After going back and watching last night’s draft in its entirety, I could only come up with one word to describe it: Awkward. From Anthony Bennett going number one overall to the Cavaliers, to the awkward exchange between Doc Rivers and Bill Simmons , it was a draft night that I want to forget. For starters, let’s never have Rece Davis and Jay Bilas work a draft night with Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons again. The commentary was all over the place and the two pairs clearly have a different style on covering the draft. The whole night was one big awkward mess. It certainly did not get any better after the news of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s trade to Brooklyn either. Next year’s broadcast just has to be better. Based on the talent in this draft it is certainly a weak one, but by no means is it the worst in history. That award goes to the 2000 NBA Draft whose top three picks were Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift (who reportedly hated basketball), and Darius Miles (who is probably best remembered for his cameo in Van Wilder). Nevertheless, here is my breakdown and grades of the lottery picks in 2013.
Cleveland Cavaliers, Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
No one saw Anthony Bennett going number one. And I mean no one. With the speculation and predictions about the 2013 Draft seemingly changing every minute since March, not one mock draft I saw had Bennett going number one, as tweeners (between the 3 and the 4 positions) rarely do. However, I’ve long believed that Bennett was one of the top 5 players in this draft and was one of the best bets in this draft as long as he could stay healthy. I think that Bennett’s size and versatility can really help Cleveland on the offensive end, especially if he can improve on his jump shot and keep the extra pounds off. Imagine Bennett and Kyrie Irving in a high screen pick and pop scenario. Bennett could 20 and 10 guy. Cleveland fans have reason to be excited. Draft grade: A-
Orlando Magic, Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
Oladipo is a guy with a motor that’s always running and that is exactly what the Magic will need down the road. He appears to be one of the most NBA ready prospects and will make a difference on the defensive end from day 1. If the Magic want to truly get the most out of this pick they do have to be patient with the way his offensive game develops. Oladipo is one of the few players I could see becoming a legitimate superstar in this draft. I love Bill Simmons’ worst case scenario of Oladipo as a Tony Allen type player with a better offensive game. Draft grade: A
Washington Wizards, Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
This seemed to be the only predictable pick of the entire night. Porter has immense upside and with his 6’9” frame, he can be plugged in right away at the 3 and help John Wall and Co. make a push for the playoffs. He’s a perfect fit for the Wizards from a basketball standpoint and from a personality standpoint. Look for Porter to have a long career in the capital. Draft grade: A+
Charlotte Bobcats, Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana
After the Bennett pick, this was my next biggest WTF moment of night. The Bobcats need help all over the floor and with potential All-Stars like McClemore, Noel and even Len still available, this move just left most scratching their head. Zeller will have to make the transition from the 5 to the 4 and will have to improve his toughness and motor if he wants be effective. Here are some other “notable” first round picks by the Bobcats: Sean May, Adam Morrison, DJ Augustin, and Bismack Biyombo. I think Zeller will soon join this list of misfits. The Bobcats miss the mark for yet another year. The Bobcats will continue to have the worst roster in basketball. All Charlotte fans can do now is cross their fingers for the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. P.S. Adam, wherever you are, I’m sorry. Draft grade: D
Phoenix Suns, Alex Len, C, Maryland
This is an OK pick for the Suns considering what was left on the board. Beyond the top 6-8 picks there were really no clear cut choices remaining, so Phoenix went with one of the few options they had and chose Len. However, once again, McClemore and Noel were still on the board. I can see Len becoming a future version of Brook Lopez, so long as he works on his positioning and moves with his back to the basket. He also needs to improve on his consistency. There were times last year for Maryland in which Len would disappear for game long stretches and be a non-factor. Phoenix can’t afford another poor draft pick if they intend on rebuilding in the near future. Draft grade: C+
New Orleans Pelicans (traded to Philadelphia) Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Kentucky
You always feel bad for the guys who slide. In this case, I felt like much of Nerlens Noel’s slide could have been avoided. In a lot of pre-draft reports, it was said that Nerlens Noel and his camp had been difficult to get ahold of for pre-draft interviews and no one really knew who was representing Noel. That’s never a good sign. Those issues, combined with his injured knee, caused concern to grow and thus his slide to number 6. I think it was a stretch for Philadelphia to trade their young All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a young, potentially damaged 7 footer, who apparently weighed in at 206 lbs at a pre-draft camp. Noel will have to add muscle to his wiry frame and an offensive game if he wants to validate his potential as a prospect. Draft grade for PHI: B Trade grade for NO: A+
Sacramento Kings, Ben McClemore, SG, Kansas
