Thursday, May 30, 2013

2009 NBA Draft (with 20/20 Hindsight)

I'm more excited for the NBA Draft than I am for the remainder of the NBA Playoffs. And I'll be honest, I'm somewhat hedging my excitement because Miami-San Antonio just doesn't do it for me. I hate watching the Heat because they don't play any sort of tough basketball. I hate the Spurs because they are the exact opposite of the Heat. Once Miami eliminates Indiana, I will not care at all about the NBA Finals.

(Hoping for a little bit of a jinx there.)

The bottom line is I'm already looking forward to the draft. But now, a twist: we are going to look backward to the draft. And we're going to back it up a few years, to the 2009 Draft (because a lot of these guys are due for big paydays in the coming months). I love looking back like this and seeing how teams could have used their picks better and how that could have impacted the landscape of the league.

Hypothetical scenario: I'm going back in time and re-doing the draft the way it should have been done with full knowledge of everything I know now about how players turned out. Here's the top ten because I ran out of people to say nice things about.

1. Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
You have to take Blake here, regardless of the other talent available. People point to Chris Paul as the savior of the Clippers, but he doesn't even think about a white LA jersey unless Blake is there. His personality and his in-game tenacity (read: dunking) turned the Clips into a semi-legitimate contender.

2. Memphis Grizzlies - James Harden, SG, Arizona State
Here's a fun fact: the Grizz have drafted exactly one player that was "good in a Memphis uniform" (ambiguous term, but you know what I mean) since Shane Battier in 2001. Mike Conley in 2007. Their first round picks since then: Kevin Love (traded), Donte Green, Hasheem Thabeet (in this draft), DeMarre Carroll, Xavier Henry (not bad), Dominique Jones, Grievis Vasquez (traded), and Tony Wroten. Taking Harden instead of Thabeet gives them Conley-Harden-Gay-Randolph-Gasol. And then they win the NBA championship this year. So... there's that. Or, I suppose, they could blow it up riiiiiight before they were about to win and let Harden go for a handful of scrubs.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder - Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson
This is a horrible draft to have a star point guard on your roster, because it features a ton a serviceable point guards. OKC probably trades this pick, but let's throw Steph Curry in as their sixth man and just let me know if there is a more likable big three than Curry-Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant. No?

4. Sacramento Kings - Tyreke Evans, SG, Memphis
Let it be known that the Kings had a 25% chance at first in this lottery, a 64% chance of landing in the top three, and a 100% chance of getting at least the fourth pick. They got number four.If that doesn't sum up the team's current situation, I don't know what does. What's strange is there is nothing wrong with the Evans pick - he was the rookie of the year and his rookie numbers have only been matched by Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron. So we're sticking him there and hoping that they hire a new coach.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Again, nothing wrong with the pick. Rubio has been amazing in terms of re-igniting the passion of fans and making the team fun to watch. Where Minnesota went wrong was.....

6. Minnesota Timberwolves - DeMar DeRozan, SG, USC
They picked Jonny Flynn here. After Ricky Rubio. They are both point guards. I said earlier that this was a point guard-heavy draft, but come on. They acquired Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic the year before (and since we have 20/20 hindsight vision, we know they'll be a solid frontcourt). They just took Rubio (who is a solid game-managing and ball-distributing point guard). They now need a scorer to play the 2 or the 3. This is another case of where the pick probably gets traded (just like it should have been in real life!) but DeRozan isn't terrible if he were to be surrounded by other, better scoring options.

7. Golden State Warriors - Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy
Well, they're hurting because they couldn't take everyone's favorite babyfaced assassin. But they end up with Jennings, a similar score-first point guard type and then pre-unite him with Monta Ellis. It's tough to say if they make the same kind of run this year with Jennings plugged in Curry's place, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they do okay - and maybe even better because of Jennings' resistance to injuries. Knock on wood.

