Author: Steve Alexander

Arizona v Connecticut

Should the Cavaliers take Derrick Williams at No. 1?


Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala and Joe Johnson are all very good basketball players. In fact, they’re All-Stars. But they’ve all been asked to be “the man” on their prospective teams, which hasn’t worked out too well, as they appear to lack that leadership gene.

And whether Derrick Williams deserves to be drafted No. 1 over point guard Kyrie Irving may depend on what kind of leadership skills he possesses.

Although point guards are all the rage in the NBA right now, the two teams in the Finals this season weren’t exactly stacked at the position.  As Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and Chris Paul all watched on television, the Heat’s offense was “directed” by Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers, while Jason Kidd, who is at least 70 years old and averages less than 10 points per game, led the Mavericks’ offense to the title.  Meanwhile, both teams had dominant forwards in Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James.  Yes, James disappeared, but the Heat were there because of his play up until the Finals.  And if you add Kevin Durant to the discussion, forwards are arguably more important to championship teams than point guards.  Or at least they were this season.

Williams, a power forward, is obviously a gifted player, capable of power dunking from two feet at a standstill, or burying a 3-pointer.  In fact, his ability to play both under the rim and outside the 3-point line gives him the chance to be a true superstar in the NBA (and fantasy stud down the line). The Cavaliers, who hold the No. 1 pick, already have Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions on their roster, so finding a point guard in the draft is not a top priority.  And if it is, they could possibly get Brandon Knight at No. 4 if the Jazz pass on him at No. 3.  J.J. Hickson, Antawn Jamison and Samardo Samuels are the power forwards that would stand in Williams’ way in Cleveland, but Hickson can play center (along with Anderson Varejao), while Jamison’s career is starting to wind down.  I’m not sure the Cavs are even going to look at their roster before making their selection, as finding the guy with the right attitude and the leadership gene is going to be key, regardless of his position.

This reminds me a little bit of the 1998 NFL draft, when the Colts were desperately trying to figure out whether to draft Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.  And believe it or not, folks were pretty torn on which guy they should take.  Both players possessed similar skills in college, but were completely different animals in the pros when it came to mental and physical skills.  Obviously, the Colts made a great decision by taking Manning, who is one of the best leaders we’ve seen in professional sports.

Almost every mock draft you look at has the Cavaliers taking Irving over Williams, but I’m pretty sure that the Cavs have yet to make that decision.  And then there’s this Twitter tidbit from Brian Windhorst, who is a Cavaliers expert: “Heard enough stories about Cavs in-depth research into Derrick Williams to convince me they’re considering him for No. 1 pick.”  If Williams showed up for his Monday’s workout and said all the right things, he could easily be taken No. 1.  After all, it’s one thing to get a dynamic player, like the ones I listed at the start of this post, but a completely different game when looking at guys with heart, who know how to lead/win, versus guys who simply pile up numbers and are quiet in the locker room.

If Williams has a strong interview and leads the Cavaliers to believe that he can be a better leader both on and off the floor than Irving, I think they’ll pull the trigger.  And then the fun will begin, as the Timberwolves might be forced into taking Irving despite Ricky Rubio arriving in Minnesota on Monday.  There have been conflicting reports on whether the Cavs are set to draft Irving with the No. 1 pick on Thursday, but if they don’t, Williams will be the guy.

Are the NBA rules for using the “F” word the way they should be?

Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game One

Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah both recently were caught using a homophobic slur that starts with the letter “F,” yet their fines were very different.  Kobe, who directed his shot at a referee, was fined $100,000, while Noah’s use of the term was directed at a “fan,” which only drew a $50,000 fine from the league.  Let’s take a look at the difference, and whether or not it was the correct move.

First of all, I doubt there will ever be a consensus in this argument, as everyone seems to have a different opinion. But quite simply, Kobe was fined more because he berated an official, while Noah simply violated the league’s conduct policy.  And while the obvious insensitivity by the use of the “F” word implicates both players, it’s possible they could be fined for getting caught on camera dropping any number of different curse words, including ones that are not offensive to a minority group.  We have to remember there are people within earshot, many times kids, who have to sit through these situations, and the league has no rules in place for one set of penalties against bigotry, and another against simply dropping an old school “F Bomb.”  There is “overall conduct” and “conduct toward officials.”  If you don’t like the rules, take it up with David Stern.  But the way they’re written, I think the two fines were appropriate to the rules.

And when you add in the fact that $100,000 means less to Kobe, at least as a percentage, than $50,000 means to Noah, it makes even more sense.  The real question I have is, why don’t the rules dictate a bigger fine for racism/bigotry, as well as what specifically makes attacking a referee more taboo than lighting a fan up?  Are referees more valuable than fans?

