 2003. Miami Heat. 48 Points

Kevin Garnett, 1995. Minnesota Timberwolves. 39 Points

Charles Barkley, 1984. Philadelphia 76ers. 34 Points

Ray Allen, 1996. Milwaukee Bucks. 32 Points

 

Five Worst

Nikoloz Tskitishvili, 2002. Denver Nuggets. 8 Points

Shelden Williams, 2006. Atlanta Hawks. 9 Points

Isaiah Rider, 1993. Minnesota Timberwolves. 9 Points

Thomas Robinson, 2012. Sacramento Kings. 10 Points

J.R. Reid, 1989. Charlotte Hornets. 11 Points

 

The five spot is, by far, the most decorated thus far. While only two of these players won a title with the team that drafted them, those two players combined to win 9 titles, and the other three players in the top are all sure fire Hall of Famers who rank among the best to ever play their respective positions. They were all perennial All-Stars and MVP candidates, and maximized the worth their teams got for them (even Ray Allen fetched a mighty price in return for his services when Milwaukee traded him). This is as good as we’re likely to get. On the flip side, the bad picks here are certainly damaging. I feel bad about putting Thomas Robinson on here after one season, but his usefulness to the Kings is done, so it’s safe to say he was a bad pick for them. Here’s to hoping he makes a career out of it.

The rest: Vince Carter (22), Mitch Richmond (20), Kevin Love, Steve Smith (19), Ricky Rubio, Jon Koncak, Kenny Walker (16), Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarcus Cousins, Devin Harris (15), Juwan Howard, Kendall Gill, Mike Miller (14), Jeff Green, Jason Richardson (13), Tony Battie, Raymond Felton, LaPhonso Ellis, Jonathan Bender (12)

 

#6 Pick

Five Best

Brandon Roy, 2006. Portland Trail Blazers. 22 Points

Antoine Walker, 1996. Boston Celtics. 18 Points

Wally Szczerbiak, 1999. Minnesota Timberwolves. 17 Points

Hersey Hawkins, 1988. Los Angeles Clippers. 16 Points

Shane Battier, 2001. Memphis Grizzlies. 16 Points

 

Five Worst

Dajuan Wagner, 2002. Cleveland Cavaliers. 8 Points

Jonny Flynn, 2009. Minnesota Timberwolves. 8 Points

Yi Jianlian, 2007. Milwaukee Bucks. 9 Points

William Bedford, 1986. Philadelphia 76ers. 9 Points

DerMarr Johnson, 2000. Atlanta Hawks. 9 Points

 

This is the exact opposite of the five slot. Only Brandon Roy could possibly be considered a franchise player, and with his career tragically cut short by injury, he’s hardly the most valuable draft pick in the world. On the flip side, the busts that have come from this spot are massive. Dajuan Wagner is a somewhat forgotten player nowadays, but as a risk-reward pick, he’s one of the worst in the last few decades. To think that he came the year before LeBron is to really put into perspective just how bad that Cavs front office could be. Not sure I would have stayed with the people responsible for Dajuan Wagner when Miami came-a-calling, either.

The rest: Damian Lillard (15), Stacey King (14), Ekpe Udoh, Kenny Smith (13), Joe Kleine, Tom Gugliotta, Robert Traylor, Chris Kaman, Danilo Gallinari (12), Ron Mercer, Martell Webster, Melvin Turpin, Doug Smith, Calbert Cheaney (11), Felton Spencer, Bryant Reeves, Josh Childress, Sharone Wright, Jan Vesely (10)

 

#7 Pick

Five Best

Chris Mullin, 1985. Golden State Warriors. 26 Points

Kevin Johnson, 1987. Phoenix Suns. 23 Points

Luol Deng, 2004. Chicago Bulls. 22 Points

Nene Hilario, 2002. Denver Nuggets. 20 Points

Stephen Curry, 2009. Golden State Warriors. 19 Points

 

Five Worst

Eddie Griffin, 2001. Houston Rockets. 9 Points

Chris Mihm, 2000. Cleveland Cavaliers. 9 Points

Charlie Villanueva, 2005. Toronto Raptors. 9 Points

Lionel Simmons, 1990. Los Angeles Clippers. 10 Points

Luc Longley, 1991. Minnesota Timberwolves. 10 Points

 

This is more of a traditionally spread pick, albeit one without any bonafide superstars. Still, it’s also one without any major, franchise destroying busts. Eddie Griffin comes the closest, but with the problems he dealt with in his tragically short life, it’s hard to really blame this pick on anything to do with basketball. Mihm and Villanueva, though both bad value, put together extended NBA careers.