8. New York Knicks - Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA
Wikipedia defines 2008-2010 for the Knicks as "Rebuilding (2008-2010)". Post-Isiah, the Knicks took Danilo Gallinari in 2008 and turned Jamal Crawford into Al Harrington. Then they turned Zach Randolph into Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas. If it seems like they gave up a lot, it's because they wanted to offer LeBron and a friend max contracts. Looking back, I bet they would have had a better shot at low-balling Bron Bron vis a vis salary and having some competent teammates for him. NY also bought out Stephon Marbury just before this draft. There are so many roster moves to list that I am just not going to do anything else because all of the players were in and out like a revolving door and then half of them got turned into Carmelo Anthony anyway. So we're sending Jrue to New York (instead of Jordan Hill) and then hopefully eventually leaving the Knicks with Holiday-Shumpert-Carmelo-Amar'e Stoudemire-Tyson Chandler. Obviously you would rather have Jrue at point than the Jason Kidd-Raymond Felton-Pablo Prigioni trio.

9. Toronto Raptors - Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
At this point, Toronto was a team with Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in the frontcourt. Fun fact: in 2008, the Raptors traded TJ Ford/two foreigners/Roy Hibbert to Indiana for Jermaine O'Neal and a nobody. I bet they'd like to have that one back. Lawson is the best player left on the board (besides maybe Jonny Flynn who is the same exact player in my mind). So ship him to Toronto and hope something good comes. But nothing ever will, because it's Toronto.

10. Milwaukee Bucks - Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Starting five of players Milwaukee drafted between 2000 and 2008: TJ Ford-Michael Redd-Luc Mbah a Moute-Ersan Ilyasova-Andrew Bogut. Pretty much average or above-average role players, right? Well Flynn fits right into that mold. The problem with being middle-of-the-road in professional sports is you keep ending up with back-end-of-the-lottery guys, and probability tells you that you're not going to get a franchise-changer as often as teams that cycle between good and bad. This concludes the draft portion of the post, but I want to dive deeper into the mediocrity cycle.

I'll focus on the NBA since we're already here.

First round draft position the past however-many years (in reverse chronological order):
Milwaukee 2012-1997: 14-10-15-10-8-6-1-8-13-15-9-19-10
Toronto 2012-2000: 8-5-13-9-17-1-16-7-8-4-20-17-21
Portland 2012-2001: 11-6-21-22-22-13-1-4-6-13-23-23-21-19
Philadelphia 2012-1998: 15-16-2-17-16-12-21-13-9-16-26-20-8
New York 2011: 17-8-6-23-20-8-9-7-22-15-25-18-19-21
Those number one picks: Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden.

When you end up on the fringe of the playoffs or just missing them, you can't afford to sit with the same team to shake things up. Combined NBA titles of those five teams in the past ten years is obviously zero, and none of them have even gotten close. None of them are in horrible shape going forward, but it's all due to moves outside of the draft. That's one way to build a team, but the cheaper and more efficient way to do it is to draft a team with a long-term plan in mind. And maybe don't take two point guards back-to-back with the fifth and sixth picks.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013 Mock NBA Draft - Volume 1

Alright here's my whole deal with the NBA Draft: I absolutely love it. In a sport where so few players actually make an impact on the game, so many players taken on draft day can have a HUGE influence on team success (for better or worse). Tons of surprises, tons of guys waiting around longer than they would have liked, and tons of reaction on twitter. Also, wingspan.

So I'm going to probably do a few mock drafts over the course of the coming weeks, and maybe we'll bring back our Bullets Blog Fantasy NBA Draft Contest from last year (with some rule changes to make it, you know, possible to win).

Here's volume one, which covers the top 12 picks because I was only going to do the top ten but Philly picks at 11 and Oklahoma City picks at 12:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
Coming from a Villanova student and avid (ha?) Wildcat basketball fan, Porter is scary to play against. He can score from outside and inside, which is most of the reason he was Big East POTY. But he isn't a slouch on defense by any definition. And the most important part of his game, for me, is that he conducts the team on the floor. I understand that most of that responsibility will go to Kyrie, especially on offense. But to have a leader like Porter on the floor who can bring it on both ends is a huge plus. And he's a much safer play than Nerlens Noel. Also, Cleveland has Anderson Varejao locked up for less than $10 million for the next two years.

2. Orlando Magic - Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Somewhat coming out of left field here, but I'm a big believer that the draft should be used to plug team holes rather than just taking the best player on the board. Orlando's frontcourt is set for the future: Nik Vucevic, Glen Davis, and Tobias Harris are going to be serviceable at worst. Jameer Nelson has been a staple in the Magic rotation for what feels like forever - and he's destined to play the role of backup as he ages. The problem now is he makes almost $9 million a year, and that is about twice what he should make. Burke is more talented, younger, less expensive, and his clutch gene is no secret.

