Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland: What this means for the rest of the NBA


Over the past couple of weeks, talk of LeBron James going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers slowly morphed from being pie in the sky to a strong possibility. Now it's more than just a strong possibility. It is a reality. LeBron James told Sports Illustrated in an interview today that he has decided to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers after abandoning them 4 years ago to chase championships in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It's pretty obvious what this means for the city of Cleveland. It means that they have a championship caliber team with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins. Rather than talking about what this means for Cleveland, since that's pretty obvious, what I will do in this article is try to articulate what it means for the rest of the NBA.

The number one thing this means for the rest of the NBA is that the Eastern Conference just got really interesting. Now we aren't looking at another Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals. We are instead looking at the Cavaliers, Pacers, Bulls (with or without Carmelo Anthony), and possibly the Raptors as contenders in the East. In addition, this means the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Hornets will all be battling it out for the Southeast division title instead of the Heat taking it in a cakewalk.

As for the Western Conference, this means that the San Antonio Spurs without a doubt are the team with the biggest target on their backs. So long as the Heat had LeBron James, the Heat in some sense still had the biggest target on their backs, but now that LeBron is going back to Cleveland, the San Antonio Spurs are undoubtedly the team that EVERYBODY will be honing in on to beat. It doesn't mean the Cavaliers won't have a target on their backs since LeBron James by default has a target on his back, but it does mean that the Spurs are clearly the favorite to win the NBA title and clearly are the team that everybody should be most afraid of.

As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, this means that provided they can get past the Spurs, they have to really like their chances of winning a title next season. Kevin Durant no longer needs to feel like he needs to go Hollywood to chase a title like Carmelo Anthony did when he bolted the Mile High City for Broadway. LeBron James going back to Cleveland is great for the the Thunder because I think it will motivate Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to stay in their small market town of Oklahoma City and continue to pursue a championship.

More broadly speaking, this is great for small market teams everywhere. To see the world's greatest player leave Miami (technically a mid-major market) for Cleveland (a small market) has to give small market teams hope that they too can hang on to stars and build a contender if they get the right kind of players. Teams like Utah, Minnesota, Portland, Memphis, and Indiana have to feel like if Cleveland can become a contender, so can they.

Overall, I think LeBron James going back to Cleveland is great for the NBA. It energizes Cleveland, it makes the race for the Eastern Conference title way more interesting, and it gives hope to small market teams everywhere that they too can compete and contend for championships. This truly is a great day in the NBA.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Future Is Bright In Milwaukee

            It’s crazy how quickly fortunes can change for an NBA franchise on draft night. A team can go from being a laughing stock of the league to suddenly being a team that warrants respect and fear from their opponents. Such is the case with the Milwaukee Bucks, who have greatly changed the face and image of their franchise upon drafting Duke star Jabari Parker, who many think has the potential to be a championship caliber centerpiece. In addition to Jabari, the Bucks also have Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6’11 220 lb small forward from Greece who is known as “The Greek Freak”.
Many think that if the 2013 draft were done over again, Giannis would have gone #1 overall in the draft after seeing how quickly he matured and developed over the course of the season. He was thought to be really talented, but still very raw and in need of a lot of development. But as it turned out, he was much more NBA ready than people thought, which was great news for the Bucks as they were heading into another losing season in which they might land a potential superstar like Jabari Parker in the draft.
Now that they have both Giannis and Jabari, the future in Milwaukee is sky high, and teams in the Eastern Conference have to view them as a team capable of doing serious damage in the near future. If Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo both reach their full potential, they could form a scary duo like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. I’m not saying they will be as good as that duo, but what I am saying is that the potential to be that good or nearly that good is definitely there. If this potential is reached, the Bucks will have a team that is capable of competing for the NBA championship.
The key thing for the Bucks’ front office to do at this point is to be patient with both of these guys and start thinking about what complementary pieces these guys need to succeed. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn’t become a championship caliber duo over night and the Thunder still are looking for the right complementary pieces to put around them to get over the hump. The Bucks realistically are looking at probably a 5 year process to become a championship threat and probably a 6-9 year process to morph from a threat into a viable contender. It all depends on several factors such as future free agency periods, future drafts, and the ability for their other quality assets like Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, and Larry Sanders to fit in with the team. 
But regardless of those factors, the fact that the Bucks have Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo makes them a potential contender by default and now it’s just a matter of time before the two of them flower into the stars that they have inside of them. There will be growing pains, frustration, and moments of doubt, but if the Bucks stay the course and continue to have patience and faith in these two guys, the Bucks should see their dream of forming a championship caliber team in the East realized. 
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

2014 NBA Mock Draft: Rounds 1 and 2

After several weeks of looking up film on this year's draft prospects, doing my homework, and also procrastinating by instead choosing to play NBA 2K14, my 2014 NBA Mock Draft for both the 1st and 2nd rounds is here! I will make my predictions based on four criteria: 1. Best player available 2. Need of the team. 3. Assumption that no trades will be made (creating a mock draft that adjusts for trades is insane and not feasible). 4. Consensus opinions of other mock drafts, media reports, etc.

#1. Cleveland Cavaliers--- Kansas Small Forward Andrew Wiggins: 

As of right now, the big question about the #1 pick is whether or not the Cavaliers select Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas, select Jabari Parker out of Duke, or trade the #1 pick for a combo of picks and some quality players. While I do think it is possible the Cavaliers trade the #1 pick after hearing some of the rumored offers, I still think at the end of they day they will roll with Andrew Wiggins and call it a day. Wiggins has too much upside and potential for the Cavaliers to turn down a chance at drafting him. He's a 6'8, 200 lbs and has a freakish 7'0 wingspan. He can leap out of the gym with his explosive athleticism and has all the makings of being a fantastic two way player in the NBA who can dominate on both the offensive and defensive ends (1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game at Kansas). The only real concern about Wiggins is his lack of polish and whether or not he will grow into the superstar that is potentially inside of him.  I think the odds are good that he does, which is why I think the Cavaliers take him with the #1 overall pick.

