Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why Tonight's Warriors-Kings Actually Matters

At the surface, this is just a contest between two poor teams that has no playoff impact and minor draft implications. However, if you take a closer look, this could potentially be a huge game for the Warriors season, which is important to the Kings, as a division rivals. This whole year I have advocated "tanking" the season, which isn't popular with the fans or, more importantly, the players and coaches, but is crucial because the Warriors are stuck in mediocrity and badly need a top pick in this loaded draft.

The key point of the tanking movement is that they owe a draft pick to the Jazz that is only top-7 protected, and they currently have the 9th worst record with just 21 games left to play. There's a discrepancy in games played, but the Warriors "trail" the Cavaliers by 2 games, the Kings by 3 games, and the Pistons by 4 games, and each of those teams lost one point games this week that could prove to be critical. Hence, tonight's game is a much needed opportunity to close the gap with a loss. Ideally, the 6th worst record is what the Warriors need to aim for in case they suffer some horrible luck and get jumped a spot in the lottery.

Looking at the schedule, I see them finishing out the season somewhere around 5-16. They have an absolutely brutal stretch to start April with 10 road games and 13 out of 14 against Western Conference playoff hopefuls that ends in a back-to-back-to-back road trip. The non-playoff team they are playing is the Trail Blazers (whose own tanking movement could actually catch the Warriors), and the game is in the Rose Garden--always a difficult place to play. That stretch is sandwiched by games against the Hornets twice and the Nets before ending the season against the Spurs, who could potentially have their playoff seeding locked up and might rest players as a result, and those are games that the Warriors might win. If they are unable to pile up enough losses to secure the 6th or 7th worst record, then they would need some extraordinary luck to win the lottery and "earn" a top-3 pick that they would keep. In 2008, the Bulls lucked into home town hero Derrick Rose with the #1 pick after having the 9th worst record, and in the fascinating 2007 lottery, the Hawks got to keep their top-3 protected pick from the Suns by getting lucky after having the fourth worst record. May the odds be ever in the Warriors' favor.

Now, if they have a draft pick, who would they take? After making a series of trades that I liked, they now possess the Spurs' first round pick (likely 27th overall) and a late 2nd round pick from the Hawks (the worse of either Atlanta's own pick or the one from Phoenix that they possess) to go with the Nets' likely early 2nd round pick (from the Brandan Wright trade last year) and a revamped core. Not only did the trade for Andrew Bogut help the tanking cause with his injury, but it also sets the team up going forward with a core of Stephen Curry as a point guard, Klay Thompson as a wing, David Lee as a power forward, and Bogut as a center: a core that actually makes sense. With Dorell Wright only having one more year on his contract, Richard Jefferson's large contract coming off the books the year after that, and Brandon Rush hitting restricted free agency this summer, it would make sense that getting a star wing player would be the priority with their first pick, and possibly getting another big man to join rookie Jeremy Tyler on the bench for depth would make sense with a later pick. Thus, here are the players I would target if I were running the Warriors and managed to keep their pick in the top 7: (Note: this is different from how I would rank the lottery prospects.)

1. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina Sophomore. 6'8", 220 lbs, 6'11" wingspan.
Barnes is adept at hitting daggers.
It is well-documented on this blog how big a fan I am of Harrison Bryce Jordan Barnes, as he is notably named. I don't want to embarrass myself with even more praise, but it pretty much goes without saying how great of a fit he would be on the Warriors as a scorer with experience in an up-tempo system who also has the potential to be a great defender. He could be plugged in next to Thompson on the wing as a small forward with nice size and be a third great shooter with Curry around Lee and Bogut. In UNC's Sweet Sixteen game last night, he struggled with the pressure to carry the offense with point guard Kendall Mashall injured for the first time this season, but Barnes didn't let it discourage him and came through in the overtime period to help the Tar Heels reach the Elite Eight. It will be interesting to see how they manage against tougher competition in Kansas tomorrow, and if Barnes can help the offense flow more with the inexperienced Stillman White at point guard.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky Freshman. 6'7", 225 lbs, 6'10" wingspan
MKG, on the other hand, thrived in the Wildcats' Sweet Sixteen game last night. He might be an even better fit on the Warriors as a tenacious defender who can really get up and down the court. His lack of a consistent outside shot wouldn't be much of an issue next to Curry and Thompson, and he could step in and be a leader despite his young age. Much like how he has done at Kentucky, his work ethic and commitment to defense could set the tone and lead by example.

3. Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut Sophomore. 6'5", 185 lbs, 7' wingspan
This might sound out there, but here me out. I see him as a "Vince Carter meets Corey Brewer" type of wing: a long-armed, potential lockdown defender who sometimes lacks the toughness and desire of a true #1 option but is gifted enough to be a high-flying scorer with a wide array of moves in his arsenal. Besides throwing down vicious dunks on alley oops or breakaway steals, Lamb is adept at coming off screens for catch-and-shoot outside shots, quick dribble pull-up jumpers, or a pretty floater in traffic. Now, he is sometimes too passive, can be a streaky 3 point shooter, and needs to add strength, but I think he could fit with the Warriors. Thompson would sometimes have to guard small forwards, but Lamb could play next to him and Curry and be assigned to the other team's best perimeter player thanks to his versatility with his quickness and length.

4. Bradley Beal, Florida Freshman. 6'4", 195 lbs, 6'8" wingspan
There comes a point where talent overtakes positional need in the draft, and that's where Beal comes in. I'm still not necessarily sold on Thompson as a "core" piece, and he could either come off the bench or play small forward for a lot of minutes because Beal is the real deal. He's one of the safest picks in the draft because it's hard to see him fail with such a complete game. Despite his lack of ideal size, he's an impressive rebounder and competes on the defensive end thanks to his wingspan. The comparisons to Ray Allen and Eric Gordon especially are valid with his nice stroke and ability to use screens to create both for himself and others. It was a shame to see him come up short at the end of Florida's Elite Eight loss tonight after having such a nice game.

5. Quincy Miller, Baylor Freshman. 6'9", 210 lbs, 7'4" wingspan
If Miller declares, his upside is huge.
Miller is a bit of a riskier pick with his inconsistency (partly due to his team) and the fact that he's coming off an ACL injury his senior year of high school, but the upside is tantalizing. There's a lot of Kevin Durant in his game with nearly identical measurables and the same guard skill set in such a lanky body. He still needs to add strength and make better use of his size in other aspects of his game, but he could be exactly what the Warriors need as a star small forward. Hopefully Baylor will feature him and Perry Jones III more in their Elite Eight matchup tomorrow against MKG, Terrance Jones, and the no-doubt #1 pick, Anthony Davis.

Another Kentucky player to watch is combo guard Doron Lamb, who would be a nice value pick late in the first round or early in the second round. Syracuse's 6th man combo guard Dion Waiters isn't likely to drop that far after having such a strong tournament performance, but his dynamic game as a sort of Dwyane Wade-lite could be a nice fit. Vanderbilt's Jeffrey Taylor and St. John's Moe Harkless would also be excellent value picks as defensive minded small forwards. There is likely to be a lot of big man options at that stage as well because this draft is so deep at the position, and Festus Ezeli or Fab Melo could be nice fits. Of course, a lot of this speculation could be meaningless if some of these prospects don't declare early and weakens the draft.

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