PBT’s final mock draft: Wiggins, then Parker, then it gets nuts

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This is maybe the most unpredictable NBA Draft of the last 10 years. A lot of players on the same tier talent wise, disagreements among scouts on just how good particular players can be, and finally there will be trades. Maybe many, many trades.

Still, we’ll try to predict it.

PBT’s NBA Draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld has his final mock draft out on the day of the draft. Here’s how we see it breaking down.

FIRST ROUND

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
Parker will give the Bucks an instant boost in scoring, and the ability to play him inside or out should give the coaching staff plenty of lineup options. The attention he will receive from defenses should allow some of Milwaukee’s other young players to have the space they need to score themselves, and they have enough long basket protectors to hide Parker on defense.

3) Philadelphia – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Since the last mock draft, a foot injury was also uncovered, and I still believe the Sixers will roll the dice on Embiid. I’ve mentioned before that offensively, he and Nerlens Noel are different enough that they could complement each other, and they would form an imposing defensive duo. Plus, the return of a healthy Noel with Embiid out will give Noel time to develop his game on the court aside from being with another big man, and allow Embiid to take his time getting healthy.

4) Orlando – Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana
I had Marcus Smart here through the first two mock drafts, but think Vonleh’s potential and size could win out in the end. It helps that has the Magic have a solid core of young players, including frontcourt players, who can ease the transition on Vonleh, though he could help in some areas right away. Smart or Dante Exum could still be in play here, but the Magic can fill the guard needs a little later.

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.

6) Boston – Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
As Boston continues to rebuild, it’s a smart idea to find the eventual successor to Rajon Rondo at point guard and Smart seems to be a perfect fit for coach Brad Stevens, as well as having an ability to slide to the 2 to play alongside Rondo as needed. Smart’s ability to defend will get him plenty of time early, and his offensive game should adjust fairly well to the NBA, as long as he refrains from taking some of the bad shots he did in college.

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 give 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 – Rodney Hood, G/F, Duke
Hood will give the Hornets some much needed size on the wing, to go along with strong shooting ability and athleticism. The big key to getting the real value from this pick will be Hood buying into coach Steve Clifford’s defensive mindset and putting in the effort to improve.

10) Philadelphia – Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan
Having taken Embiid at number 3, the Sixers can still improve their backcourt here with Stauskas, a tremendous perimeter shooter and a good enough ballhandler to help take some of the point guard pressure off Michael Carter-Williams. The threat from three-point range is the key, and Stauskas’ ability to stretch the floor will help everyone else on the floor with him.

11) Denver – Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Saric has to spend two more years over in Europe, but he is a highly-skilled offensive player who will fit into many different roles. With no real glaring needs heading into next season, it’s easy for the Nuggets to roll the dice on Saric and wait two years for the possible payoff.

12) Orlando – Elfrid Payton, G, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Magic shored up their frontcourt with Noah Vonleh at number 4, and they can still address their need at point guard with Payton. He’s a strong defender, rebounder and distributor, and though he needs to improve as a perimeter shooter, he has a great ability to put pressure on defenses with his penetration ability. In a few years, a Payton-Oladipo backcourt could be one of best young ones in the league.

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 – Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
This season’s surprise NBA team, the Suns were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, and fell just shy of the playoffs. The status of Eric Bledsoe returning to the team is unknown, so Harris could immediately step in and provide a versatile scorer in the backcourt who can run the floor and defend well.

15) Atlanta – 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 is the ability to mix and match lineups to find him spots on the floor where he can be most effective. To get the most out of Anderson, a coach who is willing to think outside of the box is needed, and Mike Budenholzer could be that coach.

16) Chicago – Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut
Napier will help provide stability at the point guard position for the Bulls as Derrick Rose comes back from another knee injury. A strong leader, Napier could take total control of the team’s second unit and his ability to defend should be very appealing to coach Tom Thibodeau, plus he has shown he can score when needed.