The rest: Alvin Robertson, Kirk Hinrich (18), Greg Monroe, Harrison Barnes, Richard Hamilton (16), Roy Tarpley, Jason Williams (15), Damon Stoudamire, George McCloud (14), Lamond Murray, Bobby Hurley, Tim Perry, Bismack Biyombo (13), Eric Gordon, Walt Williams (12), Lorenzen Wright, Tim Thomas, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer (11)

 

#8 Pick

Five Best

Detlef Schrempf, 1985. Dallas Mavericks. 18 Points

Kerry Kittles, 1996. New Jersey Nets. 17 Points

Vin Baker, 1993. Milwaukee Bucks. 15 Points

Brian Grant, 1994. Sacramento Kings. 15 Points

Ron Harper, 1986. Cleveland Cavaliers. 15 Points

 

Five Worst

Joe Alexander, 2008. Milwaukee Bucks. 5 Points

DeSagana Diop, 2001. Cleveland Cavaliers. 6 Points

Rafael Araujo, 2004. Toronto Raptors. 7 Points

Shawn Respert, 1995. Milwaukee Bucks. 9 Points

Lancaster Gordon, 1984. Los Angeles Clippers. 9 Points

 

If you thought the #6 pick was bad, then this must be torture. Not a single serious cornerstone to build off of here, with the possible exception of Schrempf, who saw most of his success with a different team. Kerry Kittles was a solid contributor on a back to back Finals team, but he was the 4th starter on that team and the Eastern Conference was abysmal, so he hardly inspires confidence. The bad picks from this spot include two of the worst in the history of the NBA in Diop and Joe Alexander, neither of whom I’m convinced had ever actually played basketball beforehand. In four years, Ben McLemore could be the best #8 pick in the last 30 years, and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

The rest: Andre Miller, Rudy Gay, Brandon Knight (14), Terrence Ross, Randy White, Olden Polynice, Larry Hughes (13), T.J. Ford, Channing Frye, Rex Chapman (12), Todd Day, Adonal Foyle, Chris Wilcox, Jamal Crawford (11), Jordan Hill, Brandan Wright, Bo Kimble, Al-Farouq Aminu (10), Mark Macon (9)

 

#9 Pick

Five Best

Dirk Nowitzki, 1998. Dallas Mavericks. 41 Points

Amar’e Stoudemire, 2002. Phoenix Suns. 23 Points

Joakim Noah, 2007. Chicago Bulls. 22 Points

Tracy McGrady, 1996. Toronto Raptors. 21 Points

Andre Iguodala, 2004. Philadelphia 76ers. 20 Points

 

Five Worst

Ed O’Bannon, 1995. New Jersey Nets. 8 Points

Patrick O’Bryant, 2006. Golden State Warriors. 8 Points

Michael Sweetney, 2003. New York Knicks. 9 Points

Rodney White, 2001. Detroit Pistons. 10 Points

Eric Montross, 1994. Boston Celtics. 10 Points

 

Much more stable and impressive than the last, the 9 spot has seen at least one sure-fire Hall of Famer in Dirk, and a bevy of recent All-Stars in Noah, STAT, T-Mac and Iguodala. On the bust end of things, if your team has a chance to draft someone with a O in front of their name in the 9 spot, run in fear or pray for a trade.

The rest: Shawn Marion (19), Derrick McKey, Charles Oakley (17), Otis Thorpe, Stacey Augmon (16), Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond (15), DeMar DeRozan, Rony Seikaly (14), Rodney Rogers, Brad Sellers (13), Clarence Weatherspoon, Joel Przybilla (12), Tom Hammonds, D.J. Augustin, Willie Burton (11), Samaki Walker, Ike Diogu (10)

 

#10 Pick

Five Best

Paul Pierce, 1998. Boston Celtics. 37 Points

Horace Grant, 1987. Chicago Bulls. 27 Points

Andrew Bynum, 2005. Los Angeles Lakers. 25 Points

Joe Johnson, 2001. Boston Celtics. 21 Points

Eddie Jones, 1994. Los Angeles Lakers. 19 Points

 

Five Worst

Mouhamad Sene, 2006. Seattle SuperSonics. 5 Points

Luke Jackson, 2004. Cleveland Cavaliers. 8 Points

Rumeal Robinson, 1990. Atlanta Hawks. 9 Points

Danny Fortson, 1997. Denver Nuggets. 10 Points

Ed Pinckney, 1985. Phoenix Suns. 11 Points

 

We round out the top 10 with a strong showing from the three winningest franchises in the history of the league. The top three players here combined to win 10 titles for their team, more than justifying their draft selections and absolutely maximizing their value at this particular spot. Paul Pierce is the shining star here, becoming one of the best players in the history of one of the most storied franchises in the history of the sport after being drafted after NINE other players. On the negative side of things, another of the worst picks in history, Mouhamad Sene, meanders his way to the top of the list in a fashion not dissimilar to how he meandered through his uneventful NBA career.

