NBA Draft: PBT’s pick-by-pick Draft tracker

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Locate the refresh button on your browser now, because this is where you are going to want to be for the entire 2012 NBA Draft.

Every pick will be discussed here, from Anthony Davis at No. 1 to the next Isaiah Thomas at No. 60 (last year’s final pick who turned out to end the season as a starter for the Kings). All the trades, all the great moves, all the questionable picks will be broken down right here all night long. Just stay with us and hit refresh.

Let’s get it started:

1. New Orleans Hornets: Anthony Davis (6’10” power forward, Kentucky). The Hornets get a franchise foundation big man. A guy scouts say could have a Kevin Garnett/Tim Duncan like career if he lives up to his potential. Davis is a long-armed (7’4” wingspan) athletic big who will be a shot blocking force in the paint from day one. His offense, especially in the post, needs work but he has the tools and was a very efficient scorer in college. The Hornets now have the foundation (with Eric Gordon) to be very good in a few years.

2. Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (6’7” small forward, Kentucky). Charlotte doesn’t trade the pick (reports vary on how close they got). They get a heck of a player. Coaches love him because the guy plays hard on both ends every single play. He is very athletic and uses that well on defense. On offense he is great in transition and could get to the rim in college but needs a steady jump shot now.

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal (6’5” shooting guard, Florida). While his college numbers don’t show it (33.9 percent from three last season) scouts will tell you he is one of the best shooters in this draft, with incredible range. He’s athletic and can put the ball on the floor. He can defend. Scouts thought he looked like a young Ray Allen, if he comes close that’s a heck of a get for Washington. He should pair well with John Wall.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dion Waiters (6’4” shooting guard, Syracuse). Wow, what a gamble by the Cavaliers. A couple of weeks before the draft Waiters wasn’t even in the lottery, however the Orangeman’s sixth man moved up the draft boards fast. Because he can score and teams see a potential spark plug in him. Waiters provides scoring often off penetration (he is fantastic at navigating the pick-and-roll), and he is very strong on his drives to the rim. His aggressiveness carries over to the defensive end. He’s a bit undersized and his jumpers needs to be more consistent. But fans are going to love him because he is aggressive. We’ll see, the Cavs passed up some quality players to get him.

5. Sacramento Kings: Thomas Robinson (6’9” power forward, Kansas). Any chance this pick would get traded went away when Robinson fell to the Kings, they like him a lot. They should. Other teams above them may regret passing on him in a few years. He is very athletic (he had the same combine vertical as Blake Griffin) power forward with a real nose for the ball. He will be a force as a rebounder from the start and can score around the rim. Needs to work on his perimeter game. College coach Bill Self thought he was like Paul Millsap, I think he can be a better version of Millsap.

6. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard (6’3” point guard, Weber State). Don’t let the small school fool you, Lillard is the best point guard in this draft. He is more of a scoring guard in college who needs to learn to be a floor general and point in the NBA, but he has a good basketball IQ and got teammates involved (he can pass). He can shoot from distance or put the ball on the floor and get into the paint. Great pick by Portland, the pick-and-roll with him and LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be interesting.

7. Golden State Warriors: Harrison Barnes (6’8” small forward, North Carolina). He fell farther than some expected and could end up being a steal if he lives up to potential. Don’t be fooled by what you saw in the NCAA Tournament (when he shot 33 percent), this guy can score at the NBA level. He has a polished offensive game and can knock down the midrange jumper. Plus, he can defend. Moved up draft boards after showing 38-inch flat-footed vertical at combine.

8. Toronto Raptors: Terrence Ross (6’7” shooting guard/small forward, Washington). This is higher than most expected for one of of the real sleepers in this draft (because nobody was watching the dreadful Pac-12 last year). He’s an excellent athlete who loves the jump shot (40 percent of his shots last season were threes) but if you close out he can blow by you. He can finish at the rim. He needs to develop — his handle isn’t NBA level, he needs a midrange game, he needs to figure out when to score and when to defer — but he could put it together and be at least solid and maybe special in a few years. He plays the same position as DeMar DeRozan, who has one year left on his deal in Toronto. Interesting.

9. Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond (7’0” center, Connecticut). One of the biggest risk/reward picks in the draft. He has unbelievable physical tools and, while he needs to develop, he could be an Andrew Bynum/Serge Ibaka like center in five years. But with all that he averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in college, there are serious questions about his desire and commitment to himself and the game. He could be a big bust. Workouts drew really mixed reviews. Him next to Greg Monroe makes a long front line that could be very good in Detroit.

10. New Orleans Hornets: Austin Rivers (6’5” combo guard, Duke). The son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers has moved up draft boards in recent weeks because he has a smooth offensive game. He can shoot with range, he can get to the basket, he can score. The concern is how he fits in — he has a scorer’s mentality (he patterned his game after Kobe Bryant) but he’s not an elite athlete and there will be better scorers on his team. He’s got the hoops IQ (he plays like a coach’s son) but will he play team ball? The Hornets now have Rivers, Anthony Davis and will re-sign Eric Gordon — that is a real foundation to build something special on.

11. Portland Trail Blazers: Meyers Leonard (7’1” center, Illinois). He has the physical tools to be a classic NBA center — he is tall, long and athletic for his size. He can run the floor. His offense needs a lot of polish, and he needs to get stronger, but you can see him getting post touches or setting a high screen and rolling to the basket hard. He helped himself out a lot at the NBA Draft combine in interviews. He is the traditional big to go next to LaMarcus Aldridge, plus he can set some picks for Damian Lillard. A center to Portland… just stay healthy.

12. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lamb (6’5” shooting guard, Connetticut). There are a number of good two guards in this draft but Lamb has the highest ceiling of all of them. Fantastic athlete, 7-foot wingspan (which helps his defense) and just a pure scorer — he shot 60 percent from 2 last season in college. The knock is his passion and drive — he seems to just coast at times. Good pick here for the Rockets, but what does this say about Kevin Martin’s future in Houston?

13. Phoenix Suns: Kendall Marshall (6’4” point guard, North Carolina). Whether or not Steve Nash comes back to Phoenix he could be the point guard of the future. A classic old-school pure point guard who is the best passer in this draft (and maybe the last few drafts) and has a great basketball IQ, he can be a floor general in the NBA. He’s not an exceptional athlete and he needs to develop a steady shot to be a threat. Solid pick.

14. Milwaukee Bucks: John Henson (6’10 power forward, North Carolina). They needed more size after trading Andrew Bogut, and they have it. A long, very athletic guy who can give you rebounding and defense right from the start. Fans will love him because he can block shots into the third row. But his offense is still raw (but has shown improvement at UNC). If he can develop steady offense he could be a steal here in a few years.

15. Philadelphia 76ers: Maurice Harkless (6’9” small forward, St. John’s). This guy looks like an NBA player — long, athletic, can leap out of the building, knows how to finish in transition. But he is raw, especially offensively on the perimeter (where he will have to play in the NBA). He works well off the ball, he doesn’t really have the handles to create his own shot and his jumper is hot and cold. He’s going to make plays the fans like, but will frustrate his coach with inconsistent defense and effort. A lot of tools, we’ll see how he develops them.

16. Houston Rockets: Royce White (6’8” power forward, Iowa State). If he can get his head right this may be a steal for Houston and is a good risk. He has an NBA power forward’s body and it comes with excellent handles and passing. In college he played a point-forward where he led the team in points, assists and rebounds. He can score inside or out. There are a lot things to like. On the flip side, his shot is very inconsistent. And there are some red flags — he’s had legal issues and also he has an anxiety disorder with a fear of flying. Again, if he is mentally right this is a good pick.

17. Dallas Mavericks: Tyler Zeller (7’0” center, North Carolina) He has been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 24, 33 and 34 picks. As for Zeller… solid. The word everyone uses about Zeller is solid, he does a lot of things pretty well. He is polished, he can score around the basket, has a jumper, he runs the floor well, he plays smart, he will rebound and defend. Not an exceptional athlete, not likely to be an All-Star, but he will give you quality minutes starting this year.