#2. Milwaukee Bucks--- Duke Small Forward Jabari Parker: 

With Andrew Wiggins off the board, Jabari Parker becomes an obvious choice for the Bucks to pick. Sources say there is mutual interest between Parker and the Bucks, which suddenly makes this really easy for me. Parker is arguably the best player in this draft and the player most likely to turn into a superstar. He is a fantastic offensive talent who handles the ball extraordinarily well for a kid of his size (6'9 and 240 lbs) and he is a very polished scorer, averaging 19.1 points per game this past season at Duke. He is the most NBA ready player in this draft and would make a great piece for the Bucks to build around for the coming decade.

3. Philadelphia 76ers---Kansas Center Joel Embiid:  

Even with his medical issues (back and foot), I still think the 76ers roll the dice on Joel Embiid at #3. The kid potentially is the best prospect in this draft due to his rare combination of size, skill, and mobility. At 7'0 and 250 lbs, Embiid when healthy can run the floor like a gazelle and catch passes in transition for easy buckets. He has the potential to be a fantastic offensive threat and a great anchor in the paint on defense, posting a solid player efficiency of +20.214 this past season at Kansas. A specimen like Embiid doesn't come around every year, and if he does turn out to be a bust like Greg Oden, nobody will ever blame the 76ers for rolling the dice on him. When he is getting comparisons to a young Hakeem Olajuwon, it will really tell us something negative about his medical records should the 76ers pass on him.

4. Orlando Magic---Australian Point Guard Dante Exum: 

The Orlando Magic do have some options to roll with at #4. They can go point guard, they can go small forward, or they can go big man. Any of those options work for them. When you have so many different possible options to go, typically the move to make is to go after the best available player, and I think that player is Dante Exum. Those of us who follow the NBA year round have heard all sorts of things about this kid during the past several months and calendar year, and while there has always been something mysterious about him due to his lack of exposure to other NBA prospects, the consensus has remained firm that he could be the best player in this draft class. He is a 6'6, 200 lb point guard who can play both inside and out, creating match up problems for smaller point guards and also having the explosiveness to attack the rim. The only real knock on the kid that I find to be at all relevant is that he needs to get stronger. Concerns about his outside shot or tendency to turn the ball over don't worry me at all. He seems to have the whole package and be a great fit to go alongside Victor Oladipo in Orlando's backcourt.

5. Utah Jazz---Arizona Power Forward Aaron Gordon: 

This pick might be surprising to some who have Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh or Kentucky power forward Julius Randle going to the Jazz, but I have good reason to think Utah takes Aaron Gordon over both of these guys. First of all, he has much better potential to become a guy who can play alongside both Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Assuming the Jazz don't make a move to get either the #1 or #2 pick, the Jazz will need to add a guy who can play alongside both guys without taking away their minutes. Aaron Gordon can be that guy because he has the capability to play the small forward position and power forward position both offensively and defensively. Gordon also has a ton of upside because he is freakishly athletic (6'9, 220 lbs with a 6'11.5 wingspan) and explosive. He has the capability to be a great pick and roll finisher alongside Trey Burke as a power forward who rolls to the basket to catch lobs for slam dunks, etc. Plus, as I mentioned, he can play both forward positions on both sides of the ball thanks to his really good defensive fundamentals and ability to contain penetration. He also hustles, works hard, is a great teammate, and has a high motor. He is a perfect guy for the Jazz to add to their organization because of his versatility, work ethic, and athletic talent. Since the Jazz have a high pick but don't know exactly what position they need to draft, Aaron Gordon makes sense because Utah can mold him into a lot of different things. The only concern for him is that he needs to be more polished as a shooter and improve his foul shots. Aside from that he's a great choice for the Jazz to roll with at this point in the draft. I was really impressed with him when I saw his tape.

6. Boston Celtics--- Creighton Small Forward Doug McDermott: 

I know it is funny that I am predicting that the Celtics will select the best white player available in the draft, but there really are a lot of good reasons for the Celtics to take Doug McDermott with this pick. First of all, he is a very gifted and talented scorer who scores well from both beyond the arc and inside the paint thanks to his mastery of the one-legged fade away jumper perfected by Dirk Nowitzki. His most NBA ready skill is his shooting and he does it very well and very efficiently, scoring 26.7 points per game while having a total player efficiency of +24.54. His shot mechanics are really good and he has deep range. Plus, he thrives as a catch and shoot shooter coming off screens, so he should really excel getting passes from Rajon Rondo. As for his defense, I don't think this should be a concern. He works really hard on defense, understands how to play good team defense, etc. His work ethic is not a question at all and he is a high character player. He has everything the Celtics could want in a guy who could be the face of the franchise for the coming decade since he so closely resembles Larry Bird. He's a hard working white kid who played college ball at a small school in the midwest who happens to be a fantastic shooter. I would be shocked if the Celtics didn't select this kid. The comparisons to Bird are too similar and his ability to score is something the team desperately needs.

7. Los Angeles Lakers---Oklahoma State Point Guard Marcus Smart: 

The Lakers need a lot of help at a lot of positions, which is why picking the best player on the board makes sense. If Marcus Smart is available with this pick, then they definitely will grab him. His efficiency rating of +20.06 is one of the best of all prospects and he is also one of the most NBA ready players in this draft. Had he come out last year, he probably would have gone in the top 3. A key reason why Smart makes sense here is that I think he would get along with Kobe or at least earn Kobe's respect. Kobe wants guys who are tough, fiercely competitive, and hard working. Marcus Smart is all of those things, and he works especially hard on the defensive side of the ball. Plus, he is a good facilitator and pick & roll passer who can work well with Pau Gasol.