The rest: Brook Lopez, Paul George (18), Lindsey Hunter (17), Willie Anderson (16), Caron Butler, Brandon Jennings, Kurt Thomas (15), Jason Terry (14), Jimmer Fredette, Erick Dampier (13), Leon Wood, Pooh Richardson, Keyon Dooling, Johnny Dawkins, Adam Keefe, Bison Dele, Jarvis Hayes (12), Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes, Ed Pinckney (11)

 

Best of the Rest

While the top 10 tends to be where franchises make and take their futures, it’s not the only place to find value. Here’s the rest of the first rounders in David Stern’s tenure whose scores tallied a 20 or above on my super-awesome scale, in descending order.

Kobe Bryant (64), Tony Parker (49), Karl Malone (44), John Stockton (39), Joe Dumars, Derek Fisher (38), Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Rajon Rondo (30), Shawn Kemp (27), Robert Horry, Tayshaun Prince, Sam Cassell (25), Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (24), Arvydas Sabonis (22), Terry Porter, Andrei Kirilenko, Danny Granger (21), Tim Hardaway, Vlade Divac, Roy Hibbert, David West, A.C. Green, Kawhi Leonard (20)

 

Note: A higher ranking does not make a better player. All it means is that the player in question was more valuable to the team that drafted him than someone with a lower ranking. Case in point: Derek Fisher is one of the worst players above 20 on this list, and he’s got one point less than Kevin Garnett.

Brevity is the Soul: Danny Green, the Ultimate Fringe Event

Through four games of the 2013 NBA Finals, Danny Green is the Spurs leading scorer. He’s averaging 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on a blistering .579 shooting from the field, with a stupendous 19-28 shooting from deep (.679). He’s played good, aggressive defense, blocking LeBron James at the rim a few times, and has generally looked every bit the role playing sharpshooter his recent position would advertise.

After graduating from St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, New York, Green went to North Carolina, where his minutes steadily rose every year, culminating in captain duty for the 2009 NCAA Champion Tar Heels. He left Chapel Hill as the only Tar Heel in history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 blocks, and 100 steals. Despite being one of three players in NCAA history to win 4 games against a Mike Krzyzewski coached team (Tim Duncan and Rusty LaRue being the other two), Green was not drafted until the 2nd round (46th pick overall) in 2009 Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In 20 games for the Cavaliers, Green averaged 2.0 points, 0.9 rebounds, and 0.3 assists on .385 shooting from the field (.273 from deep, .667 from the line) in 5.8 minutes per contest. While in Cleveland, Green was known more for his dancing than his shooting, so it came as no huge surprise when the Cavaliers elected not to bring him back the next season. He signed with the Spurs in November 2010, appearing in two games before being waived and joining the Reno Bighorns of the D-League, his second stint in the D-League after playing in a pair of games with the Erie BayHawks the season before.

After his stint with the Bighorns, in which he averaged 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks on .451 shooting (.434 from deep and .795 from the line), he was re-signed by the Spurs, playing six more games with the team over the rest of the 2010-11 season. During the NBA Lockout, Green signed in Slovenia, returning to the Spurs after the lockout and successfully winning the starting two guard spot and enjoying by far his best NBA success to that point. He averaged 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on the season, playing in all 66 games and starting 38 of them. He topped the 20 point mark on four different occasions, led by his 24 point, 7 rebound, 2 assist, 2 steal, 2 block effort against the Nuggets on January 7th, 2012.

With his position in the Spurs rotation secured, Danny Green started all 80 games he appeared in the 2012-13 regular season, posting averages of 10.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on .448/.429/.848 shooting, to go along with a career and a .600 True Shooting, placing him second on the Spurs and right with noted marksmen Martell Webster, Steve Nash, Kevin Martin, Jose Calderon, Kevin Durant, and Kyle Korver as one of the leaders among non big-men. Officially, he finished 13th in the NBA in TS%, which paired with his sky-high .581 eFG%, made him one of the most efficiently deadly shooters in the league. His skillset remains limited, yet within that set, he’s as effective as anyone in the NBA. Like a poor man’s Arron Afflalo, his relative worth is nearly astronomical, providing a high amount of value (for a good team) after signing a 3 year, $11.2 million deal this past offseason. Coming into the playoffs, he had gone from an also-ran to a starting 2 guard whose production for outstripped his previously imagined worth. Things have only gone up from there.