17) Boston – James Young, G, Kentucky
The Celtics drafted their point guard of the future in Marcus Smart earlier and now they can address a need on the wing with the athletic, but raw, Young. He has shown, at times, that he can shoot as well as get to the basket, but doesn’t do either one consistently enough to be effective. Also, he isn’t a very good defender, but hopefully coach Stevens will help him there.

18) Phoenix – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
With the second of their three first round picks, the Suns could take a shot at the big-bodied Nurkic, who at 6’11, 280 pounds, already has NBA size. Nurkic is still developing on both offense and defense, but he moves very well for his size, and in a few years, he could give the Suns an intriguing option in the middle

19) Chicago – TJ Warren, F, North Carolina State
With their second first-round pick, the Bulls can address a need for scoring with one of the college’s best in Warren. He loves to find holes in the defense to get his shot and a healthy Derrick Rose should create many for him. He is also able to seek out mismatches when he has a smaller defender on him, setting up in the low or mid-post area for a quick shot. Long-range shooting still needs to be worked on, but he will put up points quickly regardless.

20) Toronto – Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse
Kyle Lowry may be on his way out of Toronto and the Raptors may be able to get their point guard of the future in Toronto-native Ennis. Ennis will bring a steady influence to the point position, and he showed in his one year of college that he doesn’t shy from big moments. Whether he can guard at the NBA level will be a big question going forward.

21) Oklahoma City – Glenn Robinson III, F, Michigan
The first of two first-round picks, the Thunder could add some depth to their bench, with the son of a former number 1 overall pick. He didn’t seem to take the step forward many expected this past season, but he still has a good mix of skill, athleticism and upside to make this a pick worth making at this point.

22) Memphis – Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State
Payne will give Memphis 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 Grizzlies team that may not have Zach Randolph next season.

23) Utah – PJ Hairston, G, Texas Legends
The Jazz added some talent to their backcourt at #5 with Dante Exum, and now they can add some strong shooting at the wing with Hairston. He showed great scoring ability in his D-League stint last season, and he should be able to step into the rotation quickly at least as a shooter to stretch the floor.

24) Charlotte – KJ 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 Hornets here. He will provide a tremendous defensive presence on the wing for a team that emphasizes defense. McDaniels is also a strong slasher and rebounder, as well as an improving shooter.

25) Houston – 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. Houston has built a strong D-League team that knows how to develop players to fit the Rockets’ system. LaVine could benefit from a learning environment like that.

26) Miami – 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 he can be a major part of the Heat’s backcourt down the road.

27) Phoenix – Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse
This is the Suns’ third first-round pick, so they can afford to take a shot at the raw Grant. Grant isn’t going to contribute much right away, but he is a high-level athlete who should help some on defense and on the boards. If he can develop his offensive skills well down the line, he will be a nightmare match-up for many defenders.

28) Los Angeles Clippers – Mitch McGary, C, Michigan
Coming off a back injury that erased most of his season, McGary could be a solid rotation player down the line for the Clippers. He plays with a lot of energy and he doesn’t mind doing all of the little things teams need to wing games. At worst, he will help on the defensive side and with rebounding.

29) Oklahoma City – Clint Capela, F/C, Switzerland
The Thunder will look to plan for the future a bit with their second first round pick. This is a great place for them to take a chance on a draft-and-stash candidate with strong potential. He has very good size and athletic ability, though he needs time to continue to develop his skills and toughness for the NBA level.

30) San Antonio – Jordan Clarkson, G, Missouri
The Spurs can really go in many directions here, but they can look to add to their backcourt for the future with the versatile Clarkson. He can give them a big guard with some point guard abilities who can get to the basket easily against smaller defenders. If he can be a more consistent shooter, he may find a home eventually at the 2.

