The Extra Pass: Drafting the Rookie-Sophomore Game

19 Comments

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: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

Getty Images
1 Comment

Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

Associated Press
4 Comments

It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.