His True Shooting and eFG% in these 2013 NBA Playoffs sit at .641 and .635 (!!!), respectively, as his WS/48 is at a near star level (.184). His conventional stats are just as eye-popping, sporting a .505 three point percentage to go along with 11.2 points in around 30 minutes per game. He’s been a part of two NBA records in the Finals, with his 5/5 performance from deep in Game 2 standing as the most makes without a single miss from deep in the history of the Finals, and his 7/9 performance in Game 3 contributed to a new NBA record 16 made three pointers in a single game. Through 4 games, he has made 19 3 pointers, which puts him on pace to shatter Ray Allen’s record for threes made in both a six(22) and seven (28) game series. If the Spurs were to win this series, a serious argument could be made that Danny Green would be the MVP of the Finals, a mighty feat indeed for someone known for his dancing not three years ago.

The Banality of Duncan and the Necessity of Narrative

After waiting for nearly an hour, the man you have come to see finally makes an appearance. Wearing a lab coat on top of a professional suit and tie combo, he looks every bit the authority figure you were led to believe. You offer your hand. He ignores it, gesturing for you to sit. Nervously, you oblige.

“Before we get started, I need you to understand something,” he begins, without looking up from the chart he has opened in front of you. Pausing to adjust his tie, he closes his chart and calmly stares at you.

“The San Antonio Spurs are boring,” he says, with a matter-of-fact certitude that you feel compelled to agree with. After all, he is an authority figure. He knows what he’s talking about.

“If you write anything about the Spurs, you must address this point. Every time you even think about the Spurs, that has to be what is on your mind.”

Years later, you sit down to watch the Spurs advance to their fifth NBA Finals since 1999 and their first since 2007. Despite shooting three pointers at a rate comparable to Knicks and possessing a team-wide passing game the likes of which a scrappy underdog team in a feel-good basketball movie aspires to, one thought dominates your mind: this team is boring. You’re not even sure if you agree anymore. The Spurs have been so good or so long that the mere thought of them not winning 50 games is as alien to you as basketball before the three pointer. In 1997-98, their first year under Gregg Popovich, the Spurs went 56-26. In all but one season since, they have won at least 50 games, and the one year in which they didn’t was shortened by a lockout, and they won the NBA title.

Since the Spurs started this run of excellence, nearly unprecedented in the history of the sport, Michael Jordan has retired, returned, retired, drafted Kwame Brown, been elected to the Hall of Fame and re-created the Charlotte Hornets. In 1998, Saving Private Ryan was the top film at the box office, while the soundtrack to Titanic was the top-selling album. When that first season under Popovich ended, MTV’s Total Request Live had yet to debutThe fourth and final Lethal Weapon film was released, marking Jet Li’s debut in American cinema. 1998 saw video game releases such as Starcraft, Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Grim Fandango, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: this level of continued excellence is essentially unparalleled in the history of this sport. Only Bill Russell’s Celtics can make such a claim, and this Spurs run has already lasted two years longer than Russell’s entire NBA career. One can only imagine how today’s NBA would react to eleven titles in fourteen seasons.

Yet, through all of this, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking, talking, or even looking at the Spurs from an outsider’s perspective is that they are somehow less interesting than the more explosive and dysfunctional super teams we’ve all become accustomed to. Even before Boston’s superteam made “collusion” a four letter word, the Lakers were the more entertaining alternative to the greatness of the Spurs, which makes a certain kind of sense. Watching Shaq and Kobe passive-aggressively dance around one another while Phil Jackson smirks makes for a more entertaining locker room than Tim Duncan calmly befriending his teammates and fostering a culture of respect and professionalism. At a certain point, this narrative (the only narrative the Spurs have ever faced, it seems) becomes so all-encompassing that I have to ask myself if the Spurs are even supposed to be good. Their goal as a franchise seems to be perceived less about succeeding and profiting than it is living up to some abstract notion of entertainment. Are they professionals, or are they entertainers? No matter how proficient, skilled or downright great the on-court product is, it seems the Spurs will always fall victim to what is now an ancient meme in the ever-powerful court of public opinion.

If you think there’s any confusion about this in the organization itself, then you just haven’t been paying attention. Gregg Popovich cares less about your opinion of his team’s watchability than you do about what he had for breakfast this morning. Surely he, and the Spurs by extension, have never had the most…charitable relationship with the media. One has to wonder if there’s a sort of chicken-egg situation going on here. Are the Spurs cold and withdrawn to the media because the media keeps calling them boring, or does the media keep calling them boring because the Spurs are cold and withdrawn? I should probably steer away from using such a catch-all term as “the media,” but it feels appropriate in this instance. The Spurs have generally been equal-opportunity in their disdain for all things newsworthy.

