Should the Cavaliers draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker No. 1 now?

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Joel Embiid had it all – size, skills, athleticism and upside.

Unfortunately, it’s never that easy in Cleveland.

With Embiid injured, the Cavaliers’ options for the No. 1 pick likely come down to Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

They could always take a flier on Dante Exum, or given how they’ve operated the last couple years, someone like Aaron Gordon. Maybe they could even still draft Embiid.

But all logic says Wiggins and Parker are the only two reasonable candidates, and the sudden shakeup makes the debate between the two – once with the No. 2 pick on the line – all the more intriguing.

It’s been easy for top-selecting teams to hide behind positional need to justify their selections. Players of the same position haven’t gone 1-2 in the draft in eight years, since the Raptors took PF Andrea Bargnani No. 1 and PF LaMarcus Aldridge followed at No. 2 in 2006.

Wiggins and Parker are heavy favorites to end that trend with the Bucks taking the one the Cavs don’t. Though Wiggins falls more toward a 2/3 and Parker a 3/4, both are essentially small forwards.

Here’s how the major sites rank them right now:

Site Wiggins Parker
DraftExpress 2 3
ESPN 1 2
CBS 1 2
SB Nation 1 2
nbadraft.net 3 2

Wiggins definitely holds a perceived edge. He possesses elite athletic traits – from his lengthy wingspan to his ridiculous vertical. He must become more aggressive and a better ball-handler to capitalize offensively, but his defense – while it comes and goes – looks excellent at times.

Parker can score from anywhere on the court, and he has the dribbling ability to get anywhere. He’s a willing passer with as diverse of an offensive skillset as you’ll find in a one-and-done player. His lack of lateral quickness leaves him a limited defender, though.

If you notice, there’s no discussion of fit here. For one, Wiggins and Parker share similar enough profiles.

More importantly, it doesn’t matter.

The Cavaliers won 33 games last year. They should not worry about how a player fits into a roster that should change significantly.

Only Kyrie Irving would make me even hesitate about positional overlap, but if the best prospect were a point guard, I’d still probably pick him and roll with two-point guard lineups – an underutilized weapon – and sort it out later. Conveniently for Cleveland, the only point guard even in the periphery of the discussion, Exum, could easily play the two.

In terms of what they bring to any team, looking at a player’s track record is a great place to start.

With minimal room to argue, Parker was better in college last season. He made every major All-American first team while Wiggins made all the second teams.

Even if we knew Parker was more likely than Wiggins to become the better player, that alone wouldn’t make Parker the clearly better draft choice.

If Wiggins has a higher ceiling – even with lower odds of reaching it – that matters. Superstars drive the NBA, and it might be better to swing at the fences for one rather than taking the dependable line-drive double.

I’m just not convinced that line of thinking matters in this case.

Why is everyone so convinced a 19-year-old Parker is so much more of a finished product than a 19-year-old Wiggins?

Wiggins entered school as the consensus No. 1 pick, and though we have 35 more games to analyze, I believe that label still colors perception of Wiggins. People look for reasons to justify his early project as No. 1 pick. Parker, an elite prospect coming out of high school himself, doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt.

Nothing indicates potential more than age, and less than a month separates the two. Wiggins’ athleticism give him an upside advantage, but without an age discrepancy also significantly in his favor, Wiggins’ upside advantage has been overstated.

That’s evident in the statistical ratings produced by Kevin Pelton of ESPN, the foremost public statistical draft ratings now that John Hollinger works for the Grizzlies. Pelton’ system features age prominently – in addition to pre-NBA production – in the equation.

And that’s why drafting Wiggins No. 1 is so unnerving. I might do it, but it would scare me.

He ranks just No. 22 in Pelton’s rating (Wins Above Replacement Player, aka WARP), which would make Wiggins the lowest-ranked No. 1 pick in the eight years for which Pelton has revealed data.

Year No. 1 pick WARP rank
2013 Anthony Bennett 13
2012 Anthony Davis 1
2011 Kyrie Irving 2
2010 John Wall 10
2009 Blake Griffin 3
2008 Derrick Rose 9
2007 Greg Oden 2

I’m always most comfortable when the analytics match my eye test.

It’s not about taking the player statistics rate No. 1 – Marcus Smart for Pelton this year, by the way. It’s  about using all methods of evaluation to reach a conclusion.

Like Wiggins, Parker passes the eye test, though perhaps not as effortlessly. But Parker ranks No. 7 in Pelton’s system, substantially higher than Wiggins.

That’s the case in other statistical models. Counting The Baskets places Parker No. 3 and Wiggins No. 19. Jacob Frankel has Parker No. 6 and Wiggins No. 13. Layne Vashro put Parker No. 8 and Wiggins No. 10, and Basketball Analytics ranks Parker No. 1 and Wiggins No. 3, but going by score rather than rank shows pretty substantial gaps between Parker and Wiggins in those two formulas.

Still, that some analytical methods place Wiggins so high certainly eases some of the worry of drafting him.

Simply, it’s an intriguing debate.

My gut says Wiggins. My head says Parker.

I’ve tried to train myself to follow my head over my gut – and usually I do – but it’s not easy. Wiggins is so tempting.

If I were the Cavaliers, I’d take Parker No. 1 and never look back look back constantly in fear of Wiggins becoming the better pro.

