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PBT Mailbag: Should Luka Doncic go No. 1 over Deandre Ayton?

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Welcome to the first ever edition of the PBT Mailbag. This week, we prepare for the 2018 NBA Draft as teams around the league try to scramble for Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, both, or neither.

The draft is one of my favorite dates on the NBA calendar simply because most of the draft board changes via reports and rumors are simply general managers and agents trying to influence via disinformation. It’s really masterful to see, and some of them have gotten so good at it that you can barely even tell that they’re mostly full of crap.

The reality of the situation is that the draft itself is luck influenced by data analysis and risk assessment. What doesn’t become public are the most important things: parents, what their background is, what their support network is, their work ethic, whether they eat nothing but Everlasting Gobstoppers, etc. Talent can float you for you for little bit, and will rise your draft stock, but it takes work and character to go from 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo to MVP-threat Giannis Antetokounmpo. I hope all your teams draft Durants and avoid an Oden on Thursday.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Let’s get to your questions.

Incite

Who gets selected first between Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marvin Bagley and Mo Bamba?

I really like the presumption to this question, which is that the Sacramento Kings are so decidedly dedicated to their insanity that they are all but guaranteed to select Michael Porter Jr. with their No. 2 overall pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are apparently angling to take Doncic with their third overall selection, so that seems to be the answer here. Normally I like to err on the side of disbelief when it comes to big names being reported as favorites in the hours leading up to the draft. However, this is the Kings we are talking about here, and reporting about Porter being their favorite has come from some big-name, big-sourced writers.

Taking Porter with the second overall selection, complete with his injury history and murmurs about his personality, would be such a Kingsy thing to do so I am 100% all in on that definitely happening.

John

Shouldn’t it seem obvious that with the way the NBA is heading that Doncic should he the first pick? A combo guard/wing who can play multiple positions and switch onto multiple guys on defense vs Ayton; a big who can’t stretch the floor and would have trouble finding minutes and a matchup in these last finals?

The NBA has changed a lot in just a few years. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend about the difference between sort of these weird, muscly athletic guys coming out of the college game being sort of outdated already. It wasn’t too long ago that guys like Blake Griffin, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle were boasted as being positionless players. Now we are slowly talking about their limitations.

The 3-pointer is king in the NBA, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The problem with Doncic is translation. There is not some kind of comparative ratio you can use to weigh college players versus professional European players. NBA talent scouts have been looking at guys in domestic college ranks for longer than they have in Europe. Even then, resources put towards Europe versus college scouting has and still is tipped toward the scale of the NCAA.

That’s really where the reticence with Doncic lies, even if DeAndre Ayton seems a little too raw to take a chance on at No. 1. Frankly, the fact that some of the other wing type of guys aren’t higher up the list is a little bit surprising — I guess never count out an NBA team’s propensity to fall in love with a physical freak of nature.

I am not sure Ayton wouldn’t find a role in these past Finals, but certainly given his lack of experience on defense that would be the case in year one. Many of the guys in the top five feel like they will be good enough players over the next three years, a factor that may be pushed further by the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. However, as is often the case, big men are projects coming out of college unless they are can’t-miss guys like Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Sun’s take Ayton with the first pick, they are going to have to wait for him to develop. The hope is that his ceiling will be higher than Doncic’s.

Chris

What does our supreme leader Ernie Grunfield do for DC’s fourth favorite sporting franchise on Thursday night? Does he reach and draft a European superstar? How about a player with more swag than basketball skill? Think he should trade it for a sixth man type who has the season long flu?

Seriously though, is it worth grabbing a center in this day and age? Wall and Gortart’s pick and roll game was unreal when they liked each other.

Confusingly,
Chris from Philly

It feels like the Wizards could really go either way. Their backcourt and wing players are going to cost them a bajillion dollars over the next four years or so, so they could try to bring in a player they’ve had an eye on and try to replicate some of that production with a far cheaper price tag.

Then again, Gortat seemed to be on his way out over the course of this season, and was rumored to be some kind of trade bait, albeit without much value. He certainly doesn’t seem to have a future with the Wizards, and Ian Mahinmi has not really worked out for DC. John Wall does need some extra pick-and-roll help, and they need to get younger across the front line overall.

Washington is the ultimate roulette team when it comes to the draft. They’ll either get a high VORP guy like Otto Porter Jr. or Bradley Beal, or they’ll draft this year’s Jan Vesely with no inbetween.

Let’s be honest, the best thing that could happen to the Wizards during the draft is that LeBron decides to head to the Western Conference. Any selection after that is secondary.

Alfredo

Chris Paul‘s first trip to the conference finals has convinced me the only way to get a ring is to play for a team who has won before, like Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Warriors, even Cavaliers. This means, those teams who have made the playoffs, but not a deep run, are plum out of luck.

What were the fatal flaws behind the Paul-led Pelicans and Clippers that kept them from getting out of the 2nd round vs. Rockets? Of the teams to have reached the conference finals and Finals, but not won a title yet*, which new team do you see winning next? Are the Pelicans, Hornets and Clippers considered dead end franchises, just because they can’t get out of the 2nd round?