SECOND ROUND

31) Milwaukee – Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State
32) Philadelphia – Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Serbia
33) Cleveland – Jarnell Stokes, F, Tennessee
34) Dallas – Artem Klimenko, C, Russia
35) Utah – CJ Wilcox, G, Washington
36) Milwaukee – Markel Brown, G, Oklahoma State
37) Toronto – Jabari Brown, G, Missouri
38) Detroit – Patric Young, F/C, Florida
39) Philadelphia – Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Colorado
40) Minnesota – Cameron Bairstow, F, New Mexico
41) Denver – Russ Smith, G, Louisville
42) Houston – Dwight Powell, F, Stanford
43) Atlanta – Roy Devyn Marble, G, Iowa
44) Minnesota – Joe Harris, G, Virginia
45) Charlotte – Thanasis Antetokounmpo, F, Delaware 87ers
46) Washington – Nick Johnson, G, Arizona
47) Philadelphia – Damien Inglis, F, Australia
48) Milwaukee – Johnny O’Bryant, F, LSU
49) Chicago – DeAndre Daniels, F, Connecticut
50) Phoenix – Nikola Jokic, C, Serbia
51) Dallas – Deonte Burton, G, Nevada
52) Philadelphia – Vasilije Micic, G, Serbia
53) Minnesota – Khem Birch, F/C, UNLV
54) Philadelphia – Josh Heustis, F, Stanford
55) Miami – Jahii Carson, G, Arizona State
56) Denver – DeAndre Kane, G, Iowa State
57) Indiana – Jordan Bachynski, C, Arizona State
58) San Antonio – Melvin Ejim, F, Iowa State
59) Toronto – Jordan McRae, G, Tennessee
60) San Antonio – Cory Jefferson, F, Baylor

Amir Johnson on South Beach: 2006 Pistons ‘let the streets beat us’

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Amir Johnson is a savvy veteran on the young 76ers.

On the 2006 Pistons, he was a scarcely used rookie straight out of high school.

But he was learning lessons he’d apply to his current role.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Philadelphia heeded Johnson’s advice. The 76ers won Games 3 and 4 in Miami to take a 3-1 series lead.

The Pistons went 0-3 in Miami during the six-game 2006 Eastern Conference finals. There was little shame in losing to those Heat. They pushed Detroit to seven games in the 2005 conference finals and were – with Dwyane Wade transcendent while Shaquille O’Neal remained in his prime – even better the following year.

But too much partying is a major charge and a somewhat surprising one. The Pistons were led by the same veteran core – Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace – that made the previous two NBA Finals and won the 2004 title. They’d been around long enough to know better.

Gregg Popovich to miss Spurs-Warriors Game 5

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has missed Games 3 and 4 of his team’s first-round series against the Warriors following the death of his wife, Erin.

Unsurprisingly, he won’t coach the Spurs as they leave San Antonio for Game 5 tomorrow at Golden State.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Popovich should take all the time he needs. Ettore Messina is capable as acting coach, and Popovich being with his family now is more important anyway.

This will probably be the final game of the series. Up 3-1, the Warriors are the better team and at home.

LeBron James on Lance Stephenson-drawn technical foul: ‘I gave him a little nudge, and he falls to half court. Come on’

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LeBron James and Lance Stephenson have met in 23 playoff games.

Stephenson has tried to agitate LeBron throughout all of them.

From the choke sign back when Stephenson was still a benchwarmer to the infamous ear blow to the tapping of LeBron’s face the next game, Stephenson has been relentless. And LeBron has mostly kept his cool.

But not last night.

Midway through the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ Game 4 win over the Pacers, Stephenson stuck close to LeBron as LeBron went to the Cleveland bench. LeBron pushed Stephenson away and received a technical foul.

LeBron:

I mean, I should never have gotten a tech in the first place. There’s a timeout called, and this guy’s following me to my bench. I gave him a little nudge, and he falls to half court. Come on. But I should know better. I should know better. I’ve been dealing with this since elementary. It’s like I tell you a joke – I tell you a joke and then you laugh, and you get caught. That’s what happened. Lance told me a joke. I laughed. Teacher caught me. Now, I’ve got to go see the principal. That’s what happened.