By far the best value pick in the 1st round of the draft. McClemore, who had been projected as going as high as 1, fell right into the Kings lap at pick 7. While there are some concerns about McClemore’s desire and killer instinct, there is no denying his fantastic shooting stroke and superb athleticism. I think he has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the draft given those attributes. Hopefully McClemore can help the Kings franchise steer the ship in the right direction. Draft grade: A
Detroit Pistons, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, SG, Georgia
Not many people saw Caldwell Pope in action last year at Georgia. While I thought that the Pistons might stretch and take McCollum with the 8th pick, this one makes sense too. The Pistons have been back and forth on where to slot Brandon Knight in the future and this pick all but solidifies his spot and the PG position. Caldwell Pope will provide a great shooter for the Pistons and will combine with Knight for one of the better young back courts in the league in the future. Draft grade: B
Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to Utah), Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
I think that this pick/trade worked out great for both sides. Minnesota got the guy they wanted in Shabazz Muhammed and Trey Burke found his ideal situation with Utah. The Jazz gives Burke the opportunity to start right away with a young and talented team. There will certainly be some growing pains along the way, but Burke, the best point guard in the draft will have no problems with the learning curve. He was arguably the fiercest competitor in the country last year and will continue to put that competitiveness into his game at the pro level. As a guy playing with a chip on his shoulder, Burke should be feared. Draft grade for MIN: B+ Draft grade for UTA: A+
Portland Trailblazers, CJ McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh
This pick left me scratching my head a bit. The Blazers currently have a very talented combo guard in Damian Lillard, who is very proficient on the offensive end. My feelings tell me that they just drafted the same guy in McCollum. Starting those two together gives the Blazers a pretty undersized backcourt and has virtually two PGs on the floor at the same time, given that McCollum starts right away. With issues at the center position, Steven Adams made more sense here. From a talent standpoint it’s a good pick, but from a needs standpoint, not so much. Draft grade: B
Philadelphia 76ers, Michael Carter Williams, PG, Syracuse
After the trade sending Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans, this pick made the most sense for the 76ers. They are now clearly committed to a rebuilding effort around the young core of Noel, Turner and Carter Williams. Carter Williams will get big minutes right away, but will need to work on his scoring if he wants to join the ranks of the upper echelon of point guards in the NBA. I still think it was a stupid trade to give up a talent like Holiday especially for someone as unproven as Noel. We’ll just have to wait and see. Draft grade: B-
Oklahoma City Thunder, Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
Given what this pick was supposed to be, I’m not happy. The Thunder gave up Harden for this?! A raw 7 foot big man who is still clearly learning the game of basketball (see Bismack Biyombo)?! This must be what it’s like to be a Charlotte fan (again, sorry Adam). I’m not buying that trade nor will I ever. Now, time to be logical. At this point in the draft, with the talent remaining, I’m OK with this pick. I desperately wanted to see Sam Presti and the Thunder front office go out on a limb and take Jamaal Franklin, who will end up being the steal of this draft, but that was wishful thinking. Giving Adams some time in the D-League to get a better feel for the game will be beneficial and hopefully he develops enough to find a spot in the Thunder’s starting 5 (I’m still hoping the same about Jeremy Lamb). Draft grade: B-
James Harden trade: F—- (bitter much?)
Dallas Mavericks (traded to Boston), Kelly Olynyk, PF/C, Gonzaga
There’s not a whole lot to say about Olynyk. He’s a decent big man who can run the floor, face up in the high post and get to the basket. His game lacks in almost every other area. While it is the “sensible pick” at 14 and might have been the best available for the Celtics, I don’t see Olynyk making much of a splash in Boston or anywhere. Picture Raef Lafrentz, but not as tough (if you can imagine that).
Utah Jazz (traded to Minnesota), Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
I think this is a decent fit for both parties. The combination of Rubio, Love and Pekovic will hopefully allow for Muhammad to feel less pressure on the offensive end and just do what comes naturally, something he was seldom allowed to do at UCLA, being the primary scoring option. He’s offensive rebounding prowess will also continue to bolster the Minnesota front court and add more size to their rotation. I think if Muhammad can grow up a little bit more, he may turn some heads in Minnesota. Draft grade: B+
So that wraps my take on the lottery picks of the 1st round. Before I wrap up I figured I should give some credit where credit is due. Today, I applaud David Stern. Stern turned the NBA into the marketing monster it is today. While many were critical of his methods and approach to handling players, he grew the NBA more than arguably any other professional sport during his 30 year tenure. The NBA and its players owe him gratitude. Even more so, we, the fans, owe him thanks. Thank you, David Stern. How’s about you bring back that killer stash for retirement?
