Winners and Losers from the NBA Draft

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The NBA Draft featured some surprises this year. Luka Doncic was traded from the Hawks to the Mavericks for Trae Young, the Knicks took Kentucky’s Kevin Knox with the 9th pick, and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. fell to the Nuggets with the 14th pick. But, as always, there were winners and losers from Thursday night. Let’s tell some of their stories.

Winner: Phoenix Suns

The Suns are a pretty obvious choice here. They took DeAndre Ayton, the best player in this draft and an uber-talented 7’1″ big man who can play like a guard, with the first pick in the draft. Without doing anything else, the Suns would have had a good night. Instead, they decided to do more when they traded their 16th pick, Zhaire Smith, to Philadelphia in exchange for Mikal Bridges, the 76ers’ 10th pick.

Granted, while Bridges has several areas of his game to clean up, he is a versatile player who can shoot and defend. He’ll find a role with the Suns while Ayton is tasked with becoming one of the faces of a franchise that has won 68 games in the past three seasons. It remains to be seen what a young core of Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton can accomplish together, but the Suns can use anything they can get at this point.

While their general manager, Ryan McDonough, has an up-and-down draft record (he took Dragan Bender the year after drafting Devin Booker), the Suns should be very happy with what they did on Thursday. Now comes the part that has been much easier said than done in Phoenix: winning.

Loser: Michael Porter, Jr.

Before the 2017-18 college basketball season, Michael Porter, Jr. was widely considered the top prospect in this year’s draft. He had the size and athleticism to play in the NBA, as well as tangible skills that he would get to show off in his one year at Missouri… or so we all thought.

Porter was sidelined for much of the season with a back injury and even though he came back for the team’s conference and NCAA tournament games, he was clearly not at full strength, as he shot just 9-29 in those two games. He was bypassed on draft boards by other healthy college players, like Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young, and others. Despite these concerns, though, there are not many current concerns with Porter’s health.

So why would this combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant still be on the board for the Nuggets with the 14th pick? The answer is simple: teams are worried about his potential back problems, both now and down the road, and don’t want to deal with that. Of course, the things that had people excited about Porter in the first place are still there, but it’s fair to ask questions about how his back will affect his overall health moving forward. After all, there’s a reason why someone who is this talented would fall all the way to the end of the lottery, and it has nothing to do with him putting his own name in the same conversation with two of the league’s ten best players.

Winner: Orlando Magic

This may come as a surprise because you probably haven’t seen “Orlando Magic” and “winner” in the same sentence since 2009.

The Magic didn’t do anything particularly special on Thursday; there were no trades up or down the board and they didn’t reach when they made the 6th pick. However, they did something they haven’t been very good at recently: take the best player available with their selection.

That person happened to be Texas’ Mo Bamba.

As you’ve heard from about 732 different outlets, Bamba has a 7’10” wingspan, which is relevant because it’s longer than those of Rudy Gobert (7’9″) and Anthony Davis (7’5″). Let’s remember that Orlando’s GM is former Bucks general manager John Hammond, who drafted some incredibly long players in Milwaukee without the stipulation that they all fit together. That being said, Bamba may have the highest upside of anyone in this year’s draft, and even though it may not seem like a lot, Orlando should be happy that they took someone like him with their first-round pick.

Loser: Washington Wizards

What, exactly, were the Wizards doing the other night?

Washington is a team that, without a word alive, can be competitive with anyone in the Eastern Conference at any time. They’ve had many a near-miss in the playoffs the past few seasons, and they always seem to be one of those teams that can never quite live up to the talent they have on the roster. It would seem, then, that they would need to take a game-changer with the 15th pick, or at the very least, someone who is ready to contribute to the roster right away. Zhaire Smith, Donte DiVincenzo, Lonnie Walker, or Grayson Allen all could have fit this bill.

Instead, Washington took Oregon freshman Troy Brown.

Granted, Brown could be a very good player down the line. But the Wizards are trying to build for right now (we think) and probably should’ve taken someone who would have been more impactful this season. It’s not just me saying this, either; Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld has been reluctant to declare that Brown can crack the rotation. Part of that has to do with a Washington roster that will bring back ten of its players, but a significant portion of that has to do with Brown himself.

Nobody knows where the Wizards are going. The Wizards may not know, either.

Winner: Adrian Wojnarowski

Let’s be real; you just came here for the Woj Bombs.

Wojnarowski is ESPN’s best NBA insider; think of him as the sport’s Adam Schefter. One of his recent specialties has been tipping picks on draft night before commissioner Adam Silver announces them live on ESPN. In a surprise to no one, the NBA didn’t exactly love reporters like Wojnarowski revealing these picks before their official broadcast could. So, as a result of a direct appeal from the NBA, the four-letter network announced that its insiders (mainly Wojnarowski, who was lured to ESPN from Yahoo last summer) would not be tipping picks this year. This was an edict that caused some controversy.

