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.

Stephen Curry is hitting ridiculous shots. Again. Including 3/4 court shot to end quarter.

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Stephen Curry is a show unto himself.

Before the game, Curry was doing this during warmups.

Then at the end of the first quarter came this.

The man is worth the price of admission, even when the Warriors struggle (which they did in the second quarter of this game and the Spurs took a comfortable lead).

Isaiah Thomas gets choked up after tribute video, welcome back from Boston fans

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Isaiah Thomas is still loved in Boston.

He’s the undersized hero who played like an MVP, led the Celtics to the playoffs, all while playing through hip pain and the death of his sister. He embodied what Celtics fans want to see in their stars.

Monday night he returned — in a Denver Nuggets uniform — and IT became emotional during the tribute video and reception from the fans in Boston.

There was more love when Thomas checked into the game.

Next season hopefully Thomas is fully healthy for an entire season and lands in a place where he can truly showcase his talents.

Isaiah Thomas not happy to be benched in Denver, still working to find way back

Associated Press
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Isaiah Thomas is frustrated and nobody can blame him.

Just a couple of seasons back he was fifth in the MVP voting and was lined up for a “back up the Brink’s truck” payday, but he tried to play through a hip injury that eventually required surgery and nobody stepped up with a payday. This season in Denver, on a one-year minimum contract, he was given plenty of time to get his body right, but when he came back he wasn’t helping a team thinking deep playoff run. Thomas averaged 8.6 points a night but is shooting 27.3% from three (where he takes 44% of his shot attempts), and even when he gets to the rim he’s only finishing 50% of his attempts. Coach Mike Malone couldn’t keep Monte Morris — who is a Most Improved Player candidate with his play this year — on the bench while Thomas worked things out, and IT has been moved out of the rotation.

That doesn’t mean he took the news well. From Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

It’s very possible we’ve seen peak Thomas. That doesn’t mean most of the NBA is rooting to be proved wrong on that — I’m among many who want to see him succeed.

Hopefully next season he lands somewhere and really gets that chance. Denver became too good too fast to really be that place for him this season.

 

Celtics, Nuggets look ahead to playoffs, not to past meeting

Associated Press
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — November was a long time ago, so chances are the Boston Celtics have gotten over Jamal Murray‘s antics from the first time they played the Denver Nuggets.

Then again, NBA players have long memories.

Murray scored 48 points in the Nuggets’ 115-107 in Denver on Nov. 5 and jacked up a last-second 3-pointer to try to reach 50. Boston guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t happy and threw the basketball into the stands after the buzzer, drawing a fine.

After the game, Murray acknowledged he got caught up in the moment, and Irving said there would be no hangover.

“What kind of competitor wouldn’t it bother? I was (mad), but we’re not going to make a big thing about it,” he said that night.

Irving can prove there are no hard feelings when the teams meet in Boston on Monday night. In fact, the Celtics might be thanking the Nuggets for helping them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Denver beat the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night while Boston was taking care of Atlanta, allowing the Celtics to move within a game of the Pacers for the fourth seed.

Boston (43-27) has two more games against Indiana but the Nuggets are the immediate priority. The Celtics have bigger concerns than payback for Murray, too. Center Al Horford left Saturday’s game after he banged his knee but was able to return, while forward Gordon Hayward left in the first half with a strained neck and didn’t return.

Horford appeared fine but Boston is trying to manage his minutes down the stretch. Hayward’s status for Monday is unknown after colliding with Atlanta forward John Collins. Coach Brad Stevens said after the game that Hayward was woozy at halftime.

“You could see right away that it was quite a hit,” Stevens said.

Denver has dealt with injuries all season but is finally fully healthy. Despite that, the Nuggets have struggled the past two-plus weeks, going 4-4 since Feb. 28 and needing late-game heroics to pull out two home wins.

All-Star Nikola Jokic hit a game-winner against Dallas on Thursday, and Saturday it was Paul Millsap saving the day. Denver (46-22) is securely in second place in the West as it starts a four-game trip through the Eastern Conference, thanks in part to a 12-3 record in games decided by three or fewer points.

“It’s great. Those are the moments that make the team,” Millsap said of the close victories. “It shows the type of character we have, it shows the type of team we have. Those situations can make or break a team and we’ve been able to thrive off of it.”

Jokic has been the catalyst, leading the team in scoring (20.3), rebounds (10.7) and assists (7.6). He showed his temper Saturday when he got ejected with 2:56 left and Denver leading by seven. Indiana rallied to tie it only to have Millsap hit the winning layup with seven seconds left.

“(We’re) talking about an All-Star guy who gets knocked around a lot, but through it all he (does) have to keep his composure, fight through it,” Millsap said. “Playoff atmosphere. Plays like that are going to happen, you’re not always going to get the call, you just have to fight through it.”

Monday’s game could be the first Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas plays at TD Garden since he was traded to Cleveland 18 months ago. Thomas led Boston to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals but was dealt for Irving in the offseason, and then to the Los Angeles Lakers during last season.

Hip surgery kept him out until just before the All-Star break. He played in nine games before being out of the rotation the last three heading into Boston.