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PBT Extra: PBT does its own Rising Stars Challenge draft; plus Wednesday’s recaps

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The NBA announced the field for the Rising Stars Challenge, but the teams won’t be selected until next week. A sucker for any opportunity to hold a mock draft, I enlisted Kurt into holding our own.

We followed the same positional rules whoever picks the teams on TNT next Thursday – the general managers have yet to be announced – will follow. Within each of our first seven picks, we must each pick three backcourt players (B) and three frontcourt players (F), with flex players (X) counting for either requirement.

The real drafters won’t pick the final four players, who will be randomly assigned to teams so nobody gets the indignity of being the last choice. That’s probably the right move for the NBA, but we’re not quite as concerned with sparing feelings. So, we draft our full teams.

I won the coin toss to pick first, so here we go.

1. Team Feldman: Anthony Davis (F, New Orleans)

Davis is definitely the best first- or  second-year player in the league. The only consideration I gave to someone else here was Damian Lillard, because I still would have been guaranteed Davis or Andre Drummond at No 3.

2. Team Helin: Damian Lillard (B, Portland)

These kinds of no-D exhibitions are won by the best guards, so I’ll take the best guard thank you very much. I then tell my coach to wear him out before the actual All-Star Game.

3. Team Feldman: Andre Drummond (F, Detroit)

Easiest pick of the draft. The top three are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else, the only first- or second-year players with a chance of making the big-boy All-Star game.

4. Team Helin: Bradley Beal (B, Washington)

Now that I’ve got a point guard, let’s give him a shooter to go next to him. You can have all the big men you want Dan, my team will just rain threes over the top of them.

5. Team Feldman: Terrence Jones (F, Houston)

Remember when there was question which forward position would fit Jones best in the NBA? Jones has settled in at power forward, but he’s also developed 3-point range, so he’ll be playing small forward for my team.

6. Team Helin: Steven Adams (F, Oklahoma City)

Yes he is a quality big and I need some size in the lineup. More importantly, I need the karma of the entire nation of New Zealand pulling for my team.

7. Team Feldman: Michael Carter-Williams (B, Philadelphia)

I’m thrilled Carter-Williams slipped this far, because his speed and athleticism will be huge in this game. He’s just the playmaker I need to get Davis and Drummond going.

8. Team Helin: Giannis Antetokounmpo (X, Milwaukee)

We’re going to run and we’re going to turn the Greek Freak loose (honestly, he is my sleeper game MVP candidate, at the least he should have a crazy dunk in this game).

9. Team Feldman: Trey Burke (B, Utah)

Looks like I’ll be compensating for missing the game’s best point guard by starting two point guards. Their ability initiate the offense from both sides of the floor will help feed Davis and Drummond inside.

10. Team Helin: Jared Sullinger (F, Boston)

Just crash the offensive glass Jared, I’m asking nothing else of you. Nobody wants to do the dirty work this game, you get inside and the glass will be yours.

11. Team Feldman: Jonas Valanciunas (F, Toronto)

I don’t really need Valanciunas, but because Drummond can sometimes get fatigued in bigger roles, Valanciunas provides nice depth. Plus, this keeps one of the league’s more underrated bigs off Kurt’s team.

12. Team Helin: Victor Oladipo (B, Orlando)

Yes, he was a mess to start the season, but in his last five games he’s averaged 17.2 points a game and is shooting 42.9 percent from three in that time. He’s figured it out, just in time for my purposes.

13. Team Feldman: Harrison Barnes (X, Golden State)

Needing a backcourt-qualifying player to fulfill the requirement, I’ll happily snag Barnes, who’s the best (only) true small forward in the game. That position is a real weak spot for the league’s youngest players. He might even start for me with Jones coming off the bench.

14. Team Helin: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (X, New York)

I know which way the league is trending so yes, I’ll take another athletic guard who can run the floor and knock down the three. Plus, I just want to see the joy on his face of not being coached by Mike Woodson for a game.

15. Team Feldman: Mason Plumlee (F, Brooklyn)

I really wanted the sharpshooting Hardaway, who would have given my team a much-needed floor spacer. Instead, I’ll just take the best player available, even if he’ll likely get buried on my bench.

16. Team Helin: Kelly Olynyk (F, Boston)

He’s been up and down this season (he is a rookie) but he runs the court well and can finish some putbacks off Lillard’s PUJITs.

17. Team Feldman: Pero Antic (F, Atlanta)

This is a bit of a strategic pick. Antic is out with an injury that could keep him sidelined through the All-Star break. If he can’t play, I’ll happily take one of the many players snubbed for this game who would have gone much higher in the draft – John Henson or Miles Plumlee, or, if I have to replace a rookie with a rookie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Ben McLemore.

18. Team Helin: Dion Waiters (B, Cleveland)

What does it say about a guy that can shoot the rock — 37 percent from three this season — that he went dead last in a this draft, for an exhibition that should play to his strengths? I just hope he doesn’t ruin the chemistry on my imaginary team and cost me the imaginary game.

