2010 NBA draft: How John Wall could change the world for one lucky lottery team

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jwall.jpgYour top overall pick in the 2010 draft will almost certainly be Kentucky’s John Wall, the tremendously athletic, do-it-all point guard. The guy makes beautiful YouTube highlight reels in his sleep for god’s sake, and aside from an in-development three-point stroke, is anything you could ever want from a point guard coming out of college. The hype is deserved, and all indications show that GMs across the league are buying in to Wallapalooza.

That makes the draft lottery awfully important. A number of lottery teams have been waiting for this very moment, with the hope that fate may smile upon them and grant them Wall, Evan Turner, or the prospect of their choice.

There’s a lot to be won and lost with the bounce of the ping pong balls on Tuesday night, as Wall’s can’t-miss talent could significantly alter the futures of any of the lottery teams. For simplicity’s sake (and probability’s, too) let’s focus on the top five most probable destinations for Wall according to the lottery odds:

New Jersey (25% of winning the lottery) – The Nets’ situation is a bit complicated, entirely because of the presence of Devin Harris. Depending upon your appraisal of Harris and Brook Lopez, Devin is either New Jersey’s top player upon the end of the 2009-2010 nightmare season or merely their second best. Yet if the lottery odds translate into the actual draft order, they’ll undoubtedly look to John Wall as the player to breathe new life into their franchise.

It should be interesting to see just how Tuesday’s lottery impacts Harris’ trade value. We’ve learned in recent weeks that the Nets are open to the idea of moving Devin, but obviously that option comes off the table should they not receive the #1 overall pick in the draft. Moving Harris without the Wall guarantee would be downright foolish, and should New Jersey find themselves anywhere but in the top overall spot, they’re essentially ruled out of the Wall sweepstakes.

However, the catch is if the Nets do get the top pick in the draft and the opportunity to draft Wall to replace Harris, there’s no question that Devin’s trade value would drop. It then becomes painfully obvious that New Jersey has no room to posture in trade negotiations, and their leverage in a potential deal involving one of their top players would dissipate. Maybe that means they would keep both Harris and Wall for the time being, or maybe that means Rod Thorn would simply take what he could get for Harris to offer Wall the team on a silver platter.
 
Minnesota (19.9%)
– Man, if you thought the Nets made things awkward with their dueling point guards, the Timberwolves roster is even weirder. David Kahn decided to use the fifth and sixth pick in last year’s draft on Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, only one of which is part of the Wolves’ immediate future. Then, he went on to sign Ramon Sessions in free agency, giving Minnesota three point guard prospects on the roster.

So naturally, if the Wolves fans were to strike gold with the top overall pick in this year’s draft, Kahn would look to draft John Wall.

The most interesting thing about the Wolves’ point guards is that unlike the Nets’ Devin Harris, none of them are proven. Ramon Sessions has yet to really show that he can run a team, as his only significant performances have come in the often deceiving final stretch of the regular season. Jonny Flynn has only spent one year in the league, but he’s facing serious efficiency issues and not exactly the prototypical creator in Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense. Ricky Rubio may be finding all kinds of success in Spain, but he’s still a world away from Minny and has yet to play an NBA game.

Evan Turner is a far more natural fit, but the Wolves are desperately in need of a player of not only Wall’s talents, but his star power. It won’t solve Minnesota’s positional issues and only further exacerbates the conflict between the triangle and the team’s players, but it’s hard to see Kahn passing up another point guard in this year’s draft should the ping pong balls bounce favorably for the Wolves.

Sacramento (15.6%) – The difficulties continue. Kind of. The Kings are the first team on our list that could really have the luxury of moving the #1 pick should they win the lottery. Devin Harris is cool, Ricky Rubio is fun, but Tyreke Evans is a beast. The man is just a monster of a guard, and though I’m sure the Kings may want to give things a go with a Wall-Evans backcourt that is both completely terrifying and a bit confusing, their best option may be to let Evans shine while trading the pick to acquire talent from elsewhere.