8.  Sacramento Kings---Indiana Power Forward Noah Vonleh: 

Assuming that Isaiah Thomas is in the plans of this team, the Kings won't take a point guard at #8. They will be looking for somebody to help make their starting five better, and adding an upgrade at power forward to go alongside DeMarcus Cousins makes some sense. They can maybe trade Jason Thompson and get another piece back and have Vonleh be the new power forward to play alongside Cousins. Vonleh would be great alongside Cousins because of his rebounding ability, length, and potential to become a really nice offensive option down low in the post. He moves well up and down the court and has even shown the ability to knock down a three if needed. If he's available, Sacramento would be crazy to pass him up.

9. Charlotte Hornets---UCLA Shooting Guard Zach LaVine: 

Michael Jordan has been known to make some amusing picks, and this one would certainly be an amusing pick. LaVine wowed a lot of people with his athletic jumping ability and when it comes to raw athleticism, LaVine may be the best athlete in this draft aside from Andrew Wiggins. His player efficiency rating was only a +8.75 at UCLA last season, but that number doesn't tell you how athletic he is and how much potential he has. He not only can jump out of his shoes, but he is also really quick and explosive. Especially in transition. The Hornets not only are looking to add players to make them better but also to make them more exciting. LaVine potentially does both for them, which is why I see the Hornets rolling the dice and gambling on him. While it is true that he still needs to improve his basketball IQ  and polish on the court, his athleticism is something that I don't think Michael Jordan and the Hornets will pass on.

10. Philadelphia 76ers---Duke Small Forward Rodney Hood: 

Having already picked in this draft, the 76ers will be looking to add another talented talented piece to their team. Rodney Hood seems to be a sensible option at this point of the draft. He's a 6'8 208 lb. swingman who shoots well and can get to the rim. Whether it's a catch and shoot situation or a pick and roll pull up, Hood has proven that he can get the ball in the hole. He does need to improve his defense and bulk up, but otherwise, he is a great fit in Philly. He is probably the most talented guy on the board at this point and a small forward is a position that the 76ers need an upgrade at, especially since they might be looking to move Thaddeus Young.

11. Denver Nuggets--- Kentucky Power Forward Julius Randle: 

If Julius Randle is available at #11 as I have projected, the Denver Nuggets are sure to swoop him up. Rumors have swirled about the Nuggets trying to trade their budding star power forward Kenneth Faried, and if they got another power forward in Randle who could also produce down on the block, then suddenly the Nuggets could feel more comfortable about the idea of moving Faried for another piece. While lacking the explosive athleticism of Kenneth Faried, Randle makes up for that by being extremely strong down on the block and great at finishing through contact. In addition, has a great combination of size, strength, quickness, and agility standing at 6'9 and weighing 250 lbs. His NBA comparison is Zach Randolph, and if he becomes another Zach Randolph, the Nuggets will be a much improved team in a few years.

12. Orlando Magic---Louisiana Lafayette Point Guard Elfrid Payton:

I have the Magic taking  Dante Exum already, but I feel like the Magic will roll with the best available player with this pick. It's possible that they view Exum as more of a shooting guard and that Victor Oladipo might best be a really good 6th man off the bench. Jameer Nelson no longer can be the starting point guard of the franchise, so adding Payton pretty much squeezes out Nelson and makes the Magic move on from him. Payton is a talented point guard who penetrates well, defends well, and has tremendous upside as a playmaker. He could be just what the doctor ordered for the Magic and it also helps that he is already from the South.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves---Michigan State SG Gary Harris: The Timberwolves could use another shooting guard should they deal Kevin Martin in a packaged deal with Kevin Love. Gary Harris would be an ideal fit for them. He shoots really well with hand in his face, reads defenders well, etc. Defensively he is an excellent on the ball defender and because of his combo of strength and quickness, he can guard both point guards and shooting guards. A really good two way player at the shooting guard position is always a nice thing to have on your team, which makes Harris an ideal fit for the Wolves.

14. Phoenix Suns--- Michigan Shooting Guard Nik Stauskas: The Suns' head coach Jeff Hornacek was a great shooting guard in his day who could shoot the ball really well. Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas reminds me of Hornacek, which is why I think this could be a nice pairing. He shoots well out of the pick & roll, dribble hand offs, coming off curls, screens, and all catch and shoot situations. He could be a nice fit to go along with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the back court. He also is a high IQ player and that is something that Jeff Hornacek really values in his players.

15. Atlanta Hawks--- UCLA Small Forward Kyle Anderson:

Hard to see where the Hawks go here since they are a mid-pack team with solid pieces at every position. However, Kyle Anderson seems like a kid who would be a nice fit. He has great size for an NBA small forward, he has great size and length, and an overall feel for the game. Also, he was really efficient this past season, posting a player efficiency rating of +22.53. He can score inside and outside get to the rim and make plays on defense because of his length (7'2.5 wingspan). His weaknesses are athleticism and defense, but his impressive size at 6'9, 230 lbs along with his wingspan should allow him to still be effective defensively.

16. Chicago Bulls--- Missouri Shooting Guard Jordan Clarkson: 

The Bulls like the Hawks are a mid-pack team with solid pieces at every position. However, with the future of Derrick Rose being uncertain, Jordan Clarkson could be future point guard of the organization though he is more of a shooting guard. At 6'4/6'5 and 188 lbs with a 6'8 wingspan, Clarkson is a nice size for a combo guard. He really gets to the rim well and is a great transition scorer. While his defense needs work, he does have the potential to be a good defender because of his size, so that shouldn't hold the Bulls back from getting him. A guy who can slash to the hole, get out in transition and score seems to be a guy who could really help the Bulls who already have a lot of defense, but just need somebody who can help them capitalize off of forced turnovers.