It was also one that our guy Woj raised a defiant middle finger to:

Woj is the best reporter in the NBA, and there’s a reason he’s so popular. Wouldn’t you like to go to work, have your boss tell you not to do something, find catchy euphemisms for the thing you’re not supposed to be doing, and get away with said thing?

We all would love to do that, but there’s a reason we can’t all be Woj.



The Warriors Finally Look Like Themselves

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Ever since Kevin Durant joined the Warriors in the Summer of 2016, the team has had enough talent to toy with the NBA whenever it wants. This year has been slightly different, though; the Rockets pushed Golden State to the wall in the Western Conference Finals and very well might have eliminated them if they had a healthy Chris Paul. The Cavaliers pushed the Warriors to overtime in Game 1 of this year’s Finals behind 51 points from LeBron James. But besides these two examples, the Warriors can knock out their opponents and pick the round, too.

Last night, they decided to knock out the Cavs.

Behind 33 points and nine three-pointers from Steph Curry, 26 points on 10-14 shooting from Kevin Durant, and 20 more points from a hobbled Klay Thompson, the Warriors crushed the Cavaliers 122-103 in a game where Cleveland was only down by five before Curry and company took it over. Last night, we saw the closest thing to last year’s Warriors dominance that we have seen since, well, last year’s Warriors. Even though it appears as if Golden State lacks motivation at certain points in games, they are still far more talented than any other team in the NBA and when they put it all together, the rest of the league gets put on notice.

That’s what happened last night. Keep in mind that the Warriors are doing this without Andre Iguodala, who is recovering from a bone bruise in his knee and has not played since Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. While Iguodala may not necessarily seem like one of the most important figures in the Warriors’ dynasty, he absolutely is, and their occasionally absent-minded play without him should be proof of that. He one of the few people on Earth willing and able to consistently defend LeBron James, and if he returns in this series (which he might), the Warriors have a better chance of containing LeBron.

Until then, however, it will likely be either JaVale McGee or Kevon Looney occupying the final starting spot for the Warriors. Both men are capable bigs, but neither has the ability to guard James or space the floor on the offensive end. The Warriors, after starting Looney for the five previous games, decided to go with McGee in the starting lineup last night, and even though he had a +/- of 0, the move seemed to pay dividends; McGee had 12 points and most of his action came under the basket when the Cavaliers’ defenders were more preoccupied with Golden State’s three-point shooters. Whether you take McGee seriously or not, he is a live body who can cause havoc on the glass and makes the most of his opportunities in close. That’s all the Warriors need him to do until Iguodala returns from injury.

And think about the luxuries that Steve Kerr has with a team this versatile and talented. On the other side, Cavs coach Ty Lue doesn’t have nearly as many good options to go to off the bench (for instance, it’s more difficult for Lue to put Kyle Korver on the floor against a Warriors lineup looking to attack any defensive mismatch the Cavs have to offer). And, instead of having a steady presence like Shaun Livingston coming off the bench, Cleveland has Jordan Clarkson, who has shot 3-13 in the first two games of the series and makes multiple ill-fated attempts to take over the Cavs’ offense when he steps on the floor.

But instead of maligning all of the matchup problems the Cavaliers have in this series, it’s more important to look at what the Warriors have done right. That can be boiled down into one player: Steph Curry.

Last night, Curry broke an NBA Finals record last night by hitting nine three-pointers; he finished with 33 points but his impact goes beyond his scoring. The psychological impact of his hot shooting, particularly at Oracle Arena, cannot be quantified. And there is something to be said for the blow an opposing team takes when they play masterful defense for 23 or more seconds, only to have Curry drain a turnaround fadeaway from five feet behind the line. When you add that to the individual talents of Durant and Klay Thompson, the Warriors offense becomes virtually unstoppable when it’s clicking.

There should be at least a slight momentum shift when the series heads back to Cleveland for Game 3. But the Cavaliers will almost certainly need to win both games at Quicken Loans Arena to have a chance in this series; even though LeBron James and the Cavaliers have come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals before, there’s a reason it’s only happened once since 1947. Even with the greatest player in the history of the league on their side, Cleveland will have a very difficult time coming back against the most talented team the league has ever seen.

That team is the Golden State Warriors. Even though they’ve had their trials and tribulations throughout the season, we always knew that they could flip the switch and play to their dominant, ruthless potential whenever they wanted to. They did that last night, mainly with the help of their two-time league MVP. Oh, by the way, they may very well get the ex-Finals MVP they have lying around back before this series ends.

