2010 NBA draft: How John Wall could change the world for one lucky lottery team

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jwall.jpgYour top overall pick in the 2010 draft will almost certainly be Kentucky’s John Wall, the tremendously athletic, do-it-all point guard. The guy makes beautiful YouTube highlight reels in his sleep for god’s sake, and aside from an in-development three-point stroke, is anything you could ever want from a point guard coming out of college. The hype is deserved, and all indications show that GMs across the league are buying in to Wallapalooza.

That makes the draft lottery awfully important. A number of lottery teams have been waiting for this very moment, with the hope that fate may smile upon them and grant them Wall, Evan Turner, or the prospect of their choice.

There’s a lot to be won and lost with the bounce of the ping pong balls on Tuesday night, as Wall’s can’t-miss talent could significantly alter the futures of any of the lottery teams. For simplicity’s sake (and probability’s, too) let’s focus on the top five most probable destinations for Wall according to the lottery odds:

New Jersey (25% of winning the lottery) – The Nets’ situation is a bit complicated, entirely because of the presence of Devin Harris. Depending upon your appraisal of Harris and Brook Lopez, Devin is either New Jersey’s top player upon the end of the 2009-2010 nightmare season or merely their second best. Yet if the lottery odds translate into the actual draft order, they’ll undoubtedly look to John Wall as the player to breathe new life into their franchise.

It should be interesting to see just how Tuesday’s lottery impacts Harris’ trade value. We’ve learned in recent weeks that the Nets are open to the idea of moving Devin, but obviously that option comes off the table should they not receive the #1 overall pick in the draft. Moving Harris without the Wall guarantee would be downright foolish, and should New Jersey find themselves anywhere but in the top overall spot, they’re essentially ruled out of the Wall sweepstakes.

However, the catch is if the Nets do get the top pick in the draft and the opportunity to draft Wall to replace Harris, there’s no question that Devin’s trade value would drop. It then becomes painfully obvious that New Jersey has no room to posture in trade negotiations, and their leverage in a potential deal involving one of their top players would dissipate. Maybe that means they would keep both Harris and Wall for the time being, or maybe that means Rod Thorn would simply take what he could get for Harris to offer Wall the team on a silver platter.
 
Minnesota (19.9%)
– Man, if you thought the Nets made things awkward with their dueling point guards, the Timberwolves roster is even weirder. David Kahn decided to use the fifth and sixth pick in last year’s draft on Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, only one of which is part of the Wolves’ immediate future. Then, he went on to sign Ramon Sessions in free agency, giving Minnesota three point guard prospects on the roster.

So naturally, if the Wolves fans were to strike gold with the top overall pick in this year’s draft, Kahn would look to draft John Wall.

The most interesting thing about the Wolves’ point guards is that unlike the Nets’ Devin Harris, none of them are proven. Ramon Sessions has yet to really show that he can run a team, as his only significant performances have come in the often deceiving final stretch of the regular season. Jonny Flynn has only spent one year in the league, but he’s facing serious efficiency issues and not exactly the prototypical creator in Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense. Ricky Rubio may be finding all kinds of success in Spain, but he’s still a world away from Minny and has yet to play an NBA game.

Evan Turner is a far more natural fit, but the Wolves are desperately in need of a player of not only Wall’s talents, but his star power. It won’t solve Minnesota’s positional issues and only further exacerbates the conflict between the triangle and the team’s players, but it’s hard to see Kahn passing up another point guard in this year’s draft should the ping pong balls bounce favorably for the Wolves.

Sacramento (15.6%) – The difficulties continue. Kind of. The Kings are the first team on our list that could really have the luxury of moving the #1 pick should they win the lottery. Devin Harris is cool, Ricky Rubio is fun, but Tyreke Evans is a beast. The man is just a monster of a guard, and though I’m sure the Kings may want to give things a go with a Wall-Evans backcourt that is both completely terrifying and a bit confusing, their best option may be to let Evans shine while trading the pick to acquire talent from elsewhere.

Wall and Evans’ skill sets just don’t complement each other all that well, and you’re really looking at two relatively high-usage players that are going to need the ball in their hands to really get things done on the court. Instead of fighting through that, Sacramento could trade down in the draft of move the pick for another young, talented player on a team desperate for a point guard. John Wall could have pretty ridiculous value, and should he suddenly become available via trade, expect teams to pull out all the stops.