Pittsburgh was their first victim. Then it was Gonzaga, followed by LaSalle and Ohio State. The Wichita State Shockers have seemed to dominate the four teams they have played thus far in the tournament. The clichéd phrase “shocking the nation” has been tossed left and right since the Shockers knocked out Gonzaga in the Round of 32. But has Wichita State’s “Cinderella story” really been that shocking?
I know it may be hard to believe, but there are more than just redneck farm boys on this basketball team. There is deep, athletic talent coached by an incredibly intelligent staff. When you put two and two together, Wichita State is composed of an ideal tournament roster.
Their point guard, Malcolm Armstead, is a dauntless guard who takes the ball to the hoop with confidence. Red shirt freshman Ron Baker’s three point shooting has been surreal in the tournament, hitting 40% of his attempts from long range. The Shocker’s big men, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, are strong rebounders who can be scoring threats. Along with impressive starters, Wichita State is complemented with arguably the deepest bench in the tournament. All but two of the Shocker players average 11+ minutes per game, and none more than 29. With nine players playing over 25% of the game, Wichita State lacks visual tiredness, giving them an advantage with their fresh legs. The issue for the Shockers, as the second best team from the Missouri Valley Conference meets the Big East champion, Louisville, is experience.
This Saturday, Wichita State will have their biggest game in school history against Louisville. Wichita State’s leading scorer, Early, averages just 13.7 points per game. When compared to Louisville’s Russ Smith, who puts up 19 a game, Early looks like David facing Goliath. The same goes for every Shocker when put next to every Cardinal. However, the stamina and togetherness Wichita State has could spell doom for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for the Shockers, Louisville is motivated more than ever because of Kevin Ware’s devastating leg injury suffered in the Elite Eight.
I believe the winner of this game will face Michigan in the National Championship. There, I think the champion is a toss-up. Louisville’s motivation could carry over into Monday’s game, benefiting them greatly. Wichita State’s run could continue into the championship game, where all of the pressure would be on the expected-winner, Michigan. The Wolverines’ Trey Burke has been absolutely red hot, though, and has his team fearless. Although this Final Four has been unlike those in previous years, whoever emerges on top will still have well-earned it.
Tonight is home to possibly the best Sweet 16 matchup of the tournament. The Kansas Jayhawks will tip off against the Michigan Wolverines at 6:37 central time. The game, being played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is a rare meeting between two of the top programs in the country.
Look for the matchup between Kansas guard Travis Releford and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. Releford’s strong defensive play could determine the outcome of the game. Hardaway Jr. has been averaging 17.5 points per game in the Wolverine’s two tournament games, but Travis Releford has the defensive ability to significantly decrease Burke’s scoring.
Also keep an eye on the Trey Burke matchup with Elijah Johnson. Johnson has had a disappointing season, but has proved to come up in tight situations. Burke, a sophmore, is arguably the player of the year, though. I think Johnson will come up big once again and hold Trey Burke to a sub-par night.
If Jeff Withey can have the same type of game against Michigan as he did against North Carolina, the Jayhawks have no reason to lose. Withey’s paint communication with Kevin Young is superb, and they are arguably the best big man duo in the NCAA this season. Watch for Young to draw double teams and then dish the ball to Withey for easy scores.
The X-factor in this game is Ben McLemore. Lately, McLemore has been playing at a level he has never seen, nor has the nation. In Kansas’ previous game versus North Carolina, McLemore went 0-9 from the field, 0-6 from three point range. If he can regain his shot, Kansas could cruise to a victory. Plus, I want to see him have a highlight-dunk. During the regular season, Ben McLemore soared for some spectacular dunks. If he can go on a one man breakaway, McLemore should put something special on a dunk to give Kansas the momentum.
I belive Kansas will come out on top. The Jayhawks have showed up for big games against some of the best teams and I do not see that changing today. Also, this is Michigan’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Fab Five the early 1990’s. Kansas’ experience in the Sweet 16, eight appearances in the last ten years , will be beneficial to tonight’s game. Tipoff is at 6:37 p.m. on TBS, and the winner of this game will advance to play the winner of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.
Oh, and how about Florida Gulf Coast?