In her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase that is the subtitle of said book, the idea that most evil is committed not by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who “accepted the premise of their state and continued with the idea that what they were doing was normal.” This idea was of course brought the forefront by the actions of Nazi Germany during the Third Reich, and the common defense of simply “following orders” used at the Nuremberg Trials and in countless other instances since. I bring this up not to go into any sort of depth on the Holocaust or even to claim that any of this has anything to do with “evil.” I bring this up because the premise of the Banality of Evil gave rise to a series of very interesting and very telling social experiments of the latter half of the 20th century. Among these experiments are Stanley Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience, the Zimbardo Prison Study and Ron Jones’ Third Wave experiment. These were all interesting exercises that said a lot about the nature of authority and pack mentality, but at the risk of drawing further from my topic, I won’t elaborate upon them. Look them up yourself if interested. I simply bring up these references to aid in what has recently become a bit of a theory of mine in reference to the NBA and how we, being enlightened people on the internet (lulz) discuss it.

Much has been made in recent months and years of the prevalence of the dreaded narrative in coverage of our favorite sport. I won’t argue that some of these narratives (specifically the ones that deal with such unmeasurable, fickle, and honestly silly things as “mental toughness” and “clutch”) are tiring to the point of nausea, the idea that even the most ardent sabermetricians among us would prefer basketball to be viewed as the statistical variance study it generally is, without the narrative, we wouldn’t care. Take the first round of this year’s playoffs, for example. Where Knicks/Celtics was interesting to a lot of people (even outside the respective markets), Pacers/Hawks was seen as dull and lifeless. The quality of basketball in those two series was essentially the same: bad. Because the Knicks and Celtics are filled to the brim with such interesting characters and at some semblance of history between the teams, it was seen as a gritty, albeit sloppy series where Pacers/Hawks was merely dull. To take this to a higher level, look at the reaction and discussion of the dearly departed Heat/Bulls series in comparison to, say, the Spurs/Grizzlies Western Conference Finals. Despite ending in fewer games, Spurs/Grizzlies was a much higher quality than Heat/Bulls (that is to say: any quality at all). Because of the Derrick Rose Saga* and the Heart Gristle McLeadership of high-quality basketball stalwart Nate Robinson, Bulls/Heat was seen as one team valiantly fighting inevitability where Spurs/Grizzlies was simply more consistent domination from the unstoppable tide that is the San Antonio Spurs.

*note to self: punch self in face as hard as possible for using this phrase

I don’t mean to sound judgmental, and I certainly don’t mean to say that I myself don’t prefer at least some sort of intrigue in my basketball viewing. All I mean to say is that we’ve become somewhat conditioned, either by the narratives we claim to have no use for or some strange form of peer pressure, to blindly follow the “Spurs are boring” train to the point that it has lost all meaning and has become nothing more than a platitude, a crutch to hold up a dead idea, a grassy hill to die upon for a cause long past dying for. It’s a meaningless phrase, a non-starter that adds nothing to any conversation and only serves to inform everyone around you that you don’t really care for making your own opinions or this whole “thinking” thing. The Spurs still might be boring to you, but that should be because you dislike constants and require a little more combustion in your basketball life. The fact remains that such determination should be made by the on-court product and not by what is now an ancient and mystical ritual by which we indoctrinate our new recruits.

I, for one, welcome our new Spurs-bot overlords.

The 2013 Hardwood Paroxysm NBA Mock Draft: 100% Official

Tuesday night, the Draft Lottery took place, bringing up that magical time of year when the wild, unorganized conjecture of mock drafts becomes wild conjecture with a properly ordered list. Try as we might, our mock drafts inhabit a sort of alternate universe, where the players are picked based on the rumors about where the players will be picked. The actual draft process exists wholly separate from the vast majority of what we hear about.

In response, I have made my own mock draft. As someone who has made most of these players on NBA 2k13, I feel especially qualified to be making these incredibly intelligent and salient picks.

 

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers

Nerlens Noel: C- Kentucky. The best player in the draft deserves to be taken first.

Alternate Choice: Ben McLemore.

 

#2 Orlando Magic

Ben McLemore: G- Kansas. At the expense of being interesting, I have the Magic taking the player who will probably mesh the best with their style.

Alternate Choice: Trey Burke.

 

#3 Washington Wizards

Cody Zeller: C- Indiana. He is tall, and is in every way the opposite of Kevin Seraphin. Probably not their biggest need, but also they play Kevin Seraphin.

Alternate Choice: A time machine, so they can avoid trading for Kevin Seraphin.

 

#4 Charlotte Bobcats

Anthony Bennett: F- UNLV. Would automatically become the best player in their frontcourt, which might have been the worst in NBA history.

Alternate Choice: Alex Len.

 

#5 Phoenix Suns

Victor Oladipo: G- Indiana. Every team in this draft could use Oladipo, but the team that employs Michael Beasley could REALLY use Oladipo.

Alternate Choice: Otto Porter.

 

#6 New Orleans Pelicans

Otto Porter Jr: F- Georgetown. If the Pels don’t trade for Paul Pierce, then they’ll be in dire need of some alliteration. Otto Porter only fulfills half of that, but it’ll have to do. Also, he’s very good and Al-farouq Aminu kind of isn’t.

