PBT Mock Draft: With the No. 1 pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers select… Andrew Wiggins

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It’s more fun to write about drama. It’s more fun to say, “There is no consensus No. 1 pick, this could go any direction.”

Reality is, as long has been expected, Andrew Wiggins likely goes No. 1. Most scouts grade him out as the top prospect, only Joel Embiid’s back might change that. The real fun question becomes who goes next? And through the rest of the first round?

This is the first mock of the season at PBT — our draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld rightly believes you can’t really do a mock until you know the draft order. Now we do. So he has compiled a mock for Rotoworld and PBT.

The draft order will shift on team’s boards as they work guys out closer to the draft and our future mocks will reflect that. Also, per Isaacson, “Team needs were taken into account in a very broad way at this point, but these selections are based on who I believe each team will take, as of today.”

1) Cleveland – Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas

The top prospect in this class, Wiggins has a combination of skill and athleticism which will allow him to make an immediate impact in the Cavaliers’ lineup, while still having a lot of untapped potential to make him a strong pick at number 1. The combination of Kyrie Irving and Wiggins, with a hopefully improved Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, could give Cleveland a dominant scoring group.

2) Milwaukee – Jabari Parker, F, Duke

Ideally, Joel Embiid will be given a clean bill of health, and I would put him in this slot. However, until that happens, Parker becomes Milwaukee’s best option at number 2. Parker will give them an instant boost in scoring, and the ability to play him inside or out should give the coaching staff plenty of lineup options.

3) Philadelphia – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

Embiid’s health will be one of the most talked about aspects of this draft over the next month, and what teams are able to find out will help determine who is going to pick him. In this scenario, he falls to the 76ers and instantly gives the Sixers a dominant rim-protecting duo in Embiid and Nerlens Noel. It also gives them two very raw offensive players, though Embiid may be a bit further along.

source: Getty Images4) Orlando – Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State

The addition of Smart will not only give the Magic a much needed point guard presence (I am a non-believer in the Victor Oladipo, point guard campaign), but in combination with Oladipo, they will have a potentially very good defensive duo in the backcourt. Dante Exum may be the other option here, but I am not sold yet that he could be an NBA point guard, and taking him will likely keep the Oladipo experiment going. The Magic are much better off getting the point guard and defensive stopper in Smart.

5) Utah – Dante Exum, G, Australia

The lottery’s mystery man this year, Exum has good size and he is skilled for his age. He hasn’t really faced top-level competition and many teams will be getting a real close look at him for the first time in the coming weeks. As mentioned above, I’m not sold on Exum as a point guard, but he could become a solid complement next to last year’s first round pick, Trey Burke, in the Jazz backcourt, with the potential for maybe some short stints running the point.

[MORE — Ed Isaacson’s top underclassman of the 2014 NBA Draft]

6) Boston – Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana

Personally, I have Julius Randle rated higher than Vonleh, but with Jared Sullinger already in the fold and coming off a good season, the longer Vonleh would make more sense with this pick and he could play alongside Sullinger. Also, Vonleh’s ability to shoot from the perimeter would allow Sullinger to operate around the basket, where he is most comfortable.

7) Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle, F, Kentucky

The Lakers are looking at a complete rebuild during Kobe Bryant’s final years with the team, and while a higher pick could have secured their future a bit more, Randle has the ability to make an immediate impact next season. Randle is a strong post player who is very agile for his size, and he can be a terror on both the offensive and defensive boards. He won’t provide a very good defensive presence yet, but he will be a double-double threat from the get-go and a nice piece to start the Lakers’ rebuilding.

8) Sacramento – Doug McDermott, F, Creighton

This is a stretch in terms of where I have McDermott’s value, but Sacramento would be an ideal spot for him to bring his scoring strengths. He can provide a much needed consistent perimeter shooter, which would open up space for the ever-improving DeMarcus Cousins to operate in. Concerns about McDermott’s defensive ability have been blown out of proportion and he understands the game well enough to cover up his deficient areas.

