The Extra Pass: Drafting the Rookie-Sophomore Game

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, Kurt Helin and I draft our Rookie-Sophomore teams.

We love the idea of the Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend being drafted by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. We love it so much, in fact, that we decided to do it ourselves — me and Kurt Helin (who I have to say nice things about, he’s the boss and all).

Thanks to my two-headed quarter that I’ve been waiting to use for years, Team Foster will kick things off with the first pick:

Foster: You know, I really wanted to get cute here with the first pick because of positional scarcity, but I didn’t want to have a Sam Bowie moment in my very first draft. So instead, with the first pick, Team Foster selects Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He’s the game’s reigning MVP, he went 8-for-8 from deep last year, and there’s always the slight chance he plays in full Uncle Drew costume. Which set of ankles would you like Kyrie to break first, Kurt?

Helin: Well, fortunately Stephen Curry can’t play in the game this year, so those ankles are safe. Kyrie was the Anthony Davis pick — no brainer. No creativity. Austin Rivers was out there and you looked right past him and his potential just to go with a legit All-Star. Sure, if you want to build a team the safe way.

This is a guards’ game — fast paced, no defense, basically heaven for John Wall. So, Team Helin selects Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers. I’ll see your Rookie of the Year with the guy likely to win it this year.

Foster: I’m a big Lillard guy, but aren’t you worried about him being too mature for a game like this? Doesn’t he kind of strike you as the kid that skips out on laser tag to play Golden Tee? I’m worried this whole spectacle might be below him. And that’s the reason why I’m taking a guy who will cherish the opportunity to just run around and dunk everything. With the third pick, Team Foster takes Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons.

If Detroit somehow sneaks into the 8-seed and Portland fizzles out, you can at least make the case for Drummond as Rookie of the Year, right? What’s crazier — that, or this pick?

Helin: I don’t really think it’s that crazy. While a lot of people see the Rookie of the Year race like Secretariat at the Belmont, I think Drummond is one of two guys who could sneak up on him in the second half of the season and steal the award. I’ll take the other one.

Team Helin takes Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets. I think he’s a perfect fit for this game — he cuts really well off the ball and can run the floor. He’s a finisher who will get some easy buckets from Lillard. And when your precious little Kyrie Irving drives the lane and tries a floater AD is going to send it to the third row.

Foster: Davis is probably my favorite player to enter the league in the last five years — he’s just so dang smart.

But you know what’s not so dang smart? Leaving this guy on the board for me to take! Dust off your best David Kahn jokes for me, because Team Foster selects Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rubio was basically born to play in All-Star games. Can you imagine all the tricks he’s going to pull? Man, I love my team so far. Do you want to redraft? We can flip to see who goes first again…

Helin: Draft one more point guard and you will have gone the full Kahn. Then the Ricardo Montalban jokes will fly. I like Rubio, but I’ll get more guys to dish later, I want guys who can knock down shots in transition, run to the arc and not miss. My team will rain threes on you like a Seattle winter.

Team Helin selects Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. How I see this going is Lillard bringing the ball up and having options like Davis cutting to the rim and Thompson sprinting to the arc. Your defense will run around like chickens with their heads cut off… oh, who are we kidding. Nobody is playing defense in this game. Still, I’ll take my team any day against your Kahnesque lineup.

Foster: You dog. Thompson was easily the best pure shooter still available, and Rubio and Drummond aren’t really going to space the floor for me. Honestly though, who who needs something silly like spacing when you can just dunk everything? With that in mind, Team Foster selects Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets.

The thing I like best about The Manimal is that he has no off switch. While everyone else is dialing it down two or three notches, he’s going to be flying around and crashing the boards like he always does.

Take a stand and pick Jorts enthusiast Josh Harrellson here, Kurt. I know you’ve got a few pairs in the old closet.

Helin: Like Blake Griffin visiting his younger self, I wore jean shorts when I was nine but figured out pretty quickly that was not a fashion choice that allowed me to date women. I’m no Dwyane Wade, my clothing choices were based on what didn’t repel women and now is based on what my wife allows.

You took the next player on my list with Manimal, but we are starting to think alike (which may not be a good sign for you) — I need a finisher. Team Helin selects Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors. Word on the street — specifically Aaron Gray’s street and Ersan Ilyasova’s street and Nikola Pekovic’s street — is that he can finish.

