This isn’t 2007 — LeBron, Spurs both very different than last finals meeting

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This isn’t the first time Tim Duncan and the Spurs stood in the way of LeBron James and what he sees as his destiny to be one of the game’s all time greats.

Back in 2007 LeBron dragged his Cavaliers squad to the Finals, only to be just carved up by the Spurs winning their third title of the decade. It was a team and a player in very different places. After it was all over, Duncan said this according to Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“This is going to be your league in a little while. I appreciate you giving us this year.”

Six years later, it is LeBron’s league (as much as it is anyone’s). But he’s different. And the Spurs are different.

That makes 2013 very, very different than 2007.

LeBron actually scores less now than he did six years ago — 27.3 points a game then to 28.6 now — but he is vastly more efficient. Six years ago he shot 47.6 percent and he got most of that in transition of slashing to the rim. He was a terrible jump shooter and teams (including the Spurs in those Finals) played off him and dared him to shoot.

Do that now and LeBron’s strong jumper will destroy you. He shot 56.5 percent this season and 40.6 percent from three (his true shooting percentage, which includes compensation for threes and free throws, so it’s like points per possession, jumped from a good 55.2 percent back then to a ridiculous 64 percent).

LeBron says it’s not just him that’s better — and he’s right about that.

“I think our team is more experienced, first of all,” LeBron said, speaking in his press conference after Game 7 against the Pacers. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did.”

This is a radically different team around LeBron. Those Cavaliers relied on LeBron for everything and hoped Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden could pitch in enough. These Heat may have struggled some in the playoffs but Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen make up a much more dangerous core.

But this is also a very different Spurs team.

Then it was the big three at their peak — Duncan led the team in scoring and rebounding, 20 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. Tony Parker pitched in 18.6 points a game at age 24, Manu Ginobili was 16.5 points. Then it dropped off the map as there were role players — Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen among others.

Six years later, this is Tony Parker’s team — he drives the offense scoring 20.6 points a game and adding 7.6 assists a game. As the big three got old Gregg Popovich turned the offense over to Parker and what you got was a better, more balanced attack — six guys average double figures a game. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green get their points in the flow of the offense, but Duncan is still a serious threat (17.6 points a game in a renaissance, healthy year for him).

What changed — and then returned to form — for San Antonio is defense. Back in 2007 they allowed 99.9 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA. At subsequent years they fell back to a pedestrian 11th in the NBA, but this season they allowed a third best 101.6.

Now the question comes: Can they slow the improved and more versatile LeBron? They did it six years ago, but that was a very different LeBron with a very different team around them. Of course, this is a very different Spurs team, too.

Report: Boston, Indiana “in serious talks” about Paul George trade, deal not done yet

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The Boston Celtics just took Jayson Tatum with the No. 3 pick in the draft.

The question is will he ever play a game wearing Celtics green, or is he bound for Indiana.

With Jimmy Butler off the board and headed to Minnesota, the Celtics appear to have gotten serious in talks with the Pacers about Paul George, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The question — and what could hang this deal up — is what goes back to Indiana. Tatum is likely part of that mix, but what other player or picks are involved. Boston has plenty of assets, but Danny Ainge is loathed to give up too much for a rental.

And that’s what George could be — he is a free agent in the summer of 2018 and the people around him have made no secret of the fact he has interest in playing for the Lakers.

However, with George Boston can be right there with Cleveland at the top of the East, competing for a chance to go to the Finals. Isaiah Thomas, George, Al Horford and a deep bench (with more players potentially added) could be enough.

Will the winning, the history, the way players love being on a Brad Stevens team, and the fans be enough to keep George from their hated rivals in Los Angeles? That’s the risk, is Ainge willing to take it?

2017 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of each move

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Already the 2017 NBA Draft has been crazy — the No. 1 pick was traded for only the seventh time in NBA history. The No. 2 pick from a couple years ago has already been moved to make way for the next No. 2 pick coming to Los Angeles.

Now it is likely to get even wilder.

This is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the course of the night — it will be live with a quick analysis of every pick and how they fit in with the team that took them. We’ll also be on top of trades and everything else happening around the NBA tonight. About the only thing we know is what’s happening now with the No. 1 pick, so let’s put the Sixers on the clock.