9) Charlotte – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia

Big-bodied with still-developing skills, Nurkic could be the Hornets’ big man of the future. I wouldn’t expect him to come over right away, but with Al Jefferson’s contract up in a couple of years and Bismack Biyombo a continued disappointment, it may be tough for the Hornets to pass up on this opportunity that could pay off down the road.

10) Philadelphia – Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan

Having taken Joel Embiid at number 3, the 76ers can use the 10th pick to shore up the backcourt alongside Michael Carter-Williams. Stauskas will give the Sixers an immediate deep threat, while also giving them another playmaker in the backcourt.

source: Getty Images11) Denver – Rodney Hood, G/F, Duke

The Nuggets have some crowding at the shooting guard position, but Hood has the ability to slide over to the other wing and give them another long-range threat. He has great size and is very good running the floor, giving Ty Lawson another target in the open floor.

12) Orlando – Dario Saric, F, Croatia

The Magic shored up their backcourt with Marcus Smart at number 4, and they can look to add another strong offensive weapon in the highly-skilled Saric. While it isn’t known yet whether Saric will come to the NBA right away, he could be a very good addition to the Magic’s core group of young players in the near future.

13) Minnesota – Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona

Kevin Love is certain to find his way out of Minnesota at some point in the next year, and while Gordon isn’t really a replacement; he will provide an extremely athletic forward who can run the floor and rebound, as well as guard multiple positions. He still has a lot of work to do on the offensive end, but he will certainly bring a little excitement to the Timberwolves.

14) Phoenix – James Young, G, Kentucky

This season’s surprise NBA team, the Suns were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, and fell just shy of the playoffs. They may not be able to keep rising star Eric Bledsoe, who may command too much money, but Young will give a different type of presence to the backcourt. He has good size and should be a good shooter, though he needs to become much more consistent. He runs the floor well and should provide a nice complement to Goran Dragic in the Suns’ backcourt.

15) Atlanta – Gary Harris, G, Michigan State

I consider Harris to be the best shooting guard prospect in this class, but I can see teams looking at other options ahead of him, so he falls here to Atlanta. Harris will be able to provide some scoring and defense right away for the Hawks, but the real payoff could come long-term as he continues to hone his skills. Tremendous value if they can get him at number 15.

[MORE — Ed Isaacson’s Top 10 seniors in the 2014 NBA Draft]

16) Chicago – Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse

Ennis will help provide stability at the point guard position for the Bulls as Derrick Rose comes back from another knee injury. This to me is the Bulls playing it safe, though I rate Elfrid Payton ahead of him as a point guard prospect. Coach Tom Thibodeau should be able to help Ennis build his defensive ability, and his ability to protect the ball will work well in their offense.

source: Getty Images17) Boston – Elfrid Payton, G, Lousiana-Lafayette

Rajon Rondo’s career with the Celtics will end sooner rather than later, and Phil Pressey certainly isn’t the answer as his replacement. Payton will remind many of a young Rondo with his ability to rebound well for his size and a strong ability to get into the lane and create. He needs to work on becoming a more consistent shooter, but he will improve. Payton will also provide a strong defensive presence on the perimeter, which will make him very popular with coach Brad Stevens.

18) Phoenix – T.J. Warren, F, North Carolina State

With their second of three first-round picks, the Suns can elect to add another offensive weapon in Warren, one of the NCAA’s top scorers this past season. Warren loves to find holes in the defense to get his shot and he will find plenty of them with Dragic at the point. He is also able to seek out mismatches when he is a smaller defender on him, setting up in the low or mid-post area for a quick shot.

19) Chicago – Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State

Payne will give Chicago a strong inside-outside scoring presence with very good size and the underrated athletic ability. Payne showed steady improvement throughout his college career and while his ceiling may not be much higher, he is ready to contribute from Day One for a Bulls team that needs scoring.