17. Boston Celtics---UConn Point Guard Shabaz Napier: 

Shabaz Napier could easily be gone at this point pending on how other teams think he stacks up against the other point guards, but if he is available, Boston should take him. There is already talk of the team looking to move Rajon Rondo, so if they draft Napier, then we can infer that Rondo is likely leaving soon. One big upside he has over Rondo is that he is much better scorer and has more potential as a shooter. Plus, as a Big East kid, fans will already be very familiar with him. He plays really well in the pick and roll and also does a good job shooting both mid range jumpers and the 3-point shot in isolation. He has plenty of experience as a senior, so he shouldn't be a project but rather a guy who Brad Stevens can plug into his system right away. He also has great playmaking and passing abilities so he really plays the point guard position well from a "pure point guard" standpoint. He needs to improve his decision making and improve on defense, but I think that those are issues he can fix and certainly not issues that will keep him from being a good point guard in the NBA.

18. Phoenix Suns---Michigan Small Forward Glenn Robinson III:

"Best Player Available" seems to be a likely move for the Suns at this point of the drat. Glenn Robinson III to me is that guy. He is a really athletic player with great size for an NBA small forward. He's 6'7, 211 lbs and has a 6'9 wingspan. He plays above the rim and moves really well, making him a great alley-oop target for Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to throw lobs at. He moves well without the ball, cuts, etc. He needs to improve his outside shot, but his overall potential to be a great two way player makes him the best available at this point in the draft.

19. Chicago Bulls---Wichita State Power Forward Cleanthony Early:

The Bulls love to get guys with high motors who are aggressive, strong, and tough. Cleanthony Early is that kind of guy who Tom Thibodeau will love to play. He works hard, has great physical tools at 6'7, 210 lbs, and doesn't shy away from contact at the rim. He can finish above the rim and is overall a solid athlete. His defense needs to improve and that could be an issue since he may lack the quickness to guard small forwards and the strength to guard power forwards, but his body suggests he can find his role on defense. Plus, his shot has improved. However, he is one of the oldest players in the draft (4th oldest projected to be drafted) so there is concern about his potential to develop. That being said, I still think he is a great fit at this spot for the Bulls.

20. Toronto Raptors---Syracuse Point Guard Tyler Ennis:

Being a Canadian definitely helps make Ennis an attractive prospect for the Raptors. What makes him more attractive is that they are likely moving on from Kyle Lowry and they need a new point guard. Ennis is not only a point guard, but a "pure point guard" who sees the floor well, finds the open man, makes the simple play, and passes the ball really well. He plays really well in the pick and roll, has great timing, etc. Plus, he has potential to be a really good scorer and he isn't afraid to take big shots.  Ennis would be a great fit for the Raptors if he is available.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder---Croatian Power Forward Dario Saric:

Due to the fact that he is going to be overseas for a couple of years, teams looking for a first round pick to make them better right away won't take Dario Saric. However, the Thunder aren't a team needing an instant impact rookie, which is why Saric playing overseas should not be a concern for them. He has offensive versatility, a great feel for the game, and he has good effort on defense. He is one of the most skilled players in the draft, possessing a rare combination of size (6'10 225 lbs) and skill, making him a potential "point forward". He moves well without the ball, passes the ball well, and has potential to be a threat from beyond the arc. He has too many different things to bring to the table for him to get past the Thunder if he is still on the board.

22. Memphis Grizzlies---N.C. State Small Forward T.J. Warren: 

The Grizzlies need a guy who can score the basketball and also play solid defense. Warren is that guy. His on the ball skills need work defensively, but he has great anticipation in passing lanes, and gets a lot of steals (1.8 steals per game). Scoring is most notable skill (24.9 points per game) and he does it both as a good shooter and as one who attacks the basket. He has great scoring instincts. Also, he is really good offensive rebounder and has a nose for the ball. He seems to be a perfect fit to join the Grizzlies.

23. Utah Jazz--- Syracuse Small Forward Jerami Grant: 

Jerami Grant a really athletic young man who gets to the rim and plays with a high motor. The Jazz could use another Jeremy Evans kind of guy to give them more energy and so going with a guy with the same name but with different spelling and similar skills seems to be a no-brainer. The Jazz also need more guys who can defend and Grant has the potential to do that due to his high motor and athletic build (6'8, 214 lbs, and 7'2.5 wingspan).

24. Charlotte Hornets---Kentucky Shooting Guard James Young: 

James Young is really young (no pun intended), not  turning 19 until August, so he has a lot of time to grow and develop. He already is a very good perimeter shooter to make the Hornets a more dangerous team from beyond the arc, so he should play well along side Kemba Walker as a great catch & shoot shooter. His defense needs work, but his offensive upside is too good and I think the Hornets would like to have another shooter to work with.

25. Houston Rockets---Washington Shooting Guard C.J. Wilcox:

The Rockets need guys who can be role players, and C.J. Wilcox is that kind of guy. He is unselfish and willing to do whatever the team needs him to do. He also has great physical size for an NBA shooting guard at 6'5, 201 lbs and can shoot the ball well and get to the rim. He has the potential to be a really nice off the bench scorer for the Rockets right away since he is a senior and should need less time to adjust to the NBA. The only concern for him is his overall potential upside since he is older, but the Rockets aren't looking for a guy in the draft who will be the face of the franchise. They want to add another good piece around Howard and Harden. Wilcox would be perfect for that role.

26. Miami Heat---Bosnia & Herzegovina Center Jusuf Nurkic:

The Heat need more size and Greg Oden as expected didn't do jack squat for them. Jusuf Nurkic is a very promising young center who could be a really good fit for the Heat in the future as a piece to maybe build around because he has the potential to be a good center as a scorer, rebounder, defender, and pick and roll man. He finishes well out of the pick and roll, which could make him a nice player to go alongside LeBron James or Dwyane Wade assuming those guys return to the team next season.