I think what benefits Sacramento the most, though, is that the ability to trade Wall is a luxury rather than a necessity. With New Jersey, the Nets would more or less be forced to make a choice between Wall and Harris, which as I mentioned before would diminish trade returns. However, with such a phenomenally talented duo in Wall and Evans, the Kings could just sit on the tandem to see if it works, and don’t necessarily have the same urgency to build a cogent team (remember, the Nets want to be a free agent destination). They can develop players, develop talent, and let the roster mature.

Golden State (10.4%) – Yikes. Steph Curry, Monta Ellis, and maybe John Wall? It’s a Nellieball dream, to be sure, and for a team that will soon be moving in a new direction coaching-wise, it gives the franchise plenty of flexibility in terms of point guard options.

Ellis pretty much maxed out last season in terms of his minutes and per-game production, and while he’s fairly effective in accumulating volume stats, it’s unclear whether or not he’s the type of point guard any team should want for the long haul. He’s definitely talented enough to make it work, but he needs a team built to fit his strengths and weaknesses, even if he isn’t a team’s best player. That’s a lot of hassle, and it comes with no guarantees. Ellis may not be worth it.

Curry showed off some of his incredible potential over the second half of his rookie season, and his shooting definitely allows him to play off the ball. The same is definitely true of Ellis, who was still effective playing alongside Baron Davis in Oakland. NBA diehards will let out a deep sigh should Wall fall into something of a basketball purgatory in the Bay, but he has the ability to transform a guilty pleasure team into a must-watch offensive outfit. It wouldn’t work every night out, but you’re telling me that the trio of Wall, Ellis, and Curry doesn’t intrigue you? It’s pure entertainment, even if there’s not much substance.

Washington (10.3%) – Finally, things get easier. Kind of. Take a look at the Wizards team that finished last season, and you see a squad desperately in need of a point guard. Randy Foye wasn’t that guy. Earl Boykins wasn’t that guy. Even Shaun Livingston, despite his strong play to finish the season, wasn’t that guy. That team needed a bonafi
de starter at the point.

If they land Wall, they get one. There’s only one problem: Gilbert Arenas. Gil is the main obstacle between the Wiz and rebuilding, and I’m not saying that he should completely derail Washington’s plans just by being present. That said, Arenas has been this team’s point guard, and considering the team’s willingness to work him back into the mix going forward, that makes things a bit more complex. Arenas’ contract is unmovable considering his rep and price tag, and moving the pick makes little sense for a team that needs a talent injection.

That means the best option for the Wiz may be to draft Wall and move Arenas off the ball. Or maybe they’re a team that actually looks to Evan Turner at the top spot, though admittedly that seems like a longshot. Regardless of how Turner’s game may match up with Wall’s by the end of their careers, Wall seems to be the consensus top talent in the draft. His combination of physical gifts, immediate contributions, potential for improvement, and established branding make him destined for stardom in the NBA at one of the most crucial positions. Ernie Grunfeld isn’t going to pass that up on Gil’s account. 

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr: ‘I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy’

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The Rockets beat the Warriors in a pivotal Game 5 last night, taking a clear upper hand in the Western Conference finals.

Unless you ask Golden State coach Steve Kerr.

Kerr:

I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I’m seeing out there, and we defended them beautifully tonight. We got everything we needed. Just too many turnovers, too many reaches, and if we settle down a little bit, we’re going to be in really good shape.

It could be argued Golden State is outplaying the Houston overall. The Warriors have outscored the Rockets by 25 in the series. A couple different breaks in Houston’s three-point Game 4 win and four-point Game 5 win, and Golden State might be up 3-2 or even have won the series already.

Plus, Chris Paul is injured. Whether Paul misses games or is just slowed, that favors the Warriors.

But it’s not an indisputable fact Golden State is outplaying Houston. The Rockets missed a lot of open 3-pointers last night, and I wouldn’t credit the Warriors defense for that. Houston is controlling the style of play. And I don’t think the Warriors can divorce their good shots from the turnovers Kerr believes can be eliminated by just settling down. To generate good shots against the Rockets’ switching defense, Golden State must run a high-degree-of-difficulty set of actions – mixing in slipped and set screens, cuts in different directions and risky passes. Reducing exposure to turnovers would just lead to the isolation game Kerr wants to avoid.

More importantly, the Warriors are down 3-2. Even if they’re playing slightly better than Houston, winning two straight games is very difficult in this situation. The series won’t be decided by which team outplays the other over the next two games. Golden State advances only if it wins both.

This is the 182nd time a team has trailed a best-of-seven series 3-2 with a Game 6 at home and a theoretical Game 7 on the road. The trailing team has won the series just 8% of the time. In fact, the trailing team has usually lost in Game 6.