18. Houston Rockets: Terrence Jones (6’9” can play either forward spot, Kentucky). A very athletic and versatile player — he can score in the post, knock down threes (although you can bet the team will rework his shot mechanics) and blow by his man off the dribble. He’s a good defender. There are real questions about his effort — he disappeard for stretches and in 12 games scored in single digits. Houston took some talented guys with questions but these are smart mid-round gambles. It’s a good pick.

19. Orlando Magic: Andrew Nicholson (6’9” power forward/center, St. Bonaventure). Don’t try to read any Dwight Howard tea leafs here, that is a different issue. You don’t get a Howard replacement at 19. As for Nicholson, he carried a heavy offensive load in college and was still very effiecent — he shot nearly 60 percent on twos and 40 percent from three. He can score back to the basket or face up. He attacks the rim. He’s got a 7’4” wingspan. He’s been moving up draft boards as teams see a David West-lite kind of guy. He’s not going to carry a team, but can be a good role player. Especially on a veteran team.

20. Denver Nuggets: Evan Fournier (6’7” shooting guard/small forward, France). He impressed PBT’s Brett Pollakoff who saw him in person at the adidas EuroCamp in Italy: “Fournier is listed as a forward on the camp’s roster, but spends plenty of time handling the ball, and is comfortable at the two as well, where he has no trouble showcasing a smooth shooting stroke, even from deep three-point distance. His value as both a playmaker and a legitimate wing who can competently play three positions is undoubtedly going to be of interest to plenty of NBA teams.” There are questions about his defense and he needs to gain strength, but he could be a peak John Salmons like scorer from the wing someday.

21. Boston Celtics: Jared Sullinger (6’9” power forward, Ohio State). I like this pick for Boston. Sullinger would have been a top 5 pick last year but went back to school. He is an undersized power forward who plays below the rim (read: not that athletic) but knows how to score with a soft touch, and makes smart plays without turning the ball over (think a Luis Scola type). He fell down draft boards after a medical red flag about his back, something his camp was due to tight hamstrings and he can stretch them out. Bottom line, his smart style of play should fit in well with the Celtics veterans.

22. Boston Celtics: Fab Melo (7’0” center, Syracuse). This is a nice young combo with Sullinger. Melo, a big man out of Brazil, can provide some defense and shot blocking from the start. But he’s a project. He has the size of an NBA center and he moves well for someone his size. But don’t expect much offense out of him at all, he is very raw (although there were reports he’s worked on a midrange jumper and it looks pretty good). Likely not a future All-Star but could be a solid NBA big if he develops.

23. Atlanta Hawks: John Jenkins (6’4” shooting guard, Vanderbilt). Scouts say Jenkins is the best pure shooter in this draft, with a lightning quick release. He shot 44 percent from three last year. The problem is he’s not really great at anything else — he’s not an elite athlete, he’s a bit small for the two in the NBA, we could go on but you get the idea. Still, he can shoot the rock from great distance.

24. Dallas Mavericks: Jared Cunningham (6’5” shooting guard, Oregon State). This officially was a pick made by the Cavaliers but he really belongs to Dallas as part of the Tyler Zeller trade. There are a lot of scouts pretty high on this guy as a sleeper. He is long, a good athlete who likes to play in transition, a good defender and on offense has can take a guy in isolation and get to the rim. He’s a bit of a project — he needs to get stronger and his jump shot has to become reliable — but there is real potential here.

25. Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Wroten (6’6” combo guard, Washington). He certainly has an NBA body — he’s got good size for a guard and is very athletic. He can drive the lane and finish through contact (but only with his left hand, he needs to get a right fast). He’s a good passer. But he can play undisciplined and reckless, he takes bad shots and his jump shot is not at all reliable right now. He’s a project. But he has the tools to be a quality guard in this league if he can learn to make better decisions and get a steady jumper.

26. Indiana Pacers: Miles Plumlee (7’0” center, Duke). This pick fills a need the Pacers lost last season. Plumlee rose up the board after working out for teams. He certainly has NBA size and strength, and he moves well. He can even run the floor. But he is very raw on offense (he shot 61 percent but he didn’t shoot much at all, averaging 6.6 points per game). He could develop into a solid big man, think Jeff Foster. The Pacers could use another Jeff Foster.