20) Toronto – K.J. McDaniels, F, Clemson

McDaniels is one of the more underrated players in this draft class, and he could end up being a steal for the Raptors here. He will provide a tremendous defensive presence on the wing for a team that really needs it. McDaniels is also a strong slasher and rebounder, as well as an improving shooter. I have him slotted here now, but by the draft, he could be bordering on being a lottery pick.

source: Getty Images21) Oklahoma City – Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA

Anderson is the toughest player to project in this class with his unique skill set. He has high level vision and passing skills to go along with an improving jumper, but at 6’9, he will be playing at the forward position. What he does provide coaches with is the ability to mix and match lineups and to find him spots on the floor where he can be most effective. I ‘m not sure anyone knows who he will defend in the NBA, but his skills are tough to pass up at number 21.

22) Memphis – Clint Capela, F, Switzerland

The Grizzlies may have just a year or two left with the current core, but there aren’t likely to be any college players who bowl them over in this spot, so Capela could be a good future piece when the team looks to replace player in a year or two. He has very good size and athletic ability, though he needs time to continue to develop his skills and toughness.

23) Utah – Glenn Robinson III, F, Michigan

The Jazz added some talent to their backcourt at #5 with Dante Exum, and now they can add some potential scoring and athleticism at the wing with Robinson. While he didn’t take the step forward that many expected last season, Robinson is still developing as a player and worth a shot at number 23. Also, Robinson should have an added comfort level being reunited with his old Michigan teammate, Trey Burke.

24) Charlotte – Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse

Taking Nurkic at number 9 was a step towards securing Charlotte’s future in the frontcourt, but adding Grant should pay off some quicker dividends. Grant’s skills may still be developing, but he is a high-level athlete who should help on defense and on the boards fairly quickly. If he can develop his offensive skills well, he will be a nightmare match-up for many defenders.

25) Houston – P.J. Hairston, G, Texas Legends

He may not have played for the Rockets’ D-League team last season, but the team does know the value of players developing there, and with Hairston they get a player who is already adjusted to spending time in the D-League, but he also has some very good long-term potential. The Rockets’ offense can never have enough shooters and Hairston is a very good one. He could be make an impact by the end of year one if given a chance.

26) Miami – Zach LaVine, G, UCLA

LaVine may be one of the most polarizing picks in this year’s draft. Some see his elite athleticism and see a huge future. Others, like me, see an AAU player who happens to be out of high school now. There’s no doubting that there is potential in LaVine, it’s just very far off. Miami would be a nice place for him to develop long-term, and there’s no real risk taking him at this point of the 1st round.

27) Phoenix – Kriztaps Porzingis, PF/C, Latvia

This is the Suns’ third first-round pick and a great place for them to take a chance on a draft-and-stash candidate with big potential. Long and athletic, Porzingis’ skill is developing rapidly and he can be ready in two years to come over and give the Suns some added depth to their frontcourt.

28) Los Angeles Clippers – Jordan Adams, G, UCLA

The third player from UCLA taken in this first round, Adams is the best scorer in the group with the type of game that will allow him to get plenty of points at the NBA level. He loves to operate in the mid-range area, but he has the skill to post up smaller guards and get easy buckets. He’s improving as a long-range shooter and the Clippers don’t need to rush his development.

29) Oklahoma City – Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut

Russell Westbrook isn’t going anywhere, but the Thunder may not be able to hold on to Reggie Jackson long-term, so they can get a solid back-up in Napier who will be able to step in and take the role on quickly, if necessary. Napier is a winner and should fit easily in with the Thunder’s culture.

30) San Antonio – Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Colorado

The Spurs can really go in many directions here, but the first idea that popped into my head was taking a chance on the injured Dinwiddie. He should be recovered from his knee injury by the start of next season, but the Spurs won’t need to rush him into action. He can give them a big guard with some point guard abilities who can get to the basket easily against smaller defenders.

2017 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Is Josh Jackson a better prospect than Lonzo Ball?

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Josh Jackson, at this point, seems to be the consensus best prospect not named Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball.

He’s 6-foot-8. He’s super-athletic. He’s competitive as hell. He’s skilled enough to play the point in a pinch and tough enough that he played the four at Kansas. On paper, he’s Andrew Wiggins physically with all the intangibles that we wish Wiggins had.

Then there’s the other side of it.