Foster: You stole my guy again! I guess as a consolation, I won’t have a player on my team who nicknamed himself “Black Falcon.” Come on, Harrison. That’s the lamest nickname I’ve ever heard, and you picked it out yourself. I’m glad you’re on Team Jorts now, actually.

I’m scrambling a bit, but Team Foster selects Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards. Look, I’m not saying he’ll be Ray Allen, but Beal is going to take the “league’s prettiest jumper” title from Allen once he finally retires. That form, that release…it’s so absurdly perfect.

Helin: Beal is starting to really find a groove now that John Wall is back and creating space, in his last 10 games he is shooting 47.4 percent from three. He’d be the second best shooter in this game other than Thompson. Hopefully his wrist heals up a little and he can play.

I need another distributor and guy to run the show on this team. Someone to push the pace. Someone who can make plays. Someone who can give us normal-sized people somebody to root for. Team Helin goes deep on the draft board and takes Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings. Good luck keeping up with that pint-sized speed. Again, if anyone were actually going to defend in this game.

Foster: Thomas shoots a higher percentage at the rim than Blake Griffin and Dwyane Wade. I don’t even…how is that possible? I’m glad Keith Smart is finally giving him consistent minutes, he deserves them.

My team needs a salt of the earth type, so Team Foster takes Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard takes nothing off the table, and he could have a Greg Monroe moment and hilariously be the wet blanket to an alley-oop. I like that.

Helin: Leonard brings energy every night, he will run the floor, he will fit in well (even on your losing team in this scenario). Popovich would send you an angry letter (no way he texts) cursing you out for selecting Leonard just to wear him out during the break.

We’ve got a lot of young players who can shoot in this game, time to ugly it up — Team Helin takes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Charlotte Bobcats. This kind of setting where he can just dunk and not have to shoot jumpers or try to draw fouls should suit him. He’s a guy who brings great energy every night and really does impact the game in a lot of ways, but somebody hire that man a shooting coach this summer.

Foster: Bold strategy, Cotton. MKG scared me a little bit coming out, mainly because everyone touted his biggest strength as “being a winner.” It was a little Mateen Cleaves-ish for my taste, but Kidd-Gilchrist should be a really nice rebounder (8.1 boards per 36 minutes already) and defender, if nothing else.

Since I obviously don’t want to miss out on the run on Bobcats players, Team Foster selects Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Bobcats. He’s made huge strides in his second season, and he’s quickly becoming one of the more dangerous pick-and-roll guards in the league. He’ll probably have to play power forward for my team, but that’s alright.

Helin: KAAAAAHHHHHNNN!!!

More point guards, you need to pick more point guards. Don’t just go small, go microscopic.

I need some size on my roster — at some point I need to balance all this out — so let’s go with someone who I like but doesn’t really fit this style of game. Team Helin selects Jared Sullinger of the Boston Celtics. I think he’s looked good because he is exactly what the Celtics need and lack up front. This is not his kind of game but he can grab some boards and body up Drummond and make the Boston fans happy. And don’t we all just want to make the Celtics fans happy?

Foster: Look at you being all responsible by filling out your roster properly. I think Sullinger needs to play more minutes next to Kevin Garnett — he’s a great grinder of a big man.

You know where GM’s screw up? They chicken out too easily and don’t follow through with their vision. Let’s keep this thing small, baby! Team Foster selects Chandler Parsons of the Houston Rockets. He plays on the fastest team in the league often as a smallball 4, which seems like a perfect fit for what I’ve got going on. Combine him with Rubio, and my team leads the league in handsome.

Two picks left for you, and two guys named Chris Johnson are still on the board. Coincidence?

Helin: I fear if I select one Chris Johnson first the other will be offended. And I want chemistry on my team, not bruised egos.

No, let’s go back to what we talked about this game being at its core — scoring in an open court with very little defense being played. A gunner’s paradise. And if you look at the last couple of drafts for a pure gunner, one name rises to the top. Team Helin selects Dion Waiters of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’d say I’d give him the green light, but I’m not convinced he knows there is another color.

One more pick for you, one more chance to choose a point guard, and Austin Rivers is still on the board. Don’t blow this.

Foster: Waiters has the second worst field goal percentage (38 percent) of any rookie that has averaged at least 13.5 field goal attempts a game in the 3-point era. He’s still a talented guy, and one of us had to take him, but I feel like he may take 72 shots in the Rookie-Sophomore game.