27. Miami Heat: Arnett Moultrie (6’11 power forward Mississippi State). Moultrie is not staying with the Heat, Yahoo Sports reports he will be traded to the 76ers. He has the tools you want in an NBA big man — he’s long, great leaper, runs the floor well, is great on the boards and can finish at the rim if you set him up. He has a midrange jumper as well, but can spend too much time looking for it and not getting to the rim. He has to get stronger and he has to be committed to defense to really step forward. Don’t expect a game-changing big, he can be solid starter if he develops.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Perry Jones III (6’11” power forward, Baylor). This is a great landing spot for him, a professional locker room and team that will not tollerate him not being mentally focused. Jones is the kind of guy that drives teams and fans crazy, but this far down the draft he’s worth the risk. On raw athleticism and potential he could be the second best player in this draft — he can play inside or out, runs the floor in transition, leaps out of the building and can board. But he rarely shows that on the court, he disappears through large stretches of the game. Some teams like him more as a tall three than a five in the paint. Also reports of a knee issue helped him slide down the board.

29. Chicago Bulls: Marquis Teague (6’2” point guard, Kentucky). Yes, he is the younger brother of Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. A lot was asked of Marquis at Kentucky and he scored points efficiently for them in the NCAA Tournament. He is very quick and wants to push the tempo and run — but that led to out of control play and turnover issues. He needs a jumper (shot 32.5 percent from three last year). He will make a nice backup for Derrick Rose the next few years, we’ll see what this means for C.J. Watson.

30: Golden State Warriors: Festus Ezeli (6’11” center, Vanderbuilt). He has the physical tools you want in an NBA big — he’s athletic, strong, moves well — but his game is very raw. He’s a project. He can block shots and may be a role player down the line. The Nigeria native needs a better understanding of the game, post moves and how to defend post moves.

SECOND ROUND

31. Charlotte Bobcats: Jeff Taylor (6’7” small forward, Vanderbilt). Some guys take time to develop. Taylor’s elite athleticism had him on NBA radars early but he didn’t really put his game together until his senior season (16.1 points per game, shot 42 percent from three). He can defend and shoot from distance, but he’s not a wing who can create his own shot.

32. Washington Wizards: Tomas Satoransky (6’8” shooting guard Czech Republic). He’s tall but he’s really a combo guard. Here is how PBT’s own Brett Pollakoff described him after seeing him at adidas Eurocamp: “Satoransky ran the point and played off the ball equally well, and whipped the ball around the perimeter with confidence, always looking to create the best shot for his teammates. When it was his turn to score, he showcased a smooth stroke from the outside, and was able to put the ball on the floor and finish in traffic, as well.” He needs some seasoning and a steadier shot, but he has potential.

33. Cleveland Cavaliers: Bernard James (6’10” center, Florida State). James is headed to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a trade for Zeller. James is 27 years old and is an Iraq/Afganistan war veteran (he didn’t play in high school then had a growth spurt while in the Air Force). He is a high-energy defensive specialist who has NBA size and athleticism. He will not score a ton in the NBA but he was efficient at it in college. He’d have gone higher if not for the age issue. He reportedly did very well in the NBA Draft Combine interviews and won over some front office folk. His ceiling is the next Joel Anthony.

34. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jae Crowder (6’6” small forward, Marquette). Headed to Dallas as part of a trade. A little undersized but a hard working guy at both ends of the floor who will give you a full effort and play smart. He’s got some perimeter game, the problem really is his strength is a power forward game and he’s the size of an NBA shooting guard.

35. Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green (6’7” power forward, Michigan State). Great pick at this spot. He’s got a versatile game — he can score inside but also has a nice jumper, is a good passer, and he can rebound. Plays a smart game. He is undersized as a power forward and doesn’t have a game that makes him a three. He can make a nice role player and can step into that almost immediately.

36. Sacramento Kings: Orlando Johnson (6’3” shooting guard, UC Santa Barbara). He has been traded to the Indiana Pacers (for cash). I’ve seen him in person the past few years, he has a real NBA body and NBA three point range on his shot. He is not a great athlete for the NBA level. He was asked to do a lot for the Gauchos and hit a lot of contested, difficult shots (the kind he will need to hit in the NBA). Not great at creating his own shot.

