PBT’s Top 10 NBA Stories of 2014, No. 6: Heralded and disappointing draft class

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The 2014 NBA draft class was hyped as the best in a decade – since 2003, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and several other key contributors joined the league.

No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker were supposed to create a rookie rivalry, and selections late into the first round seemed to provide good value. This draft class claimed both star power and depth.

But the early returns are pretty dim.

The 2014-15 rookie class is on pace to produce the second-fewest win shares per league game ever. Only the 1957-58 class ranked lower in the stat, which – although meaningless as a number – is useful in comparing rookie classes across eras where the league’s size and schedule varied.

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(The league’s first few seasons are not included in the chart, because a disproportionately high number of players were rookies, and their high combined contributions would have distorted the scale.)

To be fair, it’d be reasonable to predict rookies tend to improve more within a season than other players. After all, they have the most to learn.

So, there’s still hope the 2014-15 class becomes more competitive between now and April.

However, some key rookies are either hurt or behind the eight ball thanks to previous injures. Most of the top 10 picks are out or have missed significant time:

1. Andrew Wiggins

2. Jabari Parker (injured earlier this month and lost for season)

3. Joel Embiid (injured before the draft and likely out all season)

4. Aaron Gordon (fractured foot last month and out indefinitely)

5. Dante Exum

6. Marcus Smart (missed 13 games due to injury)

7. Julius Randle (injured in his first game and lost for season)

8. Nik Stauskas

9. Noah Vonleh (injured in preseason and too far behind to contribute)

10. Elfrid Payton

This is why Wiggins is an overwhelming favorite for Rookie of the Year. It’s telling that his top competition, Nikola Mirotic, wasn’t even drafted this year. The Bulls rookie was selected in 2011 and signed with Chicago this offseason.

Don’t completely give up on the 2014 draft class, but it’s not too early to lower expectations.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.