Stephenson earned that technical foul. He did just enough to bait LeBron, but too much where Stephenson would get a tech. Then, Stephenson exaggerated the contract.

LeBron got got, and he knows it.

He’s also probably savvy enough to remain on greater alert to Stephenson’s antics the rest of the series and avoid responding again.

Where the Blazers, Neil Olshey, and Terry Stotts go from here

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The Portland Trail Blazers were a frustrating team to watch to start the season. They floundered early as players like Moe Harkless and Evan Turner failed to take the next step forward to help the team. The emergence of Zach Collins playing in tandem with a healthy Ed Davis was a good story, but not enough to overcome Portland’s fatal flaws. Most of the talk surrounding the Blazers remained about roster construction — as it has since GM Neil Olshey signed Turner to his massive 4-year, $70 million contract back in 2016.

Then things flipped.

Starting with a win over the Golden State Warriors on February 14, Portland rattled off 13 straight. Harkless was no longer moody, Damian Lillard was playing like a Top 5 MVP candidate, and CJ McCollum hummed right along with him. Al-Farouq Aminu was shooting well, Shabazz Napier was an important rotational piece, and even Turner’s midrange turnarounds felt like a simple change of pace rather than a glaring misfit. Roster talk died down because Portland looked unstoppable, and with a new defensive effort the team felt like a lock to beat whichever squad they faced in the first round.

But the Blazers found themselves outgunned, overmatched, and demoralized as they took on the New Orleans Pelicans after the conclusion of the regular season. Portland got swept, 4-0, in perhaps the most embarrassing playoff sweep in franchise history since their series with the San Antonio Spurs at the turn of the last century.

So here we are, with both the Blazers and fans in Portland back to wondering the same thing: just what can be done to fix this roster and maximize Lillard’s prime?

We have to start with the basic fact that Portland is not going to trade McCollum.

Part of the internal friction for the Blazers is that McCollum is the guy Olshey seems most emotionally attached to. Olshey was fully at the helm of the organization when McCollum was drafted in 2013, and thus McCollum is wholly an Olshey guy. Portland had scouted Lillard long before Olshey arrived 24 days prior to the 2012 NBA Draft. Not that Olshey values one over the other, but there’s an odd, unspoken understanding that Olshey wants to make McCollum work along with Lillard partly as a matter of pride.

So if we move away from the possibility of changing the overall theory of a roster built around those two guards, where does that leave the Blazers? The answer comes with a boggling number of variables.

The key that unlocked Portland’s potential to dismantle most of their opponents after Valentine’s Day was a happy Harkless, one who was dropping 3-pointers from the corners and dishing out assists rather than moping on the deepest part of the bench. That was the big variable that made the switch for the Blazers. But in the playoffs, Portland got a Harkless that was just coming off knee surgery, and he wasn’t as effective.

Harkless said in exit interviews on Sunday that team brass reiterated to him how important he’s going to be to them next season, and they aren’t blowing smoke. Harkless is young, cheap, and versatile. He’s a better passer and dribbler than Aminu, whose contract expires after next season, and he’s a better pure shooter from deep. The problem is relying on Harkless, who admits to being moody and letting that emotional variance affect him on the court.

This puts us back to the question of Turner. For as much as Olshey likes to talk as though he slow plays the league, it was an extreme reach not only to pay Turner his contract but to sell the public the logic behind it. After McCollum and Lillard were trapped to death in the playoffs a few years ago, Olshey grabbed Turner as a third ball handler, one who could let Lillard and McCollum run around screens off-ball to reduce turnovers. At least, that was the story.

It didn’t really work all that well given the symbiotic nature of the game of basketball. Last season, Aminu’s shooting dipped and opposing defenses simply helped off of him and onto Portland’s main dribblers. That made Harkless and Allen Crabbe invaluable as shooters, not only as scorers but as sources of gravity to open up passing lanes.