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that every situation is different and I like the fact the NBA has left some leeway in the rules in order to be able to make a judgment call when necessary.  Now, regardless of what the “fan” in Miami said to Noah, there was no reason for Noah to come back at him the way he did.  But if you listen to Taj Gibson, that “fan” was on him from the get-go and said some very personal things.  In other words, he provoked Noah into a confrontation, which was likely his goal from the outset.  In fact, the so-called “fan” is probably upset he didn’t bait Noah into a punch, so he could actually reap something from Noah’s loss.

On the other hand, Kobe wasn’t really provoked by the official, at least in the same sense as Noah was by the fan.  The officials and players have to work together, and there are specific rules written about a player’s interaction with the officials.  Once it crosses the line, the penalties will be handed out.  And just because a fan buys a front-row ticket, it doesn’t give him the green light to be a “jackass,” as Ken Berger of CBS so eloquently put it on Twitter Monday afternoon.

I fully expected the two fines to be different (despite them both using the same forbidden word) and like the fact that the league can use its judgment on interaction with fans.  What I’m hoping is that these recent fines don’t result in cameras being taken off benches, as well as players when they’re upset with a fan, or a call.  Each case is different.  And do I think that Noah, or anyone else, should drop an insenstive term directed at an official or a fan?  No.  But NBA players are human beings, and can only be pushed so far before retaliation ensues.  Obviously, a term like “assclown” or “asshat” works much better in these situations, but unfortunately, a lot of NBA players are going to use words that the rest of the world doesn’t approve of.  So the league will be left to decide the fines when these situations arise.  And I can live with that.  The bottom line is that Kobe and Noah should not have been suspended for their insensitivity, based on the current rules.  Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, the league has dealt with these two situations as it saw fit.  And I have no problem with that.

Is Westbrook’s perceived ‘selfishness’ a result of Brooks?

Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook has caught a lot of heat over the past couple weeks for his perceived “selfish” play, with many Twitter commenters suggesting the best defense against Kevin Durant is the fact he plays with Westbrook.  And while Tuesday’s 3-for-15 shooting performance isn’t going to help Westbrook’s cause, Durant’s struggles against Memphis, or the fact he took fewer shots than Westbrook did, were necessarily the result of Westbrook being a selfish, uncontrollable gunner.  

Scott Brooks was an NBA point guard and said recently that when a team struggles, the point guard and coach will inevitably take the blame.  And while the Thunder escaped an incredibly tough series against the Grizzlies, the point guard and coach for the Thunder have indeed been under a microscope.  I am a known Westbrook apologist and predicted a Thunder vs. Heat Finals at the start of the playoffs, but even so, was irritated watching him dribble around for 20 seconds and then forcing a shot up as his four teammates stood in their designated corners and watched him work.  But was that style of play really on Westbrook, or was Brooks to blame?

After watching Durant fight like hell on defense, and then stand in a corner, literally not moving, on offensive posession after posession against Memphis, it appears that he and Westbrook were just carrying out Brooks’ orders, or ‘master plan,’ if you will.  Brooks assumed that Durant wasn’t going to be able to create or be effective on offense with Tony Allen and Shane Battier draped over him, and thought that moving him out to the boonies would clear space for Westbrook to drive and create his own shots.  So while Westbrook was looking like the most selfish gunner of all time, I feel fairly confident that he was just carrying out orders from his coach.  In other words, Brooks thought his best chance to win was to with the ball in Westbrook’s hands at all times.

And now that Durant is free from the restraints of Allen and the Memphis D, maybe things will return to normal for the Thunder. Which means Westbrook will take his standard 17 shots per game, Durant will get his 20 shots, and the Thunder will give the Mavericks all they can handle.  Dirk Nowitzki gave the Thunder all they could handle in Game 1, putting on one of the great all-time individual playoff performances we’ve ever seen, yet the Thunder were still hanging around at the end – despite all of Westbrook’s misfiring.  And you have to give Brooks some credit for throwing his whole team, as well as the kitchen sink, at Dirk last night.  Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and James Harden all tried (and failed) to stop Dirk, while I think I might have even seen Shawn Kemp and Jack Sikma out there at one point trying to slow him down. 

I didn’t necessarily appreciate the coaching job Brooks did against the Grizzlies, and am not sure anyone did, but I think I at least understand it (although Harden should have started over Sefolosha that entire series, which is probably a topic for another time).  Now he’s got a whole new set of problems on his hands, starting with stopping Dirk.  The Twitter world might say that it’s too bad Westbrook doesn’t play alongside Dirk, or maybe all of Brooks’ problems would be solved.  But one thing is clear after Game 1.  Rick Carlisle is going to make sure that his best player is option No. 1 (and 2), regardless of who is trying to guard him.  And we can only hope that Brooks makes sure that Durant, and not Westbrook, is his No. 1 option going forward.