Sunday, June 18, 2017

2017 Lottery Mock Draft

It's NBA Draft week! Now that I've had a few days since the Warriors triumphed over the Cavaliers in the Finals, I've refocused my attention on this year's prospects, and now there is already a blockbuster trade at the top. Reminiscent of the last time they held the #1 pick in 1980, the Celtics are trading down to #3 and surprisingly only getting one future first round pick from the 76ers to do so, reportedly either the Lakers' 2018 pick if it lands in the 2-5 range or the Kings' 2019 pick. That's an intriguing pick protection that provides both sides a fair chance at next year's star studded draft since LA's young squad could improve or toil at the bottom of the pack again, and it's not too exorbitant for Philly to move up and get their guy. Now that they had him in for a workout and medical check yesterday before finalizing the trade, I think it's time for a mock draft of how the Lottery portion of the draft will play out before trades really affect the back half of the first round.

1. 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington PG/SG

Those LA and Sacramento picks that Sam Hinkie acquired are two of the best assets in the league given the state of those franchises, and now Bryan Colangelo is cashing one of them in to get into position for the clear-cut top prospect, who should fit in perfectly with his new team. With the variety of skills Fultz possesses, he's like a longer, more explosive C.J. McCollum: capable of playing on or off the ball to drain shots from all over the floor while also being an unselfish playmaker. Physically, he might not be quite the same level athlete as Dwyane Wade, but he displays similar capabilities with his 6'4", 195 lb frame and 6'10" wingspan as he blocks shots at a surprising rate and snakes through defenses. Although he has a ton of potential on defense, he still needs to show a more committed consistency on that end of the floor, so I'm curious who the fifth starter will be with him, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Robert Covington. Most would assume Dario Saric takes that spot given his upside and strong end to the season, but I'd like them to explore having him as a high usage 6th man in favor of potential 3-and-D wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. They both shot 31.1% from deep as rookies, but TLC saw his percentage go up to 33.0% over 19 games as a starter and wouldn't need the ball in his hands as much as Saric. They could have Simmons run the offense as the point guard with Fultz helping him as the secondary facilitator around Embiid's inside/outside game as Covington and TLC spot up, and although I may sound like a broken record, a player like Simmons allows for versatile lineups defensively. Having a swingman like Luwawu-Caborrot in the lineup provides a 6'7" perimeter defender for the opposing team's best small while Covington can guard the most threatening forward, and then Fultz and Simmons can match up on the lesser threats. Of course, the most important thing is that this young core stays healthy because they have the potential to become something special as they develop together.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kevin Durant's New Decision In This CBA Landscape

It always made the most sense last summer for Kevin Durant to sign a one year contract with a player option for a second year in order to have as much guaranteed money as possible while maintaining his flexibility this coming summer. As I wrote at the time, that allows him to sign his long-term deal after having 10 years of NBA experience, which means he's eligible for a maximum salary of 35% of the salary cap rather than the 30% he could have signed for at the time and in a summer with a higher salary cap (currently projected at $101 million) than last year's $94,143,000. However, he will now have to decide whether it's smart to take the same approach again and wait another year for that massive new contract that's coming or go for as much guaranteed as possible right now even though the Warriors only have his Non-Bird rights. Since there's such a long break before the start of the Finals this Thursday and already a ton of great preview pieces for that, I decided to take a look at KD's options and how they will affect what the team can do this summer under the new CBA and cap projections.
Durant and Andre Iguodala go all the way back to the 2010 Team USA squad with Stephen Curry.
The Warriors were diligent in their signings after Durant like I said they would need to be in order to not have any other new contracts locked in this year. Because they don't have his full Bird rights yet, they'll need to use cap space in order to give him the max salary possible. Quick primer on those special rights to re-sign your own free agents: you gain Non-Bird rights after one year with a team (can exceed the salary cap at up to 120% of the previous salary on a deal of 1-4 years with 5% raises), you gain Early Bird after two years with a team (can exceed the cap up to 175% of the previous salary on a deal of 2-4 years with 8% raises), and you gain full Bird rights after three years with a team (can exceed the cap up to the max salary on a deal of 1-5 years with 8% raises). Thus, he can only sign a four year, $152,005,000 contract this summer if they clear the space for his $35,350,000 starting salary by renouncing their rights to all other free agents aside from Stephen Curry, who needs to be the last player to officially re-sign since his cap hold is much lower than what he'll actually sign for (likely $205,030,000 over five years as he's eligible for the designated player veteran extension). That would only leave a little over $4 million in cap space to give to anyone else, though, and that's a problem since Andre Iguodala is also a free agent and a core part of the team. He's embodied their selfless culture with his passing mentality and willingness to come off the bench over the years, and there's a reason he was in the room for the recruiting pitch to Durant as they were teammates on both the 2010 and 2012 iterations of Team USA. Out of all the role players, the former Finals MVP is clearly the priority to retain.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

