Injury, risk reasons Nerlens Noel fell down draft board

24 Comments

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.

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

Getty Images
1 Comment

Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

Associated Press
4 Comments

Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

Getty Images
Leave a comment

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

4 Comments

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.