I’ll resist the temptation to take a hack at the Rivers pinata, and instead have Team Foster selects Andrew Nicholson of the Orlando Magic. I really like this kid, and he’s a post scorer my team can go to if they get bored of all the easy dunks in transition. I have finally conformed with my last pick, and I’m not proud of myself.

Helin: I really, really wanted to go with PBT favorite Jae Crowder here. I really was tempted. But the fact is he is just slumping too much with his shot to warrant picking him over any number of other guys out there still on the board.

So I will take one more high-flyer, Team Helin takes MarShon Brooks of the Brooklyn Nets. Not because I think he’s playing great, but because his style of play fits this game. He can finish and he should have plenty of clear paths to the basket.

Foster: I almost took Crowder solely so I could have him switch jerseys with Kenneth Faried and see if anyone would notice. I’m also pretty bummed about leaving off dunk machine Terrence Ross, defensive studs Jimmy Butler and Iman Shumpert, and one of my favorite young bigs in John Henson.

Anyway, here are the final rosters:

Team Foster-Kahn: Irving, Drummond, Rubio, Faried, Beal, Leonard, Walker, Parsons, Nicholson
Team Helin-Jorts: Lillard, Davis, Thompson, Barnes, Thomas, MKG, Sullinger, Waiters, Brooks

Not that either of us want the bragging rights or anything…but which team would take it? Would Team Foster run to victory, or would Team Helin punish with their size? Let’s hear it.

Report: Pistons granted disabled-player exception for Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin
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The Pistons’ application for a Blake Griffin disabled-player exception?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The Pistons have hung in the playoff race. At 16-28, they’re in ninth place and three games out. Detroit had been vague about Griffin’s timeline.

But eliminates any reasonable hope of Griffin returning for a stretch run. An NBA-appointed doctor ruled Griffin is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15.

The Pistons get a $9,258,000 exception that can be used to acquire a player on the last year of his contract via trade, signing or waiver. Almost certainly unwilling to pay the luxury tax this season, Detroit currently has a payroll too high to take advantage. But if the Pistons trade someone like Andre Drummond, Derrick Rose or Langston Galloway, the exception could prove useful.

Nuggets: Mason Plumlee out at least 2-4 weeks

Mason Plumlee
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Mason Plumlee got hurt in the first half, underwent x-rays he said were negative then returned in the second half to help the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves on Monday.

But he and Denver will suffer a much bigger loss.

Nuggets release:

Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee has been diagnosed with a right cuboid injury and his status will be reevaluated in approximately two to four weeks.

The injury occurred during the Nuggets game at Minnesota on Monday, January 20th.

Obviously, this raises questions about whether Plumlee should have returned against Minnesota.

This is another key setback for Denver, which already has Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris sidelined.

The Nuggets (30-13) are locked in a high-stakes battle with the Clippers (31-13) and Jazz (30-13) for the Nos. 2-4 seeds in the Western Conference. The No. 2 seed would get home-court advantage in the second round and avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. The No. 3 seed would avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. The No. 4 seed would do neither.

Nikola Jokic is now Denver’s only healthy center. Expect Jerami Grant to play the position more often. He’s versatile enough to do it, and he can be effective there in certain matchups. But the Nuggets lose selectivity in when to deploy Grant at center, a lineup they were already reluctant to use.

Denver has played just 24 minutes all season with Grant on, Jokic and Plumlee off. (The Nuggets are a not-encouraging -11 in that time).

The trade deadline is just over two weeks away. Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez already looked like prime trade candidates. Could this push Denver toward moving one of those youngsters for immediate help? The Nuggets shouldn’t overreact to losing a backup center who should return well in advance of the playoffs. But they also don’t want to overburden Jokic/slip in the standings over the next month.

The All-Star break begins in three weeks. If Plumlee is still sidelined, that’ll at least give him longer to recover without missing games. But with the trade deadline looming, Denver has bigger decisions to make before then.

Report: Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald buys share of Phoenix Suns

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Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sat in on the Phoenix Suns’ basketball-executive interviews last year.

Now, he’ll have a more formal role within the organization.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers bought a share of the Bucks in 2018.

The NBA reportedly mandates that all new minority owners buy at least a 1% share. Forbes’ last estimate valued the Suns at $1.5 billion. That’d put Fitzgerald’s minimum buy-in at $15 million.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he got in cheaper, though. Widely panned Suns owner Robert Sarver can boost his image by aligning himself with the well-liked football player. Having a local sports hero involved can also help with things like getting taxpayers to fund arena upgrades.