2017 Lottery and All-NBA Implications

The Summer of George has already started with last Tuesday's Lottery drawing and Thursday's announcements of the All-NBA teams impacting the future of Paul George, with Gordon Hayward affected to a certain extent, as well. I want to flesh out certain ideas about all of the possibilities the Celtics might do with the top pick now that they've been eliminated from the playoffs, but first, here are some of my thoughts on the implications of the ping pong ball results:
  • This is now the third straight year that the team with the best lottery combinations has won the #1 pick, ending a previous streak of never ending up with the top pick in the current format that started in 2005. Thanks to their trade with Brooklyn in 2013, Boston won this pick the night after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and although a top team getting their choice of top prospects for unfair reinforcements might seem crazy, the 1979, 1980, and 1982 #1 picks also went to the Lakers and Celtics due to previous deals. 
  • Before you get started with conspiracy theories that favor two of the league's most storied franchises, take a look at the actual drawings below and try to figure out how the results might be (illegally) rigged. Because a 1 kept getting drawn, the Celtics, whose 250 combinations make up the majority of the 286 results that include 1, remarkably won the first three drawings before the 14-5-3-12 drawing gave the Lakers the #2 pick, and none of those numbers matched the initial winning combo of 7-1-9-10. New GM Rob Pelinka would also give his doppelganger Rob Lowe a run for his money with his acting chops if that wasn't genuine relief that he showed around the 12:49 mark here:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 NFL Draft Live Blog

It's draft time! 2017 continues to fly by, and the craziness of the NFL draft is already upon us. Rather than bombard my twitter feed with pick by pick thoughts, I decided to take a page out of The Sports Guy's book and do a running diary of what's going on. There will still be some tweets embedded in here from stuff I see on my feed, but for the most part, this will be my immediate, unfiltered thoughts.

4:50 PM: Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot has reported earlier today that Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett is going to be the #1 pick, and I'm still recovering. I knew I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up again with the recent reports that North Carolina QB Mitchell "don't call me Mitch" Trubisky could still be in play with the top picks. My beloved 49ers won't be getting a generational pass rusher to play the Leo spot in their new 4-3 Under after all.

4:55 PM: Ian Rapoport comes on to reiterate that the 49ers are (wisely) exploring options to trade back from their #2 spot, and now the Bears are open to it, as well. This is what I've been clamoring for once Garrett proved at the combine that he is in a tier of his own atop the rankings and shouldn't be there with with second pick. This is a strong draft, but there isn't a clear cut #2 player since a bunch of players are all great between the 2 and 15-ish range. The problem is that you need a partner, so hopefully the smokescreen of interest in a QB or RB will generate enough interest for a trade with someone like the Jets, Panthers, or Browns with their other first round pick.