Alternate Choice: A Tall Person.

 

#7 Sacramento Kings

Shabazz Muhammad: G- UCLA. The Kings (and their fans) seem to be turning the tide in their war against terrible ownership, but they’ve still got a ways to go in their against terrible management. Shabazz Muhammad is like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins combined, in all the ways you might think. It’s too perfect not to mock (in all the meanings of that word).

Alternate Choice: C.J. McCollum.

 

#8 Detroit Pistons

Trey Burke: G- Michigan. I doubt he falls this far, but what are mock drafts if not a form of wish fulfillment? The Pistons are more in need of swingmen, but considering this draft is around 80% point guards and centers, they’ll just have to make due.

Alternate Choice: Cody Zeller.

 

#9 Minnesota Timberwolves

Rudy Gobert: C- France. The Wolves need shooting nearly as much as they need to guard against the impending frontcourt injury they’re sure the suffer. Gobert is a fundamentally different player, but he’s also HUGE and could be a hyper-athletic, rim defending DeAndre Jordan type, which is exactly what Kevin Love needs to play next to.

Alternate Choice: Alex Len.

 

#10 Portland Trail Blazers

C.J. McCollum: G- Lehigh. The Blazers struck gold drafting a combo guard from a mid-major university last season, and while this might seem like redundancy for redundancy’s sake, the fact is that any bench player is a better bench player than what they had last season. They aren’t in need of impact players, they’re in need of good ones.

Alternate Choice: Steven Adams.

 

#11 Philadelphia 76ers

Alex Len: C- Maryland. Alex Len is athletic, large and just unimpressive enough to warrant the fabled “potential” moniker. The 76ers can do better than Spencer Hawes, and Len might be able to offer that. An Arnett Moultrie/Lavoy Allen/Alex Len frontcourt should be able to produce at least one good NBA pivot, so it’s worth trying.

Alternate Choice: Andrew Bynum.

 

#12 Oklahoma City Thunder

Kelly Olynyk: C- Gonzaga

Conventional wisdom would posit that a team as good as the Thunder can afford to take a flier on someone in the lottery. Functional wisdom would say otherwise. What they can use is good, NBA ready players. What they could REALLY use is Kendrick Perkins not playing anymore. Olynyk can help in both of those regards.

Alternate Choice: Glen Rice Jr.

 

#13 Dallas Mavericks

Michael Carter-Williams: G- Syracuse. It seems as though Dallas will trade this pick to in order to make a run at Dwight Howard, because Mark Cuban is incorrigible. Dallas could do a lot worse than finally ending the Great Rodrigue Beaubois Experiment.

Alternate Choice: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

 

#14 Utah Jazz

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: G- Georgia. Feeling left out, the Jazz strike back at their fellow members of the Losing A Playoff Spot to the Lakers Club by drafting a hyphenated man of their own, one who also happens to be an interesting athlete and prospect of some regard.

Alternate Choice: Shane Larkin.

 

#15 Milwaukee Bucks

Tim Hardaway Jr: G- Michigan. One might think that the Bucks too are stacked at the 2, before you remember that one of their 2 guards is a free agent while the other is Monta Ellis. Other options are always welcome in such scenarios.

Alternate Choice: Allen Crabbe.

 

#16 Boston Celtics

Dennis Schroeder: G- Germany. There’s something about Dennis Schroeder that I like. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. The rumor is that someone promised him a first round selection, and who better to than Danny Ainge to make grand promises in the middle of the first round. The Celtics also need more point guards, in case Rondo going down hadn’t proven that already.

Alternate Choice: Steven Adams.

 

#17 Atlanta Hawks

Steven Adams: C- Pittsburgh. Being large, reasonably athletic, and sort of forgettable, Steven Adams fulfills all the criteria necessary to be a member of the Atlanta Hawks. Word to Keith Benson.

Alternate Choice: Mason Plumlee.

 

#18 Atlanta Hawks

Jamaal Franklin: G- San Diego State. It pains me to take Jamaal Franklin off the board so close to the Bulls’ selection, but he’s a fine player and the Hawks would be very stupid to pass up on him (related: sometimes the Hawks are very stupid).

Alternate Choice: Tony Snell.

 

#19 Cleveland Cavaliers

Allen Crabbe: G- California. The Cavs already have Wayne Ellington, who is basically Allen Crabbe’s ceiling, but you can never have enough shooters to go along with a potential Kyrie Irving-Nerlens Noel pick and roll.

Alternate Choice: Somehow trading up for Otto Porter.