“They’re one of the best teams in the country, if not the best.” This statement came out of Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith’s mouth in a press conference after his team had just taken down the fifth ranked Florida Gators. As the Tigers prepared for their game on Super Tuesday, they knew they had a tough battle ahead of them. Many believed that Florida was going to be too big of an obstacle, especially for a Missouri team that has lost to teams like LSU and Arkansas. Yet the players and coaches knew that something was going to go their way on the chilly Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
For many, it was simply impossible for Missouri to beat Florida, and those people had reason to believe that it couldn’t happen. After an obliterating and embarrassing 83-52 loss in Gainesville earlier this season, it was only logical that Missouri wasn’t going to make this a game. However, there was one thing the Tigers had going for them; they were playing at Mizzou Arena. Any team that steps foot on the floor at Mizzou Arena, no matter how good they are, better be ready for a dog fight, and Florida was not.
So what is so special about the Tigers’ home floor? Well, over the last 86 games at the arena, the Tigers are an impressive 82-4. They also currently hold a 16 game winning streak at home, which has overlapped from last season. Current head coach Frank Haith has been a very successful coach at Mizzou posing a 30-1 career record in the building. But what is it that makes this place so special? “Deep down inside, it took everyone to win this game,” said junior point guard Phil Pressey about the win against Florida. The thing is, he meant everybody. Yes, the players and the coaching staff, but the fans were the ones keeping the game alive. The fans who helped Mizzou keep momentum when attempting to cut two different 13 point deficits, one in each half. The fans are the most special part of the Tigers success at home.
So what is there to conclude from this article? Well I can tell you one thing. There is magic at Mizzou arena. Yes, the Tigers have had a poor record on the road, and have played very inconsistently. However, when they come home, there will always be a challenge. So I say to any team that ever tries to step on the court at Mizzou Arena, watch out.
All-Star Weekend is my Super Bowl Sunday. Except in the case of All-Star Weekend, it’s spread out over three different events (because who really counts the Celebrity All-Star Game?). I’ve preset my DVR and set a side several hours of my Sunday to re-watch all the festivities before the main event on Sunday night, the NBA All-Star Game. I make it a habit to pick my winners beforehand (which tend to be wrong, I did pick Chase Budinger to win the Dunk Contest last year), so without further ado here are my picks for All-Star Weekend:
BBVA Rising Stars Challenge:
This event has developed more flair over the years. For starters Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkely now draft the teams rather than it being simply a Sophomore – Rookie Challenge, with the sophomores usually taking home the victory. With the teams now more evenly matched, it gives for a much more entertaining game. Here are the teams:
TEAM SHAQ: Damian Lillard (Portland), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Klay Thompson (Golden State), Harrison Barnes(Golden State), Chandler Parsons (Houston), Dion Waiters (Cleveland),Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte), Tyler Zeller (Cleveland), Kemba Walker (Charlotte)
TEAM CHUCK: Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Kenneth Faried (Denver), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio), Bradley Beal (Washington), Ricky Rubio(Minnesota), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando),Brandon Knight (Detroit), Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento), Alexey Shved(Minnesota)
The clear cut favorite here is Shaq’s squad for one big reason. Kyrie Irving. I’ve been saying for months that Irving is the next elite player in the NBA. He has the potential to not only be elite, but to be a 1st tier elite player (Durant, Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul). While Chuck’s roster certainly lends very well to a strong inside game with Anthony Davis and Nikola Vucevic, Andre Drummond will help anchor Team Shaq in the paint and allow Irving to score and create on the perimeter for the other shooters on his team (Barnes, Thompson, Parsons). Team Shaq should shoot Team Chuck out of the Toyota Center. Prediction: Team Shaq over Team Chuck – 143-131
All-Star Saturday Night
This is far and away the best part of the weekend, mainly because of the dunk contest. The other events hold merit and can be very entertaining, but everyone tunes in so they can be dazzled by the highflying showmanship in the final event of the evening, the Sprite Dunk Contest.
Sears Shooting Stars: This one is easy, plus not many people care, so I’ll make it short. You never bet against Robert Horry in a shootout. I’ll take the West squad of Big Shot Bob, Sam “Looks Like an Alien” Cassell, Harden, Westbrook, Tina Thompson and Maya Moore over the East squad of Dominique Wilkins, Mugsy Bogues, Bosh, Brook Lopez, Swin Cash, and Tamika Catchings.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge: In years past this event has featured some great point guards and playmakers. Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Derrick Rose are some of the recent notable champions. This year’s contestants seemed to be a watered down version of the contestants of years past minus Parker. Aside from Jrue Holiday and Parker, I don’t consider the other contestants proven point guards at this point in their career. Not to say their future isn’t promising, but we haven’t seen much yet. Jeremy Lin, Jeff Teague, Damian Lillard, and Brandon Knight. While experience may seem trivial in a competition like this, I don’t see anyone unseating Parker as reigning champ.