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Hall of Fame induction pushed back to May

Kobe Hall of Fame
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kobe Bryant and the rest of this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class won’t be inducted in 2020 – or at the birthplace of basketball.

The Hall announced Friday that the enshrinement ceremony will be held May 13-15, 2021, and the entire festivities will be moved to Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

This year was to be a highlight for the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bryant, killed in January in a helicopter crash, headlined a decorated class featuring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that would have been enshrined in the recently renovated museum.

But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans and hit the Hall so hard that it eliminated several full-time positions and cut senior management pay in the 25-40% range.

“These are people who have been a big part of the Hall’s success in recent years; it hurts deeply,” said John Doleva, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The decision to reschedule Enshrinement into May of next year, along with diminished museum guest visitation and a very uncertain future regarding our multiple collegiate and high school basketball events this fall, has forced us to make these very difficult decisions. Our goal now is to conserve resources so that we may stabilize in 2021 and return to our growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond.”

“For this single event, and only because of the pandemic, we will relocate the entire event one time to Mohegan Sun which has been a long-time marketing partner of the Hall. Mohegan Sun has shown they can effectively operate a ‘near-bubble’ for our event which provides a more secure environment for our guests,” Doleva explained. “In making this announcement today, our goal is to provide this date and location change with ample notice for our network broadcast partners, nationally and internationally traveling guests and the many basketball constituents the Hall serves.”

Mohegan Sun is a long-time partner of the Hall. Doleva says it can operate a “near-bubble” to provide a secure environment for guests.

 

Vlade Divac steps down as Kings GM; Joe Dumars takes over in interim

Vlade Divac out
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Days after the Kings’ playoff drought reached 14 seasons — second-longest in league history and only one year behind the Donald Sterling Clippers — the repercussions hit GM Vlade Divac and he is out.

Divac has stepped down as the Kings’ general manager, the team announced Friday. Joe Dumars, the former Pistons GM who had been working as a consultant with the team, will step in during the interim while the search for a new GM takes place.

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings’ family.”

While there are legitimate questions about the job Luke Walton did in his first season in Sacramento, his job is safe, something first reported by Sam Amick of The Athletic and since confirmed by James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Kings also said there will be no other major roster moves made until a new GM is in place.

“Joe has become a trusted and valued advisor since joining the team last year, and I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise,” said Ranadivé.

Divac was a member of the best Kings’ teams ever (during the Chris Webber era) and is in the Hall of Fame as a player. Playing and being a GM, however, are two very different skill sets. Divac did sign a contract extension with the Kings a year-and-a-half ago.

The NBA restart bubble was not kind to the Kings, and that ultimately doomed Divac.

After a promising finish as the ninth seed a season ago, playing a fast-paced style that suited young star De'Aaron Fox, Divac made a move to switch coaches last off-season and fired Dave Joerger to hire Walton. However, under Walton the Kings played slower and were much easier to defend. The Kings did get healthy and start to find a groove right before the league was shut down, going 7-3 in those last 10, but once in the bubble Sacramento was a mess again with a bottom-10 defense in Orlando, and they finished 3-5 in the seeding games.

The salt in the wound in Orlando — and what really eats at Kings’ fans — was the elite play of Luka Doncic in Orlando, and all season long.

Divac — who had scouted in Europe and has deep connections there — chose to use the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Marvin Bagley out of Duke instead of Doncic. While the Kings had scouted Doncic extensively (Ranadive even went to Europe to watch him play and backed taking Doncic), Divac and the front office staff thought the athleticism of Bagley gave him a higher upside than Doncic. (Scouts were often divided on Doncic: Nobody thought he would be bad, but some questioned his ceiling because he already had so much polish to his game and he’s not an explosive athlete by NBA standards. Divac and the rest of the Kings’ front office fell into this camp.) Plus, Divac liked the idea of a big man to pair with their point guard Fox, rather than bringing in another ball handler in Doncic.

Doncic almost certainly will make an All-Seeding Games team out of the bubble in Orlando, and in his second NBA season is an MVP candidate (he will get bottom of the ballot votes). Bagley did not play in any seeding games due to another injury, this one to his foot.

Moving on from Divac may be the right move for the Kings, but it begs the question: Who are they going to hire to replace him? What is the new GM’s basketball philosophy and what kind of team does he want to build? And, will he have the power to do it, or will Ranadive keep his reputation as an owner who likes to meddle in basketball operations?

The Kings need a change — but they need the right change. That will be the tricky part.

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. taken off court on stretcher after collision

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It was the kind of play that happens countless times a game: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was trying to chase Doug McDermott over an off-ball (and moving) screen when collided with pick-setting 6’11” center Goga Bitadze.

This ended up being no standard collision — Jones’ head and neck whipped back, and he instantly went to the ground.

Jones was grabbing his neck at first and was on the ground for about 10 minutes — in the eerie silence of a fanless bubble arena in Orlando — before being taken off the court on a stretcher.

The good news is Jones has just suffered a neck strain, the team announced. There is no timeline for his return, but this could have been much worse.

The Heat and the Pacers, who already have tension between them thanks to a beef between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs starting Monday.

Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus before coming to Orlando (and was quarantined), will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has been making the NBA minimum since coming into the league and was in line for a life-changing payday this summer after playing strong defense while averaging 8.6 points per game — and some spectacular dunks — in nearly 23 minutes a night for Miami. Our thoughts are with him after this incident.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.