Jackson’s jump shot, which went in at a 37.8 percent clip from beyond the arc last season, has enough of a hitch in it that there is legitimate concern about just how good of a shooter he’ll end up being without a complete overhaul of his stroke. There’s also the mental side of the game: Jackson’s an instinctual playmaker that has a bad habit of being a space cadet defensively.

I’m not here to tell you those red flags don’t exist. They do. He has room to grow there.

But I am here to tell you that Josh Jackson is closer to being the best prospect in this draft than the third-best, and by the time I’m done here, you’ll be agreeing with me.

Height: 6’8″
Weight: 207
Wingspan: 6’10”
2016-17 Stats: 16.3 points, 7.4 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, 37.8% 3PT

STRENGTHS: The reason that Jackson is so coveted as a prospect are the things that he does that you cannot teach.

It starts with his competitiveness. Jackson is a fiery, he’s intense and it manifests itself in the way that he plays, almost to a fault; Jackson picked up four fouls in 11 of 35 games as a freshman and picked up a handful of technical fouls after interactions with officials. There’s also a toughness to him that outweighs his 207 pound frame. He’s not afraid to get into tangles for loose balls, he’s not going to get backed down easily and he’s more than willing to put his body on the line to take a charge. Simply put: I’d rather try to keep the reins on a player that may care just a little too much than have to find a way to fire up an apathetic talent.

Then there are the physical tools. Athletically, he’s a bouncy, quick-twitch player that can move laterally with terrific body control and the ability to changes speeds on the move. He’s quick enough to stay in front of point guards and explosive enough to block shots, catch lobs and throw down tip-dunks, and his 6-foot-8 size allows him to be a versatile, multi-positional defender. I hesitate on saying he has a elite physical tools due to his wingspan and frame, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Lastly, there are his instincts. He’s a read-and-react player, a guy that can make plays defensively by jumping passing lanes, getting weak-side blocks and taking charges. He has a knack for getting easy buckets cutting to the rim and is aggressive on the glass on both ends of the floor.

Those are things that cannot be taught. You either have it in you or you don’t, and Jackson has it.

He also has some skills. We’ll get into the issues with his jump shot in a minute, but Jackson did make 37.8 percent of his threes as a freshman, including a 25-for-52 stretch to close the season. He utilizes ball-fakes and has a good enough first step to attack close outs, and while he isn’t the best or most creative finisher at the rim, he is capable of using both hands and has shown that he can make a floater.

Josh Jackson (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

What’s more promising, however, is that Jackson has the potential to be a secondary ball-handler and creator. He has above-average vision and is an unselfish player and willing passer, averaging 3.0 assists as a freshman. He can operate in pick-and-rolls and is capable of bringing the ball up against pressure.

He’s still raw offensively — he makes some bad decisions, commits some turnovers — and, at times, looks like he hasn’t been coached all that much defensively, but the skills he does have combined with the things he does that cannot be taught are a fantastic foundation for an NBA organization to work with.

In a sport that is becoming increasingly positionless, Jackson provides starpower potential with versatility on both ends of the floor.

WEAKNESSES: The biggest issue with Jackson as a prospect is his jump shot. Yes, he shot 37.8 percent from beyond the arc, but it’s hard to tell whether or not that’s just the result of Jackson getting hot in a small sample of catch-and-shoot jumpers.

According to Synergy, Jackson shot just 57 percent from the free throw line, 35.9 percent on all jump shots, 32.3 percent on jumpers off the dribble and just 20.8 percent on two-point jumpers. The main concern is that Jackson has a hitch in his release that creates a lot of moving parts in his stroke, resulting in different release points. You can see it in the video below, there is a slingshot action in his release:

The question marks surrounding Jackson’s jumper sink his stock because, despite his height, he doesn’t project as a guy that can play the small-ball four role in the NBA the way that he did at Kansas. Jackson’s 6-foot-10 wingspan is relatively short — for comparison’s sake, Draymond Green has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and Kawhi Leonard has a 7-foot-3 wingspan — and his slender frame makes it hard to project just how much more muscle mass his body can hold.