37. Toronto Raptors: Quincy Acy (6’6″ small forward, Baylor): Not the most skilled guy ever but he wants it and works hard on every play. Think Ronny Turiaf, but smaller. Acy is a great athlete, we’ll see if he can turn that and his motor into an NBA career.

38. Denver Nuggets: Quincy Miller (6’10” small forward, Baylor). A top player out of high school, he blew out his ACL in his senior year and never looked fully recovered at Baylor, where he was very inconsistent. As teams took a closer look, and got medical reports on his knee, he fell down the draft board. But he has the raw tools of a lottery pick, plays a smart and very versatile game. If he gets healthy, puts on some muscle and steadies his shot he could be very good.

39. Detroit Pistons: Khris Middleton (6’8” small forward, Texas A&M). He struggled in his junior year due to a knee injury and a coaching change so some where surprised when he declared for the draft. He was on scouts’ radars before that. If he gets healthy and lives up to potential this could be a steal — he is a classic swingman with length, a good first step and the ability to knockdown the midrange jumper. If he gets stronger and adds range to his shot he could be a solid NBA rotation player.

40. Portland Trail Blazers: Will Barton (6’6” shooting guard/small forward, Memphis). He’s a scorer, an inconsisntent one as a freshman but by his sophomore year he seemed to find a midrange and three-point stroke (34.6 percent last season). He needs to put on weight, he needs to be consistent as a pro, but he is smooth and can put up points in the NBA.

41. Portland Trail Blazers: Tyshawn Taylor (6’4” point guard, Kansas). He has been traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Taylor is really a combo guard that is very quick, very athletic plays at a fast pace and may be the best defensive guard in the draft. But he tends to turn the ball over, his decision making isn’t great, and neither is his jump shot. He reportedly did pretty well in workouts.

42. Milwaukee Bucks: Doran Lamb (6’5” shooting guard, Kentucky). Arguably the best pure shooter in this draft, he shot 46 percent from three last season but he can also knock down the midrange. He’s a decent athlete but not special at the NBA level. He isn’t really great at anything but shooting the ball, but scoring will get you paychecks. Good pick this far down the draft.

43. Atlanta Hawks: Mike Scott (6’9” power forward, Virginia). He was the ACC player of the year and has an all around game — he can score inside, knock down threes, is a very good rebounder, plays hard and plays smart. The concern was that he’s not a dynamic athlete for the NBA level and that he would struggle to keep up the guys he’d be matched up against. But in workouts he outplayed guys ranked higher and climbed draft boards.

44. Detroit Pistons: Kim English (6’6” shooting guard/small forward, Missouri). He’s a catch-and-shoot guy in the NBA, and he can’t do much else (like defend or create his own look). But he can shoot — he hit 45 percent from three last season. He has moved quickly up draft boards as teams watched him in workouts.

45. Philadelphia 76ers: Justin Hamilton (7’0″ center, LSU). He’s big and he’s mobile. He’s also very inconsistent in college, he needs to get stronger and there are questions about how he’ll deal with the athletes of the NBA. But he impressed at a few workouts and that got him a look.

46. New Orleans Hornets: Darius Miller (6’7” small forward, Kentucky). He was a good role player in college and teams see the potential for him to continue that in the NBA, ala Danny Green. He has a nice shot and can be a knock down guy from NBA three point range. He’s not going to create his own shot and can’t really defend on the perimeter at the NBA level. But he can shoot.

47. Utah Jazz: Kevin Murphy (6’6″ small forward, Tennessee Tech). He shot the rock very well against lesser competition, scoring 20.6 points per game and shooting 41 percent from three. The question is how he will do against tougher competition in the NBA, he seemed to struggle during the college season with that but he looked good at the Portsmouth Invitational after the season.

48. New York Knicks: Kostas Papanikolaou (6’8” small forward, Greece). Knicks fans at the draft had no idea who he was (and their reaction was great comedy). And they will not for a while — he will spend the next season (at least) to Europe as he does not have a buyout. He impressed at the EuroLeague final four where he was asked to defend Andri Kirilenko. Papanikolaou is a smart, physical player but not terribly athletic (by NBA standards) and he needs to develop range on his shots.