27. Phoenix Suns--- USA Shooting Guard P.J. Hairston:

Once again, we are in "Best player available" mode and P.J. Hairston probably has the most upside of anybody left in the draft at this point. His off the court issues make him a risk, but his scoring ability makes up for that. His defense is poor, but the Suns can mask that with other pieces they have. In addition, other teams may want Hairston because of his scoring ability as both and inside and outside threat, so maybe the Suns draft him to use as a trade chip.

28. Los Angeles Clippers---Michigan State Power Forward Adreian Payne:

Blake Griffin could use a better back up power forward and with Adreian Payne available at this point, he's a no-brainer for the Clippers. He has great defensive potential and also has really improved as a scorer. He's a high character guy and a hard worker. He has great physical tools to work with (6'10, 240 lbs and a 7'0 wingspan) as well. He has shown to be versatile offensively and can knock down threes. He may not become a really good starting power forward, but he easily could be a nice off the bench contributor at that position.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder---UCLA Shooting Guard Jordan Adams: 

Adams scores well and competes hard on both ends of the floor. Heaven knows the Thunder need more off the bench scoring and he should be able to provide that. Also, he can relate to fellow UCLA Bruin Russell Westbrook and he should get along well with those guys because he is a hard working kid.

30. San Antonio Spurs--- Colorado Point Guard Spencer Dinwiddie:

Patty Mills is likely gone, which gives the Spurs the need for another point guard. Maybe even a point guard who can be the point guard of the future once Tony Parker retires. Spencer Dinwiddie could be that guy. At 6'6, 205 lbs, he has great size for a point guard and he also scores well. He is coming off a torn ACL and didn't play at all last season, which is why he should still be available at this point in the draft.

ROUND 2 Begins (Note: My Round 2 Mock is less thorough, but I'll try to give you at least one line on why I have guys going where they are going)

31. Milwaukee Bucks---Serbian Shooting Guard Bogdan Bogdanovic:

The Bucks need a lot of things, which is why I think "best available" makes sense here. Bogdanovic can defend both small forwards and shooting guards well due to his size (6'6 205 lbs) and he might be a guy who relates well to Ersan Illyasova. The Bucks like drafting European dudes, and he's the best one available so there ya go.

32. Philadelphia 76ers---Swiss Power Forward Clint Capela: 

Clapela is a really athletic big man who has a ton of upside and potential. He is explosive and could be a nice insurance piece to have in case Embiid doesn't pan out. Plus, the two of them could be buddies sine Capela is an African who comes from a foreign country.

33. Cleveland Cavaliers---Arizona Shooting Guard Nick Johnson: 

As a guy who goes to UC Berkeley and went to every Cal basketball game this past season, I followed the Pac-12 closely. I really liked what I saw from Nick Johnson and he could be a nice back court mate with Kyrie Irving should they look to part ways with Dion Waiters.

34. New York Knicks---Clemson Small Forward KJ McDaniels: 

Knicks need a lot of things, but a guy with some potential to be excited about for the future makes sense here. McDaniels has the athletic ability at 6'6, 196 lbs to be really good. He is one of those high flyer athletic guys who can throw it down on you but won't beat you with a jump shot. If he develops a mid range game and gets better at shooting, he could really be a steal this late in the draft.

35. Utah Jazz---Croatian Point Guard Vasilije Micic: 

If the Jazz have any reservations at all about Trey Burke, they'll draft another point guard. I think it's possible that they draft another point guard just to be safe, and they do have a history of drafting European dudes who you've never heard of. Micic at 6'6, 202 lbs is really good sized for a point guard and he is known to be a really gifted passer. He would know how to find Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the block and play well with them in the pick and roll. If Trey Burke doesn't work out (and I think he will), then Micic might be a guy who the Jazz have as their franchise point guard.

36. Milwaukee Bucks---Michigan Center Mitch McGary: 

McGary missed most of his Sophmore season at Michigan due to back surgery, so there are health concerns there. But his upside as a talented big man who works hard makes him worth the pick for the Bucks at this point. Getting a kid who could be first round talent this late in the draft is definitely worth the risk. Also, I was hearing rumors of the Bucks being interested in him, so odds are good they snag him here if they can.

37. Toronto Raptors---Oklahoma State Shooting Guard Markel Brown:

He's a really good athlete who can score the ball well. Only concern is his that he is 6'4. If you are the Raptors, I say why not take a gamble on him?

38. Detroit Pistons---Greek Small Forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo: 

His younger brother Giannis is a budding star on the Bucks, which means there might be some potential here. He played last season for the Delaware 87ers of the D-League so he has some pro experience as well as playing against NBA players who came down to the D-League. He is really athletic and hustles, but he is really limited offensively. If he can learn to play offense, then he could be scary. Definitely worth gambling on in the second round.

39. Philadelphia 76ers---UNLV Power Forward Khem Birch: 

Brandon Davies didn't do much for them, so maybe they kick him to the curb and give Birch a shot. Birch is a good shot blocker and he runs the floor and he hustles. That's a kinda guy who you want in your training camp.

40. Minnesota Timberwolves---Stanford Power Forward Dwight Powell: 

At 6'11 and 235 lbs, Powell is a multi-faceted big man who does everything well it seems. He's got a nice shot, passes the ball well, has a good IQ, etc. Worst case scenario is he is a half-decent role player his whole career and best case is he becomes a productive starting power forward who gives you a little bit of everything. He could be nice to go alongside Gorgui Dieng in the post

41. Denver Nuggets---Gran Canaria Center Walter Tavares: 

The Nuggets want a big man and with Tavares committing to play overseas for a while longer, he should be available. At 7'3, 260 lbs, Tavares has fantastic size for an NBA center. Of course, he is limited offensively, but you can't teach height and he does have promise as a pick and roll finisher because he actually moves well for his size.