First, I really appreciate the fatalism here. It takes a special kind of broken fan to admit that they think their team will probably never win a championship and that the odds are, for whatever cosmic reason, forever stacked towards the teams who are traditional powers. I really jive with that.

I think it’s easy to say that a lot of those Chris Paul teams suffered because of injury. But there is also something to be said about the surrounding players on the bench for a lot of his squads. Do you realize that Bonzi Wells was a contributor for the Hornets the year they got beaten by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round? That was in 2008, many years after Bonzi was a useful player.

The same can be said about those Clippers teams, who had a lot of front line star power but who also rolled out the likes of Glen Davis and an ancient Danny Granger against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the playoffs. Whose idea was that?

I wouldn’t say it’s fair to call any franchise “dead end” because team owners eventually have to die. That’s the real thing we don’t talk about enough when it comes to why the more sordid franchises are annually terrible. The Knicks would be a great destination if James Dolan decided to wear a fedora and do his Guitar Hero: Bruce Willis thing full time.

You can’t fire an owner but you can hope they sell the team. I’m not sure if that means you should root for team valuations to go up or down, but it’s something.

Daniel

Hey Dane, I wanted to know what kind of food is acceptable for a draft viewing party, and does acceptable draft night food vary for fans of different teams? I’ll take my answer off the air.

I’m really torn here because I think it depends on the context of the draft watch party. Is this a bunch of fans of one team who have struggled for years and are hoping for a breakout star to go to them in the top five? Or is this a bunch of NBA dorks getting together to watch the draft because they have nothing better to do on a Thursday night?

The former deserve to eat whatever their hearts desire. If it’s at your friend’s house, I would say you should go with the least messy thing you can find. Don’t try to eat wings at a buddy’s kitchen island. You’ll end up blowing through two rolls of paper towels all by yourself, and that’s nothing compared to when you sit down and rub something out of your eye 35 minutes later completely forgetting that you ate wings but didn’t wash your hands. You’ll start screaming, although if this is a Kings draft meetup everyone will just assume you are inconsolable about Vlade taking Michael Porter Jr.

If this shindig is just for NBA nerds, you should be doing nothing but snacking. Chex Mix, chips and maybe some guacamole. It’s a Thursday night, it’s a casual get-together, and you have to get up early in the morning.

Xander

Is there any chance Portland acquire someone that could be considered as a 3rd star without trading Collins?

No.

PDX HYPE SQUAD

Will the summer blockbuster, “Uncle Drew” be enough to get us all drinking Pepsi again?

I have to admit something: I have always been a Pepsi drinker. To be honest, seeing the Uncle Drew trailer in the theater made me want to stop drinking it. We have truly reached the zenith of capitalism when commercials that are based on a Robin Williams movie from 1993 end up as movies themselves.

Can I just say one more thing about Uncle Drew? How was it that we are in 2018 and we can turn Josh Brolin into a giant pink behemoth and a time-traveling clone, but we haven’t advanced the “make a young guy look old” technology past “Big Momma’s House”? The whole concept of these movies are unbelievable mostly because they look exactly like a guy put on 17 hours of prosthetics just to cross somebody over while Kevin Hart makes quips in the background about taking calcium to cure their broken ankles. I hope it was worth it, Kyrie Irving. I’m setting the “Uncle Drew” over/under on Rotten Tomatoes at 24.5%

Bret O

Out of LBJ, George, and Leonard, who is most likely to end up in a Sixers uni and why?

LeBron James has the most agency out of any of these guys, so it seems like he’s the least likely to head to Philadelphia. More and more rumors come out every day about how he’s heading west, although we don’t know where. Meanwhile, NBA players really do seem to love Russell Westbrook, and whether George ends up in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, I’m not sure that the 76ers are a top destination for him.

That leaves us with Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are refusing to send somewhere in the Western Conference. That fact alone so that gives the most credence that he would be the most likely to end up in Philadelphia out of these three guys. Plus, since Leonard has reportedly said he wants to head to Los Angeles, he’s completely tanked his own trade value. Philly has a few non-essential assets, and could give up something in exchange for a one-year rental on Kawhi as they try to take over the Eastern Conference and convince him to stay on for a championship run.

Andrew T.

Does Kawhi have a no-trade clause? Can he veto any trade? If he does, and refuses to play for the Spurs, do they have to pay him? Is Kawhi worth multiple first round picks?

Kawhi does not have a no-trade clause, and he does not have the ability to veto any trade. If he refuses to play, they do have to pay him although they can just go ahead and fine him right back. We have never seen a player do that for a significant amount of time that would warrant a real intervention from the league or the players union, and I don’t see that happening here.

As it stands today, Leonard is not worth multiple first-round picks. Heck, he’s not even worth one. He has completely killed his trade value, and even under regular circumstances it’s hard to tell what he would garner on a trade market that he hadn’t killed with his own hand. First round picks have sort of varied in their worth over the last decade. First, they started off as easily moved trade pieces. Then they exploded in value, sometimes becoming more important than actual good players. It seems like they’re sort of on the downslope again, although on a very shallow fall.

Doug L.