3. Washington Wizards - Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
Having already invested nearly $90 million in Nene and Emeka Okafor over the next four and two years respectively, Noel doesn't seem like a smart move. The point guard and shooting guard positions are also taken, and in a much more favorable way than the center position. The two forward positions are currently filled with a lot of guys with more name recognition than talent: Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, and Trevor Booker. Looking at the teams remaining in the playoffs, the post presence listed there (plus the two centers) is not going to cut it unless the Wiz plan on signing LeBron. Bennett is essentially a strictly offensive player, but his size (6'8") means he could play the 3 or the 4 and he has the ability to score inside and out. People will say that he's taken too high if he goes at 3, but he fills the biggest hole in Washington.

4. Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets - Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
If you are a Charlotte fan (which you aren't), you are thrilled to end up with McLemore. He fills the hole of primary scorer and creates a young, promising core of Kemba Walker-McLemore-Kidd Gilchrist-Tyrus Thomas-Bismack Biyombo. Okay, so maybe $8 million a year for Thomas is a lot and Biyombo is far from an All-Star, but maybe it gets them out of the basement?

5. Phoenix Suns - Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
I have no idea why, but I feel like this is a lock. The first four picks had a logical reasoning process behind them, but this one I'm going with my gut and now I'm going to attempt to justify: looking at the Suns roster, it actually makes a lot of sense. Goran Dragic and Kendall Marshall are two solid playmaking point guards. Michael Beasley is the shoot-a-lot-and-maybe-hopefully-make-some-of-them guy. Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, and the Morris twins are decent (ish?) in the frontcourt. They are really just missing a steady hand at the 2 position to offset Beasley's erratic nature and lack of defense. Oladipo is probably the best perimeter defender in the draft, definitely a nice athletic boost for a slower team, and most importantly he makes my blind prediction seem reasonable.

6. New Orleans Pelicans - Michael Carter-Williams, SF, Syracuse
Nola is set in the paint with Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Robin Lopez. Let me revise that: Nola has no need for Nerlens because they already have The Brow. Here's why MCW makes sense: he is a facilitator. And a damn good one at that. The team has no shortage of scorers: Eric Gordon, Anderson, Davis, and Austin Rivers could all potentially go for 25 points in any given game. Grievis Vasquez put up fantasy stat lines of a near-elite point guard by simply being a facilitator. Carter-Williams could play a similar role from the small forward position, with the thought being that a young, raw team will eventually grow together and realize their potential.

7. Sacramento Kings - Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
I don't have any reasoning here because the Kings are a mess of a team. But Noel is, at this point, the best player left on the board and I have this idea in my head that the Kings management team would just throw in the towel and take a shot with him. I don't know. Whatever. I don't care about the Kings.

8. Detroit Pistons - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
Let's start with the locks for the Pistons rotation: Brandon Knight is the point guard, Andre Drummond is the power forward, Greg Monroe is the center, and Kyle Singler will probably settle into either the 2 or 3 this season or next. Let's assume Singler sticks to the position he played at Duke (and last season on FanDuel) and throw KCP next to him. Here's what you're getting from Detroit: an athletic point guard who can score and distribute, a solid center in the most solid sense of the word solid, a freak power forward who may turn into the next Blake Griffin, a solid small forward in a slightly less solid sense of the word solid, and KCP - an athletic shooting-type scorer who will have to do significantly less for a pro team than he did for the Bulldogs.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves - Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
Hey, we finally made it to a team that I care about! Although they have been one of the poorest-managed teams in the NBA for the past few years. Not having Kevin Love locked up long term hurts them (more in an intangible sense, but still - it hurts) but their starting five has really just been missing a scoring shooting guard/small forward for the past couple seasons. Muhammad could be that guy, and his lack of defense can be covered by Ricky Rubio's length and Nikola Pekovic's beard and paint defense.

10. Portland Trail Blazers - CJ McCollum, PG, Lehigh
Let me start by saying that I have absolutely no idea how the Blazers are as bad as they are. Their five best (and highest-paid) players each play a different position and it would seem like their games should complement each other nicely (FYI - that would be Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and JJ Hickson). But no, somehow it doesn't work like that. I'm going to get away from my strategy of using the draft to plug gaping holes and look to the second unit, with hopes that the first unit can figure their shit out and actually play to their respective skill levels. Their three best backup guards are expiring, and although it may not make sense to draft another point guard right after Lillard, this is a weak draft and I think the tenth pick is deep enough to start looking for a backup in a situation like Portland's.