 

#20 Chicago Bulls

Gorgui Dieng: C- Louisville. Upon arriving in the Windy City, Dieng and Luol Deng form Deng and Dieng, Attorneys at Law by day, crimefighters by night. After a long career, the elder Deng will retire to the suburbs with his wife and children, only to pulled back into the job by a wealthy heiress falling from a sordid highrise. Deng will still be too old for this shit. Together, they will be…lethal weapons.

Alternate Choice: Jamaal Franklin. Continuity be damned.

 

#21 Utah Jazz

Tony Snell: F- New Mexico. Tony Snell is very athletic. Also he is not a center, nor is he a power forward because lol what if the Jazz drafted another big man?

Alternate Choice: Another big man.

 

#22 Brooklyn Nets

Jeff Withey: C- Kansas. After toiling in the obscurity of the Kansas plains, Jeff Withey finally finds the big market he was searching for, quickly becoming an icon in the borough. Where Brooklyn At?

Alternate Choice: Reggie Bullock.

 

#23 Indiana Pacers

Mason Plumlee: C- Duke. Feeling cheated out of the Withey they were promised, the Pacers turn to their contingency plan and add to their growing set of Plumlees. When Marshall, the third Plumlee, leaves college, Indy will take him as well and complete the Plumlee Voltron. As it was ordained.

Alternate Choice: Shane Larkin.

 

#24 New York Knicks

Shane Larkin: G- Miami. He’ll probably go earlier than this, but as I said before, this is nothing if not wish fulfillment. Jared Dubin would have my head if I wrote in anyone else.

Alternate Choice: 2010 Amar’e Stoudemire.

 

#25 Minnesota Timberwolves

Sergey Karasev: F- Russia. Karasev is Russian. Karasev can shoot. They’re already printing his jerseys.

Alternate Choice: Glen Rice Jr.

 

#26 Los Angeles Clippers

Lorenzo Brown: G- NC State. Eric Bledsoe might be gone, and Pierre Jackson is too hilarious to consider this early. The Clippers need another ballhandler who isn’t Chauncey Billups.

Alternate Choice: Pierre Jackson (lulz).

 

#27 Denver Nuggets

Glen Rice Jr: F- Rio Grande Valley (D-League). The son of Glen Rice isn’t nearly the shooter his father was, but he’s a good athlete  who played a major role on a championship team in the D-League. Maybe George Karl will play him, maybe he won’t. Jordan Hamilton certainly doesn’t know.

Alternate Choice: Archie Goodwin.

 

#28 San Antonio Spurs

Lucas Nogueira: C- Brazil. The Spurs love their imports also as much as they love their cost effective late round pickups. He makes perfect sense, and if he makes an impact, might help dispel the now laughably inept “Spurs are boring” cliche.

Alternate Choice: In a stunning reversal, the Spurs go boring and draft Bob from Accounting.

 

#29 Oklahoma City Thunder

Giannis Adetokunbo: F- Greece. Here’s where the Thunder do the whole “good team stashes an interesting international player and wait on him” thing. Should be fun to hear David Stern pronounce his name. Word to Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

Alternate Choice: Dario Saric.

 

#30 Phoenix Suns

Tony Mitchell: F- North Texas. The Suns sort of need everything, don’t they? Tony Mitchell can rebound and sounds like a sturdy enough dude to have coming off your bench. They could sell this pick, too.

Alternate Choice: Archie Goodwin.

 

#31 Super Secret First Round Lakers Exemption Pick

LeBrandrew Wiggums: F. An unholy melding of LeBron James, Andrew Wiggins, and Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons. He can defend, shoot, score, jump, make forced Ender’s Game references and weird non sequiturs with the best of them. The Lakers win again. Winter is coming.

Alternate Choice: Hans Moleman. Drinking has ruined his life. He’s 31 years old.

If it Bleeds, We Can Kill It: LeBron and the Myth of Physicality

After three games, the Bulls/Heat series is being praised as a throwback to the NBA of the 90s, with the tough, shorthanded, gritty, defense minded, pesky, never-say-die, insert buzzword here Bulls doing everything they can to frustrate the Miami Heat, and more specifically, LeBron James, resulting in a 2-1 lead in the series for the defending champs.

When the Bulls famously broke the Heat’s winning streak in late March, LeBron voiced his displeasure with the physicality that occurred on “non-basketball plays,” such as Kirk Hinrich’s “tackle,” and Taj Gibson’s clubbing foul in the lane. LeBron’s frustration with these fouls eventually boiled over, resulting in him taking a shot at Carlos Boozer in anticipation of a hard screen. While the physicality of the Bulls in that game seemed to get into LeBron’s head, it didn’t have much of an effect on his play, as he finished that game with 32 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 steals on 11-17 shooting from the field and 4 turnovers. Considering the Bulls won that game, perhaps it had an effect on the rest of the Heat. At the very least, it left them with a growing dislike of the Bulls.