Does the concept of “hometown discount” exist anymore? Did it ever? There’s examples like Dirk & Durant taking less than they could have gotten, but I don’t remember ever seeing a guy like Evan Turner or Harrison Barnes taking less than what they feel they’re worth. Why does that always seem to come up when discussing someone like Marcus Smart‘s free agency when it almost never happens? Or even other stars like Kyrie, LeBron, Klay, or CP3?

You also have to remember the context for Evan Turner and Harrison Barnes at the time. Barnes was the guy on a team that hasn’t performed up to his potential. Giving him that kind of money was really questionable, especially within the context of how much Klay Thompson had evolved over the course of his contract.

The same can be said for Evan Turner, who was invaluable in the Eastern Conference during his time in Philadelphia and Boston, but who wasn’t necessarily an integral piece of the fabric for either. That doesn’t excuse the Portland Trail Blazers for handing him $17 million a year, but it’s not like anyone was thinking Turner would even need to take a hometown discount.

I think it does exist, but it’s nothing we need to worry about just yet. If multiple MVP-type guys start taking massive cuts just to group together on the same team, then the NBA has a problem.

Adam F.

What should be our new NBA position labels be? Currently 1=PG 2=SG 3=SF 4=PF 5=C. Why can’t we divide it into Play Maker (1) / Wings (2,3) / Bigs (4,5) In fact we could further divide it to quickly accommodate everyone’s unique contributions?

0.5 / Small Wing / Aaron Brooks, non-Boston Isiah Thomas Types, short defensive liabilities who max out as 6th man spark plugs off the bench.

1.0 / Play Maker / The fulcrum of their teams’ offense regardless of traditional size (Giannis, LeBron, Kyrie. Curry, Harden, Durant)

(You could further Classify this like 1.1 = Curry, 1.2 = Harden, 1.3 = Durant/LeBron, 1.4 = Giannis)

1.5 / Unicorn Big / Anthony Davis types. Play Makers who need someone else to initiate the offense but often finish it.

1.75 / Combo Wing / Eric Gordon types who can take over backup Play Maker duties for short stretches while the real play maker rests. Potential to become a 1.1 or 1.2

2.0 / Shooting Wing / Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson types who primarily stretch the floor with their shooting but are big enough to defend traditional guards

2.25 / 3 & 0 Wing / Tim Hardaway Jr, Andrew Wiggins types known for their offense with no accompanying defense

2.5 / 3 & D Wing / Avery Bradley, Robert Covington types known more for their defense but can still stretch the floor on offense

2.75 / 0 & D Wing / Andre Roberson, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest types known for their defense with no accompanying offense

3.0 / Big Wing / Jayson Tatum, Otto Porter types who fill in all current small forward duties, more perimeter oriented. Potential to become a 1.3

3.5 / Power Wing / Name your small ball 4 (Justise Winslow, Jae Crowder types), basically Big Wings who can’t stretch the floor.

4.0 / Power Big / Traditional Power Forward types who score buckets inside, grab rebounds. What they lack is they can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense (Karl Malone, Carlos Boozer types)

4.15 / Combo Big / Karl Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis types who protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. What they lack is girth of a 4.5 of 5.0 and the consistency of a 1.4 or 1.5. Potential to become a 1.4 or 1.5

4.5 / Dive Big / Rudy Gobert, Clint Capella types who protect the paint, dive the lane and are quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. What they lack is the ability to stretch the floor.

4.75 / Shooting Big / Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson types can stretch the floor. What they lack is they can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense.

5.0 / B2B Big / Jonas Valanciunas or Al Jefferson types who can’t protect the paint, dive the lane or stretch the floor and are not quick enough to keep up with wings on defense. They play with their back to the basket and are ground bound

God bless the man who sees people complaining about too much math being used in the NBA and comes up with this.

I think we are missing some key positions left out here. I don’t know how you want to number them, but I think it goes like this:

2.375 / Wings who can sort of dribble but that’s it: Your Evan Turners, your Jeff Greens, your Playoff JR Smiths. What do these guys bring to your team? I don’t know, but a 55-year-old pro scout in your favorite organization loves their HEART.

2.6175 / Every wing player on the current iteration of the Sacramento Kings: No role, and all of them could end up playing as a backup shooting guard or as a small ball four in a couple of years. The only guarantee is it won’t be for the Kings.

3.29 / Young wings on your favorite team that could put it together if they just knew how to play basketball: You know the type. Your Travis Outlaws, your Jordan Clarksons. These guys show flashes of brilliance, athleticism, and top flight basketball IQ for literally minutes at a time. Then it’s right back to the tank, followed by several passes directly at the guy holding nachos courtside. Will they ever figure it out? Maybe your GM should roll the dice and give them another $10 million a year to find out. I bet they will.

4.99 / Bigs who are athletic and who can rebound but don’t have any appreciable NBA-ready skill: JJ Hickson or Thomas Robinson type of guys who don’t seem to know exactly what it is they’re doing but, boy, do they do a lot of it. They’ll get rebounds, mostly over guys exactly like them and stretch fours who would have been backup small forwards a decade ago. Local fans always overestimate how much they should be paid by at least 60%.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.