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NBA Draft: PBT's draft busts

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hayward.jpgThe list is long and infamous: Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison, Darko Milic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

There may not be any epic busts of that level in this draft, but there are going to be busts. Somebody is going to disappoint an excited fan base. Who? Here’s who we think.

Cole Aldrich: I’m hesitant to put Aldrich on the list because his bust status is more perception than the realty. People around the NBA know what Aldrich is — a big body, role-playing back up big who can take up space. Play him behind someone like Yao Ming for 18 minutes a night, expect 4 points and 6 boards, and you’re fine.

But fans want more than four points a night from their new center, expectations are higher for a guy who led Kansas for so long. He has shown enough tempting flashes to excite. He could well come to a city where the fan base expects him to step in and be the man in the middle. Last year if he came out he would have been Top 10 and the hype would have been bigger, and somebody is going to buy into that again. It’s not Aldrich’s fault. He is what he is. But perception will be that he’s a bust even if that is not the reality. –Kurt Helin

Gordon Hayward: What’s the model here? Let’s get past the race thing. Kid makes a run as part of a Cinderella team in the NCAA tournament from a small school, shows off a series of college elite moves while not displaying much of a pro game, and somehow finds himself in the lottery. When you’re staring into the belly of the beast, do you want Justin Bieber on your side? –Matt Moore

Al-Faroq Aminu: I don’t think there are any safe picks in this draft outside of the top two. I’ll go with Al-Faroq Aminu as a guy I don’t see doing much in the NBA. He’s a great athlete, but he’s a forward who shot 45% in college and isn’t much of an outside shooter. He doesn’t create plays well enough to be a 3, and he doesn’t finish them well enough to be a four.

He’ll be a nice enough energy player, but I’m not a fan of these quasi-stretch fours who think that having some perimeter skills is an excuse to drift outside of the paint on offense. If you’re an NBA 4 or 5 and aren’t a great shooter, get in the paint and stay there. There are likely at least 3 guys on the floor with you who are better playmakers and shooters.  –John Krolik

Wesley Johnson: Wes is a skilled prospect, but is he really worthy of
going in the top five? I have a feeling that if a team took Johnson in
the late lottery or beyond, they’d be just fine with the player he turns
out to be. Yet when a team inevitably stakes a substantial part of
their future in selecting Wesley with one of the draft’s top picks, I
have a feeling they’ll ultimately be a bit disappointed. He’ll be a
perfectly decent NBA player, but selecting him over Derrick Favors or
DeMarcus Cousins — regardless of fit — is ridiculous. –Rob Mahoney

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

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