Prediction: Parker over (3) Holiday and (2) Lillard in the 2nd Round. Lin will finish with the worst time, followed by Knight and Teague respectively.
Foot Locker 3 Point Contest: This event is always this most difficult to call, and this year does not get any easier. Last year’s contest featured Kevin Durant and Kevin Love in an intense shoot-out for the title. This years competitors all have a legitimate shot at the crown, but there are a few that stick out from the bunch. Here are the participants:
Prediction: This will be the most entertaining 3 point contest in recent history. Look for George and Bonner to make early exits. Look for Irving and Curry to face-off in the finals with Curry bring home the trophy. Watch out for Ryan Anderson as a potential dark horse.
Sprite Slam Dunk Contest: This contest is the most hyped and most entertaining event of the weekend. Their have been so many historic performance in the past from Dominique and MJ’s showdown in 1988 to Vince Carter’s absolute clinic in 2000. While the participants may have lacked star status in recent history (minus Howard and Griffin) , they have certainly made up for it with some legendary performances (Nate Robinson’s Kryptonite performance, Jeremy Evans two ball slam). Here are the participants:
Prediction: Look for Jeremy Evans to make an early exit after winning the competition last year. I just don’t see him having the showmanship or creativity to win it again. Look for Gerald Green, Kenneth Faried and Eric Bledsoe to advance to the finals with Bledsoe teaming up with teammate Chris Paul to pull something out of Lob City’s bag of tricks.
2013 All-Star Game:
Out with the old and in with new seems to be the theme of the 2013 All-Star Game, at least on the East squad. 6 of their 8 reserve players are participating in their first All-Star game including Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and Brooke Lopez. Kevin Garnett has stated that this will be the last All-Star game that he will participate in, after 16 appearances. On the West side they feature only one newcomer to the squad in James Harden, who joins his former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their 4th and 3rd All-Star games respectively. There are several other familiar faces on the West side, including Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, both of whom could be playing in their last All-Star game.
Prediction: This year’s West squad is stacked up and down the roster. With so much young talent on the East squad, I’ll take the West and their offensive juggernaut over the inexperienced East. Final Score: West over East – 133-124 MVP goes to Kevin Durant.
Trevor Weinrich had an article yesterday praising Phil Pressey for all of the abilities he has. In the end, Trevor believed Pressey was better than Ben McLemore, the Kansas standout. Trevor ended the article saying, “Which side do you choose?” I choose the McLemore side, for all of the right reasons.
I believe a player’s importance to a team is much more important than his stats. Is Phil Pressey important to his team? Definitely. His point guard play is unreal, and I believe he is one of the best in the NCAA. When I look at Ben McLemore, though, I see an on-court leader whose talents are able to control the tempo of the game and the tone of the crowd. Whenever McLemore dunks the ball, or drains a three, it is more than likely astonishing and his teammates become motivated to make the next big play. Along with teammate motivation comes the way a crowd reacts. If the game is in Lawrence, the crowd will reach a high number on the decibel scale and the opponents will go cold from the field. If the game is on the road, the crowd will go dead silent and momentum will be in favor of Kansas. With that being said, my point is Ben McLemore is a better leader than Phil Pressey is. Sure Pressey makes awesome passes that make you say, “Wow,” but I think that because McLemore is a redshirt freshman, yet a great leader, he gives his team more of a boost. I may be going deeper than I should, but the momentum of a team is maybe the most important part to winning a basketball game.
Then there are the stats. McLemore puts up almost 17 points per game compared to Phil Pressey’s near 14. Assists wise, Pressey obviously has the edge since he is a point guard, dishing 7.5 a game next McLemore who only has a mere 2.1. Every other stat, McLemore absolutely owns Pressey. Ben grabs 5.2 boards a game and Pressey snatches just 3.4. McLemore has a free throw percentage and a three point percentage that absolutely demolishes Phil Pressey’s. Stats wise, the edge goes to McLemore as well as the momentum factor. Here is a graph comparing McLemore and Pressey.
Ben McLemore’s X-Factor and stats mean so much more to Kansas than Pressey does to Mizzou. Missouri fans would say differently, of course, but on a national level, I would bet a majority would say McLemore. Trevor says hands down Phil Pressey is the better player. For me, I say without question Ben McLemore is better than Phil Pressey. Unfortunately, there is no chance of the two going head-to-head this season. However, we will have to wait and see what the Madness of March may have to give.