Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 Draft Week Review

You have to love the NBA offseason, which is almost its own sporting spectacle. A wild draft night saw a blockbuster trade go down and set records with 16 freshmen and just two seniors drafted in the 1st round, and that was after a few trades already went down earlier in the week! I'm here to run through all the details and review what it means for each team, in order of which of them acted first.
Congratulations to all the players fulfilling their dreams!

76ers trade results:
#1 pick

Celtics trade results:
#3 pick
2018 Lakers 1st round pick if it is #2-5, otherwise the better of the 2019 Kings or 76ers 1st round pick, protected for #1.

I already touched on this after the news broke, but the official press release on Monday revealed the detail about the possible 2019 pick being the better of Philadelphia's or Sacramento's, unless it moves to #1. That's interesting that Philly wanted to make sure in each draft they didn't risk losing the top overall pick, and Boston theoretically protected some value by making sure the pick isn't outside the top-5 for next year at least. Even if the Lakers and Nets both improve, the Celtics could have a decent chance between the two of them for Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr., DeAndre Ayton, or Mohamed Bamba, the current top prospects in the DraftExpress 2018 mock draft.

By pushing in one of their valuable trade chips to move up, the 76ers landed Washington combo guard Markelle Fultz, as expected. They also traded another future 1st they had from the Thunder via the Jerami Grant trade (top-20 protected two years after OKC conveys a 1st to Utah; if protected converts to 2022 and 2023 2nds) and an extra 2020 2nd for the #25 pick: Anzejs Pasecniks, Gran Canaria (Spain) C. In the 2nd round, they used #36 on Jonah Bolden, Radnicki Basket (Serbia) PF; then apparently sold #39 to the Clippers AND #46 to the Bucks; and finally used #50 on Mathias Lessort, Nanterre (France) PF/C. I already discussed Fultz and how he fits in so well with this team in my mock draft, and I do like them turning a future 1st that may become two 2nds into a pick now. Both Pasecniks and Bolden are really skilled bigs that can score from multiple areas, so even if they need to polish up their defensive tenacity among an already crowded front court, you can't deny their value as Euro-stashes at those spots, with Bolden in particular having high upside as a versatile athlete. However, it's frustrating that they simply gave away two picks in still valuable spots for straight cash, especially since one of them was the result of the Nerlens Noel trade since that "first rounder" was never going to convey. At least drafting Lessort provides someone who will play with a high motor and tough defense whenever he comes over, even if he is yet another big body. For now though, Fultz should combine well with point forward Ben Simmons to invigorate this offense and push for a winning record. They have a hoard of cap space to help that cause with some possible shooters, but they would be wise to be smart with only short term deals or a shrewd renegotiation and extension for Robert Covington as he's in the last year of his underpaid contract.

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.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

2017 NBA Trade Deadline Power Rankings

The trade deadline came up quickly today and passed without too much action even faster. It's the perfect timing for another power rankings review of every team with the All-Star break giving me a chance to catch a temporarily stable set of point differential and offensive and defensive ratings from NBA.com before games resume tonight. I've included a look at any trades that went down the past week and a half with draft pick details from RealGM.com and salary data from BasketballInsiders.com, although I use blue for player options, orange for  team options, and red for years that aren't fully guaranteed.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 47-9 (27 H, 29 R) 
Point Differential: +12.8 (1st), Offense: 114.2 (1st), Defense: 101.6 (T-2nd)

With an astonishing 34 wins by double digits, the Kevin Durant fit has been about as seamless as you could have hoped for, and his defense and rebounding have been noticed more thanks to playing so much power forward with bench units, leading to a career high 1.7 blocks per game. His 3 point shooting (37.4% overall) has been a little streaky, but Steve Kerr's ball movement system has made him even deadlier on 2's with a career high 61%. Aside from Draymond Green's shooting efficiency going down, the rest of their All-Stars haven't been affected too much by the change, with Stephen Curry back to his 2015 MVP level as expected rather than last year's historic campaign, though his numbers are also typically better after the All-Star break for his career. With the ability to fit in a variety of players in the 5th spot of the lineup at times between Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, and even JaVale McGee, they have proven to be the team to beat.