The history of the Warriors’ situation:

image

The list of teams to come back is so short, we can present the entirety of it:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State Warriors in 2016 Finals
  • Brooklyn Nets over Toronto Raptors in 2014 first round
  • Orlando Magic over Boston Celtics in 2009 second round
  • San Antonio Spurs over New Orleans Hornets in 2008 second round
  • Utah Jazz over Houston Rockets in 2007 first round
  • Detroit Pistons over Miami Heat in 2005 conference finals
  • Los Angeles Lakers over Sacramento Kings in 2002 conference finals
  • New York Knicks over Miami Heat in 2000 second round
  • Houston Rockets over Phoenix Suns in 1995 second round
  • Washington Bullets over Seattle SuperSonics in 1978 NBA Finals
  • Phoenix Suns over Golden State Warriors in 1976 conference finals
  • Baltimore Bullets over New York Knicks in 1971 conference finals
  • Boston Celtics over Los Angeles Lakers in 1969 NBA Finals
  • Boston Celtics over Philadelphia 76ers in 1968 division finals
  • Philadelphia Warriors over St. Louis Bombers in 1948 BAA semifinals

This isn’t so much about holding home-court advantage. It’s that the team with home-court advantage got it by being superior throughout the regular season.* Even if we all know Golden State coasted during the regular season and is much better than its 58-24 record, the Rockets proved themselves to be darn good, too.

*Though the Cavaliers and Celtics also fit this scenario, I don’t find the history of similar series nearly as telling for the Eastern Conference finals. Without Kyrie Irving, Boston isn’t the same team that secured home-court advantage with its strong regular-season play.

Maybe the Warriors will win the series. They’re arguably the most talented team of all-time.

But even if we grant Kerr’s implication that they’re outplaying Houston, that’s not nearly enough to consider it likely they’ll win two straight games before the Rockets win one.

2018 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Just how concerned should we be about Deandre Ayton’s defensive issues?

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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I still remember the first time that I realized just how good of a prospect DeAndre Ayton is.

It was at Peach Jam, the finals of Nike’s EYBL circuit, back in 2016, and all of high school basketball’s best big men were at the event. Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Mitchell Robinson, Mo Bamba. And Ayton, going head-to-head with just about all of them, came out the winner, in the box score if not on the scoreboard.

But there was one play that stood out to me. Ayton, running with a full head of steam in transition, caught a pass and, as a defender stepped in front of him to take a charge, he euro-stepped around him, avoiding the charge and finishing at the rim.

Humans that are his size are not supposed to be able to move like that, and if they are, they shouldn’t be allowed to have his shooting touch as well.

And therein lies what makes Ayton such an intriguing player.

He has the size. He has the length. He has the athleticism, explosiveness, fluidity and mobility. He can space the floor and, in theory, both protect the rim and handle his own if forced to guard on the perimeter.

In theory, Ayton is the total package and an ideal five for the modern NBA.

Whether or not he will live up to his considerable potential is a different story.

HEIGHT: 7-foot-0.5
WEIGHT: 261
WINGSPAN: 7-foot-5
2017-18 STATS: 20.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 61.2/34.3/73.3
DRAFT RANGE: Top 3

STRENGTHS

Any discussion about what Ayton does well must start with his physical gifts. He’s a shade over 7-feet tall with a wingspan that has been measured at 7-foot-5. He’s 261 pounds and has an NBA-ready body and a frame that can handle the muscle he’s amassed. He’s a ridiculous athlete given his size — his explosiveness his fluidity, his mobility, the way he can move his feet.

Given his tools, he is everything that you would look for if designing a small-ball five for the modern NBA.

And the skill-set is there, too.

Let’s start with the offensive end of the floor, where Ayton can just about do anything. He was one of college basketball’s best post scorers — 1.052 PPP, according to Synergy, a company that logs per-possession statistics. While that isn’t always the best way to measure a big man’s transition to the NBA, the simple fact is that Ayton is going to be bigger and stronger than many of the fives that he’ll see at the NBA level. That adjustment will be easier for him, and the fact that he has a fairly advanced set of moves and impressive footwork on the block certainly helps as well.

His length and athleticism will also make him an effective lob target in the halfcourt, and while his numbers as a roll-man at Arizona weren’t all that impressive, that likely had as much to do with Arizona’s massive spacing issues as anything else. There’s virtually no chance that a player with his tools will be ineffective as a roller, but what makes Ayton so intriguing is that he can shoot it, too. He shot 34.3 percent from three on the season (just 35 attempts) and was somewhere around average as a jump-shooter as a whole, but his 73.3 percent clip from the foul line and a stroke that looks like it isn’t a fluke make it easy to see him being a capable NBA perimeter shooter.

