There are always a few surprises, like that guy you drafted you thought was 21 turns out to be 26. Funny, but really that mistake by the Timberwolves was moot because Tanguy Ngombo was never going to play in the NBA.
But there were some surprises when the picks still mattered. Here are the three things that caught me off guard the most.
San Antonio Spurs take Corey Joseph at No. 29. Corey Joseph was going to get drafted, although probably in the second half of the second round, when all the guys considered more risky get taken. He is quick, he has a good shot, but he was an undersized combo guard and scouts were not that high on him. The Spurs were. In a lot of cases this is where I would say “what are they thinking?” but with the Spurs everybody suddenly asks, “what did I miss that they saw?” We’ll see how it pans out, but nobody saw this coming.
Cleveland Cavaliers take Tristan Thompson at No. 4. Make no mistake, Tristan Thompson can play. And you don’t want to put too much stock in his struggles in a couple games of the NCAA Tournament. He can block shots, rebound and you can’t teach length. But they passed over Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesley and other guys many teams had rated higher. This was a surprise because if you are Cleveland right now you need to take the best player, you need the talent, and nobody else had Thompson rated this highly.
New York Knicks take Iman Shumpert at No. 17. Knicks fans hate this pick. I don’t hate it, the guy is one of the best athletes in this draft so they took a calculated risk with him. Not a bad plan in a draft full of risks. But with a good wing defender like Chris Singleton and a rebounding machine like Kenneth Faried on the books, was this the best choice? Did raw athletic guy really address a need? It’s not that this pick was bad that makes it surprising, it’s who the Knicks had Shumpert ahead of on their draft board that shocks. They need defense and Singleton provides it for sure, can Shumpert?
Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)
He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.
Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…
“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.
“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”
Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.
Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).
After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.
Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).
That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.
In practical terms, this may not matter much.
In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.
In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.
Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.
That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.
Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:
• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.
Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.
The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.
Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.
As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.
One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.
Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.
In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.