49. Orlando Magic: Kyle O’Quinn (6’10” center, Norfolk State). He’s got the build and athleticism you want in an NBA big man, he can rebound and defend well. He also scores pretty well around the rim. But there are questions both about his commitment to the game, his effort, and his basketball IQ. That said, he had a good NCAA Tournament and reports out of his workouts were all very good. He could grow into being a role player.

50. Denver Nuggets: Izzet Turkyilmaz (7’0″ small forward, Turkey). I got nothing. Looks very thin in the videos. DraftExpress says some teams saw him and thought he’d make a good “stash” pick who could help in a few years. They say he is athletic. Sure.

51. Boston Celtics: Kris Joseph (6’7″ small forward, Syracuse). He’s got solid athleticism and the effort is there. He spent a lot of time on the perimeter last season and found ways to score despite streaky shooting, but that will be harder to do at the NBA level.

52.Golden State Warriors: Ognjen Kuzmic (7’1″ center,Bosnia and Herzegovina). Don’t know much here. DraftExpress said former teammates like him, that he’s got a real center’s body and while not explosive he moves well. He was playing in the Spanish second division, kind of a big leap from there to the NBA.

53. Los Angeles Clippers: Furkan Aldemir (6’9” power forward, Turkey). Don’t be shocked if this pick gets moved. He is a rebounding machine in Europe. He also will stay there for at least a year as he has no out until 2014. Questions abound about what he can do besides crash the boards.

54. Philadelphia 76ers: Tornike Shengelia (6’9” small forward/power forward, Georgia). The Sixers sold the rights to Shengelia to the Brooklyn Nets for cash. Who doesn’t like cash? Shengelia made the first team at adidas EuroCamp, and here is what our own Brett Pollakoff (who was there) said about him: “He showcased a nose for the ball and an ability to do the dirty work inside, along with an energy level and an offensive skill set that’s certainly worth being noticed by NBA scouts.” A guy who needs a steadier shot, he’s a prospect, but maybe helpful a few years down the road.

55. Dallas Mavericks: Darius Johnson-Odom (6’2” shooting guard, Marquette). Dallas sold this pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for cash. Again, who doesn’t like cash? Although his college numbers don’t blow you away, scouts say he can flat out shoot the rock, and at the end of the day that is still the name of the game. He showed pretty well at the Nets combine workout, according to reports. He’s undersized for the two in the NBA (and he’s not a point guard) but he is strong and defends hard. He’ll be a catch-and-shoot guy in the league, but he can do a lot of damage that way.

56: Toronto Raptors: Tomislav Zubcic (6’11” power forward, Croatia). Don’t know much, but reports make it sound like he’s a classic European big who can spot up and shoot from distance, has good handles for a big, can run the floor a little. Don’t expect him to muscle anyone down low and not as athletic as the NBA guys he would face.

57. Brooklyn Nets: Ilkan Karaman (6’9″ small forward, Turkey). He looked pretty athletic at adidas EuroCamp, was able to back guys down inside and step out and knock down threes. He played with intensity.

58. Minnesota Timberwolves: Robbie Hummel (6’9″ small forward, Purdue). He’s not that athletic but he can shoot from range and can pass. He plays a smart game, but would be more of a sniper in the NBA. He’s got to improve his defense if he wants to see the court.

59. San Antonio Spurs: Marcus Denmon (6’3″ shooting guard, Missouri). He’s scored 17.7 points per game for Missouri and he did it efficiently — he can shoot from long range or finish at the rim. Good basketball IQ, doesn’t turn the ball over much. He’s small and not athletic for an NBA level guy, but the Spurs might be a team that can find a use for him.

60. Los Angeles Lakers: Robert Sacre (7’0″ center, Gonzaga). He’s tall, has an NBA body and can score around the rim. Not terribly athletic and he is pretty raw on offense, but he has a few moves. In college he was just bigger and stronger than everyone else, we’ll see what he can do when that is no longer the case.

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.