42. Houston Rockets---New Mexico Power Forward Cameron Bairstow: 

He's got a bit of a shot and he hustles down low. Bye-bye Omer Asik, hello Cameron Bairstow?

43. Atlanta Hawks---Syracuse Small Forward C.J. Fair: 

At this point of the draft, I'm taking some wild guesses here, but C.J. Fair is really promising for guys this late in the draft. He moves well without the ball, shows the ability to score, and he is a very good athlete standing at 6'8 and weighing 218 lbs. Plus, he has defensive potential. Only concern is what position is best suited for defensively. He's definitely worth a gamble this late in the draft.

44. Minnesota Timberwolves---Xavier Point Guard Semaj Christon: 

Maybe the Wolves want to add another point guard available and this kid is the best available at the position. Why not?

45. Charlotte Hornets--- North Carolina Power Forward James McAdoo: 

Michael Jordan can't get enough Carolina blue, so I see the Hornets taking McAdoo who at worst can be a guy who can talk UNC hoops with MJ. Upside for him is he is very athletic and moves well for his 6'9 230 lb frame.

46. Washington Wizards---Nevada Point Guard Deonte Burton: 

John Wall could use help off the bench at point guard, and Deonte Burton is the best PG available.

47. Philadelphia 76ers---LSU Power Forward Johnny O'Bryant: 

O'Bryant probably isn't available at this point, but if he is, Philly will stick with the pattern of drafting talented bigs. He scores well inside and is built well at 6'9, 257 lbs. Could be a nice fit.

48. Milwaukee Bucks---Missouri Shooting Guard Jabari Brown: 

He shoots threes really well and the Bucks need an upgrade in every aspect of the game. Look for them to grab Brown if they can get him.

49. Chicago Bulls--- Iowa State Shooting Guard DeAndre Kane: 

He is a rebounding guard like Jerry Sloan was on the Bulls, so this could be a good fit. Especially since the Bulls are obsessed with rebounding.

50. Phoenix Suns---Wisconsin-Green Bay Center Alec Brown: 

Alex Len is looking like a bust, so perhaps the Suns take a flyer on another center and hope for the best.

51. New York Knicks---Olimpia Milano Small Forward Alessandro Gentile:

Gentile likely gets drafted. I just don't know where. He is a classic European prospect. Really polished and talented offensively, but he isn't much of an athlete. Knicks need guys who have skill, so he makes sense for them at this point in the draft.

52. Philadelphia 76ers---Tennessee Power Forward Jarnell Stokes: 

Just sticking with the trend here. Philadelphia takes another power forward because hey, one of them has to pan out, right?

53. Minnesota Timberwolves---Reggio Emilia Small Forward Ojars Silins:

Ojars Silins is a 6'9 shooting specialist. The Timberwolves need another outside threat. Therefore, the Timberwolves draft Ojars Silins. The logic of this argument is pretty convincing. Thank you logic for dummies and my logic class at UC Berkeley. It is finally paying off as I wrap up my mock draft!

54. Philadelphia 76ers---Roanne Power Forward Damien Ingress:

Another Power Forward for the 76ers. The beat goes on...

55. Miami Heat---Strasbourg Small Forward Axel Toupane: 

He seems to be a talented small forward. He's French and he has a good build at 6'7, 197 lbs. Heat could do worse.

56. Denver Nuggets---Avtodor Center Artem Klimenko: 

The Nuggets want a center and his stock has really been rising on Maybe they roll the dice on another center in this draft. He is 7'0 and 245 lbs. His player comparison on is Uwe Blab, which isn't encouraging, but maybe he turns out to be better.

57. Indiana Pacers---California Power Forward Richard Solomon: 

Nobody has my man from Cal being drafted, but I will argue why he should be drafted and why the Pacers would be a great fit for him. He's got a good body on him at 6'10 235 lbs and he averaged a double-double this past season: 11.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The Pacers need somebody who will fight down on the block and bring toughness and grit to that suddenly mentally frail team. Richard Solomon would be a great guy on the Pacers who unlike Roy Hibbert would actually go out and grab some rebounds. I watched him play every night at Berkeley and I truly think he will be able to find a home in the NBA because of his work ethic, size, and rebounding ability.

58. San Antonio Spurs---Duke Shooting Guard DeAndre Dawkins: 

All the Spurs need is guys who can hit open jumpers and DeAndre Dawkins does that really well. The Spurs will get him open shots and from there he'll be death from beyond the arc. This draft pick really makes sense for the Spurs.

59. Toronto Raptors---Baylor Power Forward Cory Jefferson: 

Jefferson is an athletic power forward who needs to become more offensively polished. He's definitely a guy worth bringing into training camp and seeing what he can do.

60. San Antonio Spurs--- California Point Guard Justin Cobbs 

If the Spurs want to get a draft steal as always, they'll take my man from Cal Justin Cobbs. Cobbs showed at Cal that he knows how to play the point guard position well, defend on the perimeter, and also not shy away from the big moment. He hit the game-winning shot to beat #1 Arizona at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley and was always able to be counted on to hit big shots. He is a guy who can be a go-to-guy in the clutch and if thy are looking for late round guy who could possibly become a really good player for them in the future, Justin Cobbs makes a lot of sense. He's a hard working kid, humble, and does all the right things. Spurs should definitely take this young man and give him a shot. They won't regret it.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Also, special thanks to DraftExpress  and for being my go to sources for info on all the prospects.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Jazz have the assets to trade up for Jabari Parker


The Utah Jazz currently possess the #5, #23, and #35 pick in next week's draft and while they are happy to have a top 5 pick in this loaded draft, they will almost certainly not get the player they most want in the draft if they end up picking 5th. The player they covet is Jabari Parker, a freshman sensation out of Duke who plays the small forward position but handles the ball like he is a point guard and scores like he is a shooting guard. Parker is the most offensively polished player in this draft and probably the most NBA ready. It is no surprise that the Jazz want him based on his basketball skills alone. The fact that he is an active member of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints suddenly makes him even more valuable to Utah because of how he would energize the fan base. It's obvious he is a perfect fit in Utah, but the question is can the Jazz get him? Upon looking at who the Jazz have under contract, they do have some options to trade up to get him. I will explore some of those options and also try to find the most likely scenario in which they draft him.