11. Philadelphia 76ers - Alex Len, C, Maryland
This is predicated on the Sixers letting Andrew Bynum walk away. What do Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young need to turn into a promising team? The most obvious answer is a bruising low post presence (and a new coach, but that will come). Len is the same type of player that Bynum was supposed to be - a big, tough, gritty big man with the ability to score inside and (more importantly) open up some space for his teammates. As somewhat of a Sixers fan, I would much rather see them pay Len $3 million a year than pay Bynum $20 million. In my eyes, the risk that they fail is about the same (failure to develop vs. failure to return from injury) and that extra cap room could be used to pay some shooters to surround Holiday and Turner.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder - Allen Crabbe, SG, Cal
It's almost unfair, isn't it? OKC has no business drafting in the lottery. But, alas, they are because the universe loves Kevin Durant (for the most part, at least). Cody Zeller is still on the mock draft board, but Serge Ibaka is already filling the role of "big man who can do a lot but is really not clutch at all" so they don't need him. I suppose you could say the same about Kelly Olynyk. The most obvious hole for the Thunder is Kevin Martin expiring (as is his $12.5 million salary). Jeremy Lamb has some time to develop, and Thabo Sefolosha's game complements Durant and Russell Westbrook nicely. They have no holes to fill, so I think they're going to go after one of the biggest risk/upside guys in the draft. Crabbe is a shooter who carried a lot of the load at Cal - obviously he shouldn't be carrying the load of an NBA team right out of the gate. But give him some minutes with the Westbrook and Durant (who are going to draw most of the focus from defenses) and there is no reason he shouldn't be able to fill Martin's shoes (or share them with Lamb).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Game of Thrones Power Rankings - 3.6

I know I'm only in the second week of doing the weekly Game of Thrones power rankings. I shouldn't be so into it.

But I live for this.

Kind of how fantasy football makes football a trillion times better, knowing that I have to rank everyone (okay, not everyone) and back my choices up with semi-rational reasoning makes Thrones that much more intriguing. And now as I develop week-to-week trends I have to keep things in mind like "oh Daenerys wasn't in this episode but she has 3 dragons and thousands of trained and loyal soldiers". Well it sucks for her but I ran out of characters so fuggem she wasn't in the episode and she didn't make it into the power rankings! Here they are:

1. Jon Snow
This episode was very heavy on the bastard, and I don't think anyone was complaining. Especially not since he is not tied to Ygritte (the redhead, in case you weren't sure). Double especially not since he escaped death while simultaneously saving his woman. God, I can't wait for the scene where he kills the shit out of the dude that cut their rope loose. WE ARE ALL JON SNOW!

2. Tywin
3. Grandma Tyrell
The scene where they argued about the various family logistics was amazing. So much wisdom and wit and wealth and power packed into one conversation. It was like a heavyweight title fight but significantly more passive-aggressive. Tywin gets the higher spot because, well, he won. Just like he always does.

4. Ygritte
Girl knows something special when she sees it, and she locked Jon Snow down forever. She's coming back to Winterfell after Jon helps Robb win the war (or something - I have no clue because I didn't read the books).

5. Littlefinger
I can't tell if you're supposed to like him or not. Like he's such a dick but he's kind of likable but he sent his bottom bitch to get shot up with a crossbow but we didn't really care about her but he shafted Sansa but wait was that him or Tywin? He's the Severus Snape of Thrones - we'll only find out if he's good at the very end. Bold prediction: Baelish kills an old man with a beard sometime relatively soon.

6. Bran
7. Robb
Hard to not like the Stark boys, even if they haven't really done anything recently. Both show a lot of solid leadership qualities but just need someone they respect to guide them along a little more. If only their dad was still around. But at the same time, that's kind of a major plot development point. So they'll have to settle for being ranked in the middle of the pack for now.

159. Sam/Gilly
So fucking stupid! Such a waste of a scene. I would rather just watch Daenerys' army walk across the desert with no dialogue.

Dead last. Theon
I'm perplexed by his whole situation, but he's handling it really poorly. Not that I could handle it any better, but it's hard to think of a way that anyone could handle it worse.