Throw in that he’s a monster on the glass, and the total package is there.

He’s a franchise center in every sense of the word, but the concern with Ayton is that he may not actually want to be a “center”.

WEAKNESSES

Given his physical tools, Ayton has always been a disappointment on the defensive end of the floor, and the question that the organization that drafts him is going to have to answer is ‘why’. Is he a lazy defender? Does he lack defensive instincts because he’s never been coached? Will he only defend when motivated? Does he even want to be a center?

We’ll start with the latter, because that might be the most intriguing part of all of this. Ayton considers himself a power forward. On Arizona’s team roster, Ayton — the tallest member of the team — is listed as a forward while Dusan Ristic is listed as a center and 6-foot-10 Chase Jeter is classified as a forward/center. It’s been this way for Ayton for years, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Ayton spent the entire season playing alongside Ristic (and out of position) despite the fact that it torpedoed Sean Miller’s typically-vaunted defense.

Put another way, while Ayton is so perfect as a positionless five offensively he seems to have no desire to play that role on defense, even if it is his ticket to NBA superstardom.

That may belie the bigger point: Is Ayton just a bad defender?

In theory, he should be an elite rim protector, right? Take a look at the block rates of some recent top ten picks:

That’s concerning, particularly because Ayton’s physical profile is far closer to that of the top three on that list than Kaminsky and Okafor.

The other issue is that, while Ayton can move laterally and is willing to sit in a stance and guard on the perimeter, he simply is not someone that you can ask to spend 36 minutes a night guarding big wings. You want him as your five, guarding on the perimeter when switches make it necessary. We saw that in Arizona’s first round loss to Buffalo in the 2018 NCAA tournament, when the Bulls used a four-guard look and let their “power forward” — a 6-foot-7 scoring guard named Jeremy Harris — give Ayton that work:

Arizona was a flawed basketball team last season. They didn’t have the floor spacing to let Ayton dominate the paint against smaller teams, and they refused to play Ayton at the five, which is what led to dreadful performances against Buffalo in the tournament and against the likes of N.C. State, SMU and Purdue in the Bahamas.

Then there were the team issues that the Wildcats had defensively. Playing Ristic and Ayton together was never going to lead to defensive success on a team that has below-average perimeter defenders, and those issues manifested themselves early and often, as I documented here.

Ayton was hardly blameless in that, but he improved throughout the year, particularly in his ball-screens coverages. That leads me to believe that there is a chance that some of his issues on that end can be solved as he continues to be coached up.

That said, his issues as a rim protector and the fact that he went for long stretches where he seemed to have no interest in actually playing the five played as big of a role in those problems as anything.

NBA COMPARISON

It’s tough to find a direct comparison for Ayton. Physically, he profiles more or less the same as Steven Adams, Joel Embiid and Greg Oden. Ayton is much more skilled offensively than Adams. He’s not quite at the level of Embiid offensively, and both players are, defensively, what Ayton should be if it all comes together for him.

OUTLOOK

The truth is that, for Ayton, it all comes down to whether or not he decides he wants to be great.

If he does, I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that he could end up being a Hall of Famer, maybe one of the 15 or 20 greatest to play the game. Imagine Embiid without limits on his minutes or the number of games that he is allowed to play.

But that assumes that Ayton will put in the work to become something that borders on unstoppable offensively. That also assumes that he will, like Embiid, become one of the NBA’s dominant defensive forces, and that is far from a guarantee. Defense for someone with the physical tools that Ayton has is about want-to, and I think it’s pretty clear he didn’t “want-to” be great on that end of the floor as a freshman or as a high schooler.

In the end, that’s been the knock on Ayton his entire career. When he has been challenged — at that 2016 Peach Jam, when he arrived at Arizona — he absolutely dominated. When he did not feel like playing — like the first round blowout loss at the hands of Buffalo — he looked like a shell of himself, and it’s not hard to think about the grind of an 82-game season playing on a team that was bad enough to end up at the top of the lottery and wonder where the motivation to be great on a nightly basis is going to come from.

The good news for whoever ends up taking Ayton is that his floor is high. It will be quite impressive if Ayton somehow doesn’t turn into a guy that spends a decade or more in the NBA, posting something similar to Adams’ 13.9 points, 9.0 boards and 1.0 blocks. The bad news is that, in my mind, there’s a higher-than-you’d-like chance that Ayton ends up being closer to his floor than his ceiling.