2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 43-13 (25 H, 31 R)
Point Differential: +8.4 (2nd), Offense: 110.0 (5th), Defense: 101.0 (1st)

Despite their gaudy history, they still seem to be falling under the radar while on pace for 63 wins. Kawhi Leonard has taken his offensive game to another level with an increased workload while maintaining his stunning efficiency; someone who was a "non-shooter" when drafted had been flirting with a 50/40/90 season before a slight February slump. New center Pau Gasol has been out since mid-January with a broken hand but was effective when in, and Dewayne Dedmon has proven to be the steal I expected when filling in for Gasol with better defense. Although LaMarcus Aldridge isn't shooting at his normal clip from the mid-range, they are still elite offensively to go along with their league leading defense, joining the Warriors as the only team in the top-5 on both ends.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Super Bowl LI

Super Bowl Sunday is just about here at long last, and it should be a fun one with the highest Over/Under in Super Bowl history at 59. I would lean towards the score not hitting that final total with both teams having the extra week to prepare and usual early nerves in the big game, but Atlanta and New England do rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA. While the Patriots defense only ranks 16th in defensive DVOA due to the weight of a soft schedule, they do hold the title of the #1 scoring defense on the season, and historically, the teams with the fewest points allowed are 6-1 against the top scoring teams in Super Bowl meetings. In recent history, Mike Lombardi notes that the 2009 Saints are the only #1 offense to have won it all since 2000 while the top scoring defense has won it five times in that span. Throw in the fact that the Falcons only rank 27th in both defensive DVOA and scoring defense, and you can see why the Pats are favored by 3 in Houston.
Super Bowl XXXVI is the first one I remember, and it's hard to believe what it would kick off.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2016 NFL Championship Game Picks

From the best weekend in football to the best Sunday with two games of the highest caliber usually being played.

Packers +4.5 at Falcons

At this point, you almost just expect Aaron Rodgers to do whatever it takes to win. That last play to set up Mason Crosby's incredible second 50+ yard field goal in the final two minutes somehow topped Rodgers' earlier sideline throw and catch to Randall Cobb that already had my jaw on the floor. Now, Matt Ryan and the falcons are playing great ball themselves and rightfully favored, but I don't know how you can feel comfortable laying any points against the best player on the field. The cause for concern is the status of his banged up receiving core and their continued inconsistencies in the secondary, but Julio Jones is still dealing with a nagging foot injury, as well. I think it will come down to a last minute field goal again, so give me the points.
I mean, HOW

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2016 NFL Divisional Round Picks

Every year I say that this is the best weekend in football because you have eight of the best teams in the league going at it on back to back days, and this year has produced some more juicy matchups.

Falcons -5 versus Seahawks

That Week 6 game between these clubs in Seattle was a weird one with the different scoring runs, but a key takeaway is that Atlanta could move the ball well against this defense even on the road. Now they're at home, and their defensive improvement has been incredible despite being without their best defensive back in Desmond Trufant. The second year emergence of Vic Beasley and his 15.5 sacks has a lot to do with it, and I think he could wreck the Seahawks game plan with their league worst offensive line, especially with head coach Dan Quinn coming from Seattle.
Shanahan has schemed up good way to attack this now Earl Thomas-less defense in the past.
Side note: It's a kind of crazy that Seahawks offfensive line coach Tom Cable is under head coaching consideration with the way his unit has performed, and it's even crazier that so many teams have rushed to hire head coaches instead of waiting for the playoff teams to finish. You know, the well-coached teams that are still in contention for the ultimate prize. I understand that there is a bit of an arms race trying to fill out a coaching staff, which fascinates me with how coaches are connected, but Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels have clearly been the top candidates in my eyes. Now due to them being so good at their jobs to contribute to their teams' success, the 49ers position is the only spot still available for just one of them.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 NFL Wild Card Picks

Texans -3.5 versus Raiders

The Raiders might be the better team at full strength, but not having Derek Carr at quarterback changes everything for them. Now fourth round rookie Connor Cook is making his first start in a road playoff game and will be without left tackle Donald Penn against Jadeveon Clowney. That's enough for me even if Brock Osweiler is being pressed back into action at quarterback after getting benched. With Lamar Miller expected back healthy enough to be a workhorse runner, the Bill O'Brien should get his first playoff win at home.
JD Clowney has shown why he was a #1 pick now that he's healthy.