NBA Draft Winners, Losers: Miami, Minnesota come away looking good

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Trying to assess winners and losers in the immediate aftermath of an NBA Draft is a fool’s errand — we are at least three years out from really knowing who did well. Think back three years, would anyone take Dion Waiters in front of Damian Lillard if you redid the 2012 draft?

That said, we’re going to give it a shot.

I’ll start with this comment: I’m not putting the Knicks in the loser category straight away. Porzingis was not who I would have picked but the guy has upside and a lot of teams like him. If the Knicks can develop him — which is another question — they have a steal. But this is a franchise that has tried the quick fix for years, I don’t completely hate them trying to get the best guy by going slower. If James Dolan lets them stick with it.

Here are our winners and losers from the 2015 NBA Draft.

WINNER: The Miami Heat
(Justise Winslow at No. 10, Josh Richardson at No. 40)
Winslow is the guy the Knicks should have taken at No. 4 (unless you think the Knicks are good at player development suddenly), but instead he falls right into Pat Riley’s lap. He can defend multiple positions at an NBA level right now, plus he showed some versatility to his offense at Duke. He’s going to get most of his offense in transition — the Heat want to run — and he shot 41 percent from three last season. Winslow fell to the perfect team for his style of play, and the Heat catch a big break.

LOSER: NBA Fans
This was going to be the NBA draft with the wild trades, all sorts of player movement, crazy surprises and… not so much. Mason Plumlee and Tim Hardaway Jr. got traded, but that’s not exactly the kind of wild thrills we had in mind. Look for a lot more movement come the start of free agency on July 1, but this draft did not live up to the hype.

WINNER: The Minnesota Timberwolves
(Karl-Anthony Towns at No. 1, Tyus Jones at No. 24)
Flip Saunders didn’t over think it, he just took the best player on the board with the first pick, a guy who is going to fit beautifully with Andrew Wiggins and the rest of the young core in Minnesota. I also like the move to make a trade and land a quality point guard — he can back up Ricky Rubio… and considering Rubio’s injury history Jones may get a fair amount of run. This is a team on the rise.

LOSER: Atlanta Hawks
(Traded to end up with Tim Hardaway Jr., took Marcus Eriksson at No. 50)
I get trading out of the 15 pick (giving it to the Wizards) for the No. 19 pick, they picked up a couple of second rounders there. But then they traded that No. 19 pick too, when guys who could have helped then like Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were still on the board. Maybe you can say Hardaway is better than those young stars, but he regressed last season with the Knicks and Mike Budenholzer has some work to do there.

WINNER: The Chicago Bulls
(Bobby Portis at No. 22)
They had only one pick but they made the most of it, drafting a high energy, defense first kind of guy. Tom Thibodeau would have loved him, but alas. To make up for that bulls fans will love this guy because he fights and outworks guys at both ends of the court. He defends well in the paint and on the perimeter. Offensively, put him in a modern offense (like Fred Hoiberg wants to run) and he will get you hustle points and knock down some jumpers. This is just a great fit.

LOSER: The Memphis Grizzlies
(Jarell Martin at No. 25, Andrew Harrison at No. 44)
I don’t get the Martin pick, but this was a guy the Grizzlies loved and promised very early on. Martin’s offensive game suits an up-tempo team, but he struggles when the game grinds down — and all the Grizzlies do is grind. Martin wasn’t even the best forward on his team, the Grizzlies should have taken Jordan Mickey (the Celtics got him at 34, and that helped keep them off the loser list since they badly overreached at 16).

James Harden: Media narrative contributed to Giannis Antetokounmpo winning MVP

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James Harden scored 36.1 points per game last season, the highest-scoring season since Michael Jordan. Harden’s 32-game 30-point streak was the second-longest streak ever. He scored 30 points against every team besides the Rockets.

My favorite Harden stat is just looking at the highest-scoring games of the season:

1. James Harden 61

1. James Harden 61

3. Kemba Walker 60

4. Devin Booker 59

5. James Harden 58

5. James Harden 58

7. James Harden 57

7. James Harden 57

9. LaMarcus Aldridge 56

10. James Harden 54

This was a special season.

So, why did Giannis Antetokounmpo win Most Valuable Player?

“Politics” was suggested to Harden.

Harden on 97.9 The Box:

I think the same way you think.

I think once the media, they create a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and run with it the entire year.

I don’t want to get into details. But all I can do is control what I can do, and I went out there and did what I was supposed to do at a high level. You know what I’m saying?

The season, there’s probably only a few seasons where anybody’s ever done that before.

People were tuned in onto how many points that I was going to score the next game. You know what I’m saying? It was a thing.

Harden is right. Narrative factors way too much into MVP voting.

Michael Jordan lost 1997 MVP to Karl Malone due to voter fatigue. In 2011, everyone was so mad about The Decision, voters picked Derrick Rose (and Dwight Howard) over LeBron James for MVP. Those results didn’t reflect what actually happened on the court.

As Houston started slow last season, Antetokounmpo became MVP favorite. That early inclination probably had an anchoring effect for final voting.

The most important step in eliminating biases is acknowledging biases. I have railed for years against letting narrative affect award voting. I think MVP should honor the player who had the best season. Nothing more, nothing less. When analyzing candidates, I make a concerted effort to separate superfluous factors like narrative.

I favored Harden a huge chunk of the season. I entered my final review expecting to pick Harden. But I ultimately landed on Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo was excellent offensively – not as good as Harden, but close enough to offset the massive defensive difference. Caught up in Harden’s scoring brilliance, I hadn’t properly appreciated Antetokounmpo’s defense until late in the process.

Harden had a great year. It was widely judged to be the second-best year in the entire NBA. He should be proud of that.

It’s unsurprising he answered this way, though. After all, he he has been enabled by a general manager who once said Harden’s previous runner-up MVP finishes meant maybe the award shouldn’t exist at all.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.