2013 NBA Draft

Injury, risk reasons Nerlens Noel fell down draft board


When Nerlens Noel first went down with an ACL injury, the reaction of most scouts and league executives was he wouldn’t fall or if he did he wouldn’t fall that far in the draft. He was still a top three pick.

But things started to feel different the last couple weeks. I can’t remember a year the presumptive top pick had more negative things said about him and his game in the run up to the draft.

Then come draft night he fell all the way No. 6, where he was taken by New Orleans and promptly traded to Philadelphia. Nobody seemed to want Noel.

What was going on? Turns out the knee injury and the risk that comes with it did cause him to fall.

When trying to do a good mock draft, you can’t just take into account the talent of the player and the needs of the team. The other key factors are the general manager’s/team president’s personality and his job security — is the decision maker in a position he feels comfortable taking a risk? Or does he need to go with a player he feels more comfortable with and can help sooner?

Noel, coming off an ACL repair that was red flagged by a couple teams, was certainly a risk.

Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert said on the night of the lottery he was tired of being in the lottery and wanted to be in the playoffs next year, and you know GM Chris Grant has heard that more directly. So come draft night Grant didn’t feel comfortable taking Noel — a player with potentially more upside than Anthony Bennett but a also a player coming off an ACL surgery with more long-term risk and a player that was not going to help much in his rookie season at least.

Henry Abbott at TrueHoop explained the idea this way.

There are different ways players fail in the NBA. If he doesn’t work hard, it’s on him. If he doesn’t fit the system, it’s on the coach. None of that threatens highly paid and career-minded general managers — in both scenarios they can keep their jobs. (I’ve even heard it suggested that some general managers keep sub-par coaches around to have someone to blame should it all go awry.)

But things go down very differently if the team fails because it bet on a player known to have been injured, and injuries are his undoing. That tends to be seen as the front office’s fault. When the engines fail in that airplane, there never seem to be enough parachutes for the front office guys. That’s just how it goes

Kevin Pritchard was the NBA’s next great GM when he drafted Greg Oden — on track to be alone at the top of a big budget team’s hierarchy. Then Oden got hurt. Six years after making that pick, and after a spell of unemployment Pritchard is still keeping his head down, trying to restore his reputation in Indiana’s increasingly crowded front office.

Does it matter that 29 other GMs would have taken Oden over Kevin Durant? No. (And any GM that says otherwise is selling you revisionist history, at the time everyone had Oden on top of their boards.) Injuries to a top pick can kill a career.

In Philadelphia, new GM Sam Hinkie rolled the dice and I think had a great draft night. With Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and crew this was at best a .500 team looking at a bottom three seed in the East and getting suck in a rut in the middle of the conference. They went all in on Andrew Bynum and missed and now they were stuck. So Hinkie blew the whole thing up — he is getting bad to get better. The Sixers will lose a lot of games next season but be in position next draft to get one of the top players in the best draft in a decade.

And then, maybe Noel will be playing — he has the most potential in this draft, 7-foot guys who run the court like a guard, can block shots and be a defensive force don’t grow on trees. It’s a good risk for Hinkie.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say that — my job doesn’t depend on Noel coming around and being a productive player in a few years.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.