The Warriors have returned. Maybe they never really left. Either way, the NBA’s sleeping giant is awake, alive, and humming on all cylinders. That usually doesn’t end well for anyone in its way.



The Cavaliers Run Themselves Out of Game 1

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There is a pantheon of dumb plays in the history of both college and professional basketball. It has some awesome entries; Chris Webber trying to call timeout when his team didn’t have one, Rasheed Wallace leaving Robert Horry wide open to lose Game 5 of the 2005 Finals, and JaVale McGee’s entire career. These moments, whether they come in the regular season or the biggest games of the year, are the reason why “Shaqtin’ a Fool” exists.

But aside from the occasionally brain dead moments that happen during a basketball game, these are some of the best players in the world. They always get the basic stuff, like the time and score of the game, correct, and they know how to react depending on the game situation, right? Right?

Wrong.

To prove this, I present you with the human example that is Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith. Smith made headlines earlier in the season when he launched a bowl of soup at an assistant coach in what was definitely the seventh or eighthweirdest moment in the NBA this season. Smith is an erratic player with an evidently erratic personality; his occasional moments of brilliance on the court are augmented by brain-neutral plays and mind-numbing decisions. With that context in mind, I present to you the end of the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals:

There is so much wrong with whatever happened there. First of all, George Hill is an 80% free throw shooter for his career and should have made the free throw. When Smith gets the rebound, he has the opportunity to lay it in, albeit over a 6’10” Kevin Durant, to give Cleveland the lead. When he pulls the ball out to the three-point line, the Cavaliers should have called timeout. Instead, none of these things happened and Cleveland didn’t get a shot off in the final 4.7 seconds.

And, after all of the stupid things you read in the last paragraph, you would think that it doesn’t get any dumber than that. I’m here to tell you that it does.

The only possible explanation for whatever it is Smith did in the closing seconds of the fourth was that he didn’t know the score and thought the Cavaliers were winning. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue seems to believe that’s the case; after the game, he said that Smith thought his team was ahead and tried to run out the clock. Smith, on the other hand, insists that he knew the game was tied at 107 and thought Cleveland would take a timeout. Choose who you want to believe in this situation, but Smith has made dumb plays in crunch time before, and that particular instance involved another episode of scoreboard amnesia. Therefore, I have to go with the guy who got stepped over by Allen Iverson over the guy who threw soup at one of his coaches. It’s just that easy.

As much as we should all collectively laugh at this, however, it is one of the most costly blunders in recent Finals history, and it may have cost the Cavs any chance they had at winning this series.

Think, for example, about all the things that went right for Cleveland last night:

  • LeBron James goes for the 6th 50-point game in Finals history
  • Golden State only goes +6 in the third quarter (team had averaged a +7.6 3rd quarter scoring margin in the playoffs before last night)
  • Kevin Durant and Steph Curry score 55 points on 45 shots
  • Kevin Love goes for 21 points and 13 rebounds
  • Cleveland wins offensive rebound battle 19-4

Despite all of this, the Cavaliers lost in overtime. There were some breaks that didn’t go their way, like a controversial foul towards the end of the game on James that was changed to a block from a charge on Durant. After the game, Lue voiced his displeasure with the call, and even though it was a bang-bang play, he has a right to be upset, as foul calls are usually not up for review. However, the Cavaliers should not, in any way, blame last night’s defeat on poor refereeing. They had a chance to make a free throw, then they had a chance to get a basket, then they had a chance to call timeout to draw up a play to get said basket, and they somehow managed to do none of those things despite the odds being, for once, in their favor.

For Cleveland fans, that is the shame of what transpired last night. The Warriors are decidedly more talented than the Cavaliers but did not play their best game last night. The underdog had a chance to take out the favorite last night and put the defending champs in a 1-0 hole. They couldn’t get the job done, and even with the best player in the world performing at quite possibly the highest level of his career, the Warriors still found a way to pull it out.

Before this series, I picked the Warriors to win in five games. One of the ways Cleveland could have dragged out this series would have been by winning the first game and stealing some momentum out of Oracle Arena. Granted, they could still win Game 2, but against one of the all-time great teams in NBA history, it’s very difficult to win a seven-game series after allowing a golden opportunity like last night’s to slip through your fingers.

Let’s also remember that Smith, who blew the end of regulation, took an unnecessary gamble on a Curry heave at the end of the first half. It cost Cleveland three points and made a significant difference between them winning and losing the game.

What caused a bigger difference, though, were the events that took place in the final five seconds of regulation. But when you think about who had the ball, it’s not a surprise.

And thanks to J.R. Smith losing his counting skills and critical thinking powers, the Cavaliers’ margin for error in this series has gotten even smaller.