 

 
Sixers small icon 1. Philadephia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, 6’4” point guard (Washington). The Sixers hope they have their big three rounded out with Fultz. One scout I trust told me this was a one-player draft at the top — Fultz was clear and away the best guy available. What doesn’t he do well offensively? He can score off the pick-and-roll from all three levels: He makes threes, can hit mid-range pull-ups, or attack and finish above the rim. He can make plays in transition, makes good decisions off the pick-and-roll, uses both hands, and had great body control and footwork. The concerns are he can be passive, lets the game come to him a little too much, and can be a lazy defender (despite elite physical tools). Stlll, he was the clear No. 1 for a reason.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, 6’6” point guard (UCLA). You can’t teach his court vision and passing skills, which remind one of a LeBron/Ricky Rubio level of passer. With those skills, he is amazing in the open court. Yes, his shot is awkward (because of it he can’t pull up going to his right well), but in catch-and-shoots the ball goes in. Concerns about his shot – and his father — are overblown. The real questions are how he defends at the next level (he was disinterested for long stretches in college), and can he create in the halfcourt (he didn’t do a lot of pick-and-rolls, and on them 75 percent of his drives ended with a pass, he has to be more of a scoring threat).

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Chicago Bulls are sending Jimmy Butler to play with his old coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota (plus the 16th pick in this draft), in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick in this draft. That is a great deal for Minnesota. They now can start Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and they look like a playoff team.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, 6’8” forward (Duke). Maybe the player most ready to contribute offensively immediately in this draft, Tatum is a fantastic isolation scorer. He has a diverse offensive skill set, and he blew by bigger defenders in college with a strong face-up game, but will that translate to the NBA where everyone is more athletic? Can he score against NBA wings? His perimeter shot is improved but needs to get better still. He also was not a consistent defender in college, he needs to be much better now, especially if he wants to play much for Brad Stevens. Still, this guy can help right now, which is good for Boston.

 
Suns small icon4. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, 6’8” forward (Kansas). Physically, and with his explosiveness, he reminds one a little of Andrew Wiggins — and Jackson has the same issue of a very inconsistent shot. Effort is a skill and one Jackson has plenty of, he outworks everyone, and could become and elite wing defender in the NBA. He had success offensively in college overwhelming opponents as a small-ball four, and he works well off the ball with cuts or getting out in transition. While his shot found a groove late in the season he needs more consistent mechanics, that shot needs work. Plenty of scouts think he has one of highest potential ceiling in this class.

 
Kings small icon 5. Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, 6’4” point guard (Kentucky). Kings’ fans, check out our feature on Fox to learn more about him. He climbed draft boards through the season and more once he got to workouts. Fox is incredibly fast with and without the ball — elite NBA level fast, and that makes him dangerous, particularly in transition. He’s a good (not great) passer, but his shot needs work (reports from workouts are that it is improving). He is a good defender (just ask Lonzo Ball) with the potential to be great. He needs to get stronger, and he needs to polish his offensive game, particularly running the pick-and-roll.

 
Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac, 6’11” forward (Florida State). One of the highest ceilings in this draft — if he can be developed. He can hit threes, but is very raw and needs confidence on that end. Maybe of more interest to the Magic, his floor is pretty high thanks to his defense — he had a 25% defensive rebound percentage, a 2.4 percent steal rate, and a 6 percent block percentage, only done by Anthony Davis, Andre Roberson, Dewayne Dedmon, and Aaric Murray since 09-10 (stat via Sam Vecenie). He’s a project but could be a key part of the future new management in Orlando is trying to build.

 
Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls (via Minnesota in Butler trade):

Report: Bulls trading Jimmy Butler to Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, No. 7

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Jimmy Butler trade rumors heated up on draft night last year.

This year, they reached fever pitch.

Now, the Bulls are actually dealing him.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

This isn’t nearly enough for Butler, a true star. He’s 27 and locked up for two more years.

Zach LaVine is a nice young player, but overrated due to his inflated points-per-game number. Kris Dunn looked passive on both ends of the floor as a rookie. The No. 7 pick comes in a relatively strong area of this draft, but Chicago is just trading up nine spots – not even acquiring an extra pick.

And the Bulls couldn’t have agreed to this trade before Dwyane Wade opted in and locked into a high salary that inhibits rebuilding?

Whether Chicago should have stuck with general manager Gar Forman or then-coach Tom Thibodeau a couple years ago has been debated and re-debated since the Bulls fired Thibodeau. This trade certainly indicates Thibodeau, now Minnesota’s president-coach, better knew what he was doing.

Markelle Fultz’s draft day shoes were made out of basketballs (VIDEO)

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Markelle Fultz was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night, but what may have just stole the show were his shoes.

Fultz, 19, Showed up in New York dressed to the nines while also rocking some pretty unique sneakers. When asked what inspired him, Fultz said he just wanted to go with something crazy.

The shoes are apparently made out of real basketball leather, so I can’t imagine they breathe very well. They sure do look pretty sweet.

Probably better than any Big Baller Brand shoe.