Wall and Evans’ skill sets just don’t complement each other all that well, and you’re really looking at two relatively high-usage players that are going to need the ball in their hands to really get things done on the court. Instead of fighting through that, Sacramento could trade down in the draft of move the pick for another young, talented player on a team desperate for a point guard. John Wall could have pretty ridiculous value, and should he suddenly become available via trade, expect teams to pull out all the stops.

I think what benefits Sacramento the most, though, is that the ability to trade Wall is a luxury rather than a necessity. With New Jersey, the Nets would more or less be forced to make a choice between Wall and Harris, which as I mentioned before would diminish trade returns. However, with such a phenomenally talented duo in Wall and Evans, the Kings could just sit on the tandem to see if it works, and don’t necessarily have the same urgency to build a cogent team (remember, the Nets want to be a free agent destination). They can develop players, develop talent, and let the roster mature.

Golden State (10.4%) – Yikes. Steph Curry, Monta Ellis, and maybe John Wall? It’s a Nellieball dream, to be sure, and for a team that will soon be moving in a new direction coaching-wise, it gives the franchise plenty of flexibility in terms of point guard options.

Ellis pretty much maxed out last season in terms of his minutes and per-game production, and while he’s fairly effective in accumulating volume stats, it’s unclear whether or not he’s the type of point guard any team should want for the long haul. He’s definitely talented enough to make it work, but he needs a team built to fit his strengths and weaknesses, even if he isn’t a team’s best player. That’s a lot of hassle, and it comes with no guarantees. Ellis may not be worth it.

Curry showed off some of his incredible potential over the second half of his rookie season, and his shooting definitely allows him to play off the ball. The same is definitely true of Ellis, who was still effective playing alongside Baron Davis in Oakland. NBA diehards will let out a deep sigh should Wall fall into something of a basketball purgatory in the Bay, but he has the ability to transform a guilty pleasure team into a must-watch offensive outfit. It wouldn’t work every night out, but you’re telling me that the trio of Wall, Ellis, and Curry doesn’t intrigue you? It’s pure entertainment, even if there’s not much substance.

Washington (10.3%) – Finally, things get easier. Kind of. Take a look at the Wizards team that finished last season, and you see a squad desperately in need of a point guard. Randy Foye wasn’t that guy. Earl Boykins wasn’t that guy. Even Shaun Livingston, despite his strong play to finish the season, wasn’t that guy. That team needed a bonafi
de starter at the point.

If they land Wall, they get one. There’s only one problem: Gilbert Arenas. Gil is the main obstacle between the Wiz and rebuilding, and I’m not saying that he should completely derail Washington’s plans just by being present. That said, Arenas has been this team’s point guard, and considering the team’s willingness to work him back into the mix going forward, that makes things a bit more complex. Arenas’ contract is unmovable considering his rep and price tag, and moving the pick makes little sense for a team that needs a talent injection.

That means the best option for the Wiz may be to draft Wall and move Arenas off the ball. Or maybe they’re a team that actually looks to Evan Turner at the top spot, though admittedly that seems like a longshot. Regardless of how Turner’s game may match up with Wall’s by the end of their careers, Wall seems to be the consensus top talent in the draft. His combination of physical gifts, immediate contributions, potential for improvement, and established branding make him destined for stardom in the NBA at one of the most crucial positions. Ernie Grunfeld isn’t going to pass that up on Gil’s account. 

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone suspended one game for confronting referee

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Denver coach Mike Malone decided if he was going to get tossed and fined/suspended, he was going to get his money’s worth.

During the second quarter of the Nuggets’ Sunday loss to the Lakers, Malone ran onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Nikola Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach. As he should. Malone was suspended one game for “entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official,” the league announced. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets face the Kings in Sacramento.

Mott also tossed Jokic when he entered the argument Sunday night, but the NBA rescinded the ejection saying Jokic earned a technical but should not have been thrown out. A lot of good that does the Nuggets now, who had to go more than half the game without their best player and lost (not that he changes the outcome of the game, but a comeback is less likely without him).

 

 

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.