Put another way, Jackson can guard twos and threes — and potentially ones — at the next level, but he’s not guarding fours. He’s going to be playing a position where he either needs to be an knockdown shooter or capable of creating in isolation in the half court, and Jackson scored just 0.609 points per possession in isolation as a freshman, the 23rd percentile, despite being guarded predominantly by college four-men on a team with three three-point snipers around him.

It begs the question: Is he ever going to be great at anything on the offensive end of the floor?

And that’s before you factor in that he turned 20 years old in February; he’s older than one-and-done freshmen drafted in 2016.

The other issue you’ll hear mentioned with Jackson is that he has bad habits defensively and he gets beaten on the dribble more easily than you would expect from someone with his athleticism. The bad habits — specifically, the tendency to lose focus on who he is guarding — seems to me to be a result of Jackson trying a little too hard to be a playmaker off the ball, and getting beaten off the dribble has a lot to do with his overactive, choppy feet.

Neither are all that concerning to me, particularly when you factor in his intangibles on that end of the floor. Those issues can be coached away, and there’s not better place for that to happen than in the NBA.

NBA COMPARISON: The easy — and lazy — comparison to make is Andrew Wiggins, who is another 6-foot-8, freakishly-athletic small forward to come out of Kansas, and it’s not the worst comparison I’ve ever seen. The two have similar physical tools and question marks about their jump shots. The problem with that comparison, however, is that the things that make Jackson so intriguing are precisely the skills that Wiggins struggles with.

Jackson is a tough, versatile defender and a fiery competitor that is well-rounded offensively: unselfish with promising court vision and a knack for making instinctual, read-and-react plays. His ceiling is as a player that can average more than 20 points, act as a secondary ball-handler and play maker while potentially being a shutdown defender for twos and threes. Andre Igoudala, before he landed with Golden State and turned into a role player in the twilight of his career, had a seven-year stretch where he averaged 12 points, five boards, five assists and 1.5 steals, scoring more than 17 points per game in four of those seasons.

OUTLOOK: The way I see it, Josh Jackson is the the second-best prospect in this draft. I’d draft him over Lonzo Ball, and I think the gap between Markelle Fultz and Josh Jackson is smaller than the gap between Josh Jackson and Ball, who would be third on my draft board.

Jackson has some issues that need fixing — his jump shot, his tendency to be a space cadet defensively — and there are some valid concerns about his age and the fact that his slender frame may not be able to hold all that much more weight, but those issues are coachable. What isn’t coachable, however, is his competitiveness, his intensity, his unselfishness, his instincts and his ability to read the game and be a playmaker, both offensively and defensively.

He’s a gifted athlete that is going to fight — quite possibly in the literal sense — for the team that he’s on. If he puts in the time to develop his jumper, his body and his focus on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could average 25 points, five boards and five assists as a shutdown wing defender.

Warriors, Cavaliers meeting in most star-studded NBA Finals ever

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Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson – the 2017 NBA Finals will be oozing with stars.

Seven All-Stars appearing in the Finals the same year is tied for the most ever with 1983 (76ers: Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks; Lakers: Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and 1962 (Celtics: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn; Lakers: Elgin Baylor, Frank Selvy, Jerry West).

But there were 24 All-Stars and 23 teams in 1983 and 24 All-Stars and nine teams in 1962. This year, there were 25 All-Stars and 30 teams – a ratio that makes this year’s feat more impressive.

To account for these differences, I’ve used All-Stars above average – the number of All-Stars in the Finals relative to the number of All-Stars for two average teams that year. For example, the average team had 0.83 All-Stars this year. So, an average matchup of two teams would feature 1.67 All-Stars. The 2017 Finals have seven All-Stars – a difference of 5.33.