Here are the final rosters:

Team Feldman

  • F: Andre Drummond (Detroit)
  • F: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
  • F: Terrence Jones (Houston)
  • B: Trey Burke (Utah)
  • B: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
  • X: Harrison Barnes (Golden State)
  • F: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)
  • F: Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
  • F: Pero Antic (Atlanta)

Team Helin

  • F: Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
  • F: Jared Sullinger (Boston)
  • X: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
  • B: Bradley Beal (Washington)
  • F: Damian Lillard (Portland)
  • B: Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
  • X: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (New York)
  • F: Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
  • B: Dion Waiters (Cleveland)

Which squad would win?

-Dan Feldman

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Raptors 98, Magic 83: Kyle Lowry continued his assault on coaches voting for All-Star reserves with his second consecutive performance where he scored at least 30 points. It was 33 and 11 assists in this one, in a game that was essentially decided in the first 12 minutes. Toronto got out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, and won the rest of the game by just two points in what was an even contest over the final three periods. Nik Vucevic led the Magic with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort. — Brett Pollakoff

Sixers 95, Celtics 94: No tanking here, as this game between two lottery teams in the East came down to the final possession. Evan Turner hit the game-winner as the buzzer sounded, a tough shot through contact that gave the Sixers the victory. Five Sixers finished in double figures, while Jared Sullinger did the heavy lifting for Boston, finishing with 24 points (on 9-of-25 shooting) to go along with 17 rebounds. — BP

Suns 126, Bucks 117: A win is a win, obviously, but the Suns have evolved to the point where they’re a solid playoff contender in the Western Conference. That means that a Bucks team that’s one of the league’s worst shouldn’t be allowed to score 117 points, but the victory will stand and Jeff Hornacek will be able to use it as a teaching tool moving forward. Goran Dragic continued his strong play that may have him in line for a spot on the All-Star squad with 30 points on just 13 shots, to go along with six assists. — BP

Timberwolves 88, Pelicans 77: Anthony Davis didn’t play in this one after suffering a dislocated finger in his last outing, and the result was a complete implosion on the part of the Pelicans. New Orleans couldn’t reach even 20 points in three of the game’s four periods, and while Minnesota didn’t exactly light it up offensively, a low-scoring affair like this one meant that Kevin Love’s often hollow numbers carried much more value than usual. Love led all scorers with 30 points, to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists. — BP

Pistons – Hawks: POSTPONED, due to severe weather in the Atlanta area. The game will be rescheduled at a later date. — BP

Thunder 112, Heat 95: Miami raced out to an 18-point first quarter lead, but when the Oklahoma City bench came in and the team went small everything changed — the Thunder got easy baskets in transition, Jeremy Lamb was knocking down threes and their defense improved. The big surprise was that Scott Brooks stuck with what works and didn’t stay loyal to Kendrick Perkins (who Brooks has stuck with as a starter despite what both the numbers and the eye test tell everyone) and benched him for the second half to starter Perry Jones. The result was another Thunder run, 9-0 right at the start of the second half, and the game was over. Mostly it was over because Kevin Durant caught fire on his way to 33 points (that makes 12 straight over 30). We broke the game down in more detail here. –Kurt Helin

Rockets 117, Mavericks 115: Dallas had their chances in this one, they had shaved that 12-point fourth quarter lead down to two then Jose Calderon — who is shooting 45 percent from three this season — got two looks at a game winner from beyond the arc and missed both. This was an up-tempo shootout which favors Houston and the Rockets got 26 from Chandler Parsons, 21 points from Dwight Howard and 18 from Jeremy Lin. Dirk Nowitzki dropped 38 in a losing effort but simply could not lift the team over the hump. –KH

Bobcats 101, Nuggets 98: From the start the Bobcats were getting the ball into Al Jefferson and letting him go to work on J.J. Hickson — and the Nuggets left Hickson largely on an island. They didn’t double much at all. The result was an early 20-5 Bobcats run. Timofey Mozgov came in and he didn’t fare much better, by the end Jefferson continued his hot play of late with 35 points. Denver came back to take a small lead again — thanks to 33 from Randy Foye — and the fourth quarter was tight, but Charlotte got 11 points from Jefferson in the fourth and had a late 8-2 run to get the win. –KH

Bulls 96, Spurs 86: It was a game of big sweeping runs for the better part of three quarters, both teams led for a while, but the Bulls started to pull away with a 14-3 late third quarter run then Kirk Hinrich’s 11 points in the fourth held off the depleted Spurs. San Antonio also had an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers against the stout Bulls defense. Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, 12 rebounds) led the Bulls. –KH

Grizzlies 99, Kings 89: In a battle of the point guards Mike Conley owned the second half and was able to lift his Memphis team to the win. Conley had 20 of his 27 points in the second half plus had 10 assists, while the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas finished with 24 points and 5 assists. This is five straight losses for the Kings who did get Rudy Gay back in the lineup (23 points) but that wasn’t enough — the Kings’ defense couldn’t slow Memphis, which shot 54.7 percent on the night. –KH

Clippers 110, Wizards 103: The Clippers were aggressive — Blake Griffin had 29 points on 20 shots and took 15 of those in the paint (hitting 10), plus the Clippers as a team got to the free throw line 42 times as they attacked inside. Those free throws include an effort late in the game, with the Clippers up three, to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan (hack-the-DJ, which has a nice Smiths ring to it) but he drained all four of his free throws. In between Bradley Beal, an 80 percent free throw shooter, missed both of his. Jamal Crawford had 21 for the Clippers, J.J. Redick 20. Beal led the Wizards with 20. –KH

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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