There was as similar issue this season as Aminu’s shooting percentages rose while Harkless sat on the bench in the middle of the year. Without Harkless or Crabbe to anchor the 3-point line, that left Portland with just one shooter outside of Lillard and McCollum in Aminu. Teams drifted toward Aminu, leaving Turner as the open shooter on the 3-point line. He shot 32 percent from deep, and Portland went from 8th in 3-point percentage to 16th in a year.

Turner adapted his game over the course of this season the best he could to compliment Portland’s system and needs. He’s just not useful enough at top clip. This explains the position the Blazers have been in the entirety of Turner’s contract — it’s going to be impossible to move him without attaching significant assets and in the process, delaying the progress of the team. No trade involving Turner will return the wing Portland needs. That’s just not how it works when you’ve got an albatross contract in 2018.

And so, after their sweep at the hands of the Pelicans, the conversation in Portland swiftly moved to speculation that coach Terry Stotts could be on the hot seat. The reality of Portland firing Stotts, if they are considering it, is of a major setback.

Stotts is beloved by his players, most of all Lillard, the franchise cornerstone. Stotts was a genuine Coach of the Year candidate this season for his role in developing guys like Napier and Pat Connaughton, who were useful at different parts of the season. Stotts pushed Nurkic to be more aggressive, a major factor in their late-season success. He rehabilitated Harkless. Reaching back even further, Stotts masterminded an offense that turned Mason Plumlee into the third creator on offense for Portland before the Nurkic trade last year. He’s been excellent, and firing him would be a colossal mistake.

I’ll put it this way: when Lillard had his “where is this going” conversation about the Blazers with owner Paul Allen, that talk wasn’t about Stotts. It was about Olshey’s roster construction.

The conversation about Stotts is a bit ridiculous, although it’s understandable given Olshey is both above him organizationally and a bit more financially annoying to fire after a recently-signed extension. But unlike Stotts, Olshey has not exceeded expectations in his position. Despite some clever draft day trades and the rumored rejection of a max contract bid offered by Chandler Parsons‘ camp two summers ago, the fact is Olshey is the one who has hampered the team, while Stotts has done the best with what he’s been given.

And so here we are, with the same questions about the Blazers roster nearly two years down the line and with an embarrassing playoff sweep in their possession. McCollum and Lillard are firmly cemented, perhaps more so thanks to their defensive improvement and the team’s win total. The Blazers can’t move their pieces thanks to poor fiscal management, and they’re in danger of losing valuable contributors like Davis, Napier, and eventually Aminu because of it.

It appears Portland’s only way forward is to do what they’ve always done, although it won’t be by their own volition, much as Olshey would like to spin it that way. Olshey, who said as much during exit interviews, will look for value in the draft and build a team that functions as a unit. I would assume that he’ll also need to ask owner Allen to tempt the repeater tax as he tries to re-sign Davis this year and Aminu the next. Olshey will need to hope Harkless is more consistent, and that he can find yet another shooter in the draft or via an exception signing or trade. All of these things are pretty big ifs, particularly in the light of Lillard’s public urgency and the results of Olshey’s bigger misfires.

The end to the season in Portland was disappointing, because of their sweep but also because they didn’t do enough to change our minds about their flaws and roster issues. That burden lies squarely with Olshey. Portland’s GM says he wants to stay measured in his approach, but moves like signing Turner, trading Crabbe for an exception, and swapping Plumlee for Nurkic were anything but. Those are big swings with mixed results.

Portland’s roster isn’t good enough to sustain large dips, and its plodding, “calculated” approach to roster management has put the Trail Blazers in a place similar to what you’d expect from a front office with a more flamboyant, laissez-faire style. Big contracts, an overpaid supporting cast, and an inconsistent bench rolled into a cap hit scraping $121 million.

The roster theory is understandable, but the execution in Portland is lacking. Eventually, the Blazers — and Olshey — are going to have to stop being measured and simply measure up.