Here are the All-Stars above average for every Finals since the NBA instituted an All-Star game:

image

Here are breakdowns of the Finals with the most All-Stars above average:

2017: Warriors-Cavaliers

All-Stars: 7

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 5.33

Warriors

Stephen Curry

Kevin Durant

Draymond Green

Klay Thompson

Cavaliers

LeBron James

Kyrie Irving

Kevin Love

1983 76ers 4, Lakers 0

All-Stars: 7

All-Stars per team: 1.04

All-Stars above average: 4.91

76ers

Andrew Toney

Moses Malone

Julius Erving

Maurice Cheeks

Lakers

Magic Johnson

Jamaal Wilkes

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

1987 Lakers 4, Celtics 2

All-Stars: 6

All-Stars per team: 1.09

All-Stars above average: 3.83

Lakers

Magic Johnson

James Worthy

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Celtics

Larry Bird

Kevin McHale

Robert Parish

2013 Heat 4, Spurs 3

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 3.33

Heat

Chris Bosh

LeBron James

Dwyane Wade

Spurs

Tony Parker

Tim Duncan

2012 Heat 4, Thunder 1

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 3.33

Heat

LeBron James

Dwyane Wade

Chris Bosh

Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant

2009 Lakers 4, Magic 1

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.87

All-Stars above average: 3.27

Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Magic

Jameer Nelson

Rashard Lewis

Dwight Howard

2010 Lakers 4, Celtics 3

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.93

All-Stars above average: 3.13

Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Celtics

Paul Pierce

Rajon Rondo

Kevin Garnett

If you’re wondering about the below-average outliers:

Washington Bullets forward Elvin Hayes was the only All-Star in the Bullets’ 4-3 win over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1978, when there were 23 All-Stars and 22 teams.

There were four All-Stars in the 1965 Finals: Sam Jones, Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn for the victorious Celtics and Jerry West for the Lakers, who lost in five. Yet, that was still below average in a league with nine teams and 21 All-Stars.

That’s why it’s important to consider the NBA’s changing landscape – which leads to even more appreciation for the caliber of players in this year’s Finals.

Of course, current All-Star status is not the only measure of stardom. The NBA’s best player should count more than the league’s 12th-best player in the lesser conference.

But these Finals would hold up by any measure. They feature winners of the last five MVPs (Curry, Durant, LeBron) and the consensus best player in the world (LeBron).

Cavaliers-Warriors III will truly feature a special collection of talent.

Adrian Wojnarowski: Clippers, not Spurs, ‘pretty overwhelming favorite’ for Chris Paul

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Both the Clippers and Spurs are reportedly taking seriously the idea that Chris Paul could sign with San Antonio this summer.

Is Paul bolting L.A. for the Spurs realistic?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on CBS Sports Radio:

Not that I see. I don’t know where that came from, and I’ve spent a lot of time around the Spurs this spring. They would have to just tear up that entire payroll. It’s almost unlike anything the Spurs would have done or would do to. To even have a chance at him, they’d have to really gut the roster. And to do that for a 30-plus-year-old point guard, who has a couple great years left, there’s no question – I think there’s more pressure on the Clippers to have to re-sign him than for the Spurs to turn their whole franchise over to make a run at him. Listen, Chris Paul, financially, the difference with him being able to stay in L.A. and get paid, I’d still have a hard time imaging him leaving there. There’s so much money for him to be made. And in that Los Angeles market, in terms of his marketing endorsements, I still think they’re a pretty overwhelming favorite to re-sign him.

The Clippers can offer Paul a projected $205 million over five years. Because they have his Bird Rights, they don’t need cap space to re-sign him.

The Spurs’ max offer to Paul projects to be $152 million over four years, but they’d need major moves to clear enough cap room to do that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, they’d still need to dump two of those players.

It’s obviously a lot for San Antonio to overcome.

But it’s not so far outside the Spurs’ norm. To sign LaMarcus Aldridge two years ago, they traded Tiago Splitter (to Hawks) and let Cory Joseph (Raptors), Aron Baynes (Pistons), Marco Belinelli (Kings) walk in free agency.

Paul is probably more valuable than the players San Antonio would have to shed this time around, though his age and the Spurs’ loyalty to Parker raise questions. Would they rather dump an injured and declining Parker or a productive player like Green or Aldridge? (Gasol, who has spent only one year in San Antonio and might even be convinced to opt out, is the most likely to go.)

The Clippers should be favored to sign Paul. But I wouldn’t completely rule out the Spurs.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.