State Farm Champions Classic - Duke v Kansas

Should the Cavaliers draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker No. 1 now?

23 Comments

Joel Embiid had it all – size, skills, athleticism and upside.

Unfortunately, it’s never that easy in Cleveland.

With Embiid injured, the Cavaliers’ options for the No. 1 pick likely come down to Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

They could always take a flier on Dante Exum, or given how they’ve operated the last couple years, someone like Aaron Gordon. Maybe they could even still draft Embiid.

But all logic says Wiggins and Parker are the only two reasonable candidates, and the sudden shakeup makes the debate between the two – once with the No. 2 pick on the line – all the more intriguing.

It’s been easy for top-selecting teams to hide behind positional need to justify their selections. Players of the same position haven’t gone 1-2 in the draft in eight years, since the Raptors took PF Andrea Bargnani No. 1 and PF LaMarcus Aldridge followed at No. 2 in 2006.

Wiggins and Parker are heavy favorites to end that trend with the Bucks taking the one the Cavs don’t. Though Wiggins falls more toward a 2/3 and Parker a 3/4, both are essentially small forwards.

Here’s how the major sites rank them right now:

Site Wiggins Parker
DraftExpress 2 3
ESPN 1 2
CBS 1 2
SB Nation 1 2
nbadraft.net 3 2

Wiggins definitely holds a perceived edge. He possesses elite athletic traits – from his lengthy wingspan to his ridiculous vertical. He must become more aggressive and a better ball-handler to capitalize offensively, but his defense – while it comes and goes – looks excellent at times.

Parker can score from anywhere on the court, and he has the dribbling ability to get anywhere. He’s a willing passer with as diverse of an offensive skillset as you’ll find in a one-and-done player. His lack of lateral quickness leaves him a limited defender, though.

If you notice, there’s no discussion of fit here. For one, Wiggins and Parker share similar enough profiles.

More importantly, it doesn’t matter.

The Cavaliers won 33 games last year. They should not worry about how a player fits into a roster that should change significantly.

Only Kyrie Irving would make me even hesitate about positional overlap, but if the best prospect were a point guard, I’d still probably pick him and roll with two-point guard lineups – an underutilized weapon – and sort it out later. Conveniently for Cleveland, the only point guard even in the periphery of the discussion, Exum, could easily play the two.

In terms of what they bring to any team, looking at a player’s track record is a great place to start.

With minimal room to argue, Parker was better in college last season. He made every major All-American first team while Wiggins made all the second teams.

Even if we knew Parker was more likely than Wiggins to become the better player, that alone wouldn’t make Parker the clearly better draft choice.

If Wiggins has a higher ceiling – even with lower odds of reaching it – that matters. Superstars drive the NBA, and it might be better to swing at the fences for one rather than taking the dependable line-drive double.

I’m just not convinced that line of thinking matters in this case.

Why is everyone so convinced a 19-year-old Parker is so much more of a finished product than a 19-year-old Wiggins?

Wiggins entered school as the consensus No. 1 pick, and though we have 35 more games to analyze, I believe that label still colors perception of Wiggins. People look for reasons to justify his early project as No. 1 pick. Parker, an elite prospect coming out of high school himself, doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt.

Nothing indicates potential more than age, and less than a month separates the two. Wiggins’ athleticism give him an upside advantage, but without an age discrepancy also significantly in his favor, Wiggins’ upside advantage has been overstated.

That’s evident in the statistical ratings produced by Kevin Pelton of ESPN, the foremost public statistical draft ratings now that John Hollinger works for the Grizzlies. Pelton’ system features age prominently – in addition to pre-NBA production – in the equation.

And that’s why drafting Wiggins No. 1 is so unnerving. I might do it, but it would scare me.

He ranks just No. 22 in Pelton’s rating (Wins Above Replacement Player, aka WARP), which would make Wiggins the lowest-ranked No. 1 pick in the eight years for which Pelton has revealed data.

Year No. 1 pick WARP rank
2013 Anthony Bennett 13
2012 Anthony Davis 1
2011 Kyrie Irving 2
2010 John Wall 10
2009 Blake Griffin 3
2008 Derrick Rose 9
2007 Greg Oden 2

I’m always most comfortable when the analytics match my eye test.

It’s not about taking the player statistics rate No. 1 – Marcus Smart for Pelton this year, by the way. It’s  about using all methods of evaluation to reach a conclusion.

Like Wiggins, Parker passes the eye test, though perhaps not as effortlessly. But Parker ranks No. 7 in Pelton’s system, substantially higher than Wiggins.

That’s the case in other statistical models. Counting The Baskets places Parker No. 3 and Wiggins No. 19. Jacob Frankel has Parker No. 6 and Wiggins No. 13. Layne Vashro put Parker No. 8 and Wiggins No. 10, and Basketball Analytics ranks Parker No. 1 and Wiggins No. 3, but going by score rather than rank shows pretty substantial gaps between Parker and Wiggins in those two formulas.

Still, that some analytical methods place Wiggins so high certainly eases some of the worry of drafting him.

Simply, it’s an intriguing debate.

My gut says Wiggins. My head says Parker.

I’ve tried to train myself to follow my head over my gut – and usually I do – but it’s not easy. Wiggins is so tempting.

If I were the Cavaliers, I’d take Parker No. 1 and never look back look back constantly in fear of Wiggins becoming the better pro.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
3 Comments

The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
1 Comment

2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.