Three things to expect in Zion Williamson’s debut

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Finally.

At Summer League in Las Vegas, the Thomas and Mack was full but fans got just nine minutes of Zion Williamson, one half of basketball, before he was shut down following a knee-to-knee collision with another player. Zion was done for the summer as the Pelicans were overly cautious.

Preseason saw Williamson get into four games and start to look like the force of nature that he was at Duke, the franchise-changing player who was the runaway consensus No. 1 pick, and he averaged 23.3 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting. Then Williamson tore his right lateral meniscus, needed surgery, and ultimately was out far longer than the original 6-8 week projections as the Pelicans were overly cautious.

Wednesday night, Williamson finally makes his NBA debut, lacing up his Nikes against San Antonio at home in New Orleans.

What should we expect in Zion’s debut (with him likely on a minutes limit)? Here are three things to watch for.

1) Dunks. A lot of dunks.

Zion Williamson is an incredibly gifted athlete but right now his game is not filled with subtlety and craft — the manchild attacks the rim and finishes. With authority.

Look at Williamson’s shot chart from the preseason: He took just four shots outside the paint.

This is not a knock on Williamson’s game — the dunk is the most efficient shot on the court, f you can get it, take it. Williamson has skills — a crossover he uses in transition, an inside-out dribble, and more — that he uses to get to the rim, and he wants to finish every play the same way.

Which is exactly what the Pelicans need.

New Orleans has good shot creators — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram — and they have shooters such as J.J. Redick. What New Orleans could use is a threat that goes to the rim and forces defenses to collapse a little, opening up space (Derrick Favors has provided some of that). The Pelicans could use a player who can draw fouls and attacks the rim. That’s Zion. He should fit in beautifully on offense.

One scout I talked to (and he wasn’t the only person to make this comparison) said Williamson’s early career could resemble Blake Griffin’s in this sense: When he entered the league, Griffin was a high-flying dunking sensation who got his points at the rim, but eventually he developed an outside shot and a passing game that made him a much more rounded, All-NBA level player. Williamson has work to do on his other skills, but the man is going to dunk the ball in his debut.

2) The start of a playoff push in New Orleans.

Williamson’s injury was not the only one that hit the Pelicans: Derrick Favors, E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Lonzo Ball have all missed significant chunks of time. Combine all of that with a newly formed roster, and the Pelicans got off to a dreadful start.

However, the rest of the bottom half of the West was equally dreadful. The result is that while New Orleans is just 17-27, Williamson’s return finds the Pelicans only 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West. What’s more, the Pelicans have hit a groove going 11-5 in their last 16 with Ingram playing at an All-Star level to lead the offense and Favors providing a defensive anchor. Ball is starting to find a comfort zone in Alvin Gentry’s offense, which is allowing Holiday to work more at his natural two-guard spot.

Now enter Williamson and the Pelicans are thinking playoff push — they have pulled back on trade talks to see how things shake out over the next couple of weeks.

One other thing in its favor: New Orleans has the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the Western Conference (only Atlanta is easier overall). Only one team New Orleans faces in its final 15 has a winning record — that’s a schedule set up for a closing kick.

With Zion back in the fold, the Pelicans are going to make a run at it.

3) How well do Zion and Brandon Ingram mesh?

This is the $168 million question for the Pelicans.

(It’s less expectation than a question, one that could be a five-year $202 million question if Ingram can play his way onto an All-NBA team this season, which may not be likely but certainly is possible.)

Ingram has played his way into that size max contract this summer and if the Pelicans don’t give it to him another team will (the most another team could offer is four-years, $125 million). David Griffin has talked about keeping Ingram, the team is expected to back up the Brinks truck for him, but that doesn’t change the question:

Can Ingram and Zion coexist on the court?

Before the season — and still in a lot of minds — there are doubts about how well the games of the slashing, attacking Ingram and Williamson would fit together. Could this be another version of the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid concerns in Philly, where two elite players want to operate in the same space and it clogs things up?

Ingram has developed a reliable jump shot this season — 39.9 percent from three on 6.2 attempts per game — and that has opened up his game. It also means he should fit better next to Williamson. However, the Pelicans likely want to see how all this works before they pay Ingram all that money this summer.

Williamson and Ingram may become the cornerstones of an outstanding New Orleans team in the future, but the questions about fit will linger until the players answer them. Those are not questions that are going to be answered in Williamson’s debut, but it’s something to watch.