Notably, on that last video, you can hear Jeff Van Gundy profess his love for the “contentiousness” of that Bulls/Heat game, stating that they “have to meet in the playoffs.” Sure enough, JVG and all the other old-school tough guy proponents got their wish, culminating in last night’s Game 3, with “physicality” that bordered on parody. It started with Joakim Noah shoving Chris Andersen after the latter landed on top of Nate Robinson after a foul. On its own, this little shove (which resulted in a technical for Noah, his third in two games), isn’t really worth taking note of. Noah can be a bit of a hot head, and he simply was trying to keep Heat players away from Robinson, whom the Bulls feel has been taking some serious shots thus far. Andersen wasn’t really doing anything on the play, but Noah pushing him wasn’t exactly Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis.

Later, in the second quarter, things nearly hit the boiling point, as LeBron and Nazr Mohammed tangled at midcourt. Mohammed, under the guise of going for a steal, tried to wrap LeBron up and LeBron shrugged him off and tossed him to the floor. Mohammed, being the closest thing we have left to Charles Oakley, apparently, took umbrage with this and shoved LeBron in the chest after the whistle. LeBron, sent flying through a combination of a large man pushing him and his own feet mysteriously throwing him backwards, sailed into the paint. The two teams separated like Pro Wrestling stables eyeing one another from outside the ring, and the referees ejected Mohammed, who summarily received a standing ovation from the crowd. The Bulls proceeded to use Mohammed’s inspirational sacrifice in the face of an implacable foe and lose by ten anyway, calling into question the usefulness of “the Shove.”

LeBron is shooting at a higher percentage at the rim in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, and while the Bucks are certainly primarily to blame for that, one has to question what, if anything, Joakim and Nazr’s shoves accomplished. The hard fouls in that late March Bulls/Heat game occurred in the course of play, both stopping what almost certainly would have been easy dunks for the MVP, and letting the Heat know that scoring in the paint requires a physical price to be paid. The shoves from Noah and Mohammed did neither, occurring either under the Bulls basket or in the middle of the court. Perhaps more discouragingly, the Mohammed foul deprived the Bulls of his services, which were certainly in need as Chris Andersen racked up offensive rebounds seemingly at will in the later stags of the game. Is it “physical gritty play” when you shove your opponents after the play, or is it childlike overreaction? What, exactly, does the Mohammed shove stop the Heat from doing? Taking shots after the whistle won’t stop someone from going into the paint, not will it give them reservations about chasing down a loose ball. Instead of Charles Oakley, the Bulls are emulating Bruce Bowen.

On a level beyond on court production, however, these fouls and the reactions to them speak to a much stranger and more perplexing trend: no one seemed to have a problem with them. Twitter, which had not long ago spent the better part of a week rising to defend the noble Steph Curry from the Nuggets’ “blatant attempts” to injure his ankle, seemed to have little problem with the Bulls playing like NFL Blitz, a late 90s arcade game which famously allowed players to pile on their opponents after the whistle, generally for comedic effect. I’m not trying to say that these situations are interchangable, nor am I trying to moralize twitter as a whole. Nothing about this situation is nearly that serious. It’s just a strange turn of events, one that I think speaks to something of a lingering dislike of LeBron James, even on a national level.

Look at the reaction to Nazr Mohammed’s shove as an example. Where, with most any other star player, the focus would have been on the bench player taking an unnecessary shot at a superstar (imagine if it had been, say, Darrell Arthur shoving Kevin Durant), a large amount of the controversy I saw on twitter focused around LeBron flopping (which he certainly did). Granted, a lot of the people I follow are Bulls fans, so my viewpoint is inevitably biased, as Bulls fans still like to consider their team, and by extensions, themselves, as vanguards of the anti-LeBron movement, bravely standing against his tyrannical domination of the sport. That aside, I believe it speaks to what has been the underlying issue with public perception of LeBron James for a long time now. He’s so physically dominant, so incredibly strong and fast, that when he doesn’t succeed, it seems like it’s because he wasn’t trying hard enough, because he was lazy or afraid. Surely, Kobe Bryant never gave anything less than full effort, and Kevin Durant is more of a “finesse” player, so when they get fouled or shoved or hit full force in the chest by a man taller and heavier than they are, it’s the other team trying to bully them into submission. When it happens to LeBron, however, the reaction seems to be dependably negative towards him. It’s as though people think he merely chooses which laws of physics to obey and anyone managing to get the better of him physically is him flopping and wilting under the sort of “big moment” pressure most people treat as the end-all be-all of professional basketball. LeBron doesn’t complain any more than any other superstar (and significantly less than Carmelo Anthony), yet when he does, it’s treated as though he’s Thor complaining about a thunderstorm.