5:04 PM: NFL Network comes back from commercial to show the incredible scene of just how many people are attending the draft live now that it's back in Philadelphia for the first time since 1961. Hope it doesn't get too cold for them since Roger Goodell is just now starting the opening ceremonies in what will likely be a long night.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Final 2017 NBA Power Rankings

Well, it wasn't exactly the last day of 2015 with most of the playoff proceedings already decided, but there was still some drama to close the season, albeit of the lottery variety. Here's a look at where every team ended up ranking with a little tidbit for each, and I put my first round playoff predictions after the lower seeds.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 67-15
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.2 (1st), Defense: 101.1 (2nd)

They didn't match last season's record of 73 wins, due in part to a 2-5 stretch when Kevin Durant went down and resting their starters down the stretch of Monday's Jazz game that snapped their 14 game winning streak, but I'd say they're actually better overall than last year's squad that was unbelievably good in close games, including a 6-1 record in overtime games compared to 0-3 this season. In fact, they have a higher point differential this year, and it's the fourth best of all time, which is part of why they are the runaway favorites to reclaim the title, especially with KD back.


2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 61-21 
Point Differential: +7.2 (2nd), Offense: 108.8 (7th), Defense: 100.9 (1st)

They lost 4 out of 5 to close the season since they limited the minutes of their key players once it was clear they weren't catching the Warriors for the best record, and yet they still ran away from the rest of the field. You can't really go wrong with any of the MVP candidates, but I would give it to Kawhi Leonard for leading this team into the post-Tim Duncan era without missing a beat despite being their only All-Star (although LaMarcus Aldridge had a case). In addition to being the best perimeter defender in the league, he took on a heavier scoring load to increase his career-high again to 25.5 points per game on an efficient 48.5%/38.1%/88% shooting line for .264 Win Shares per 48 minutes and a 27.5 Player Efficiency Rating.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Setting the Stage for the 2017 NBA Lottery

I have to admit: I have an irrational fascination with the NBA Lottery. It's amazing to me that the team with the worst record did not win the #1 pick in the first 10 years of the current format that has 14 teams in the lottery, but it has now happened in back to back years, with last year being the first time in history that no teams moved up at all. In fact, according to Zach Lowe's amazing recaps from inside the drawing room last year and in 2015, the first ping-pong ball drawn was #1 both times, basically signalling right away that the Sixers and Timberwolves had won since the worst record has 250 of the 286 four number combinations that include #1. I've even used the magical Wayback Machine to pull up his now defunct Point Forward blog that described the scene in the 2012 drawing room because I remember how incredible the emotions were in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes and how it got me hooked on the lottery process.

Thus, I wanted to set the stage for a highly anticipated game of chance and take a look at where things stand for the teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs for these final few games. For starters, here are the past results of the 12 lotteries under the current format with where the teams ranked in terms of how many ball combinations they had and their odds of landing in that spot:
The parenthetical notes indicate that's where the team ranked after a tiebreaker.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 NBA Home Stretch Power Rankings

Now that I can breathe again after that incredible Elite Eight win by North Carolina over Kentucky, I wanted to take a temperature check of the pros as we approach the final 7-10 games before the end of the regular season. These will be quick hitters since I went in depth before the season and after the Trade Deadline, and as always, I'm using their overall point differential along with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers from NBA.com.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 59-14 (35 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.0 (1st), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)

Since losing 5 of 7 after Kevin Durant suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise during that arduous part of the schedule, they've won 7 straight thanks to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson busting out of their shooting slumps during that stretch. They've had the best defense since the All-Star Break at 99.1 per 100 possessions despite their defensive rebounding percentage going from 75.8% before Durant went down to 73.6% after, which would be the worst in the league. If that overall rating keeps up, Draymond Green needs to be holding the Defensive Player of the Year award at season's end. And there's this to provide optimism for the playoffs:


2.  San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 56-16 (35 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +7.9 (2nd), Offense: 109.5 (6th), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)

That slight shooting slump I mentioned for Kawhi Leonard last month has manifested itself in 47.7%/32.5%/83.6% shooting since the Break compared to 48.8%/39.6%/89.9% prior as he's made just 26 of his last 80 3's, but that hasn't stopped him from still doing it all for this team as he's scoring 26.4 with 4.0 assists compared to 25.9 and 3.3 beforehand. Combine that with his usual amazing defense, and he just might be my MVP.