First off, if the Jazz are going to trade up to get Jabari Parker, that means the #5 pick and #23 pick in the draft will be packaged in a deal with one or two players. Which players might they be? Gordon Hayward immediately comes to mind because he is an impending restricted free agent and he plays the same position as Jabari Parker. Getting rid of Hayward and adding Parker would be an immediate upgrade for the Jazz at the small forward position. However, the Jazz will need more to entice either the Bucks (#2) or Cavaliers (#1) to give up their pick. That's where Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter come in. If the Jazz want to trade up to grab Jabari Parker, either Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors will have to go. According to, the Jazz see Derrick Favors as more of a center, which could pave the way for them to trade Enes Kanter. Either way, the Jazz will need to trade either Kanter or Favors, the #5 pick, #23 pick, and likely Gordon Hayward to pull off a trade for the #1 or #2 pick. The question now is what situation is most likely to result in the Jazz getting Jabari Parker?

The most straight up situation is to make a deal with Cleveland for the #1 pick and send them the #5 pick, the #23 pick,  Enes Kanter, and Gordon Hayward. Would Cleveland take the Jazz up on this offer? The revelations about Joel Embiid's fractured foot make things interesting.  Enes Kanter is a really talented young center who has proven he can play well in the NBA and Gordon Hayward is still a promising young small forward. Getting those two players plus the #5 and #23 pick could be pretty tempting for the Cavaliers. Especially if they want a quality big man and feel worried about Joel Embiid's back and foot.

Milwaukee to me is the most likely team to be willing to make a deal with the Jazz. They are the most desperate team picking in the top 3 and they need a lot of help. Getting Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, the #5 pick, and the #23 pick in exchange for the #2 pick might sound like a good deal to them. Maybe they get a front court of Noah Vonleh and Enes Kanter out of it and then they trade Larry Sanders for another piece. All of a sudden, boom! They have themselves a really nice core of guys to work with. Of course, if they think Jabari Parker is a franchise changing player who they can build around for years to come, then they are much less likely to be willing to make a deal like this. But if they have any reservations about Parker or if they really think Utah's offer makes them a lot better overall, then they might make a deal with the Jazz. It all depends on what Milwaukee thinks of Parker, but I think odds are decent for the Jazz that the Bucks would make this move.

As for the 76ers, they play a strange role in all of this. Let's say they want to trade for the #1 pick to get Andrew Wiggins. What does that mean for Utah? Well, what if the 76ers, Jazz, Bucks, and Cavaliers orchestrate a weird 4-way trade? E.g. The Jazz get the #1 pick from the Cavaliers; the Cavaliers get the #5 pick, Gordon Hayward, and Enes Kanter from the Jazz; the 76ers get the #2 pick from the Bucks,  and the Bucks get Thaddeus Young and the #3 pick from the 76ers plus the #23 pick from the Jazz. The Jazz get Jabari Parker with the #1 pick, the 76ers get Andrew Wiggins with the #2 pick, the Bucks get Joel Embiid with the #3 pick, Thaddeus Young, and another talented player with the #23 pick,  and the Cavaliers get Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, and the #5 pick. With the #5 pick, the Cavaliers could either draft Marcus Smart/Dante Exum, which makes Kyrie Irving expendable at the point guard position or they draft Noah Vonleh/Julius Randle to give Irving a quality pick and roll mate to go alongside Kanter.  The Cavaliers could walk out with three really quality pieces to work with that either keep Kyrie Irving happy or make his departure not such a big deal. I'm not sure Joel Embiid gets Kyrie Irving to stay in Cleveland and to be honest, I don't think Wiggins or Parker do, either.

This crazy four-team trade idea comes off as insane but it is possible. Especially since all teams involved benefit.  The Jazz get the guy they want in Parker and the 76ers get the guy they want in Andrew Wiggins. Plus, I've heard that the Bucks like Joel Embiid so they may end up getting the guy who  they want most in this draft. Now I will say that the revelation about Joel Embiid's stress fracture in his right foot does complicate things. But I think it's possible that this four way trade still goes down, but we simply substitute Joel Embiid's name with either Marcus Smart or Dante Exum who are both the  top point guards in this draft.

As I have demonstrated, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, and maybe even Alec Burks and Trey Burke are legit guys who the Jazz can use as trade chips to move up to grab Jabari Parker. I am confident that the Utah Jazz front office is scheming a way to make these trade chips work so as to get what they want.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Monday, June 16, 2014

What Should We Take Away From The NBA Finals?

            I’m sure if you are reading this, you are fully aware that the San Antonio Spurs won their 5th NBA Championship on Sunday night after dominating the Miami Heat in 5 games. As J.A. Adande pointed out on twitter, the Spurs’ 528-458 scoring edge over the Heat was the largest point differential in the history of the NBA Finals. What was expected to be a close 7 game series ended up being a 5 game beat-down, which has left many of us who analyze the NBA scratching our heads.  
We knew the Spurs were a really good team and that with home court advantage the series was theirs to lose, but none of us foresaw the shellacking that they delivered the Miami Heat. The key question going into the series was “Can a better team defeat a team with the world’s best player?” and the answer we got was a resounding “Yes”. After watching this series it is abundantly clear that the San Antonio Spurs simply are heads and shoulders above the Miami Heat and playing at an entirely different level from anybody else in the Eastern Conference. Remember how the Heat thumped the Pacers and looked like they were on another level? Well the Spurs looked even more dominant against the Heat than the Heat did against the Pacers. This means that the Spurs and the Pacers don’t even belong on the same floor together and the Pacers had the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference!

There truly are so many different things to take away from the NBA Finals that I could devote multiple articles to the topic. What I will do instead for the sake of time and efficiency is touch on multiple things instead of doing an in-depth analysis of just one thing. 
The first thing to take away from this NBA Finals is that the San Antonio Spurs are truly a team for the ages. I don’t mean just this team, but more specifically the Spurs during the Tim Duncan & Gregg Popovich era. Over these last 17 years with both Duncan and Popovich in the organization, the Spurs have won 5 NBA championships and been to 6 NBA Finals, with the only loss coming to the Heat last year. They have been the ultimate model for consistency, teamwork, and class over the course of this time. To see Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich get a 5th NBA title as their careers come to a close truly is fitting.
The second thing to take away from this NBA Finals is that the future remains bright in San Antonio thanks to the emergence of NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Over the last 3 games of the NBA Finals, Leonard averaged 23.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. A new star was born before our eyes, and the Spurs organization has to like the fact that at just 22 years of age, Kawhi Leonard is already blossoming into a player who can be the face of the franchise once Tim Duncan is gone. 
As for the Miami Heat side of things, three questions must be asked: Where do the Heat go from here? Was “The Big Three” A Success? Will LeBron James stay in Miami? I will try and answer each question briefly, though keep in mind that there is no right answer to each question.

As for where the Heat go from here, it is really tough to know. 2 championships in 4 years is really good and 4 straight trips to the NBA Finals is an incredible achievement. With LeBron James as their franchise player, the Heat have to like their chances of continuing to contend for titles provided they keep this core group together and that they stay healthy. Nobody in the Eastern Conference gives the Heat any real scare at the moment, and so provided they all opt in to their contracts for next season, the Heat should like their chances to get back to the NBA Finals. However, there is reason for them to worry. First of all, Dwayne Wade’s health is a huge concern. If he doesn’t feel like he can stay healthy and that he is ready to hang it up, then the Heat are looking at a rebuilding process ahead, which means that they may not hang on to LeBron James. In addition, Shane Battier is retiring, Ray Allen may be gone, and other members of this team aren’t likely to be back. Michael Beasley and especially Greg Oden were failed experiments and so the Heat really doesn’t have any more ways to get better this offseason unless they somehow land Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, which right now appears to be pie in the sky.
The Heat need to find a way to improve their team even if they keep this core group together and it’s not entirely clear how they do that. I see these three guys sticking together for one more season, but unless they make some good moves this offseason to get better complimentary pieces, their chances of winning a 3rd title in 5 years looks slim. 
 Was “The Big Three A Success”? This question is a really difficult question to answer and obviously a question that must be asked. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh won 2 titles together in a span of 4 years together and each year they didn’t win a title, they lost in the NBA Finals. It’s hard to say that they weren’t a success considering how rare a feat it is to do what they did. That being said, the expectations that they put on themselves were ridiculously high and each season was approached like with a “championship or bust” type of mentality. For them to only have a 50% success rate at accomplishing their goal, especially when looking at how they almost didn’t get it done last year, it’s hard to say that they can feel wholly satisfied with how things have gone. The final piece to all this of course is whether or not “The Big Three” is done or not. If they are done, then we can look at them as a failure to accomplish lofty goals that they alone set for themselves. On the other hand, if they plan to be together for a few more years, then we have to say that they are still a work in progress, which makes them sound rather scary given the success they’ve already had.
            This leads us to the third question “ Will LeBron James stay in Miami?” I think this ultimately comes down to whether or not Dwyane Wade is confident that he can be healthy. If he is confident that he can be healthy going forward, then LeBron James stays in Miami. If Wade comes to him and says he doesn’t think he can be healthy going forward and that retirement is something he is considering, then LeBron James has to consider other options. One option is to of course stay in Miami, but expect a rebuilding period or at least a period of finding new free agents to sign. This option has the benefits of continuing to build his legacy in the same place where he has already won titles and also the benefit of not facing more scrutiny for being a guy who leaves a team once the going gets tough. That being stated, LeBron James is all about winning titles and he doesn’t care what we in the public think, which means if he likes his chances to win elsewhere, he’ll leave Miami. If he does leave Miami, the question on everybody’s mind is “Will it be Cleveland?” I personally doubt he ever dons a Cavaliers jersey again, but truth is stranger than fiction. Perhaps he wishes he had won a title in Cleveland and also he might like the fact that the Cavaliers have some attractive pieces to work with. E.g. Kyrie Irving and whoever they pick at #1 this year. The notion of him going back to Cleveland isn’t insane, but it also has the feel of being just wishful thinking. Why leave a place where you have won for a place where you failed to win? I don’t have a good answer to that question, but perhaps he feels like his legacy will be hurt unless he delivers Cleveland a championship.
            In conclusion, there are a ton of things to take away from this NBA Finals, and I hope I gave you a good list of key things to think about as we look back on this NBA Finals. This series featured two great teams, multiple hall of fame players, and a hall of fame coach. There are so many things I could have touched on that I didn’t and I encourage you think about what some of those things might be. One thing I didn’t touch on was LeBron’s 2-3 record in the NBA Finals, but I didn’t address that because the comparisons to Michael Jordan are asinine. Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever play and LeBron James’ career isn’t over yet, so perhaps we shelf that debate until LeBron gets enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame so that we can do a final tally of all the things that both men accomplished. I personally think that even at that point, Michael Jordan’s resume for greatest of all time will be much stronger.  But as we look at what this Finals means for the here and now, it means that the Spurs are still a championship organization, the Heat have serious questions to answer, and the future of the NBA remains a mystery. What could possibly be more exciting conclusions to reach as we look forward to next year? 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord